Introduced by Anglican minister and theologian J.I. Packer “as a fine presentation of the Puritan outlook” (p. xvi) and underscoring the Puritans for the legacy of their literature and the lessons they provide for helping us today “toward the maturity that they knew and that we need,” (p. xvi) Wheaton College Professor of English (emeritus) Leland Ryken’s Worldy Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were (Zondervan, 1990) embodies “a survey of Puritan ideals … [that] explores Puritan attitudes on a broad range of topics that generally fall within the category of practical Christian living.” (p. xvii) Ryken’s Worldy Saints aims at correcting the almost universal misunderstanding that exists concerning the Puritans; synthesizing Puritan thinking on selected topics and recovering “the Christian wisdom of the Puritans for today.” (p. xvii)
Ryken’s Worldy Saints consists of 12 chapters. Chapter 1 of Ryken’s Worldy Saints examines what the original Puritans were like and provides an overview or landscape of the rest of the book. Ryken presents and examines the charges against the Puritans by underscoring the truth or falseness of these charges. For example, the charges that the Puritans were against sex and that were opposed to sports and recreation is ridiculous and largely false and the charge that they were hostile to the arts is partly true. Ryken narrates who were the Puritans since assuming “the form of an organized movement in the 1560s under the reign of Queen Elizabeth.” (p. 7) Ryken even provides a list of landmark events that describe the puritan movement, one of them being the famous Westminster Assembly (1643-1646). Leading traits of the Puritans such as their moral consciousness, reformed-oriented identity, and educated clergy to name a few are also mentioned. Finally, Ryken closes this first chapter by briefly examining several key Puritan doctrines and concepts some of which were grace, personal regeneration, covenant , and Scripture alone and then delves into what Puritans liked and disliked and offers a short portrait of a ‘typical puritan’.
Chapter 2 of Ryken’s Worldy Saints explores the Puritan attitudes toward work. Ryken succinctly references the division between sacred and secular, “a leading feature of medieval Roman Catholicism” (p. 24) and one that was dismantled by both Luther and Calvin. Puritans believed the sanctity of common life and work. “The Puritan goal was to serve God, not simply within one’s work in the world, but through that work.” (p. 26) They argued that “God calls every person to his or her vocation.” (p. 26) The Puritans viewed work as a response of stewardship to God and valued contentment and loyalty in one’s vocation. Contrary to the so called ‘Puritan work ethic’ that in American is celebrated as the mere means for accumulating wealth and possessions, the Puritans saw the rewards the work and its resulting prosperity as a sign of godliness and as having spiritual and moral value for “work glorified God and benefited society.” (p. 30) Finally, Ryken informs us that the Puritans treated the rewards gained from work as the “gift of God’s grace” (p. 32) and advocated “for a sense of moderation in work” (p. 33) while critiquing idleness and praising diligence.
Chapter 3 of Ryken’s Worldy Saints takes on the puritan attitudes towards marriage and sex. Ryken begins by underscoring the historical context; namely, the Catholic tradition during the Middle Ages that “sexual love itself was evil.” (p. 40) Puritans rejected this medieval attitude and its broader implications. They affirmed marriage by expounding on the idea of a companionate marriage. Women were not viewed as temptation but as the gifts of God. Puritans endorsed the goodness of sex and emphasized the natural or biological appetite, being much more than a physical act, its necessity in marriage, its private nature and a form of chastity. Puritans also stressed the purpose of marriage and sex as “procreation, a remedy against sexual sin and mutual society.” (p. 47) Finally, the Puritans established the ideal of wedded romantic love and exalted women in their roles as wives and mothers.
Chapter 4 of Ryken’s Worldy Saints looks at the puritan attitudes and practices toward money. Ryken begins by explaining the thesis behind Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1930) and its unfortunate results and resulting perversion. Puritans affirmed the goodness of money for they were gifts from God. They argued that prosperity is God’s blessing. It was due to God’s grace and not human merit. Likewise, the Puritans defended private property. However, the Puritans were careful to “elevate materials goods above spiritual values.” (p. 59) They recognized that God can send both poverty and riches and that there are dangers in wealth by pointing out the “tendency of money to replace God as the object of ultimate devotion” (p. 62) as well as by its other tendencies of instilling “reliance on self instead of on God,” (p. 62) the amount of time and energy that it demands and the unsatisfying appetite that it generates. Puritans called for moderation against its opposites of greed and luxury and for contentment with a moderate lifestyle, setting limits and the putting “wealthy and possessions in perspective.” (p. 66) Finally, Ryken indicates that money was viewed as a social good as seen through the grid of the stewardship theory of wealth.
Chapter 5 of Ryken’s Worldy Saints covers the Puritans’ thinking about the family. Its main purpose “is to glorify God.” (p. 73) The Puritans believed in the hierarchy of the family emphasizing the “headship of the husband/father” (p. 75) which was “leadership based on love.” (p. 76) The submission of the wife/mother was one of function not worth. Spiritually husbands and wives were but not so socially where there is hierarchy of authority. This did not mean that women were less intelligent or the servants of husbands. There were different spheres of responsibility. The idea and the essence of the covenant governed parents’ responsibility towards their children. Part of this responsibility was the practice of disciplining children. This was rooted in the doctrine of original sin or innate depravity. Obedience was highly prized and expected for its exercise “in the spheres of church and the state depended on the discipline in the home.” (p. 80) Puritans valued early training as well as parents teaching by example and a “a balance between restraint and positive support.” (p. 87) What the Puritans practiced as families was guided by their belief and view of family as a miniature church.
Chapter 6 of Ryken’s Worldy Saints examines puritan preaching. The puritan pastor was one portrayed as one who was called “to preach, to minister the sacraments, and to pray.” (p. 92) Puritans were highly enthusiastic about preaching. Puritan ministers were college-educated clergy. They favored expository sermons. Their sermons consisted of three parts, namely: the text, the doctrine or principle and its application. Puritan sermons not only appeal to the intellect but also the affections. Plain preaching or simplicity dominated their sermons and content was more important than form.
Chapter 7 of Ryken’s Worldy Saints discusses the Puritans’ definitions of church and worship. Puritans determined church polity by looking closely at the Bible. They rejected Catholic and Anglican rituals and practices that did not find biblical warrant. The church was viewed as a spiritual reality. Preaching, sacraments and discipline were the core activities practiced by the church. The Puritans also elevated the role of the layperson in the church. Their practices rested on the biblical principle of the priesthood of all believers. Their worship style was one that was simplified. Puritans encouraged congregational participation, “stood for word-based piety,” (p. 124) valued creativity in worship and “sanctified Sunday for worship.” (p. 134)
Chapter 8 of Ryken’s Worldy Saints explores the Puritans’ views of the Bible. The Puritans sought to make the Bible available and accessible to everyone by translating it into English. The Bible constituted “the foundation of the true church of God.” (p. 140) Puritans’ interpretation of the Bible stressed their plain meaning against allegory; emphasized the clarity of the Scripture; the role of the Holy Spirit for illuminating the meanings of biblical passages; contextual and literary sensitivity and the distinction of the law and the gospel as dominant and paradigmatic biblical themes.
Chapter 9 of Ryken’s Worldy Saints focuses on the Puritan’s thinking regarding education. Their theory of education saw life as unified and an integrated whole. This theory joined reason and faith as well as special and natural revelation. The Puritans “valued an educated mind over material riches.” (p. 160) The Puritans believed that “the primary goal of education was Christian nurture and growth.” (p. 161) Therefore, they made the Bible central in the curriculum. In addition to this, the Puritans embraced the liberal arts ideal in their education. The Puritans “valued human knowledge within a context of God-centered Christianity.” (p. 165) In their view, God was the source and end of all truth.
Chapter 10 of Ryken’s Worldy Saints underscore the puritan’s attitudes toward social action. Puritans were social thinkers and social activists.” (p. 185) They viewed social involvement as a Christian calling and based their concerns for the health of their society on an ethic of social responsibility. Puritans’ social action was grounded in the biblical concept of covenant. It is within this covenantal framework that the Puritans sought to pursue the common good f the community and embraced good works as a sign of gratitude towards God. Likewise, they also denounced social as well as private evil. Their social action was more personal and voluntaristic rather than institutional and governmental. The Puritans sought to promote a spirit of equality and “practiced a theory of rule by the consent of the governed.” (p. 185)
Finally, Chapters 11 and 12 of Ryken’s Worldy Saints describe the negative examples of puritans and the lessons that derived from their genius respectively. In chapter 11, Ryken remind us that it is essential to take into account the historical situation of the Puritan before embarking on criticism and that it is critical to become aware that historically the Puritans have been maligned by novels such as Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story The Scarlet Letter. Ryken states that the Puritans had an inadequate view of recreation, too many rules, too many words, too much pious moralizing, male chauvinism, a partisan spirit, insensitivity to other religious groups and extremism. Despite these, Ryken calls us to learn from this and rise above these faults. By the way, in chapter 12, Ryken underscore the principles that made for the genius of puritanism. Ryken’s Worldy Saints affirms that the Puritans lived a God-centered life; considered all of life as sacred; saw God working in the ordinary events of life; were keenly aware of the dangerousness of life; lived in a sense of expectancy and excitement persuaded that the new age has arrived; were very practical making a difference “in how people actually live”; emphasize Christianity as a heart religion rather than one based on external rituals; blended the head and the heart in their Christian experience; “chose a simplicity that exalts, not the simplicity that diminishes”; and were people of high confidence having relied in the character of God, the person and work of Christ and the view of themselves as “pilgrims on a journey to God and heaven.” (p. 220) Ryken’s Worldy Saints is an excellent textbook for it not only reminds us of the roots of the Protestant Reformation and the revival for truth but most importantly because it invites us to live the Christian life in a God-pleasing and glorifying way by imitating and appropriating their zestful approach to life in this world.