The American Puritans, by Dustin Benge and Nate Pickowicz. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2020. Pp xvi + 208. Paperback. $18.00. Reviewed by Douglas J. Kuiper.

This book is not about Puritan theology but about seventeenth-century American church history. Each chapter sketches the life story of one prominent figure in early American Protestantism. Featured are two colonial governors (William Bradford and John Winthrop), six pastors (John Cotton, Thomas Hooker, Thomas Shepard, John Eliot, Samuel Willard, and Cotton Mather), and the poetess Anne Bradstreet. Anyone of high school age and older who is interested in church history during the American Colonial period will enjoy reading this book. I recommend it for several reasons.

  1. It reminds us that the American Puritans were En­glishmen who desired reform in all areas—doctrine, church government, and worship. The introduction, “Who Are the American Puritans?” gives an overview of the history of their times, as well as of their “nonconformity” to the hierarchy of the Church of England. Some books and authors use the word “Puritan” pejoratively; this book puts them in a good light.
  2. It reminds us that the Puritans came to America be­cause the English government and prominent members of the Church of England had sorely persecuted them in En­gland. Eight of these nine (all except Cotton Mather) were born in England during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth or King James I. These monarchs defended Anglicanism and opposed non-conformity. God used this persecution to bring to America that part of His church that was in England.
  3. It alludes to the role of the Netherlands in this his­tory. Because the Netherlands tolerated various religions, William Bradford and Thomas Hooker moved to the Neth­erlands for a time. Still persecuted, they finally left for the colonies. Although John Cotton did not move to the Neth­erlands, he did battle Arminianism’s inroads into England. Remember the time frame: the early 1600s.
  4. It underscores the founding of English Puritanism in the colonies. The Dutch Reformed also arrived during this era, but the English Puritans became the more prominent representatives of Calvinistic theology. Notable aspects of Puritan influence include the founding of Harvard College and John Eliot’s mission work to the American Indians.
  5. It opens up the struggles that the Puritans faced in the colonies: wars with the Indians (remember King Philip’s War?), the antinomian controversy begun by Anne Hutchin­son, the Salem witch trials, the relationship of the Puritans to other religious groups (Roger Williams, for example), and the issue of which form of church government to adopt. In addi­tion, many of these men lost one or more wives and children.

It reminds us that the Puritans were sinners saved by grace, in whom sin still manifested itself. The book presents these nine as godly, but it also reveals their warts. At least two of them were geographically separated from their wives for an extended period of time, and of one marriage the writers assert that the two were “unsuited for one another” (36). The lives of God’s saints gives us opportunity to remember that saints always battle against sin in this life, and to examine our own hearts and lives to see if we find these sins in ourselves.