A Guide to the Puritans

By Robert P. Martin, ed.
Carlisle, PA : Banner of Truth (1997). xiv + 532 Pages.

Reviewed by
9.2 (Fall 1998) : 245-248

The quantity of Puritan literature offers an importune call for an annotated bibliography that can assist interested researchers in locating citation data and thematic information. Robert Martin’s A Guide to the Puritans is a response to such a need. The work is a bibliographic guide edited for ministers by a pastor (ix). A Guide to the Puritans attempts to navigate the myriad of Puritan sources and help the reader identify citation information based upon a thematic and scriptural indexing system for ministerial or devotional purposes.

Edited by Robert P. Martin, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church, in Seattle, Washington, A Guide to the Puritans reflects current interest in Puritan scholarship and the desire to integrate Puritan theology into contemporary ministry. The book is in two major sections: a topical index using theological terminology and a scriptural index that cites specific biblical texts within the Puritan literature. In both cases, ministers and teachers will appreciate the book as a resource in locating illustrative material for homiletical or pedagogical purposes. The editor offers a brief biographical bibliography on entrants, in addition to an index listing of particular sermons that could be of pastoral help (funerals, ordinations). The guide concludes with a full bibliographic essay of all works cited. The general structure of the book offers the reader a quick and logical identification of several suggested Puritan sources under a desired theological theme, biblical passage, or ministerial need. In this regard, the guide is straightforward and simple to understand.

Indexing Puritan literary sources for ministerial purposes is a difficult undertaking at best. This frustration is readily shared by the editor in the preface to the guide (ix), where he openly identifies with those ministers who desire to use Puritan narrative material within their ministries, but feel the tension of locating such material, either because of time constraints or a lack of familiarity with the literature itself. The editor offers a brief explanation of his inclusion rationale and organizational strategy in the preface.

Several points for consideration emerged in the review of this. First the title of the work, A Guide to the Puritans, can create a misunderstanding in terms of the definition of Puritan. Due to the ministerial nature and intent of the guide, the editor has chosen to limit citation to only those works which are currently available in print (x). He graciously acknowledges that a more comprehensive review is needed, but outside the purview of his own ability. Readers expecting a full treatment of Puritanism should recognize this limitation. It might be better to subtitle or retitle the book to take this reality into perspective.

Second, the definitional problem of the term Puritan immediately surfaces in light of the list of writers included under the canopy of “Puritan.” The editor opts for a broader, more theological understanding that encompasses more than the English and American Puritans associated with the sixteenth and seventeenth century. The definition of Puritanism as an historical movement vis-a-vis a broader theologically oriented tradition may create confusion and misunderstanding as to the nature and scope of this guide. This reviewer expected greater, more comprehensive interaction with the historical, social, cultural, and non-homiletic literary material associated with Puritanism based upon titular nomenclature. In contrast, the guide is rather expansive in its inclusion of many later authors in the greater Reformed tradition (e.g., C. Hodge, Warfield, Pink, Machen), yet self-limited by the exclusion of rarer, out-of-print manuscripts in the truer, historic Puritan vein. Historical “purists” may argue the notation of a modern Puritan (x) as an open-ended question worth scholarly debate. The absence or minimal citation of such Puritan notables as John Cotton, the Mathers, or William Perkins further exacerbates the concern raised by the title. Again, this is due largely to the limitation of available sources in print today and the editor’s ministerial vis-a-vis scholastic intentions. Citing the editor,

Second, with reference to the older writers, I have limited my efforts to recently republished works. Many valuable works, of course, have not reappeared in our day, but are available only in libraries and private collections. I have not tried to include any such items (x).

The editor makes it quite clear in the preface that there is a real decision-making tension in bibliographic inclusion and exclusion, and graciously advises the reader of this tension in advance with several disclaimers. With this in view, the title of the book should be rephrased in such a way as not to suggest that this is a comprehensive guide which includes the Puritan divines in the older literature, and as to reflect that it does include scholars, pastors, and authors within a broader Reformed tradition that finds its antecedent in the historical dimension of the Puritan movement.

In terms of the bibliographical citations found within the guide, this reviewer randomly checked several citations for ease of usage. A more complete explanation of the indexing system in the preface would be helpful, particularly for readers unfamiliar with the usage of such bibliographic resource tools. Full bibliographic citation, which contains publication data, might be included in the entry to assist the reader in knowing which edition the editor was working with when he made the inclusion. The myriad of reprints and editions of Puritan literature compound the problem—to say nothing of the speed with which the cited works return to out-of-print status. The editor does include a full bibliography of works at the conclusion of the guide, but it is inconvenient for the reader to jump between the citation proper and the full bibliography. When the editor offers annotations of citation information, the reviewer found it informative and helpful. Future editions might consider additional abstraction, annotation, and background commentary. That would be especially helpful for those users who lack familiarity with the cited work and need greater direction in locating data. It is important to observe that the editor did opt to use full, albeit lengthy, titles in the bibliography. As pointed out in the preface, the titles often function as table-of-contents and are very helpful in understanding authorial intent. Most bibliographies would edit such titles and deprive the reader of the richness the author intended.

Recognizing the limitations and selectivity of any bibliographic resource, a general bibliography of Puritan secondary materials as background assistance would be a welcome inclusion, particularly for novices who are wading into the sea of Puritan literature for the first time. The editor includes many of such works in the full bibliography at the conclusion of the guide. However, the concluding bibliography should be organized in such a way as to assist the user in distinguishing primary from secondary materials. The full bibliography at the conclusion of the guide should have better organization. Furthermore, a brief biographical sketch of authors who are cited in the guide could be helpful to those unfamiliar with the Puritan author and assist in contextualizing the cited work. The editor includes a “biographical sketch” of included authors (451-62), but refers the reader to other works rather than offering biographical information within the guide proper (cf. Allen Carden, “Appendix: Biographical Overview of New England Ministers Quoted,” in Puritan Christianity in America (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990) 223-29, as an example).

A Guide to the Puritans is a welcome tool for pastors interested in locating homiletic or didactic material for use in their ministries. The work may require some patience in using and locating information, but it is the only tool of its kind available to the clergy. The editor has accepted a very difficult challenge in identifying the literature and indexing these materials for the potential reader—a task that should not go unappreciated. The work is an earnest attempt at indexing materials in the broader Reformed tradition, a point potential users should keep in mind if they anticipate a more complete indexing of Puritan literature. Readers should also be aware that the title, A Guide to the Puritans, is confusing and suggests a comprehensive guide rather than a “selective bibliography”—a phrase commonly used in the academic community to designate such a limitation. Those readers interested in Puritan literature and Reformed theology will appreciate this tool.