Search this blog

Spats in the blogosphere have become commonplace. Many times we lament these exchanges, particularly when the participants seem to lose Christian perspective, preferring to demean rather than edify. But sometimes the rapid-fire exchanges become more creative than truly combative, more illuminating than isolating, like battle rap for blog geeks.

Debating “Precious Puritans”

With the release of Propaganda’s new album, “Excellent,” something of an evangelical battle rap-styled blog row has broken out. Joe Thorn offered the first bars with a two-part series reflecting on the track “Precious Puritans.” Joe called in an academic heavy gun in part one to discuss Puritan participation in slavery and in part two shared his own appreciation of the song following a brief interview with Prop.

Owen Strachan rebutted with a post that charges Propoganda with being sinfully unfair to the Puritans and possibly turning people away from reading them. Tony Reinke backs up Owen in a comment on Owen’s original post.

Steve McCoy at Reformissionary offered an analysis of the song and attempted to address those who “missed the point” of the song, responding to some of the concerns Owen raised in his post. Owen shows up with a reply in comment #35 of McCoy’s post.

So it’s on and poppin’ as each “side” squares off in debate. I should be old enough to know better than to wade into this almost ‘east coast-west coast’ styled theo-battle. Should be. But as I’ve read the comments and exchanges, many of them quite useful, I couldn’t help but react in various ways. That’s what follows–some random reactions.

Some Random Reflections

First, I really like the song.  In fact, I absolutely loved the entire album. Hands down it’s musically and lyrically one of the most creative albums I’ve heard in a long, long while. One thing that’s easily lost in all the ruckus over the Puritans is that the entire album is just as hard-hitting as this one track! He hits himself in track 1, “Don’t Listen to Me,” a track that disavows his own expertise and human claims to explanatory wisdom. Track 8, “Forgive Me for Asking,” exposes our tendency to lie in various self-protecting ways. The cd ends with track 12, “Be Present,” the rapper’s report of his own failure to be attentive to his wife and warning from his Vietnam veteran father whose on his fourth marriage. In one sense, “Precious Puritans” simply nestles into the middle of an album which in various ways “got in our face” about some aspect of life or another. It’s curious to me that some were offended at “Precious Puritans,” a group that disappeared some 300 years ago, when I was wrecked on the tracks that personally challenged my contemporary parenting, honesty and integrity, and inattentive presence with the wife. Just saying… there’s much more to be offended by than the reputation of people who have already gone to their reward. This isn’t an album for the easily offended.

Second, I find defenses of the Puritan’s reputation a bit curious, especially when the charge involves race-based slavery. My dear friend and once fellow church member Owen calls for some nuance. Okay. But how do we renounce slavery with “nuance”? It wasn’t a nuanced practice. It was bestial and it reduced human beings to beasts of burden. There’s nothing nuanced about kidnapping, the middle passage, hangings, whippings, rapes, children sold off–and that’s the sanitized listing of atrocities. If anything, the story has been so often told or so often willfully ignored that the sharp edges of truth have been sanded off. I tend to think that all the prickly points of Prop’s song were necessary for those of us whose consciences might be a little dull and imaginations unimaginative when it comes to entering human suffering or the blindness that produces it. There’s something that feels right to me about the “in your face”-ness of the song. We’re left no holes to crawl into, no escape routes, no intellectual deflections. We’re left naked before the gaze of the righteously indignant. Uncomfortable and searching. Uncomfortable because it’s searching. It’s in our–face.

Third, the defense of the Puritans does, it seems to me, draw upon a fair amount of privilege. As Prop puts it in the song, “It sure must be nice not to have to consider race.” Many have written about the different frequency with which Blacks and Whites think about “race.” Not thinking about it is a privilege Blacks don’t have or allow themselves, while not thinking about it is a privilege many Whites exercise with immunity and impunity. I really appreciate the white brothers in Christ who haven’t evoked this privilege and have entered into the critique. Not everyone who welcomes the critique of the song ends up with the same conclusion. That’s fine, and reaching the same conclusion isn’t as important to me as simply working through the challenge. It takes courage to set aside privilege–even to do something as small as thinking through a rap song. I’m grateful for that wherever it has occurred.
Fourth, it’s possible to overlook the pastoral implications of the song in all the discussion of the Puritans. Recall that the song begins with Prop addressing pastors and their indiscriminate use of the Puritans. We could substitute the Puritans with Confederate heroes or pop culture references. The point, it seems to me, is that as pastors we have to consider the audience we’re addressing and how they hear our illustrations and quotes. We’re teaching even in the selection of heroes and villains. We’re teaching even in the selection or deletion of material, whether it commends or condemns. That’s something worth thinking about, especially in diverse church settings. I’m not moved by Civil War references that valorize this or that general while forgetting, say, the 1st Volunteer Unit of South Carolina or the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts. As preachers it can be easy to presume everyone’s interest in our heroes, omitting the differences of culture, ethnicity, social place, etc. Far too often the omissions omit us. Pastorally we want all our people to see their place in the drama of human redemption and in the subplots of world history. Prop’s challenge hits the target on this point.


Fifth, good theology does not mechanically lead to good living. We need to understand this. It’s a commonplace Christian assertion that if we believe the right things we ought to do the right things. Then we’re perplexed when either people who believe the right things actually do vile things, or people with supposedly faulty theology actually live better than the orthodox. We’re left groping for explanations and defenses. How did the Puritans “miss it”? Why did “liberals” seem to “get it”? Well, “it” doesn’t follow mechanically, ipso facto, ex opere operato from some set of solid beliefs. There’s a whole lot of effort, application, resistance to the world, self-examination, and mortification that’s gotta accompany the doctrine in order for the duty to follow. As Flav put it, “They’re blind, baby, because they can’t see.” That’s why they missed it; they couldn’t see it. Their theology wasn’t a corrective lense; it didn’t fix the cataracts. It didn’t fix the degenerative sight of Southern Presbyterians who also missed it, or the Dutch Reformed of South Africa who not only missed it but supported Apartheid, or some of the German Reformed who missed it in Nazi Germany, and so on. And this is why I’m made slightly nervous by the tendency of some Reformed types to advocate “pure” doctrine and demur at “pure” social action. The Puritan movement was a movement in church reform and revival, and some of their heirs (I count myself one) can be too purely concerned about the purity of the church without a commensurate concern about the purity of social witness. We can stack our chips on theology, as though theology inexorably produces the social results we want with little to no attending effort. Mistake, I think. The Puritans prove that.

Sixth, we’re terrible at critiquing our heroes. That’s why we need people less infatuated than ourselves to tell us the plain truth we miss. As I read the exchanges, the folks who seem to have the greatest difficulty with the song are the folks who seem (sometimes they say so) to have the highest appreciation for the Puritans. That’s the pedestal Prop mentions. By definition, raising someone to a pedestal means lifting them beyond critique and realistic assessment. If we “pedestalize” our heroes, we’re bound to miss things and we need others to point to it. But, we don’t like to have people kicking around our pedestals. Our idols may topple and fall. For instance, I don’t like people kicking around the pedestal of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I grew up with a grandmother who kept a cheesy painting of Jesus, King, and Kennedy hanging on her living room wall. Jesus was elevated in the center of the picture, with the requisite soft yellow halo, while King and Kennedy appeared on his left and right. Makes you wonder if the painter ever heard King’s “Drum Major Instinct” sermon. But many evangelicals have the habit of mentioning plagiarism and adultery and “liberal theology” whenever Dr. King’s name is raised. And there’s something in me that kicks back, defends, guards the pedestal and remembers the painting. As I read the comments about “Precious Puritans,” it seemed to me that some people had a picture of Jesus on their grandmother’s living room wall–only the picture had Reagan and a puritan on the left and right.  We’re not good at critiquing or receiving criticism of our heroes. Perhaps we need to grow up a bit in this regard?

Seventh, are there many people who actually read the Puritans anyway? I’m guessing that most Christians, if they’ve heard of the Puritans, probably haven’t read them in any detail. I’m grateful for the Puritan Paperback series of Banner, which has made a lot of the Puritans accessible. But I can’t say many read their works. Are they really that “precious” beyond the pastors and authors who read and quote them? I don’t think Prop hurts the cause. I don’t think the Puritans are as celebrated as some think. I’ll give them this: the Puritans have a great name and recently some pretty good PR folks. But they’re a long way from being household names. For that reason, I don’t think Prop hurts the cause. Moreover, do we really think that reading the Puritans–as beneficial as that can be–outweighs growth in cross-ethnic understanding or more effectively preaching to diverse congregations? I’d far rather people who learn to live just lives even if they’ve never read the Puritans and only heard Prop’s song, than a bunch of folks who read the Puritans religiously and act as if Prop’s angst and racial oppression were not real.

Eight, it’s very easy to slip from disagreement to opposition. But not every disagreement is opposition. I’m glad the brothers involved in this disagreement recognize they’re on the same “side”–Christ’s. They don’t oppose each other as though they’re enemies. That’s good in a day when we can interpret every disagreement as opposition and vilify the “other.” At a couple points, a comment or two seemed to toe the line. I found the insinuation that Prop is “angry” much too reminiscent of “the angry black man” stereotype. Much. But I also found the notion that Owen was motivated by racial privilege and ignorant of the cultural genre much too stereotypical as well. White brothers and sisters might have to ask themselves, “Can I withstand an African American man speaking the truth in strong terms without resorting to fear-based stereotypes, and if not, why not?” African American brothers and sisters might have to ask themselves, “Can I withstand a White man disagreeing about something as poignant as slavery without resorting to accusations of racism, and, if not, why not?” The whole episode reminds me that when I find myself disagreeing with someone, especially a Christian brother or sister, I need to slow down to recognize they’re not opponents and I shouldn’t malign their motives. I’ve blundered that way many times. So, it was good to see brothers working to avoid that trap while they expressed disagreement. It’s not been done perfectly, but there seemed to be a good irenic spirit.

Finally, there needs to be more conversation about our respective historical narratives and interpretations. We need to learn how others weight certain aspects of our shared history and how that shapes our interpretations of the present. We hear the word “Puritan” and one man thinks “hero” while another thinks “slave owner.” Both interpretations are in some sense true, but only partially true. We know that a partial truth masquerading as the whole truth is a complete untruth. Partial truths asserting themselves upon others is an act of oppression. Our postmodern friends aren’t completely wrong when they tell us that there’s a power struggle whenever one narrative gets foisted upon all people. African Americans and many other minority groups know what it’s like to fight to see yourself included in the overarching narrative.

It’s not that there isn’t a meta-narrative. There is. It’s just that the meta-narrative can’t be reduced to one people’s history. The meta-narrative must be God’s, for He is the only One who comprehends all in himself. God is no postmodernist. He’s the Creator and Ruler of all things in eternity and history. That’s why He alone is able to hit a straight lick with a crooked stick. That’s why Prop’s song ends on the perfect ironic note.


The Puritans are not so precious that they’re beyond criticism. We ought not be reduced to Gollums, defending our “precious” at any cost. Instead, we ought to observe how our “precious” actually emaciates our souls and our understanding. And we ought to see that we become what we worship. In the  final analysis, just as in the final verse of the song, we’re not that different from the Puritans. It’s no small thing that we’re just as crooked. We’re just as full of contradiction and partial sight. And God uses us for His glory even when we can’t see all that we should. Praise His name!

View Comments


218 thoughts on “The Puritans Are Not That Precious”

  1. Joe Thorn says:

    Thabiti, I am thankful for your pastoral voice in all of this. This is very helpful.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hey, bro. I’m grateful for your detailing the song and offering up a challenge to us all. Thanks for the encouragement.

  2. Mike Cosper says:

    I’m glad you wrote this, Thabiti. Very clear and strong. Much needed.

  3. This is EXTREMELY well said, and I think moves the conversation forward by a mile. Thank you for this.
    And you are right, “Excellent” hits at every level. Propaganda is extremely well said too.

  4. Inchristus says:

    A much-needed corrective to our piety. Reflection #5 alone needs to be read and re-read daily BEFORE we open our theologies and Bibles. The depth of human depravity is far more complex; we cannot simply wave the theology magic wand to fix it. Thanks!

  5. Justin says:

    Your third point describes my experience with PP. My initial reaction was, “why was it even necessary?” (this was before I had heard the song…I had just seen some of the reaction to it). When I listened to PP, it hit me. For the first time, I finally understood “white privilege.” I had always reacted negatively to that term. It seemed to me that my black brothers and sisters were just making stuff up. After all, slavery ended a long time ago. But, I was blind to the reality of my privelege. And Prop’s words opened my eyes. And I’m grateful. For I found myself delighting a little more in the Gospel.

    Prop has some unbelievable skills. His way with words pierced my soul (especially “Be Present”). And the glorious thing was that I am delighting more in the Gospel because of it. Jesus was never blind to privilege. He lived perfectly when it came to inter-racial relations. He was always “present.” And I have that perfect record imputed to my account. Praise be to God that he used a crooked stick like Prop to open my eyes a little more to my need of grace.

  6. pduggie says:

    I think the claim is not just that the Puritans had good theology they didn’t live out, but that something was flawed in their theology itself that led to their missing slavery.

    Maybe an overemphasis on sovereignty? God as a god who makes miserable creatures who should be content with their fate rather than a God who redeems miserable creatures from their oppressors, sin and the world.

    The issue of nuance in slavery comes with how the slaves were treated once they got here. The middle passage was awful, clearly, but if one writer (sedgwick) can say

    “The slaves in Massachusetts were treated with almost parental kindness. They were incorporated into the family, and each puritan household being a sort of religious structure, the relative duties of master and servant were clearly defined. No doubt the severest and longest task fell to the slave, but in the household of the farmer or artisan, the master and the mistress shared it, and when it was finished, the white and the black, like the feudal chief and his household servant, sat down to the same table, and shared the same viands.”

    though she adds

    “No doubt there were hard masters and cruel mistresses, and so there are cruel fathers and exacting mothers: unrestrained power is not a fit human trust. We know an old man, who, fifty years ago, when strict domestic discipline was a cardinal virtue, and “spare the rod and spoil the child” was written on the lintel, was in the unvarying habit, “after prayers” on a Monday morning, of setting his children, boys and girls, nine in number, in a row, and beginning with the eldest, a lad of eighteen, he inflicted an hebdomadal prospective chastisement down the whole line, to the little urchin of three years. And the tradition goes, that the possible transgressions of the week were never underrated–that these were supererogatory stripes for possible sins, or chance misdemeanors!”

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Dear pduggie,

      I suspect that the “happy” slaves in Massachusetts might interpret the “parental kindness” of their owners far differently than Sedgwick. Can you imagine what it’s like to have every movement restricted, every desire curtailed, every thought censored, every argument silenced, and every human impulse redefined as three-fifths? It doesn’t matter that you were at the table when others. The family dog was at the table, too, and the other folks at the table considered you to be essentially like fido–only fido received far fewer beatings and could run around the countryside when he wanted.

      As far as I’m concerned, it’s dangerously naive to insist on the “humanity” of a fundamentally inhumane system. It’s like arguing Dr. Kevorkian is really gentle with patients. As if killing them slowly and softly wasn’t in fact killing them. Slavery was one pervasive, unrelenting, utterly dehumanizing evil. Let’s not try to make it prettier by pointing to a few imaginary idyllic exceptions. At least do the courtesy of quoting what the slaves thought of their owner’s “parental kindness.” Even in the history about them, they’re made to be silent objects. That’s how deeply flawed and troubled our memories and histories can be.


      1. pduggie says:

        I appreacite your reply and what you’re saying. My trouble comes when I wonder if such things can be claimed against biblical slavery too.

        And then I’m left with the problem of God instituting a “fundamentally inhumane system” in the Old testament, which seems to admit of no solution. Divorce can become humane (as a solution for beating, abandonment, or adultery) or inhumane. If slavery can never be humane, then why is God so wishy-washy on it.

        FWIW, ancient Greek and Roman slavery would NEVER have had the slaves eating with the masters. Even Jesus regards that as a shocking inversion of the natural order that indicates something unique about Christianity. That anyone in new England practiced such is quite an anomaly.

        1. God (or the Bible) didn’t “institute” slavery but mitigated a man-made “peculiar institution” and planted the ideological seeds that led to its demise.

          1. pduggie says:

            Some would say he did the same with male headship.

            1. Tom says:

              Except Paul never looked back to created order to support his commands to masters and slaves; whereas, he did repeatedly for male headship.

      2. EMSoliDeoGloria says:

        Amen and amen, Thabiti. God alone owns a man or woman and as creator deserves our worship and obedience and desires our love. No man or woman should own another. that is a truth universal, however often violated. The fact that civil laws in the theocratic nation of Israel, which are preserved in Scripture, set forth standards for the humane treatment of servants/slaves, underscores NOT the legitimacy of slavery but the need to temper the cruelty of those who call themselves masters.

    2. Richard A. Bailey says:

      Great thoughts, Thabiti. Thank you for sharing them with us all.

      pduggie, If you’re really interested in slavery in New England, I’d suggest looking beyond Catherine Sedgwick’s nineteenth-century work. The last decade or so has seen a revived interest in slavery in New England. And though there’s much work still to be done in the field, we’re discovering (unsurprisingly) that the institution was nearly never like Sedgwick describes. And even if it were, there are still issues—as Thabiti points out.

  7. pduggie says:

    @justin. very good. I am in favor of anything that exposes white privilege, even if you can pick it apart afterwards.

  8. Quincy A. Jones says:

    excellent analysis and commentary bro…so encouraged by this and its application beyond the debate over the song itself. the principles of #5 & 6 have been foundational for me in being able to consider theology and come to conclusions that have gone beyond and even against my former RT/Calvinistic assumptions.

    bless you doc, keep doin what you do.


  9. Owen says:


    The Owen Strachan “Precious Puritans Response Blog Tour” continues. Really appreciate the tone of your post.

    Your insights are well taken, brother. Just to be clear, I didn’t actually say anything about “nuancing” our understanding of slavery. I denounced it repeatedly in the post. The only “nuance” I offered was that there is serious sin in the lives of past believers. I mentioned Edwards, Luther, and the list could and does go on. Do we throw those folks out? Do we not listen to them? Propaganda’s song could be taken as saying that. I hate the racism of Edwards, and with Douglas Sweeney I have called it out. So I actually don’t think I can not consider race or think it’s unimportant.

    My concern, as I have said a few times, was not that I didn’t understand Propaganda’s song. I didn’t just “rebut” the song. Did you see the paragraph where I listed multiple questions that Propaganda helpfully raised? I very much DID NOT do a take-down of the song. I pointed out that this is a very needed conversation, and I even commended the cd, which frankly I liked.

    But I am concerned that people would not just not read the Puritans, but that they would hate the Puritans, if they didn’t listen with the same kind of care that some would. Perhaps we disagree here, but that is a problem to me, just as it was a problem when the Edwards Center at Trinity was under serious fire on a similar issue. I do want people to read the Puritans, sinful as they are. They have a soaring view of God, a careful understanding of the church, a gospel-driven way of doing soul care, a proper understanding of the role of the covenants in salvation history, a right sense of home worship, a domestic economy that calls men to be leaders and spiritual protectors, and much more. They have their flaws–some serious–but they are one of the healthiest doctrinal movements in all of church history. I for one do not want them lost, or ignored, or distrusted.

    But I am very glad for cross-ethnic discussion. We need it. I am very glad for white people like me to be educated, to hear the other side, to think about the sins of past Christians. This is an egregious part of the American church’s legacy. I suppose, though, that I want both. I want to be able to learn from groups of the past who loved the gospel. I need to know in studying them that there is a visceral power to their racism that will affect me differently than my brothers and sisters. That is right and understandable.

    Anyway, this is now too long. Appreciate the discussion and hope for future edification and healing.

    1. Hope says:

      Respectively Owen I agree with what Thabiti stated in his seventh point, “…are there many people who actually read the Puritans anyway.” I really do not believe there is going to be a book burning of the Puritans work. I am not saying you were insinuating that I am just making the point. I am an African American and I am just beginning to read some of the puritans work and am thankful for the truths in their writings.

      1. Richard A. Bailey says:

        Good thoughts, John. As I tried to point out in my briefish exchange with Joe, early voices, like Sewall, did speak out against race-based slavery—though they were few in doing so. And certainly some of the descendants of Puritans joined forces with Africans and African Americans (the real first abolitionists) in decrying slavery. Though not all white abolitionists believed in racial equality, of course. What’s more, other descendants of the Puritans were ardent supporters of race-based slavery into the nineteenth century—yet another of the contradictions of African slavery that I try to at least hint at in my book.

        1. Hi,

          Yeah, I don’t like where they put the “REPLY” button on this blog! :)

          It’s true that some of a Reformed faith supported slavery. Robert Lewis Dabney (March 5, 1820 – January 3, 1898) is a prominent example. The Southern Baptist Convention is another.

          But, in as much as slavery was a regular part of life for all of humanity for millenia, what is remarkable is not the support (conscious or otherwise) of slavery, but why people suddenly began, in a widespread way, to see that it was wrong. It wasn’t because of secularism. Thomas Jefferson, our secular founding-father, was a slave-owner. It was because of a moral revolution birthed and nourished by Puritanism. To put it starkly: Puritanism ended slavery.

        2. Richard A. Bailey says:

          I say much the same thing in my book. Ok, maybe not as starkly. But I do see the first wave of white abolitionists relying on the ideas of their forebears in formulating their arguments against slavery. I still, however, can’t look beyond those next generations who relied on the actions of their forebears to argue for slavery. It befuddles me. And reminds me of my own fallenness and need for the gospel.

          1. Conforming to “the world” and carrying on self-serving (sinful) institutions isn’t unusual and so shouldn’t be too befuddling. What is amazing is people who are willing to revolutionize the world because they believe in something higher and better.

          2. Richard A. Bailey says:

            I don’t disagree with your final statement. But I’ve also spent enough time in the sources to realize that wasn’t the only motivation for ending race-based slavery. As I said in my first comment, all-too often these first white abolitionists did not believe in universal equality. So, they didn’t always have revolutionizing the world in mind and those that did weren’t always relying on the Puritans. It’s a messy, but fascinating subject. One I’m grateful to have had time thus far with. And I’m genuinely excited about much of the scholarship that is on the horizon.

            1. Hi Richard,

              At this stage we’re discussing political abolitionism; that is, the final movement to end slavery through political means (which eventually, of course, required a war). The successors of the Puritans (roughly “evangelicals”) were willing to make common cause with others coming with other motivations, like Quakers or even those with some kind of secular-humanitarian motivation. That they were able to do so is another of the qualities of Puritanism that made it so effective at cultural change: it’s activist character. Mainstream Puritanism (such as that of the Massachusetts Bay Colony rather than the separatists of the Plymouth Colony) were involved with the world at large. Ironically, they came to New England so that they could be engaged with the world, what James Davenport described as a strategic withdrawal so that they could regroup and remain engaged. For example, the Massachusetts Bay Puritans would not admit that they had withdrawn from the Church of England and that conviction is what eventually caused the split with Roger Williams. Puritans were committed to cultural engagement.

              So while the Puritan quasi-theocracy had long since dissolved, Puritan values were spread further and deeper into American culture by what George Marsden calls “culturally aggressive New England Yankees.” Both Marsden and Fogel sketch a complicated, reflexive process in the first half of the nineteenth century in which Northern Protestants eventually coalesced joining Northern Baptists and Methodists in the new Republican party. “The result,” says Marsden, “was that the Republican party had a strong Puritan-evangelical component, bent on regulating the society according to Christian principles.” The abolition of slavery was their first great goal and their greatest achievement.

      2. blake says:

        I disagree with Thabiti’s point that the Puritans aren’t a household name. I think the Puritans are a household name thanks to Hawthorne’s, The Scarlet Letter, and historical movies portraying them as cold, hypocritical, authoritarian legalists. If it wasn’t for the recent work of Beeke, Piper, Packer and others, I wouldn’t see them in a favorable light in the least.

  10. A good article. It’s true that no sinner, not even the best of Puritans, is beyond criticism. And all of us, including the Puritans, are shaped by “the world”, the culture around us that induces us to participate in sins that we may not know — but should know — are sins.

    However, with the Puritans and slavery, several things should be noted:
    1. they didn’t start the institution or even the enslaving of Africans; further, as far as I know, they did not participate in the enslaving of plantation-type, large numbers of slaves (mass chattel slavery) as a separate class, as in the South, but generally, when they had slaves, had one or two per household;
    2. they allowed slaves to be church members (even while they decapitated a king); for the Puritans admittance to church membership was the affirmation that the person was a visible saint, showed the signs of grace and by granting that to slaves showed how radical they were.
    3. they were the fathers of the abolition movement. Slavery was a long-standing (sinful) institution of society for millenia. It ended — not despite — but precisely because of the Puritans and their evangelical descendants.

    One of the first men to make a public stand against slavery was Puritan magistrate Samuel Sewall (March 28, 1652 – January 1, 1730) in his book “The Selling of Joseph”, 1700. Andrew Crosswell, one of the most important itinerants to torch Boston with the Lord’s truth in the spring and summer of 1742 attracted huge crowds across the river from Boston in Charlestown. An advocate for the weak, Crosswell decried the cruel treatment of prisoners and denounced slavery. Some “New Divinity” ministers (followers of Jonathan Edwards — who owned a slave), like Nathaniel William Taylor spoke out against slavery and the corruption of wealth. Samuel Hopkins mixed his drive for cross-cultural evangelism with his concern for African slaves. He planned and worked for an African mission led by freed slaves for 30 years. Hopkins recruited two African slaves, members of Hopkins’ church, helped arrange their emancipation, and sent them to Princeton to train for the mission.

    The spiritual descendants of the Puritans brought slavery down. They achieved this through a revival of Puritanism known as the “First Great Awakening”; a Yankee Diaspora made possible by the Puritan family ethic; and a “Second Great Awakening” which spread the ethic of benevolence. Robert W. Fogel, who won a Nobel Prize for his work on the economics of slavery, concluded that it was not economic forces that brought about the end of slavery but a revolution in moral sentiment with its roots in Puritanism.

    1. Richard A. Bailey says:

      Ok, so I replied in the wrong place. Oh well.

    2. Wayne Wilson says:

      Important points John. I think anyone interested in this discussion should read Richard Baxter’s lengthy section on slavery in A Christian Directory. A taste:

      “Do you not see how you reproach and condemn yourselves, while you vilify them as savages and barbarous wretches? Did they ever do anything more savage, than to use not only men’s bodies as beasts, but their souls as if they were made for nothing but to actuate their bodies in your worldly drudgery? Did the veriest cannibals ever do anything more cruel or odious than to sell so many souls to the devil for a little worldly gain?”

      And “By howmuch the hardness of their condition doth make their lives uncomfortable, and God hath cast them lower than yourselves, by so much the more let your charity pity them, and labour to abate their burden, and sweeten their lives to them, as much as your condition will allow. And remember that even a slave may be one of those neighbors that you are bound to love as yourselves, and to do as you would be done by, if your case were his.”

      1. excellent quote, thanks for sharing it. My studies were in New England Puritanism so I’m not as knowledgeable about the contributions of the Puritans to abolitionism in England although my guess is that it is remarkable.

  11. Tony McClinton says:

    Thabiti, Thanks for the insight on of all of this. I too have the excellent album. As I’ve noted to many people in my circles the only people in Christian Hip Hop that got upset about this is a group out of Maryland called Christ centric. It’s sad that as distinguished as they are lyrically they took the song and got so upset about it.

  12. Mel says:

    I think that God allows us to see the flaws in men like Martin Luther and Martin Luther King Jr so that we don’t worship them. Why do we insist on trying anyway?
    God has done some huge miracles in my life out of the mire that I have created with sin.
    God says began a good work in you and will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:16 Why can’t we remember that when looking at other’s lives?
    Why can’t we take the good and remember that it is all covered in the blood?
    If we are going to do it with one hero shouldn’t it be done with all?
    Or at the very least quit making heroes out of sinful people and Jesus be our only one?
    Everyone else is just an instrument of God.
    It’s not like we put up pictures of hammers just because we live in a house built by one.

    1. Eagle says:

      If God allows flaws in the like’s of Martin Luther King or Martin Luther so that they cannot be worshipped. Why is it that many reformed people worship John Piper, Mark Driscoll, CJ Mananey etc…? This double standard shows the hypocrsiy of modern reformed theology. Becuase many modern reformed are blind to worship someone who practices blackmail, extortion or threatens violence like Driscoll did on his elders to get his by-laws passed.

    2. vessel says:

      or as TUPAC SHAKUR once said ” cant close my eyes cause all I see is terror, I hate the man in the mirror cause his reflection makes the pain turn realer.”

  13. EMSoliDeoGloria says:

    So helpful! thank you!

  14. Luma says:

    This is excellent!!!

  15. Nathan Finn says:

    This is a great article, Thabiti. Very helpful, and with wider application than just the current debate about Propoganda’s song. Thanks for weighing in on this discussion.

    I was a blessing to see you last weekend at SEBTS.


  16. Tim Wilcoxson says:

    I vote for J.I Packer to be invited into this discussion.

  17. Mike says:

    All men are evil, and slavery no doubt is one of the most heinous acts on this earth; and while that is to be acknowledged and rejected, so too the scriptural truth and wisdom even sinful men and women speak and write of can be acknowledged and praised inasmuch as it is God’s truth.

  18. Rachael Starke says:

    I’m SO glad you weighed in on this, Thabiti. It’s so helpful.

    I got the album based on your (enthusiastic, voluminous :) ) recommendation, and that song was the one that really wrecked me. I’m a fifth-generation Reformed Baptist preacher’s daughter. We lived and breathed the Puritans. And not one time, ever, did I hear anything about them owning slaves, or treating them the way you described. I was, and am, horrified.

    But I understood and was most convicted by, yes, that all-important last verse, where Propaganda actually equates people quoting him with people quoting the Puritans. IOW, he is just as much a sinner as those Puritans, and we should view his gifts and words, your gifts and words, and especially mine, in the same light. Your point about the Reformed community is just dead on, especially when it comes to the blogosphere. And if it’s not too bold to say, the fact some want to make this into an argument over how much we should still promote the Puritans, instead of how humbly we should be considering our own “orthodoxy”, may be an indicator that this itself is our biggest blind spot.

    1. EMSoliDeoGloria says:

      Very well said, Rachel. This isn’t about the positive theological contributions of the Puritans, however much we agree (or disagree) with some of their insights.

      It’s hard to improve on Thabiti’s points 5 and 6 – good doctrine alone is not a guarantor of right practice and we must be careful of the hero-worship and willing to be internally critical (in a truth-loving, grace-filled, building up kind of way). All of us are blind in some areas. Presumably, if we knew where our blind spots were, we would change. The reality that those we admire get some things wrong – sometimes horrifically so, should humble us. We are made of the same stuff as they.

      I fear that Owen’s argument, which sounds like ‘but I want people to read them and if we talk about their sin in stark terms like this, people will probably hate them and not learn from them,’ would be a ready excuse for all sorts of whitewashing of the sinner-saints of the past (and the sinner-saints of the present). Similar rationale is used to silence critique of modern day ministry leaders too. We need to learn the right lessons from the past: ALL fall short and God can use anyone (even an ass).


  19. Steve McCoy says:

    Thabiti, I’m thankful for your voice in this discussion. This is a fine post, gathering information and processing through the whole of it, including offering more insight to the whole album. Just great. Thanks, brother.

  20. Micah says:

    Did y’all notice that Owen responded in the comment between Quincy Jones and John Carpenter?

    1. Quincy A. Jones says:

      Lol, good eye!

  21. Micah Manore says:

    Thabiti, I appreciate the insight, but I appreciate the introduction to Propaganda even more. Really good stuff.

  22. Matt Tague says:

    Thank you for a very helpful article. As a white pastor who grew up in a very multicultural environment, I always thought I also saw race. But then I adopted three African American children and I now think about race each and every day, in multiple contexts. I can say now that I was not thinking about race, even thought I thought I was. Thank you for presenting this insight for your white readers.

  23. DJ Wade-O says:

    Thank you for your insight on this. You broke this down very well.

  24. David Murray says:

    Thank you, Thabiti. And that’s from someone who works at Puritan Reformed Seminary! I’ve had some fears and suspicions about some of the Puritans’ views on slavery but Joe Thorn, Richard Bailey, and now your article have really opened my eyes. I have to be honest and say that my first instinct was ignore…then defend…but really the facts have to be faced, accepted, and mourned over. I appreciated John Carpenter’s helpful comment which at least rescues some of the Puritans and more of their “successors” from this grievous sin.

    I know none of us here at PURITAN Seminary view our name as a 100% endorsement of all the Puritans were or did. Although I was not present at the founding of the Seminary in the 1990’s I believe the name was really chosen to try to emphasize the Seminary’s emphasis on inner piety, spirituality, and application in preaching. It was felt that many Seminaries, even Reformed seminaries, had become over-Academic, too much head and not enough heart and hand. The Puritans are a helpful corrective to that and do call us to experience a life lived in conscious communion with God. Yes, they also reformed the church and stood with the historic reformed confessions, but that experiential emphasis was really their major distinctive.

    It still leaves the question about whether any part of their theology, or any lack or imbalance in their theology were at the root of their toleration/endorsement/practice of slavery. Or was it just the weight of historic and cultural practice that crushed the outworking of their theology in this area?

    In some cases, too, especially in the UK, there was deep ignorance (and much misinformation) about the slave trade and slavery in the US. Most of us probably know more about the realities of slavery than most Puritan pastors.

    Anyway, these are painful things to find out about our spiritual heroes. Necessary but painful. They make me want to search my heart and life (and place of employment) for undetected prejudice and racism that future generations will probably be able to see far more clearly than I do.

  25. Kaylee says:

    I am going to pose my comment as a question because I have not thought about it enough and don’t know enough about anything, but this is the thought I had, and maybe it is even totally off the subject at hand:
    We would think it VERY obvious that slavery is wrong, intrinsically. Even Jesus said so. We wonder, how could the Puritans not get that?
    I wonder if the Puritan blindness was because they lived at a time when they saw the movement, the media, their friends and associates exercising these talking about it and it became normal, acceptable, everyday.
    I wonder if in 300 years, they won’t say the same about us and some of the things we practice. There are things that are socially acceptable, political issues even, and we saw the movement, it’s in the media, our friends and associates talk about it often and currently those things we practice are socially normal, acceptable, everyday.
    What will they say about us? Will they say, how could they not get that? Even Jesus said it wasn’t ok. How could they be so blind?

    1. Where did the Lord Jesus condemn slavery? I agree that it’s wrong but I can’t remember a text from Jesus that says so explicitly.

      As for Puritan times, remember that about 50% of the people in England were servants. It wasn’t as bad as the race-based slavery of America because they had hope of getting out of it, but it was difficult to rise out of the class one was born into, even for Englishmen. So it was a normal part of life and that too easily acclimated them to the wrongs of slavery.

      It maybe that future generations will condemn us for placidly debating abortion, even if we criticize it. We maybe regarded as too acclimated to the culture that accepted it and too afraid to lose our comfortable life by doing what is necessary to stop it.

  26. Jeremy Gage says:

    “I’m not moved by Civil War references that valorize this or that general while forgetting, say, the 1st Volunteer Unit of South Carolina or the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts.”

    This is so wrong I can’t even get my head around it. You are unmoved by accounts of Stonewall Jackson’s faith in the face of death, his courage, his tenderness, unless the speaker goes out of his way to talk about black fighting units?

    If that is really the case, and not an overstatement, there is a big problem, but it is not with the speaker.

    1. As a son of Confederate veterans and plantation slave-holders, I agree with the hypothetical speaker. There is something fundamentally wrong with Stonewall Jackson’s faith — even if it did give him “faith in the face of death”, etc — if it allowed him to fight for slavery. Let’s make no mistake about it — as Vice President of the Confederacy Alexander Stephens in his “Cornerstone” speech and various state “secession statements” make painfully clear — the Confederacy was fighting for slavery. I believe there are things about the Puritans (as I noted above) that mitigate (but not excuse) their complicity in slavery. But as for Confederate “heroes”, no matter how otherwise sincere their piety may have been, there was something radically wrong. Their cause was purely evil.

      From a sermon of mine last year, marking the 150th anniversary of the out-break of the Civil War:
      “the Vice-President of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens, in a speech given in Savannah, Georgia, on March 21, 1861, in what is called the “Cornerstone speech,” stated that the secession of the Southern states and formation of the Confederate States of America will “put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution — African slavery as it exists amongst us — the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.” He went on to say that Thomas Jefferson, in the Declaration of Independence was fundamentally wrong, that all men are not created equal; that the races are not equal. He said, “Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea [from Jefferson]; its foundations are laid, its corner–stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition.” The evidence, Southern friends, is conclusive: the South was fighting for slavery.”
      That’s what Stonewall Jackson was fighting for. So what do you think of his faith now?

      1. Jeremy Gage says:

        I would love to defend Stonewall (his faith and his fighting) here, but that is not the point.

        Thabiti stated that he is unmoved unless highlights of blacks are tossed into Civil War references. I’m assuming blacks who fought for the South don’t count.

        The issue remains, regardless of Mr. Stephens. Surely one can be moved by something from the Civil War without talking about Northern black soldiers?

        1. Jeremy,

          You can’t defend what Jackson fought for. He fought for slavery. I would be unmoved by praise of Erwin Rommel’s pious Lutheranism (if he was pious) because he fought for Nazism. There’s just no way around the offense of that. The Confederacy was fighting for slavery, to keep people of African descent in bondage. That’s what the war was about and those fighting for the South were fighting for that. If they were supposedly a pious Christian otherwise, their failure to stand for justice undermines their witness.

    2. Eagle says:

      I fail to see how Stonewall Jackson is to be held up and adored. His faith which led him into battle is no different than Mohammad Atta’s faith whihc led him to fly a 767 into one of the World Trade Centers.

  27. Christine says:

    This is thought provoking. It does us good to remember and acknowledge that our heroes are men, and no one is good but God alone. I remember a feeling of shock when I read Thomas Aquinas views on women being “misbegotten” and inferior, recoiling at David and his women,Judah’s treatment of Tamar and on and on, the disappointment in realizing this critical corruption in the philosophy of “pillars of the faith”. But then there is some strange liberty in the knowledge that God can still use sinful man. Pretending that God only uses the perfect, sweeping sin under the rug to preserve that illusion, is helpful to no one.

  28. Jennifer says:

    I’ll comment briefly. The Puritans were sinners. We’re sinners. The Puritans were theologians. Some of us are theologians; at the very least we’re called to be students of the Word. The Puritans didn’t get it 100% right on everything any more than anyone in the current generation gets it 100% right on everything. What they did do though, that we don’t do nearly as well as they did, was to thoroughly and completely immerse themselves in Scripture and seek to apply it to their daily lives. And just as we often “miss” things, they did too. The fact that they “missed” slavery doesn’t make them any less worthy of being read. It just means that when or if they’re talking about slavery (do any of them do so?), we tread lightly. We analyze from Scripture. We use our awareness of their blind spots to discern truth, with God’s help and by His grace.

  29. TaNeesha Johnson says:

    Thabiti- Thank you! More conversations need to be had regarding inter-ethnic issues beyond blog postings. The need for this within local congregations is desperate. I suspect that much fear (of being wrong, hurt feelings, misunderstandings, etc.)abides in actually doing this. But if being wrong or misunderstood possibly leads to growing in dependence on God and love for another then I say bring it on people.

    Again, thank you Thabiti!

  30. Hope says:

    Thank you, Thank you Thabiti for writing this! Yes, I agree we need more discussions about are historical narratives and interpretations.

  31. John says:


    Ignorant white person question.

    How should I respond when I hear my clients (I’m a criminal defense attorney) insinuate that it’s the white man’s fault that they committed armed robbery because they were too poor and the white man was just out to get them? It’s this kind of stuff that I struggle with when it comes to “race” (know you don’t like that category). How do I respond to stuff like this while at the same time trying to demonstrate the whole concept that their sin is their own and not somebody else’s? I feel like “I’m black and thats why Im in trouble” just becomes a defeater belief.

    Thanks brother.

    1. Mike says:

      I hope he answers this. I struggle with similar issues and frustrations in my line of work.

  32. This was wonderful to read. Thanks Thabiti!

  33. Mike Waters says:

    Thanks for this post. Very insightful. Yet, as I read some of the comments my fears are only heightened. Propaganda did not represent the puritans properly. None of the 17th Century English puritans I read and quote owned African slaves or worked on slave ships. Men such as Perkins, Sibbs, Owen, Flavel, Watson, Bunyan, and Love are not fairly represented. That many of their successors did I do not deny. This is both shameful and wicked. That discussion needs to take place. But, to give the impression that the “puritans” as a whole were racist, African slave-owners is not true. This has been a major result of Propaganda’s song thus far. People ignorant of the puritans ready to lynch them. I fear his song will not facilitate a context of healing but hurting. The tone was over the top. Regardless if it was a rap song or not, the statements, “let not many of you become teachers” and, “tell the truth in love” still apply. Propaganda is a very talented artist, and I have come to greatly appreciate Humble Beast in general. Though, I must confess, this song and much of the discussion has become a discouragement. At the end of the day, “we all shall stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” Bless God for that gracious Savior the puritans so consistently preached.

    Mike Waters
    Heritage Reformed Baptist Church

    1. Hi Mike,

      You’ve made good and useful comments in a helpful way. I think you’ve revealed something that may have been over-looked: the discussion has assumed New England Puritanism and not paid attention to Puritanism in England. That’s understandable as slavery was mostly only an issue in America, not so much in England. The Puritans in England — and all the ones you mentioned were in England — did not face the issue as did the New England Puritans. So, we can’t really exonerate the Puritans in England for not having slaves when there was very little opportunity for them to procure any. It’s like praising the Amish for not succumbing to internet porn: it’s great they haven’t sinned with internet porn but we can’t ascribe it to their spirituality but their lack of opportunity.

      1. Mike Waters says:

        John. Yes, but my point is simply this. Puritanism was, historically considered, a 17th century English movement. Propaganda should never have used such a broad brush. Deal with slavery that existed in the church, deal with racism that remains in the church – head-on. Amen. But if you’re going to use such strong terms as he did, be sure you speak accurately. I assure you, as can be seen by reading the comments on the various websites, most people do not make the necessary distinctions. Puritans in general are being lynched. How is this honoring to God, or bringing reconciliation to the churches. This song will only divide us, not unite. We need intelligent conversations that do not speak over-the-top.

        1. Puritanism was the English movement to reform the church of England, beginning in the 16th century, William Perkins being one of the first leaders. By the 1620s some Puritans came to believe the best way to reform the church was by taking “an errand into the wilderness”: going to America to set up “pure” churches without the interference of the king or the archbishop. The founders of New England were Puritans. Puritanism seems to have lasted longer and had a greater cultural influence in New England, and America generally, than it did in England. Some of them participated in the practice of slavery and deserve some criticism for that. But on the whole, the Puritan movement planted the seeds for the end of slavery.

          1. Mike Waters says:

            John. I do not disagree with your historical points. But my question is this: how many American puritans are quoted by white reformed preachers today? Most of the puritan reprints in the last 200 years have been from English puritans (who technically sought to reform the church of England). Historically, we describe the puritan era as from 1580 to 1690. These, strictly considered, are the puritans. Of the hundreds that have been reprinted in the last 200 yrs how many owned African slaves or served as chaplains on slave ships? This is a point that needs addressing. We need to face it honestly, and hold each other accountable for wild, unfair and nonfactual statements.

            1. Hi Mike,

              I don’t know how many New England Puritans are still quoted today. They deserve more attention. They would include: John Wiinthrop (although not a pastor, preached the famous “Model of Christian Charity” sermon on board the Arbella), John Cotton, Richard Mather, Increase Mather, John Elliot (the grandfather of the modern missionary movement), Samuel Danforth, Thomas Shephard, Cotton Mather, Solomon Stoddard, Jonathan Edwards, etc.

              The question of when, exactly Puritanism ended is a vexing question in Puritan scholarship. Dealing with the New England Puritans in my dissertation, I argued that 1750 is the best date for New England Puritanism because that was the year that Jonathan Edwards was fired from his Northampton church, something I believe would have been unthinkable when Puritanism was still alive and well.

              Let me quote Increase Mather:
              “It was in respect to some worldly accommodation that other Plantations [i.e. colonies] were erected, but Religion and not the World was that which our fathers came hither for . . . . Pure Worship and Ordinances without the mixture of human inventions was that which the first fathers of this colony designed in their coming hither. We are the children of the good old non-conformists.” (according to Bernard Bailyn, The New England Merchants of the Seventeenth Century (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1955), 140-41.)

            2. By the way, I agree with your main point: “were not chaplains on slave ships and did not own African slaves.”
              Slavery was a long-established social institution which was taken for granted by everyone at the time Puritanism arose. That they too often took it for granted and even, occasionally, participated in it is regrettable but not unusual. What is unusual is the role of Puritanism in starting the abolition movement.

              You’re right to warn people about the ironic witch-hunting of the Puritans.

          2. Richard A. Bailey says:

            Most historical scholarship certainly doesn’t limit Puritanism to the British Isles. Stephen Foster’s “The Long Argument” is only one such study that fabulously notices the importance of Puritans all over the Atlantic world, including of course the English colonies, where it too until late in the eighteenth century for people to stop thinking of themselves as English. And by no means is Foster alone, right? Francis Bremer, Edmund Morgan, and Brooks Holifield among others do similar work.

            1. Mike Waters says:

              Richard. I have no problem if you want to extend the term beyond 17th century England. But, the facts remain, puritanism had it’s origin in 17th century England and it’s largely these men who have been reprinted and are quoted. For example, the book Propaganda himself referenced, Valley of Vision, is a collection of largely 17th century English puritans. These men were not chaplains on slave ships and did not own African slaves. This is my point. My concern is not that this discussion is taking place, I am simply concerned that it takes place with understanding, and not promote a witch-hunt mentality.

            2. Mike Waters says:

              Richard. I have no problem if you want to extend the term beyond 17th century England. But, the facts remain, puritanism had it’s origin in 17th century England and it’s largely these men who have been reprinted and are quoted. For example, the book Propaganda himself referenced, Valley of Vision, is a collection of largely 17th century English puritans. These men were not chaplains on slave ships and did not own African slaves. This is my point. My concern is not that this discussion is taking place, I am simply concerned that it takes place with understanding, and not promote a blanket condemnation.

            3. Richard A. Bailey says:

              Actually, I meant to type Theodore Bozeman not Holifield. Holifield’s work is equally fabulous but not usually equally Puritan. Sorry to all for any confusion I caused there.

            4. The primary sources certainly bear out the direct continuity between the original Puritanism of England and New England Puritanism, and also the faith of individuals that went with English colonization. In my opinion, a verified primary source quote is worth a volume of a secondary source.

  34. Richard A. Bailey says:

    I hear you, Mike. I’m all for understanding. And I clearly understand them historically. And have wrestled much with them that way. And how they were used on both sides of the Atlantic. And how they wrestled with and condoned racial thinking on both sides of the Atlantic. Gratefully, there are some valuable resources to help provide much-needed nuance. Resources that hopefully such a conversation will help push people toward in the days to come.

    1. Mike Waters says:

      Amen, thanks for your input Richard. To be honest I have an ulterior motive underlining my concerns. I am a great fan of Christian Hip Hip and esp the more reformed wing (in fact, only the reformed wing). I have been very encouraged to perceive a revival of interest by these men, in the old writings. I know that Propaganda himself confessed to reading and appreciating these men. I only hope this increases. Yes, with understanding, honesty, and discernment, but also, with increased zeal and assimilation.

      Peace and grace,


  35. Wesley Roy says:

    Thanks for the great post Thabiti. You said all that I have been thinking and trying to voice in several venues.

    I had to laugh when you mentioned the Civil War “heroes”. I live in Louisiana and my wife and I always look at each other knowingly and start working to get our children’s attention, as well as our own, back on the sermon because we don’t see those who fought to keep great-great-great grandmother Sarah a slave as heroes of the Civil War or the faith.

    Reading through the comments here, I see that some still don’t get it. There is no contribution made by the puritans that is worth the damage done to African Americans by making reference to them. I think we need men today that will immerse themselves in the Scriptures and write works that usher us into the presence of God but are authored by men who loved their neighbors not just in principle but in practice.

    1. scottie says:

      here here. yes.

    2. John K says:

      “There is no contribution made by the Puritans that is worth the damage done to African Americans by making reference to them” This statement is extremely harsh. What about Puritans who had no slaves? What about Puritans who were opposed to slavery? What about John Owen? I hope you just spoke too strongly and said what you really didn’t mean. Remember, “all truth is God’s truth”. Yes, this discussion is necessary, but we can’t throw out everything, theological or otherwise, that had some connection to the past of slavery. At some level you can probably tie anything in America today to the history of the African slave trade if you study hard enough, including, for example, Apple products. Should we boycott I-Phones and I-Pads for this reason? Yes, this issue needs to be probed and studied and weighed, but the Puritans play an important role in Reformed and Evangelical theology. They should be studied and quoted, albeit carefully. Perhaps the label is too problematic; we should look more at individual people and not so much as a group.

    3. John K says:

      Sorry for my harshness, I just feel that your statement calls for a blanket boycott of the “Puritans”. I think Richard’s comment below has a better perspective that I would commend to you: “I am not saying we shouldn’t read the Puritans. I am saying we should read them with as full an awareness as possible of who and what they were—theologically, socially, politically, and culturally.”

  36. Brian Harvey says:

    This has been a most helpful read. I don’t know the song or the group and wasn’t aware of any controversy, but found this very helpful. Your fourth point raised something I haven’t considered carefully. Thanks for giving me something to think about.
    God bless you in your writing.

  37. John Erickson says:

    Really helpful. T, you are a gift to the body of Christ. Thoughtful, well-stated, balanced, and Biblical.

    So many good points! This would make the great basis for a book on living out Biblical reconciliation!

  38. Stephen Yuille says:

    From the English Puritan Richard Baxter (1615-1691):

    “To go as pirates and catch up poor negroes or people of another land, that never forfeited life or liberty, and to make them slaves, and sell them, is one of the worst kinds of thievery in the world; and such persons are to be taken for the common enemies of mankind; and they that buy them and use them as beasts, for their mere commodity, and betray, or destroy, or neglect their souls, are fitter to be called incarnate devils than christians.”

    A Christian Directory (1673) in The Practical Works of Richard Baxter (London, UK: George Virtue, 1846; rpt., Morgan: Soli Deo Gloria, 2000), 1:462.

    1. Kyle says:

      Add this to the quotes:
      “Purity of religion in the church cannot stand long with slavery admitted in the state.”-Jeremiah Burroughs

    2. great quote, thanks for providing it! :)

  39. Mike Waters says:

    Thanks Stephen for the Baxter quotation. I read through Baxter’s Directory, and his counsels to masters this morning, but overlooked the paragraph you provided. I would think Baxter represented 17th Century English Puritanism in general. In the midst of condemning slavery, and those who did nothing to free their bodies or souls, he spoke of certain contemporaries who shared his convictions [The Practical Works of Richard Baxter, Vol.1, 462].

    1. Richard A. Bailey says:

      A great selection from Baxter to be certain. Joe Thorn highlighted it in our original conversation and I tried to highlight Samuel Sewall to illustrate that there were a few Puritans who held to such views. As scholars such as David Brion Davis and Winthrop Jordan have shown, though, such voices were relatively uncommon among Puritans of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. And once Puritans decided it was okay to enslave Christians and argued (like Baxter did) that enslaved Africans ought to be offered the gospel, the voices were even more uncommon. Quakers ultimately had a better record here.

      1. Kyle says:

        Thanks for taking time to interview with Joe and interact with some of these comments. I don’t know if you’ll read and respond here, but hopefully you will.
        Aside from J. Edwards (was he even a Puritan!?!), the Puritans you cited as supportive of slavery, are some pretty obscure Puritans. But pastors are not quoting the obscure Puritans on the pulpit but men like Sibbes, Watson, Flavel, Goodwin, Henry, etc. This is why I think the lyrics could be misleading. Is there evidence that the “popular” Puritans, supported slavery? I think this is a key issue in this discussion. The term “Puritan,” as you said, is so broad it really embraces a wide spectrum, from Owen to Milton. Yet, I wouldn’t take what Milton says and apply it to generally to all the Puritans, else I’d have to stop reading them cause they’d all be heretics. This is where I think the lyrics can be misleading and unhelpful. Any thoughts?

        1. Richard A. Bailey says:

          Hey, Kyle, thanks for the interaction. Far better scholars of wide-ranging interests have called Edwards and other colonials Puritans, so I feel I’m in good company here. I don’t deny that I didn’t quote Sibbes, et. al., and that they generally don’t get quoted in these debates, though Joe did invoke Richard Baxter, directing people to his work. But given the paucity of explicit interaction on a topic, very often, both “sides” end up arguing from silence, no? To ask your question another way: In all their voluminous writings, is there evidence that the “popular” Puritans didn’t support slavery? See what I mean? Silence. Speculation. Not comfortable with doing that as the primary way to an answer, I’ve tried to focus on the Puritans who did make explicit comments about “race” and slavery. I wish more had. But the men I’ve interacted with in my work thus far (and in the brief, general exchange with Joe) were very popular in their context, learned from those “popular” Puritans you mentioned, and were generally seen as representative of Atlantic Puritanism.

          By no means would I encourage people not to read Puritans, popular or “popular.” Though many of my students probably wish I’d adopt such an approach. I would use the historical Puritans (with all their strengths and weaknesses) to point people to Christ and the life-changing power of saving grace.

          1. Mike Waters says:

            Kyle, I think you raise a good point. None of the puritan authors you quoted owned African slaves, worked on slave ships, or even advocated slavery. These are the men quoted by us in the pulpit, and alluded to by Propaganda in his song (i.e. Valley of Vision). The issue here isn’t, Have there been Christians in the past who participated in slavery and should we address that issue, rather, the question is, Is what Propaganda said on his song correct and an accurate representation of history. That’s the question. And frankly put, it saddens me to find how few people are as concerned with the truth as they profess. To stretch the word “puritan to include 18th century men, would necessitate we stretch it to include 19th century men who fought to end slavery. This song will do nothing to help the issues and bring healing. If you don’t believe me, just read the comments on the various blogs. Blanket condemnation of all puritans, even though most people making these comments only know what their public school teacher (and now Propaganda) told them. There is no distinctions made between English and American puritanism and 17th century puritans (and their subsequent successors). What further concerns me, is that the man who authored the above post should have known better. He should have brought some sanity to this discussion. Everything he said in his above nine points is true, don’t get me wrong, but he should have made some necessary clarifications. But it seems too late, the gallows have been prepared…

            For example, I’ve provided a few selections from various comments on other websites…

            “I would have hoped that instead of defending the Puritans, which honestly I think were, as a culture, very much like the Pharisees of Jesus day.”

            “When the Puritans escaped persecution and came to America, they, as a community, fell immediately into the same behavior and attitudes that they once experienced against themselves. It was not restricted to an atrocity such as owning and abusing slaves, but to difference of thought (witch trails), and the absence of empathy and respect for others…They became what they hated and still preached from the pulpits and were considered “moral” people by most today. Honestly, Propaganda’s song’s rebuke reminds me of the rebuke Jesus gave the Pharisees. He called them white washed tombs. He rebuked them for the same hypocrisy.”

            “I would challenge that the community in MA was not much different than the Pharisees of Jesus time. There was a mindset of self sufficiency, supremacy, and Biblical arrogance. This does not just “live” in the realm of slavery, but is a perpetual sinful lifestyle no different than living as an open homosexual. I would actually challenge that the arrogance and pride involved in those efforts to suppress human rights, kidnap, and degrade those of only specific races (that was not theirs, of course) is more than the assumption that they just misunderstood the Bible around the topic of ‘slavery'”.

            “They [the puritans] lacked the key of Jesus’ message of salvation to this world…there is no act or obedience that will measure the grace of God. The Puritan culture lacked the grace Jesus dies for. As a society, they missed the boat completely….just as it seems many “missed the boat” on this song as well.”

            “Puritans had a common practice of paying ship captains to get them a “slave child” from the West Indies as they were desirable for house chores…of course understanding he/she would be kidnapped from their parents.”

            1. KA says:

              I see you quotes my comment from another blog.

              Dissecting this issue as it is shown here is disturbing at the least. Sugar coating the participation of the very public, open policy of selling men in the square of the early colonies is to deny that they were heavily Puritan influenced.

              I will live a living breathing person that is an amazing messenger of God the benefit of doubt in that pain he feels and expresses before I give a centuries old dead community that claimed to follow God as part of their existence yet made very harsh rules about the treatment about an entire race of people. Slavery was not their only sin, but the laws passed in the mid 1600s (I can look up if you need) about the direct subhuman treatment of people they considered “strangers” and thereby unworthy of the liberties they fought to give themselves.

              You think I am publicly sending them to the gallows?I would question your inference of “innocence” of a few in that time over slavery (though slavery is not the only issue with slavery) and criticism of very real expressions of pain given today by many on the African American community.

              Is giving the benefit of the doubt on clearly documented bias and supremacy worth not giving the benefit of the doubt to a living, breathing man of God today?

              I do no condemn their colony, I only make the case that their lifestyle should not be revered as “holy” and cast as an example to all today. I believe that is the issue that Prop is advocating.

            2. KA says:

              I see you quotes my comment from another blog.

              Dissecting this issue as it is shown here is disturbing at the least. Sugar coating the participation of the very public, open policy of selling men in the square of the early colonies is to deny that they were heavily Puritan influenced.

              I will live a living breathing person that is an amazing messenger of God the benefit of doubt in that pain he feels and expresses before I give a centuries old dead community that claimed to follow God as part of their existence yet made very harsh rules about the treatment about an entire race of people. Slavery was not their only sin, but the laws passed in the mid 1600s (I can look up if you need) about the direct subhuman treatment of people they considered “strangers” and thereby unworthy of the liberties they fought to give themselves.

              You think I am publicly sending them to the gallows?I would question your inference of “innocence” of a few in that time over slavery (though slavery is not the only issue with slavery) and criticism of very real expressions of pain given today by many on the African American community.

              Is giving the benefit of the doubt on clearly documented bias and supremacy worth not giving the benefit of the doubt to a living, breathing man of God today?

              I do not condemn their colony as a whole, I only make the case that their lifestyle should not be revered as “holy” and cast as an example to all today as it so often is. I believe that is the issue that Prop is advocating.

              Do you think I got these thoughts from the Prop? No, it is a long standing issue with the glorification of Puritans in many realms of Christian education, pulpits, and books. Slavery is not “one issue” in this and the colonies as a whole should be looked at through the lens of the totality of their society, not just fact of whether they, individually, owned slaves or not.

              I am unsure of your motive to post my quote other than to use it as an example of one that is uninformed in your opinion that was “influenced” somehow by this one song.

              I am not sure I would make that assumption.

            3. Hi,

              Thanks for providing the quotes from KA from another blog. It shows where he is coming from. He wrote: ““I would challenge that the community in MA was not much different than the Pharisees of Jesus time.” I think someone who says that has probably never spent much time really reading the New England Puritans. And I think his comments in response to you also suggest that.

              The Puritans maybe revered in evangelical (especially Reformed) circles but they still remain a favorite whipping boy in parts of “the world.” Further, the issue of slavery is rarely understood in its historical context or the fact that the Puritans were the fathers of the abolitionist movement. I wish KA (and others) would bother to read my comments above (October 2, 2012 at 8:11 am) and seek to understand first.

          2. Kyle says:

            Thank you for your response. A quick Google search shows that Baxter and Burroughs were opposed to slavery, and David Levinson in his volume, Crime and Punishment, notes that the “Capital Laws” of Massachusetts were strongly influenced by Puritans, which laws proscribe man-stealing.
            Do both sides argue from silence? Perhaps in some ways. But maybe charity needs to trump the assumption that because they may have been silent, they supported slavery. After all, one won’t find a tremendous amount in the quotable Puritans against homosexuality. Doesn’t mean they supported it.
            I hope for an opportunity to read your book.
            Every Blessing, Brother,

            1. Richard A. Bailey says:

              Yep, Massachusetts was the first English colony to codify slavery into law in 1641 in the “Body of Liberties,” a document compiled by the Puritan Nathaniel Ward who had been in the colonies less than a decade when he pulled them together. Paragraph/Clause 91 deals with slavery as only permissible with “strangers” who “willingly sell themselves or are sold to us.” In the context of the paragraph, the document, and the day, “strangers” means Africans and Native Americans. So, yes, man-stealing/bond slavery was proscribed unless you were a “stranger,” i.e., African or Native American, in which case it was allowed if you were sold (willingly or not). This has been shown clearly by scholars time and again. No silence on that matter.

              We’ll disagree on what sort of assumptions or speculations we ought to make perhaps. I don’t think one should necessarily trump the other. A study of the context of the era and the voices of the era, however, doesn’t lead one to extend charity as quickly as you might like. I have tried and not always successfully. And again I am not saying we shouldn’t read the Puritans. I am saying we should read them with as full an awareness as possible of who and what they were—theologically, socially, politically, and culturally. There is some great work out there that allows exactly that. At times, it might make us less comfortable than we prefer. Ok. Understanding often does that.

              As for the Puritans on homosexuality. There are many documents (legal and otherwise) by Atlantic Puritans dealing with that issue. Again, scholars have treated this subject on both sides of the Atlantic in a variety of places. So, no real silence on that issue. Maybe a silence in the books reprinted as Puritan Paperbacks, but issues of sexuality are definitely spoken to by Atlantic Puritans.

              Now, to finish prepping for a class on Edwards in the Atlantic world, focusing especially today on the marketplace and commerce.

            2. The New England Puritans copied the Levitical law prescribing the death penalty for homosexuality, although in Massachusetts, they changed the manner of execution to hanging. (In the New Haven colony, they kept the manner of execution stoning.) But as far as I know they never had an opportunity to implement it because of the requirement for two witnesses.

            3. Richard A. Bailey says:

              John, for English Puritans in the colonies, check out Richard Godbeer’s excellent, “Sexual Revolution in Early America.” It’s a wonderful example of careful scholarship

            4. Hi Richard,
              Thanks for the reference. I’ve been out of the loop of new Puritan scholarship for a while. The best secondary source of New England Puritanism that I know of is Stout’s “The New England Soul”. The anthology of New England Puritan primary sources put out by Perry Miller is also very useful. There’s just no substitute for primary sources.

              The problem with studies of all of the English colonies is that they seem to assume a cultural unity between the colonies that we probably exaggerate, looking at the colonies through the lens of our experience in the United States.

          3. Mike Waters says:

            Richard. You said you were not comfortable with arguing from silence. Then why are the English puritans, the ones reprinted and quoted, condemned as slave owners when there is no proof they were. This is an argument from silence. Of all the English puritans that have been reprinted in the last 200 yrs (and there have been hundreds if not thousands), in all of their many writings, can you provide me with one statement that verifies they either owned African slaves, worked on slave ships, or advocated man-stealing?

            1. Richard A. Bailey says:

              I’ve already answered that question. And posed a few of my own. Thanks for striving for understanding, Mike. Appreciate the spirit.

          4. KA says:


            You missed my point completely.

            How do you argue with laws put into place in 1620s, 1640s to actively suppress a group of people and make legal the ability to “own” them, prevent them from public gathering, and knowingly make distinct exclusions of specific persons when establishing a communal law on liberties.

            The issue with the defense of Puritan life and the charge that anyone thinking it might be severely deficient that disagrees with you is that you are missing a higher level point that slavery is not just the sin of slavery.

            In Massachusetts, there was an active effort to take away the rights of “strangers” to make slavery, and the control of the people thereof, legal.

            I cannot be as naive to think that the amount of effort it took to draft laws by this Puritan community was done in “ignorance” of the mindset that allows the existence of slavery.

            It is also apparent that you are not as versed in the ramifications of those decisions, the mindset of Americans, and the influence on our society those “sins” have today.

            Grievous sins that kill and control other populations of people do not have a short term impact. This is a relevant discussion not because Prop did not respect or forgive our great Puritan examples, but the ramification of these choices in our US society in 2012. There is a lot of carry over from the MA 1600s colony that directly impacts many African Americans today.

            1. Hi KA,

              I’d challenge you to present laws in the Massachusetts Bay Colony put into place int he 1620s that “actively suppress a group of people”. Hint: you can’t since the MBC wasn’t founded until 1630. And the fact that you didn’t know that suggests that you’re speaking from stereo-types and second hand information, such as that in Hawthorn’s “The Scarlet Letter”. The Puritans came to New England to establish what they believed was a Biblical society, “Bible commonwealths”. They did not come to establish democracy and freedom. If you find that objectionable, what will you think when the Lord Jesus comes to rule with an “iron rod”?

              At their founding, many of the laws of the Puritan colonies were copied verbatim from the Bible.

              Also, see my comments above about how the Puritans allowed slaves to be church members and how Puritanism eventually was the father of the abolition movement.

            2. KA says:

              I apologize, I meant 1630s, not 1620s.

              I am also referring to not just the taking of Africans, but indigenous people as slaves as early as 1636 after the English/Pequot war which proved to be undesirable to the people in the colony as they fought the enslavement and became terrible slaves. The attention was then focused on the aquisition of milder and more manageable African slaves.

              Funny, in their laws they did not include the principles their faith is built on; ie the commandments and words of Jesus…

              The fact they used Levitical law is not impressive to me nor do think it justifies, in any way, the things done to others nor does it validate in any way the establishment of a “Christian colony”. The truth is the motivation behind the seeking of a new world was the persecution they endured at the hands of the current Church.

              What they did was build and perpetuate much of what they sought to flee.

              Net/net of that would be…they could not tolerate the abuse they endured so in getting a chance at a new life, they perpetuated the same lifestyle of their oppressors overseas.

            3. KA says:

              Additionally John, I would challenge you to research the impact of colonial life and beliefs on the current culture we have today.

              Much of it is not favorable.

              To defend the origins of a lot of pain for a lot of people not understanding the impact to their life today might be the greatest crime of all.

            4. Hi KA

              What they sought to flee was compromised religion. They wanted to worship God in a Biblical way. Again, they didn’t come to New England to establish democracy and allow freedom of religion. Maybe that’s Pennsylvania. It’s not New England. And the Lord Jesus is not coming back to set up democracy either.

              et me quote Increase Mather:
              “It was in respect to some worldly accommodation that other Plantations [i.e. colonies] were erected, but Religion and not the World was that which our fathers came hither for . . . . Pure Worship and Ordinances without the mixture of human inventions was that which the first fathers of this colony designed in their coming hither. We are the children of the good old non-conformists.” (according to Bernard Bailyn, The New England Merchants of the Seventeenth Century (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1955), 140-41.)

              The captives from the Pequot war were prisoners of war who otherwise would have been killed. This was the pattern of human history from the beginning until relatively recently. What is missing from these hamfisted denunciations of the Puritans is an understanding of the long-standing place of slavery in society and the forces it took to up-root it. Puritanism was key to ending slavery. So, they did work out the principles of Jesus after all. In the words of Jack Nicholson’s character in “A Few Good Men”, “I’d rather you just said ‘thank you’ and gone on about your day”.

            5. KA says:

              Funny, we look at the same information and data and completely disagree with the conclusions. It seems to be be what “data” we tend to prioritize as important. You de- emphasize the treatment of indigenous people and Africans both then and today for the “Godly” quest of the Puritans to live the way they believed regardless of the rights of others.

              Meanwhile, on my side, I refuse to give benefit to the naive notion that slavery lived in a bubble in the early Puritan communities and their participation and proliferation of multiple injustices under the heading of a “worshipful” community revealed by so many authors today to the detriment of many in our current day culture.

              I would still challenge you to research, read, and empathize with the ramifications in today’s society of some of the decisions, laws, and society “norms” either established or brought over by the early Puritans.

              Other than that, you can dismiss me as neither educated nor knowledgeable or we will have to agree to disagree over similar read material.

            6. KA,
              “the ramifications in today’s society of some of the decisions, laws, and society “norms” either established or brought over by the early Puritans” are what brought about an end to slavery and are at the root of probably everything that is good about modern American society.

              For a secular treatment of that idea (in part), see Robert W. Fogel’s “The Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism” (2000)

              And, for a Christian history point of view (about the decline of the church since Puritanism) see: “THE FOURTH GREAT AWAKENING OR APOSTASY: IS AMERICAN EVANGELICALISM CYCLING UPWARDS OR SPIRALING DOWNWARDS?”

  40. Speak_Life says:


    Thank you so much for this thoughtful post. Judging from this post you very well may have read some of my posts from both blogs. LOL.

    I have a very simple question for you, that I would greatly appreciate your response to, even though it’s indirectly related to the song. I have witnessed several pastors/theologians including Daniel Akin and David Platt, openly and honestly without stepping over into judgement, question the authenticity of faith in Christians who owned slaves and mistreated them. I understand the danger in painting a whole group of slave owners in the unrepentant/unsaved column only because they owned slaves. Who can truly judge their hearts other than God. However, my hypothetical question is this…..

    In your honest opinion is it possible for someone to live in a state of sin without repentance under the guise of being culturally blind to their own sin. In other words, can a sinner turned – “new creature in Christ” go on sinning habitually? Perhaps my non-Calvinist background hinders my understanding of why Reformed people lean so heavily on grace and depravity that there often seems to be no room left for personal responsibility in orthopraxy. I’ve had several exchanges with someone on one of the blogs that you mentioned where they vehemently deny the idea that when someone truly comes to know the Lord that they can’t go on sinning habitually. Not to say that we are no longer “sinners”, but to say that we don’t live a life of sin because our hearts and minds become transformed by the image of Christ. In light of scriptures like the following, how do you square people arguing that unrepentant “Christian” slave owners can receive salvation:

    1 John 3:9 – “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.”
    Hebrews 10:26: “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.”

    Again, I don’t have much skin in the game because I wouldn’t consider myself Reformed or an admirer of Puritans. Really looking forward to your reply, since I’m not the only person who’s wrestled with this question! Thanks ;-)

  41. Jason Allen says:


    I’m so thankful for your thoughts on this issue. I can say the Lord used Prop’s words to stop me in my tracks. I was brought to repentance for not being more understanding in the past of the feelings of my brothers and sisters.

    I now “get it.”


  42. EK, Indiana, PA says:

    I don’t know if this was mentioned yet as I didn’t read the other commments (no time and on many sites its far better not to anyway). Here is my question: When Thabiti refers t othe ironic ending via a link I assume it is because the person on that site attributes it to a puritan era Englishman. That would be ironic, no doubt. However, is that the true source? I don’t know but would love someone to find out (Carl Trueman & Bryan Litfin where are you?). I do have my doubts though, only because when I first listened to the song I also wondered about the source and “Googled” it and at first kept seeing people confidently attribute it to Martin Luther, but with no reference to when or where He said or wrote it. As a searched some more I then found a nearly equal number of people who attributed it to Saint Ignatius, and also called an anonymous “Gaelic” of “Medieval” saying. Again, I don’t have a clue, but would love a professional scholar to weigh in with a [more] difinitive answer.

    By the way, loved the song and the whole album…listened to it on a look for several hours at work today. Especially, “Raise The Banner”, “Conquer”, “Precious Puritans”, and “I Ain’t Got An Answer”. As Thabiti said,”This isn’t an album for the easily offended”, but at least when it hits you it “hurts so good”!

    1. Nate says:

      Or, stop reading Augustine because he put away his mistress, who bore his son, so he could become a monk.

    2. Nate says:

      Should have been under Thomas’ comment

  43. I won’t enter into this debate. I already posted my comments elsewhere. Someone here said that Puritans are not read much today anyway, so there is not about to be a Puritan book burning. I have been narrating Puritan works for 27 years and I am presently narrating a treatise on Indwelling Sin by John Owen. I dare say that if you sit at the feet of Owen on Santification for a few weeks you may not find time to enter into these kind of discussions at length anyway. And I will stop reading Owen because Jonathan Edwards had “negro servants” when you stop reading the Psalms because David was a polygamist.—indwelling-sin-chapter-7.aspx

  44. Nell says:

    The Puritans were at the forefront of the “witch” trials as well. Not only was this movement based in superstition but there was also a money angle. When an accused “witch” was languishing in jail, their property was also up for grabs.

    Then there was the infamous Roger Williams expulsion.

    No matter how one spins it, the Puritans were as sinful as the rest of us. I am so grateful that Thabiti is exposing the sins of the fathers. The moment we elevate one group or one man as more “holy” than others, we are creeping away from recognizing that all fall, and continue to fall, short of the glory of God.

    Great post!

    1. First, some people and groups are more holy than others. And, no, recognizing that doesn’t mean failing to recognize universal human depravity. Your statement otherwise is a complete non sequitor.
      Second, I don’t think you know very much about the history of Puritan New England.

      1. Nell says:


        “I don’t think you know very much about the history of Puritan New England.” To quote Gibbs on NCIS, “Ya think?”

  45. Gavin White says:

    I tweeted this response last week when the debate first surfaced.

    You have to balance the views of Dabney, for example, with those of Shedd who says “Toleration is not approval” Slavery was not legalized, or sanctioned by the Decalogue, though they were permitted temporarily under the theocracy”

    You will note that I have quoted not Puritans , but esteemed American theologians and this was deliberate because it is important to views things as they were, through the eyes of the times not through 20/20 hindsight vision which lends itself to a form of unbecoming self-righteousness (we know better, we would never have done that).

    Another example comes from the writings of James Henley Thornwell who wrote two important treatises – “Relation of the Church to Slavery” and “The Christian Doctrine of Slavery.” The main thrust of his argument is that “Certain it is, that no direct condemnation of slavery can anywhere be found in the Sacred Volume”

    Acknowledging that in no way condones or justifies any wrongdoing associated with it.

  46. Mike Waters says:

    Understanding the facts are essential to edifying discussions. I meet every Friday with two young aspirants in my congregation. One is black and one is white. We are presently reading and discussing a puritan volume entitled, The Marrow of Modern Divinity. I will explain to both men that no 17th century English puritans (that I know of) owned African slaves or worked as chaplains on slave ships. I will also explain that some “puritans” and their successors participated in race-based and/or forced slavery, which was wicked and shameful. I only wish others would be honest enough to make the same distinction.

    1. Richard A. Bailey says:

      As English Puritans in the Atlantic world struggled to make a world that does wrong do right and appear to do right, they used Ames’s “Medulla” to do so. Race-based slavery was one of those wrongs.

      1. Abortion is murder. I believe eventually generations in the future will recognize that. When they look back on our murderous era, will they immediately reject us if we were not vociferous enough to their liking in our denunciations of abortion?

        1. Mike Waters says:

          I find it tragic to think, how few people in our day are concerned with abortion. Especially the fact that its become so rampant in black communities. TRAGEDY! Do not be quick to condemn men of old who did little to arrest slavery, if you yourself do little to stop the slaughter.

          1. KA says:

            I will assume that those with hard lines on abortions have adopted children that might have otherwise been “slaughtered”?

            If so, that is great. I hope you are doing what you can by directly caring for those children that might have otherwise been aborted. We have three.

            Interestingly though, along the context of this discussion thread,the rebuke of “slaughter” in the AA communities whilst defending the ownership of slaves in the Puritan communities equals the devaluing of black lives that exists today.

            Why would one stick up for AA babies and the treatment thereof while not also sticking up for the race as a community worthy of dignity and the victim of crimes for centuries? Maybe there are extraneous variables after decades of demoralization of AA women and men.

            Why would those that defend the acts of white slave owners in the face of centuries of racism actually care about the babies of those same AA men and women? When I hear this, I am always perplexed at the disconnect.

            This is a conservative pounding point often spoken on both sides, and one, that I can only imagine, does not escape notice from above.

            1. Hi KA,

              No one has defended the institution of slavery here. That’s just a false statement.

              My point is that it is easy, from our culture where slavery is understood to be a moral evil, to not comprehend how deeply entrenched an institution it was; how it was taken for granted, that it wasn’t necessarily attached to racism (as about 50% of the English population worked as servants), etc. It’s easy for us to rebuke them, especially when they can’t talk back. But someday a future generation will wonder what we were doing when the moral evils of our age ran rampant. If they uncover this blog, they will likely shake their heads and think we were fools for arguing about an issue legally settled almost a century and a half ago while ignoring those running rampant in our own day.

              And this is ignoring the fact you seem to have ignored: the Puritans were one of the fathers of abolitionism.

            2. KA says:

              You understand that MA being the first state to abolish slavery (as well as the first state to legalize it)was done after action from Africans in court. At that time the New England colonies were 10% African due to the proliferation of slave trade.

              Historically, the New England colonies did not own the mass number of slaves (typical 1 – 4) that southern and West Indies plantation owners did so the population being 10% was significant because of the sheer number of colonists that participates in buying and selling slaves. IT was commonplace and there is not a lot of speaking out about the institution of slavery or the introduction of human rights in that time by many of the noted ministers in that time.

              Slavery is not, in and of itself, the problem. It is the mindset of the demoralization of people on the basis of race and national affiliation. It was a Narcissistic tendency in the colony that they were the ones in this world that had it “right”. The issue with that is clearly Jesus went out of his way to show the Pharisees of their “cultural” bias with the Samaritans, as well as teach his disciples by visiting what they would consider “detestable” emphasizing that the breaking of cultural and societal norms were necessary to follow Him.

              I stand by an earlier assertion that the mode of thinking in this is not unlike the Pharisees of Jesus day. They all did not want to kill him. They all did not become a teacher of the law to “hurt people”. Several, as we see, had a thirst for knowledge and further understanding of God. Do we defend them as vehemently as the Puritan colony? No, we don’t.

              In fact neither did Jesus. He lumped them together in many of His statements. I understand that most speaking “hate slavery” but they also give a significant cultural allowance to some significant, grievous sin. The minsters we are quoting in contemporary situations were not all abolitionists and those that were sometimes had alternative motives outside of the notion that their life was as valuable and good as the child just sold to another home. The abolitionist movement did not really become really vocal until the 1830s on a national level. The ending of slavery in MA was precipitated by the filing of court cases by Africans, not the pounding on court doors by the pastors of the day. How do we excuse the Puritan community from 1636 – 1783 that we hold so dear today?

              I really do not see the justification for defending this as a “cultural norm” at the expense of offending Christians of a minority race today.

              Jesus sure didn’t in a similar situation.

            3. Hi KA,

              No one has “defended” slavery as a cultural norm. This is the second time you’ve made such a false statement and after having it challenged. I haven’t read all of the posts here but I’ve not seen anyone defend slavery as morally acceptable. You’re suggestions otherwise are false and you need to retract them.

              That Massachusetts was one of the first states of abolish slavery is almost certainly an expression of it’s Puritan roots. And that’s my point which you have consistently overlooked in your rush to condemn people you fundamentally do not understand.

              Your argument makes no sense. Massachusetts had only 10% African Americans and yet you say it is due to them (and not the spiritual roots of the society as a whole which did include Puritan pastors I’ve quoted and cited above who spoke out strongly against slavery). Meanwhile, the Southern states had remarkably more African Americans and yet why did they not procure their freedom by filing court cases? Why? Because your argument is nonsense.

              You don’t understand the times, the Puritans, nor what it takes to challenge and change deeply entrenched institutions. That the states with Puritan history (firstly New England) were the first to abolish slavery is not a coincidence; that they had judges and legislatures who were willing to do so was because of Puritanism, not in spite of it.

            4. copied from above:
              One of the first men to make a public stand against slavery was Puritan magistrate Samuel Sewall (March 28, 1652 – January 1, 1730) in his book “The Selling of Joseph”, 1700. Andrew Crosswell, one of the most important itinerants to torch Boston with the Lord’s truth in the spring and summer of 1742 attracted huge crowds across the river from Boston in Charlestown. An advocate for the weak, Crosswell decried the cruel treatment of prisoners and denounced slavery. Some “New Divinity” ministers (followers of Jonathan Edwards — who owned a slave), like Nathaniel William Taylor spoke out against slavery and the corruption of wealth. Samuel Hopkins mixed his drive for cross-cultural evangelism with his concern for African slaves. He planned and worked for an African mission led by freed slaves for 30 years. Hopkins recruited two African slaves, members of Hopkins’ church, helped arrange their emancipation, and sent them to Princeton to train for the mission.

              The spiritual descendants of the Puritans brought slavery down. They achieved this through a revival of Puritanism known as the “First Great Awakening”; a Yankee Diaspora made possible by the Puritan family ethic; and a “Second Great Awakening” which spread the ethic of benevolence. Robert W. Fogel, who won a Nobel Prize for his work on the economics of slavery, concluded that it was not economic forces that brought about the end of slavery but a revolution in moral sentiment with its roots in Puritanism.

            5. KA says:

              If you were not defending it and giving “allowance” (because we all sin) we would not be having this discussion.

              After many years of both forced and voluntary study of Puritans and early Reformers in secondary, undergrad, and postgraduate schools that glorified the contributions of Puritans, I am a little taken aback by your assertion that I do not know the history.

              I will assume that it is easier to dismiss my argument by calling it “foolish” and assuming it uneducated.

      2. Hope says:

        I thank God for your insight in this area and look forward to thoroughly reading your book on Race and Redemption in Puritan New England.

    2. Richard A. Bailey says:

      Hope, thank you for saying so. I know that time is short and there are many great books to read. So, your willingness even to consider making mine one of them means much. Should you spend some time with it, I hope you find it useful. Please feel free to contact me with your thoughts—good, bad, and indifferent. I’d welcome them.

  47. Nell says:

    Abortion is tragically high in white, upper middle class homes as well. In fact, there are a surprising number of abortions that go on within white, conservative churches. I do not think it is helpful, in light of the emphasis of Thabiti’s post, to single out the African American population.

    In fact, one might be inclined to conjecture that the view that slaves were of lesser human worth than whites, may have contributed to the overall disregard to life which has led to widespread abortion in all communities, regardless of race. Perhaps we are reaping what our forefathers sowed.

    1. Mike Waters says:


      I agree abortion is found everywhere and is just as much tragic in white and black contexts. But, my point is simply this, it is very easy to be critical of men who lived 350 years ago, and yet not look at ourselves. This was one point of the song in question. How will the future judge you along with our generation? Furthermore, if Propaganda’s song was encouraging us to look at the facts of history, regardless how ugly, why can’t we apply this principle to today?

      1. Mike Waters says:


        Do not get me wrong. I am not defending any person in history who held to or promoted race-based/forced slavery. This is pure wickedness. But if you were to read my earlier posts you would find I am simply arguing for two things (1) to remember that not all puritans held African slaves or worked on slave ships, in fact, the ones most often quoted did not, and (2) in pointing out the sins of others, which is at times necessary, let us do so in humility and fear (Gal.6:1-2).

        1. KA says:

          Race or nationalistic slavery is not a single sin. It is a mindset of entitlement, self sufficiency, and superiority.

          I find it interesting that there was a document of liberties drafted to protect the rights of colonists from slavery or servitude that specifically excluded the rights of others in the same document.

          Slavery does not happen in a vacuum at any point in time.

          This is akin to the naive modern day thinking that Sodom was destroyed due to homosexuality. It was destroyed due to the entitlement mentality of the majority of the adults in the city to constantly step and destroy the rights of others. It was ultra pride and a disdain for those considered “weaker” or “less”. It was the lack of charitable thought and action and the proliferation of that for generations. We see this shown in the perceived right to rape another in the street and demand to have immediate “relations” with another’s daughter or guest in the street thereby denying their basic human rights.

          I do not disparage all Puritans, but as a society as evidenced by published law, court cases, and public records, we know that there was not much truly “Godly” (as defined by Jesus) under the cover. It should be very helpful for us as a case lesson against the institution of legalism as a substitution for a relationship with Christ.

          1. You’ve conflated slavery and racism. Sodom was condemned for homosexuality. See Jude 1:7. And it seems to me that you are simply judging (and condemning) the Puritans according to the standards of our society, not Biblically or even fairly by their own standards.

            You simply don’t understand what the New England Puritans came to do: not to set up a democracy with “liberty” for all but to worship God according to His Word. When people came into their colonies who wanted to disrupt that, they dealt with them, usually by expulsion.

            If you were bequeathed an island on which you could start a society of your own, you did so, and then, onto your private island, a white supremacists group moved, what would you do?

            1. KA says:

              That depends….what did they do?

          2. Mel says:

            Is that why the men thought it was okay to rape other men that were new to the community?

            1. They certainly wouldn’t have condoned homosexual rape. They had the death penalty for homosexuality. So I don’t understand your statement.
              The “community” was founded to be for establishing pure churches. Those who came who opposed that were usually asked to leave. In the case of a couple of Quakers who repeatedly came back after being expelled then corporally punished, they were eventually hung.

  48. Nell says:

    I was concerned that you were specifically pointing to the abortion rate in African American communities instead of pointing to widespread abortion in every community. That seemed a bit insensitive, given the post.

    Also, there are many more issues of concern with Puritans, including the witch trials and the discrimination against those who did not hold to their narrow theology-Roger Williams being one.
    I give them no “pass” on any of those items just as I give us no pass on the abortion rates in this.

    In fact, Christians in our country have done much to address the abortion question. There are now far fewer doctors willing to perform abortions, there are many more pregnancy support services (which I support), etc. Ask most people in the US about the evangelical view on abortion and you will get a fairly consistent viewpoint that Christians do not support abortion.

    As for people 350 years ago, I have a perspective. The Holy Spirit is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. The Holy Spirit surely convicted the souls of the men and women on the evils of slavery. I believe that such conviction was conveniently overlooked because slaves were vital to economic prosperity.

    Slavery was evil then, just as trafficking in humans is evil now. In fact, it appears that there more people are in bondage to slavery in this day and age then were in the centuries past. Much more needs to be done in this area even now.

    1. Hi Neill,

      You’re largely right. But for this election a good deal of African-American pastors are defending and advocating voting for a presidential candidate who is the most radically pro-abortion president we’ve ever had and who advocates the full legitimization of homosexuality. That’s what happens when the faith is over-come with a cultural religion.

      The Puritans disavowed the witch-craft trials themselves. Condemning them for that is like condemning modern American jurisprudence because of the O.J. Simpson trial. Roger Williams did not agree with the founding principles of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. As with KA above, you need to understand that the Puritans didn’t come here for democracy. They came to establish pure churches.

      1. KA says:

        Although the office of president has little to no effect in the arena of abortion as it stands today but does have direct/indirect control over the elimination or creations of key programs designed to help the poor and disadvantaged.

        Yet, I notice that Conservative supporters will dismiss the needs and considerations of the disadvantaged in our society, for which the president’s policies are in direct impact, to prioritize the very disconnected and illogical, near nonexistent tie of a president to the overturning of Roe vs Wade (whilst taking away key services (such as extended Medicare for mental disorders) needed for orphaned children. It is illogical and disconnected to me.

        But political persuasions aside, the example of OJ Simpson which is also disconnected, the purposes of “purity” were not in line with Biblical “purity” and their intentions of creating it irrelevant to the the destruction their colony brought about for thousands of people they disagreed with.

        Just to repeat, I went to a Conservative Christian high school, a conservative Christian, Calvinistic undergraduate, and an Anglican post graduate.

        I am not as ignorant as you assert on these matters.

        1. Regarding your comment above, I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the long-term impact of Puritanism on the world (and vice-versa, the causes of their eventual dissolution). The contributions of the Puritans were over-whelmingly (if not exclusively) positive.

          It sounds to me as if you harbor some personal animus and likely a leftist political agenda. Your failure to recognize that the President nominates Supreme Court justices who could over-turn Roe and authorizes programs that support abortion, reveals a willful unfairness. Your statements about conservatives being uncaring about the poor are as unfounded as your repeated accusation that some here are defending slavery.

          The Puritans came to America to found “pure” churches; that was the purpose of their “Bible Commonwealths.” They weren’t perfect but they left a remarkable heritage. It’s sad that you’ve failed to recognize it.

          1. Pam says:

            No group leaves an exclusively positive contribution. Not one. It’s this fawning placing Puritans on a pedestal that the song is critiquing.

      2. KA says:

        As a add on…I believe the advocacy of the president is not as much for the “full legitimacy of homosexuality”, but the “full legitimacy of people”….

        A distinction worth noting.

        Bias and prejudice will never live contained in its “intended” area.

        It is very relevant to this entire discussion.

        1. Your simply wrong. The fight is to legitimize homosexuality by even extending to those perverse relationships what by nature cannot be extended to them. “Homosexual marriage” is a contradiction in terms. If you do not recognize the what the Word of God says about homosexuality, then it is likely we’ve found the real source of your hatred of Puritanism: they were Christians.

          1. Pam says:

            In this comment you epitomise Thabiti’s final point so completely it’s almost uncanny.

  49. Mike Waters says:


    I agree. Race-based/forced slavery is evil. Abortion is also evil. Neither should be tolerated. Finally, and this has to be my last post as I need to get to work, we can never lump all puritans into a single boat. Men such as Owen, Watson, Brooks, Love, Sibbs, Manton, Flavel and Bunyan, should be read, esteemed, and imitated, in so far as they imitated Christ.

    May God cause His face to shine upon you.

    Mike waters
    Heritage Reformed Baptist Church

    1. Hi Mike,
      You’ve made some excellent contributions here. Thanks for taking the time to do so. Like you, I need to get to work!

      1. Hannah says:

        Thank you so much for this post! I know I am late getting into this discussion (I will pull the “caring for a new baby” card). I am a white person who grew up in a white reformed Christian world. My husband is a black many who grew up as the son of a Kenyan reformed pastor and came to the US to study. Since meeting him, falling in love, and marrying him, I have had to come face to face with so many ways that Christians unthinkingly hurt minorities. There are many of his friends who cannot believe he chooses to worship with reformed groups because of many of these issues. When I hear some of his stories of things that have been said to him and things he had witnessed, I am amazed that he was able to remain in the reformed church in the US (and I am talking about things that have happened in several denominations in different states). When I heard this song, I knew it was one he would appreciate (and he did) because it points out so pointedly that these men celebrated in church were flawed. To read responses about this song by many has disappointed me greatly! At what point can we listen to ways that we as reformed Christians are hurting our brothers and sisters in Christ and not just dismiss their thoughts. I don’t think we are being asked to never read another puritain but rather to consider that they are not flawless and treat them as such! God uses crooked sticks but let us as believers not celebrate the crooked sticks but rather the grace and glory of God they preached. Let His word which is for all tongues and tribes be carefully and truly proclaimed and let all of us worship together in unity! That is my prayer especially now as I think about my cross cultural little child who I pray will be a strong man of God!

  50. Thabiti says:

    Grace and peace to all,

    First, let me offer an apology. For some inexplicable reason my comment notification function has been switched off, so I wasn’t aware that this much conversation had been going on with this post! I would have commented and moderated more effectively had I known. I left off somewhere around comment #68, and we’ve now about doubled that number. So, please forgive me for leaving this unattended and appearing to some as if I’ve stirred things up and walked away. I apologize for the frustration that’s caused.

    Second, let me try some brief responses for what I hope would be some clarity and perhaps a landing place.

    1. It does need to be stated (I thought it would have been fairly obvious) that not all puritan leaders or people owned slaves. That, I take it, is a matter of fact. Explanations for why that was the case are almost certainly varied. But not all puritans were slave owners.

    2. It needs to be stated that a couple of puritans and some of their descendants were abolitionists. For example, Edwards owned a slave and appeared to think very little of it. However, his son and other theological Edwardseans–including African American Lemuel Haynes–made compelling arguments for abolition using the seeds of Edwards’ theology.

    3. However, many more Edwardseans defended and practiced slavery. So, the best we can say is that the Puritans themselves and their descendants have a mixed legacy re: slavery, with the vast majority either giving no known attention to it or actively sanctioning it.

    If you’re interested in saying the differing post-Edwards American “puritan” engagement with slavery, you might check: Kenneth P. Minkema and Harry S. Stout, “The Edwardsean Tradition and the Antislavery Debate, 1740-1865, The Journal of American History, June 2005.

    4. The New England puritan legacy on slavery isn’t as simple as asking the question, “Did they own slaves?” I think Bailey’s very recent “Race and Redemption in Puritan New England” (which I had the privilege of starting this morning) along with a number of other works argue pretty convincingly that the puritans of New England played a pivotal role in this country’s construction of ‘race.’ I would say they not only were guilty of the particular issue of supporting/failing to abolish the slave trade, but of the more general issue of creating a climate where the flourishing of the trade was even possible.

    5. Hence, I find the lengthy protests in this comment thread worrisome. A call for greater historical accuracy and specificity has its place. However, the very lengthy and multiplied responses here makes me want to say, “you doth protest too much.” Obviously persons care about accuracy on this issue. That’s good. But said persons may not recognize how their good tempts others to speak evil of them. In protesting too much you risk being perceived as defenders of something you say you reject and decry. I state this only to loving reflect what some might not recognize. You don’t need to offer any defenses if you think this applies to you.

    6. Finally, despite all the wranglings in this thread and the call for accuracy, I think my original reflections stand. As I said in the post, these were random observations. It was neither a treatise on puritanism, slavery, or preaching. Since they’re random, one might expect to see some of the holes we’ve seen. But to argue about the holes without engaging the reflections, well, it seems to me as Steve McKoy put it, “misses the point.”

    Thanks to all for engaging. Again, I’m sorry to have been an absentee blog moderator. I’m going to try to fix the notification thingy and serve you better going forward.

    Much love and grace to all in Christ Jesus our Righteousness!

    1. KA says:

      Thank you for “jumping in”. You wisdom is quite appreciated.

      The point #4 I think is at the core of the discussion yesterday and today.

      The policies, decisions, laws, and privilege seen in documents and laws produced during this time frame offer concrete evidence that the Puritan colonies were integral to the cultural understanding of race/politics/work in contemporary America.

      It is more than whether individual ministers or theologians “had slaves”, it is more about how current dynamics have played out in this decade. It determines what we value, whether that be money, position, income, religion, the role of government, or the worth of another.

      The Puritan colonies authored many of the written and “unwritten” rules by which our society embraces.

      Some of that is positive, much of that is a detriment, historical ramifications of it for many…. outright devastating….

    2. Mike Waters says:


      Thanks for the clarifications. While I personally did take some issues with Propaganda’s song, and was one above who argued for more clarity, I very much appreciate you, and your ability to speak humbly, yet with conviction. We are great sinners, dear brother. I have afresh proven that. Bless God for our Savior. Press on!

      Mercy and grace,

      Mike Waters
      Heritage Reformed Baptist Church

  51. A couple of questions that have arisen as I thought about this whole discussion today. I have been a Reformed Baptist for 27 years and remember talking to a dear black brother in a well known church in New Jersey about John Owen on the Mortification of sin. But why is it only NOW that this whole debate about some of the puritans has come up? We seemed to be able to humbly sit at their feet and learn for a long time before a present generation of Reformed Baptists who also are attempting to convince us that RAP music is a meaningful, helpful medium to communicate doctrine also are the ones digging up dirt on the Puritans. Secondly, isn’t the fact that this article illustrated with a black slave whose back has been whipped make it fair to question whether a certain negative response is attempted to be generated. As if Edwards’ negro servants were treated this way? Is that fair and in keeping with the 9th commandment about protecting someone’s good name? Thirdly, it was written “I don’t think Prop hurts the cause because “are there many people who actually read the Puritans anyway? I’m guessing that most Christians, if they’ve heard of the Puritans, probably haven’t read them in any detail.” I don’t get the argument, but my audio book web site that has been promoting a narration of John Owen on Indwelling Sin received 203 visits in one day a couple of days ago, and I have had as many as 500 in a day, and my puritan narrations are on 5 seperate web sites – most of them without asking me, I assume they are not all pastors listening. I have narrated the largest unique collection of Edwards’ sermons in the world, to my knowledge. Then it is written, “There’s something that feels right to me about the “in your face”-ness of the song. We’re left no holes to crawl into, no escape routes, no intellectual deflections.” Oh is that what it is, it sounded like vitriol to me and the brother would do well to read Edwards’ Charity and Its Fruits. There is more to say but finally as to the dear black brother who is grieved because the pastor quotes the puritans from the pulpit, is that WHY we don’t hear many puritan quotes these days because we don’t want to offend a black brother in the third row? I thought a quote from Thomas Shepard, William Gurnall, or Thomas Brooks would have assisted many a sermon to drive home a point, but the arrows have no feathers, because we don’t want to offend person’s sensibilities. AGAIN I ASK, why are we just hearing this criticism NOW? The puritans have been quoted at least since 1963 because those are the earliest ANM sermons I possess.

    1. Thabiti says:

      Brother Sullivan,

      Welcome to purechurch and to the discussion. I appreciate your ministry in making Puritan works available and your desire for the body of Christ to feed on rich spiritual material. May the Lord bless your labors and bear much fruit that remains!

      A couple quick responses to your questions:

      1. We’re talking about this now because a high-profile artist has offered a critique that, frankly, seems rarely to be made in academic works. Moreover, we’re talking about it now because some have called into question the accuracy of the critique. Perhaps if someone had raised the issue earlier, we’d have debated it earlier. And, if perhaps the artist’s critique were more historically nuanced, as some have wanted, we’d not be talking about it. In any event, we’re talking about it and it would seem to me that suggesting we shouldn’t talk about it because the topic has arisen only of late is to miss the point and the opportunity.

      2. The picture illustrates the brutality of slavery. Yes, it’s calculated to illicit a response because it’s used to illustrate the point that slavery was not genteel. What’s missing, in my view, is a call for historical accuracy re: slavery’s mistreatment and brutality towards people. It would seem to me, based on this comment thread, that the picture didn’t prohibit anyone from disagreeing or negatively bias the conversation. In fact, we’ve had a lengthy conversation with comments pro and con.

      Moreover, I don’t think I mention Edwards or anyone in connection with that picture or even in connection with the brutality of slavery. And, honestly, the point of the song is, in part, to undermine the undiscerning promotion or defense of someone’s “good name” by minimizing the fact they were slave holders. That’s the issue, isn’t it? And it’s at precisely this point that we’re most likely to misunderstand one another. Because one guy hears “a good name” and another guy hears “slave owner.” Simply insisting on what we hear or perceive doesn’t fix the problem, however loudly we say it.

      3. Your fine statistics notwithstanding, I’m guessing Puritan paperbacks are not bestsellers in Christian circles. That’s not to say they’re not of great worth–they are. It’s simply to temper all the assertions that one hip hop song will entirely sink the reputation and circulation of puritan literature. It won’t.

      4. Finally, I find it entirely legitimate to call preachers to consider their audiences. What’s wrong with saying, “Hey, you aren’t connecting with me as well as you might think?” We do that all the time. The first rule of public speaking is “know your audience.” If our illustrations and quotes hinder someone from hearing the gospel, then we should consider prefacing or avoiding that illustration/quote. We do that all the time as preachers and speakers (or at least we should).

      Thank you for your ministry dating back to 1963. That’s an interesting year in view of the current discussion. I’m guessing that given segregation, racism, etc. not many African Americans would have even had much access to that work in 1963. What seems like a long period of unfettered access and a Johnny-come-lately conversation to you, might just feel like a reminder of racial strife and an ongoing adventure at misunderstanding to others. At the end of the day, I think that’s all the song really means to communicate in as provocative a way possible.

      Perhaps we’re still learning to talk to each other and to walk in one another’s shoes? Perhaps we don’t always get it right? Perhaps we still need God to hit straight licks with crooked sticks?

      Thanks for chiming in,

    2. Thabiti,

      Thanks again for your helpful words. If I could interject a comment or two about your image selection and the brutality of the institution of slavery. After spending much time (sometimes I feel it was too much and other times I feel it should and could have been more) investigating the writings of Atlantic Puritans on the subject of “race” and slavery, I can only say I was usually blown away not with the care and kind treatment that these religious leaders exhibited toward human property (a concept which itself is very problematic), but rather I was consistently shocked that these men usually treated enslaved Africans no different than their less theologically-motivated counterparts. As you will see in my book (which I not only appreciate you picking up and spending some time with, but also look forward to interacting with you as you develop specific thoughts about it), many of these men in New England treated their slaves brutally, likely leaving physical scars very similar to those in that nineteenth-century image. They definitely left psychological scars. For instance, Stephen Williams (the subject of my current research and writing project) drove two of his slaves to suicide after beating them unmercifully. He records it plainly in his diary. Chillingly so, in fact. And Jonathan Edwards, likewise, makes a veiled comment in his “Blank Bible” about abusing his servant shortly after purchasing his first slave, Venus (who I believe he renames Leah). His description of this “abuse” isn’t as clear as that of Williams, but it shows him wrestling with how he was treating a portion of God’s creation. I think the wrestling is important, of course. But so is the abuse. In my estimation, such images capture that vividly for us, especially when taken alongside some of the excellent recent studies you mention.

      Again, thank you, and let’s talk via email or something about your thoughts of my book when you have the time. I am a fan of your work, especially the treatments of Lemuel Haynes, which I have recommended on several occasions. I know I have much to gain from your critique.


      1. Dr. Bailey, can you post the text here of Edwards’ “Blank Bible” on his treatment of his slave, plus any specific comments that Jonathan Edwards Jr., or other close associates of Edwards (especially those who later turned against slavery) may have written with regard to Edwards on his treatment of his own slave?

        Due to the great seriousness of this matter, I believe we need specifics here whenever possible.

        Once we get specifics, we also need to remember that parental discipline of one’s own children in Puritan days — or even of one’s own wife — was not uncommonly of a nature that today would result in criminal charges. One of the periodic problems with which the English consistory in Amsterdam dealt during the Puritan era was that English men married to Dutch women routinely beat their wives, which was considered acceptable in England but not in the Netherlands.

        I am no more a defender of slavery than of wife beating, but we need to face the facts of the times and their concept of physical punishment was not ours.

        Most on this blog won’t know me. I lurk and read the Gospel Coalition but I don’t remember ever posting before. A few may recognize me as the reporter who covered the conservative wing of the Christian Reformed Church during the 1990s. Most don’t realize I worked in an inner city church for a number of years. Being married to a Korean, and for the last dozen years living in inner-city black and Hispanic neighborhoods while working primarily as a crime and government reporter, has given me a sense of the importance of understanding cultural contexts when evaluating church life and actions.

        Scriptural standards are supposed to norm our practices, but all of us have blind spots, and a certain level of charitableness toward others is important if we expect our Lord to have any mercy toward us for our own wilful sins and blinded ignorance.


        Dr. Bailey wrote: “And Jonathan Edwards, likewise, makes a veiled comment in his “Blank Bible” about abusing his servant shortly after purchasing his first slave, Venus (who I believe he renames Leah). His description of this “abuse” isn’t as clear as that of Williams, but it shows him wrestling with how he was treating a portion of God’s creation. I think the wrestling is important, of course. But so is the abuse. In my estimation, such images capture that vividly for us, especially when taken alongside some of the excellent recent studies you mention.”

      2. Richard A. Bailey says:


        Thanks for your question. I concur that details/ specifics are important. So, let me refer you to my “Race and Redemption in Puritan New England,” which treats this matter in a fuller manner. My analysis of Edwards’s commentary in the Blank Bible and the historical context of that comment is covered in detail there. I don’t feel we could do it justice in this venue.


  52. Gavin White says:

    I wonder if there is some form of censorship going on in this blog as my previous post seems to have disappeared into the ether.

    In it I referred not to the Puritans but to mainly Southern US theologians, including Shedd, Dabney and Thornwell.

    I was trying to make two points.

    The first was that the Bible nowhere expressly declares slavery as evil, a point argued by Thornwell in two well known treatises.

    The seconds was that by looking at the past through our contemporary spectacles we are in danger of interpreting events in a rather self righteous fashion. Slavery was and is part of the fabric of all sinful societies and it is only by being “salt” and “light” in these societies can things change. It is far too easy to do some grandstanding and write off or condemn another section of society or of the church.

    Looking at things from across the pond I could easily conclude that the debate is more about the forthcoming presidential election than a serious theological debate.

    with best wishes
    Gavin White

    1. All true but we have to remember that the “slavery” of the Bible was of a different kind than that of America.
      Biblical slavery was not race based or, as I understand it, perpetual through generations, there were opportunities to exit it, and the slaves were not procured through kid-napping. In fact, “man-stealing” is explicitly condemned in the Bible and that was one of the primary ways, I believe, of obtaining African slaves.
      So, to note the absence of condemnation in scripture of “slavery” and then to assume that the slavery in the Bible was the same as that in America, is to confuse matters. As Wesley noted to William Wilberforce, American slavery was “the vilest that ever saw the sun.”

  53. Gavin White says:

    Hello again.

    In order to demonstrate the ambiguity and sensitivity of th subject, consider these statements by Martin Luther in his “Admonition to Peace”.

    “It has been the custom of men to hold us as their own property. This situation is pitiable, for Christ has redeemed and bought us all with the shedding of His blood, the lowly as well as the great, excepting no-one. Therefore it agrees with Scripture that we be free and will be so” (He was quoting the articles drawn up by the peasants of Swabia).

    This is his answer to them. “You assert that no-one is to be the serf of anyone else, because Christ has made us all free. That is making Christian freedom a completely physical matter. This article absolutely contradicts the Gospel. A slave can be a Christian and have Christian freedom, in the ame way that a prisoner or a sick man is a Christian and yet not free. This article would make all men equal(!), and turn the spiritual kingdom of Christ into a worldly, external kingdom;and that is impossible. A worldly kingdom cannot exist without an inequality of persons….It is ‘in Christ’ that the lord and the servant are equal”
    Gavin White

  54. Gavin White says:

    I see that once again my comment mentioning Southern theologians has failed to materialise while my follow up comment did appear! How strange!

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Dear Gavin,

      For some reason your comments were caught in the spam filter. I hit “approve” on the comments that were there. If there’s one that does not appear, please feel free to re-post it if you can. I’m not sure what’s happening. But as ought to be attested by the rather lengthy and sometimes disagreeing comments already posted, I’m not blocking any contrary opinions. You’re welcome here.

      Grace and peace to you,

  55. Nell says:


    ” You said:The first was that the Bible nowhere expressly declares slavery as evil, a point argued by Thornwell in two well known treatises.” So, are you saying the Bible is neutral on the buying, selling, and beating, sometimes unto death, other human beings? Or, so long as you treat them “nicely” it is OK to buy and sell humans?

    So, out of the blue, God decided to change the system and tell people that such abuse is “not OK?” The Spirit is the same yesterday and today and I believe that sinful men and women were ignoring His guidance.

    There is no pass for slavery-none. And today, slavery is as pervasive as ever.Human trafficking is continuing to rise. Surely you do not think that Scripture’s silence implies consent to such practices.

    I am frankly perplexed that some seem to be on the defensive about the “purity” of the Puritans. They are not Jesus. They were sinful just like the rest of us.

  56. gavin white says:

    Dear Nell
    My opening line was in fact a direct quote from Thorn well and I used it to illustrate what I was proposing that it is better to try to understand the context of the times rather than look back from our own age and pass judgment. My quote from Luther similarly highlights the difference of views. The Southern theologians and the Confederates were fighting for slavery only in the context of their belief – that they were upholding a legitimate, honestly held Biblical view. Dabney for example viewed the North’s campaign as being motivated by the Jacobin spirit of the age. He also argued against trade unions.

    Trafficking like the transportation of slaves is of course wrong because of the coercion and violence involved and that is to come at it from another viewpoint. John Newton saw its evil and changed his view and campaigned against slavery for the rest of his life. I have spent my career combating trafficking.

    Dear Thabati
    I have now found my original post and appreciate your comments and your welcome. Thank you.

    Dear John
    It is true that the slavery of the Bible is different from that discussed in this American context. It is the difference between voluntary bonded service and as you say coercion and kidnapping. My point is that neither the Puritans nor the Confederates defended or fought for the latter but were defending what they saw as God’s order. Again I refer to Luther’s point. I simply want to emphasise the point that we all bring our own biases and predispositions to the table an to that extent I am in agreement with Cornelis Van Til.

    Can I just close by saying that it goes without saying that the Puritans were sinners like us. But their great value lies in their heart work and how they tried to apply God’s Word to every aspect of their private and public lives – much to the annoyance of the world round them who called them “Puritans” as a term of ridicule.


  57. Nell says:

    There is no legitimate, honestly held Biblical view for the practice of slavery. They were self deceived and did not pay attention to the Holy Spirit in this matter. Those same “legitimate” viewpoints were used to separate the races just a few decades ago and some in the SBC are well aware of their complicity in this matter. Thankfully, they are seeking to repent and reconcile.

  58. thovmas says:

    It is seems like the most safe and productive thing to do is confine any discussion to particular men, as a couple of the brothers mentioned Baxter or Mather as examples.

    To treat this subject in broad terms may be to willfully cross over into committing false witness. If there is criticism to be leveled, it needs to be done on a case by case basis.

  59. gavin white says:

    Dear Nell
    I’m sure that the Puritans heard the Holy Spirit and strove to abide by what He taught them. Similarly those in the SBC -Southern Baptist Convention? – did the same. You have to remember that we hold this treasure “in earthen vessels” and that we all are saved only by grace.

  60. gavin white says:

    Good morning everyone.

    I would like to repeat one last time my reason for entering this debate:to stress the need for moderation and understanding of the times the American Puritans lived in. In reading many of the comments of fellow contributors I feel that much has been said out anger and grievance for things that are long past. Personal bias against groups and institutions like the SBC and the Puritans themselves has also been evident and it all indicates to me at least a lack of grace or charity. Call it what you will. It is important to remember that condemning the sin in others does not make you “more” righteous.

    If you follow this link you will be able to read a letter from that age, written by a minister of the Gospel, laying out a comprehensive explanation of the history and practice of slavery.

    Best wishes

  61. gavin white says:

    Hello again
    I have been much exercised by the contents of this blog over the weekend and I have come to the conclusion that to blame the Puritans as a group for the abuse and maltreatment of slaves in early American history is both unfounded and politically motivated. It has been clearly shown that many Puritans, not a few, spoke against slavery and even more spoke out against abuse. George Whitfield upset many plantation owners with his letter “to the Inhabitants of Maryland, Virginia, and North and South Carolina Concerning their Negroes”

    In it he said “Whether it be lawful for Christians to buy slaves, I shall not take it upon me to determine,but sure I am that it is sinful, when bought, to use them worse than brutes…Your dogs are caressed and fondled at your tables;but your slaves, who are frequently styled dogs or beasts, have not an equal privilege. They are scarce permitted to pick up the crumbs which fall from their masters’ tables.Nay,some,as I have been informed by an eyewitness, have been,upon the most trifling provocation, cut with knives, and have had forks thrown into their flesh: not to mention what numbers have been given up to the inhuman usage of cruel task masters, who by their unrelenting scourges, have ploughed upon their backs, and made long furrows, and at length brought them even to death itself”

    So the issue was known, was discussed and publicised and ultimately dealt with by good men doing their best in their own times. Dr King dealt with and confronted the issues of racism in his own time. It is your job to deal with the issues of your time, not by harking back to the past but by looking at the present and speaking the truth in love, in Christ,for the salvation of your fellow man. If that means confronting evil then confront it in the name of God and be faithful witnesses to the truth.

    May you find the courage and strength to do that.


  62. kreedo7 says:

    Consider this, Hitler murdered about 6 million Jews. Peter denied Jesus 3 times in ONE event. Which is the greater sin? Who would you quote, Hitler or Peter? As a BLACK REFORMED christian, I understand the need to address the slavery question in a puritan context, but I would NEVER reject quoting them if what they say accurately reflects what the Bible teaches. Peter’s denial of Jesus was worst than Hitler’s sin yet who would dear say they get mad or angry when Peter is quoted?

  63. JP says:

    Perhaps I am long past the expiration date on this post… but I do have a question that may or may not have been addressed in the above posts (I haven’t had time to re-read them all)

    But I do have one question when it comes to “white privilege” (which I know is not the only idea in this post).

    It seems I am given only two options when it comes to talking about this phenomenon. Either:
    1- I must acknowledge that it exists in full-form and that all of my views are skewed because of it (as I am of European heritage)
    2 – I’m being intellectually dishonest (or just a poor student of human history and sociology) if I would argue from almost any angle trying to minimize the apparent effect of “privileged” thinking.

    Which, is only 1 option. It seems I MUST accept the construct that only non-white minorities can see clearly without the privilege/colonial/slave-owning glasses on.

    Perhaps I am overstating my point and my intent is not to be provocative but is it possible for me (as a Caucasian) to NOT see with “white privilege” glasses when arguing against the idea of blanket white privilege amongst white people?

    I’m basically told, “Of course you would argue there isn’t bias or privilege. It’s because you are white.” And then my argument is considered void.

    Am I making any sense?

    How am I to make sense of this IF my worldview is to be shaped and formed by the Word of God. That IN CHRIST, there is no Jew or Gentile, Slave or free… and yet I’m not allowed to push back on a black brother when I feel like he is leaning really hard on racial stereotypes because I’m coming from a “privileged”position?

    BTW, Thabiti I’m not saying that you are shutting down arguments this way. In fact, I’ve appreciated so much of how you’ve approached issues of “race” within the Church… but this IS the argument that I find myself fighting more and more when it comes to politics, and now music and theology.

    Sorry, post is too long.

    1. scottie says:


      You mention a worldview “shaped and formed by the Word of God”.

      My first thought is that real life in the real world doesn’t fit neatly and nicely into doctrinal boxes. Yes, as far as God is concerned, we are equal and it is settled. Things are not so settled & purely defined down here at ground zero. Kind of like when Orion is there in the night sky, I rarely see it due to the “noise” of haze and collective light of urban sprawl. I have to negotiate the complexities of life at ground zero, and accept the fact that seeing Orion will be a rare thing (despite the fact that it is there.)

      From God’s perspective there is no race, gender, etc. From ground zero, it’s quite tangled. There’s a boatload of generational dysfunction, abuse, rejection, indignity, relational twisting, all manner of destructive and unjust craziness going back generations. All of that does not go away simply because “it is written…”

      I realize my thoughts only partially address your comment.

  64. Eagle says:

    I’ve always found it disturbing as to how racism and Christianity are intertwined. I would suggest that they often feed off each other in many nation states. It was the Dutch Reformed who supportted apartheid in South Africa, just as the German reformed supportted the Third Reich. In the United States, evangelical’s history are dripping with racist blood.

    1. You have an entire demonomination that was founded on the defense of slavery. And do you actually think they are truly repentant over slavery when they are doing to women what they did to blacks a hundred years ago? Use the Bible to enforce authoriterian structure and suppress part of the human race? With blacks it was defense of slavery with women its over the top complementaism.

    2. Many evangelcials used the Bible to defend segregation in the south and prevent interracial dating.

    The racism of modern refomed theology is pretty disturbing. Douglas Wilson has written in defense of slavery on the south. And then you have Pope Piper the First exclaiming that a man who holds up the practice of slavery has the gospel right. With modern reformed theology I always wondered when the slavery issue would pop its ugly head. It’s like the slaughter of the Cannanities, given the history of racism in modern reformed theoloy (let’s be honest…it’s a faith system for white, young middle class people) I wonder when modern reformed theology in an attempt to be even more Biblical will try to replicate the slaughter of the Cannanities.

  65. purisomniapura says:

    after listening to the song …I cannot help but sense an angry, almost insulting & belittling attitude coming from the singer. What does he mean ‘YOUR’ Puritans? Is he implying they aren’t his brothers or sisters because he feels they sinned against him. He seems to have more of the spirit of Cain than Abel in his Puritan confrontation.

    Can we not find sin in Abraham, Moses, Aaron, David, Peter & Paul? Yet we don’t say we cannot trust their theology as a result. We do not say they are someone else’s brother. There is no ‘sinless’ theologian & to publicly reproach people that can no longer be engaged one on one seems pointless. Aaron lied about how the golden calf was made, yet God still spoke to & through him. With all imperfect followers of Christ we must take the good & reject the bad …just as we do with all the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11. Surely harlotry was a sinful lifestyle to be engaged in, but when the writer of Hebrews remembered her, her harlotry wasn’t condemned, but rather her faith & good works were praised. God uses sinful people to do His work …Puritan or otherwise & none of us will ever see everything perfectly clear in this life.
    If this singer is a Christian, they are ‘his’ Puritans also & drawing attention to this matter in the way he did only deepens the racial pain it may have caused & does little towards healing it!

  66. Wendy Alsup says:

    I’m curious why it’s hard for many people to hear such concerns as Thabiti and Propaganda have spoken and just stop to listen and contemplate for a bit. My take away from the discussion is that I am ignorant of how a lot of things I take for granted negatively impact people who have experienced racism and a history of slavery. As I contemplate, the first thing I wonder is how I would respond to the promotion of Puritan authors if that author had a history of abusing his wife or allowing others under their pastoral care to abuse their wives without confronting it. It’s good and necessary for any one of us who hasn’t experienced such things to stop and, frankly, stop talking for a bit until we’ve put ourselves in their shoes and really contemplated what it would be like to be in a similar situation. In my humble opinion.

  67. Brinn Clayton says:

    Thanks Pastor T for looking at this so carefully. Thanks Prop for challenging Christians to face these issues. As a Christian who is white, I need to have Christians who are black to challenge me on race and racial things.

  68. Jonathan Martinez says:

    Im coming from a Hispanic Background. This song is very troubling to me because even when it tries to make the point that God makes straight lines with crooked sticks, the historical fallacies are enourmous and an appeal to Oppressor-Victim mentality is uncalled for and abusive between people of faith. This mentality can easily grow and make us lose sight of the fact that the issue is not mans skin color but his wicked heart.

    First of All, to gather all the Puritans and classify them as slave owners is poor knowledge of history. My pastor Steven Yuille quoted Baxter, a great and very influential puritan, and hardly anyone took notice on the quote. Now we have to clean up the mess of broad-brushing all Puritans as slavery condoning.

    Because of the carelessness of not looking into Puritan history not only have we demonized a whole generation of biblical expositors but we have made them responsible and to be perpetrators of their generational and cultural sins. *or was it a worldwide sin, was it only English and American Colonies who had slaves* or was i a World Wide Practice see this timeline

    As a hispanic im learning to crawl out of the victim mentality i was taught in secular university with the Mexican American Literature classes where Chicano literature was decrying racism but indirectly sowing in us hate against a white culture decades away from their predecessors. I quickly realized that those who suffered racism and racial inequality did so, but it was them and not us. I dont negate the existence of racism but i also dont deny that we as hispanics are also racists, within my family one aunt would shout for great joy when the child born was of lighter color and not dark like the members on the other side of the family. Even when i go to mexico i see preferential for the lighter skin than the darker skin. So its not an White Man thing,its an issue of the heart, its sin, it manifests itself in hate.

    History of Slavery has really been misunderstood. Though we dont negate the brutality of it, we must also state that it was in the course of history very utilitarian means of survival. I dont think there is one nation in history past that has used slavery even the Aztecs would enslave those smaller tribes they conquered as surely did the empires before them did to others. Slavery is not a England American issue, it was a worldwide issue. We can also say it was a biblical issue, Abraham had Hagar, David had slaves, King Solomon had Slaves, even church members in Letter to Philemon had slaves. Slaves came in all colors and genders, that is another issue that is hardly mentioned.

    Another bad history fallacy that Prop was in Quoting Cortez to the Aztecs. One, he did not realize that Slavery was going on for hundreds of years before Cortez and the Aztecs enslaved smaller tribes as all their predecessors did (same thing in Egypt right?) But it was because of the Cortez coming with the Franciscans, where the abolition of slavery began in latin America.

    On my end, i was offended with the Cortez line. If Cortez would not have come, Bartolome de las Casas would not have the weight necesarry to change the course of slavery in Latin America.


  69. marc says:

    Trying to reconcile the notion that ‘Christians’ were being used by God as teachers of the Bible while continuously engaged in ‘egregious sin’ while at the same time defending the ‘sin’ perplexes me .

    Here are some of the questions that rise in my mind and I’m hoping someone(s) will direct me to resource(s) that will provide answers:

    1 John 3:6 – No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.

    Were these slave-owning puritans not Christians while they owned slaves? OR
    Were the way(s) they ‘owned’ slaves not a sin? OR
    Does 1 John 3:6 not mean what I think it does? OR
    Am I missing another possibility?

    Could it be that these people were not being convicted of their sin by the Holy Spirit?
    Are Christians accountable for the sins they aren’t convicted of?
    Are people only convicted of the things they already believe or are persuaded to believe are wrong?

    Those that regarded these sins in their heart, by continuing the practice and defending it, were their prayers heard by God? Psalm 66:18

    1 John 2:3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him,

    1 John 2:10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

    Were these slave-owning puritans liars and walking in darkness because they didn’t love their brothers?

    Thanks for any help you can provide!

  70. Rohan says:

    It’s very unwise for anybody to criticize on puritans especially those who are shaped well in their theology through all these great reformers.Well,as Thabiti Anyabwile said-“The Puritans are not so precious that they’re beyond criticism” which could be the other way round also.’Modern day’ christians aren’t beyond criticism.Honestly speaking,I find more fallacies in our contemporary christians than puritans(in terms of criticism against puritans and reformers).I would rather take advises from a senior Pastor who carefully quotes puritans and gives us fine understanding of puritans in their context especially on these controversial issues than a person who justifies his own race in opposition with puritans.Sorry for this,but I’m extremely offended by criticizing puritans in a very sarcastic way as you people called(“precious puritans”).People who think they’re discerning well in terms of puritans’life should again do some analysis on their own understanding of puritans,which could be
    a very silly argument(without understanding any historical context) and not blame pastors for quoting puritans.By the way,I’m not a pastor so don’t misunderstand me thinking that my response is very very personal.

  71. Chris says:

    Brilliant eighth point! Thanks for this.

  72. Mike Waters says:

    Below is a question posed to Dr Joel Beeke, one of the most well-known puritan scholars, and his response…

    May we TAKE HEAD…

    Question: How should we think about the fact that the Puritans by and large were theologically careful, devotionally vibrant slave-owners?

    Answer: One of us has written on this here. Let us just reinforce from this, and add to it, that there are a number of issues that should be addressed in relation to this particular question. We should welcome the point that we mustn’t put our spiritual heroes on pedestals. But the historical point is less tenable than some think. After having checked with some of the best Puritan historians from both sides of the Atlantic, it seems that we have no record of an English Puritan owning a slave. Richard Baxter, for example, saw a difference between slavery due to debt or conquest (regardless of race) and slavery in the way we think of it today. Not that any of the former examples are commendable. Yet Baxter did unequivocally denounce the slave trade, and he was a Puritan, unlike some of the names bandied around as evidence the Puritans were slave-owners.
    To condemn the Puritans, then, as slave-owners is largely anachronistic historically (though, of course, there are exceptions). Sadly, many later Calvinists manipulated the Bible to validate and promote slavery. But they weren’t Puritans. It is primarily in post-Reformation Calvinism we find slave owners and slave abolitionists.

    It’s also noteworthy that, contrary to popular suggestion, Jonathan Edwards wasn’t technically a Puritan, even if he was deeply sympathetic to their theology and for that reason is sometimes included as such. There are debates about when Puritanism ended, some arguing for as early as 1662 with the Act of Uniformity and the Great Ejection. But few deny the transition from Puritanism to Dissent typically comes around 1689 with the Act of Toleration. After 1689 we normally talk about Protestant Nonconformity. Edwards wasn’t even born then.

    These points are important because there is considerable difference between Puritans such as John Owen and 18th-century New England Reformed theologians like Edwards. And we should note that the rise of Puritanism began somewhere around the 1570s. In other words, to move into 18th century in New England and still use the term “Puritan” is highly problematic. So to suggest many Puritans were slave-owners implicates generations of men who had nothing to do with slavery.

  73. David Baker says:

    What a tragedy. These godly were believers mocked with what was then a derogatory term, “The Puritans” are mocked again today by professing believers, most of which have not read their works. Yes, the world hated these people-but isn’t that what Jesus said would happen to those who truly follow HIm? Liberal don’t have eternity right.
    I would encourage my brothers not to malign these “Redwoods” of the faith and to read the scholarly and unbiased treatment of the Puritans in “A Quest for Godliness” by J.I. Packer.
    David Baker MD

    1. vessel says:

      I’ve been going to a calvanistic baptist church and I recieved a liscensed to preach the gospel, But the pastor in which he is the only elder at this time gave me a liscence with a limitation on it. The limitation is that I am authorized to preach the gospel as long as I’m a member in good standing at that church. When I leave the liscence is no longer valid. He said he wouldnt leave me hanging. When I find another church he would give me a good recommendation, but I’m struggling with this because I’m a black brother and I’m trying to sense is there any foul play going on related to the subject at hand.

  74. It is interesting that this subject doesn’t go away. On another site it keeps getting comments. I finally got around to reading the response of Thabite to me. Just a short note about the puritans not being read much in our day. Is it because there are more helpful comments easier to read by modern authors? Or is it not a symptom of the dumbing down of society which has marked the American intellect for the last 150 years? I have talked about this to others. Take for example the book, “Lectures to Young People” by William Sprague written in the 1830s. Very few teenagers in our day would have the patience to wrestle with the meaning of the words, let alone get through a couple of chapters of that book. The fact that Christians want to be edified by “rap” music instead of being something to be rejoiced at, may in fact be another symptom of this dumbing down mentality. Now I have sought to look into a little of the historical details that this song is hinting at. But where to turn? I mean the charge that the Puritans were “chaplains on slave ships” is a serious enough charge that there should be some historical data, some entry into a diary somewhere, from early America, to back this up.

    Since my first note I have narrated Jonathan Edwards’ Jr. sermon on the Injustice and Impolicy of the Slave Trade delivered before the Conn. Society for the Promotion of Freedom.

    Recently, for my podcast, I was narrating the diary of Cotton Mather. From what I can tell it is the largest diary ever published of a Christian in the history of the church. Volume one alone is over 600 pages. It certainly would fall into the category of New England Puritans. Since these books are online scanned and free, and also searchable, it is not difficult to look at every instance of the word “negro” in the entire document.

    Does Cotton Mather get a pass? No, he himself bought a negro servant. But if we compare his efforts for the evangelizing of the “negro” with our own, I think that it is at least interesting. The first thing that I would suppose in the judgment of charity we would have to conclude is that Mather was somewhat ignorant. He called the procuring of a negro servant, “the smile of heaven upon my family. But other of his comments, I think there are four in all, follow.

    I wrote as well contrived an Essay as I could, for the ani-
    mating and facilitating of that Work, the evangelizing of
    the Negroes. It is entitled, The Negro Christianized.
    An Essay, to excite and assist that Good Work; the Informa-
    tion of the Negroes in Christianity. 1 And my Design is;
    not only to lodge one of the Books, in every Family of
    New England, which has a Negro in it, but also to send
    Numbers of them into the Indies; and write such Letters
    to the principal Inhabitants of the Islands, as may be
    proper to accompany them.

    This Day, a surprising Thing befell me. Some Gentle-
    men of our Church, understanding (without any Applica-
    tion of mine to them for such a Thing,) that I wanted a
    good Servant at the expence of between forty and fifty
    Pounds, purchased for me, a very likely Slave; a young
    Man, who is a Negro of a promising Aspect and Temper,
    and this Day they presented him unto me. It seems to
    be a mighty Smile of Heaven upon my Family; and it
    arrives at an observable Time unto me. I putt upon him
    the Name of Onesimus; and I resolved with the Help of
    the Lord, that I would use the best Endeavours to make
    him a Servant of Christ, and also be more serviceable than
    ever to a Flock, which laies me under such Obligations.

    a little after this Time, a company of poor Negroes, of their
    own Accord, addressed me, for my Countenance, to a
    Design which they had, of erecting such a Meeting for the
    Welfare of their miserable Nation that were Servants
    among us. I allowed their Design and went one Evening
    and pray’d and preach’d (on Ps. 68. 31. 1 ) with them; and
    gave them the following Orders, which I insert only for
    Curiositie of the Occasion.

    1. Thabiti says:

      Hi Thomas,

      Thanks for keeping the conversation going and contributing your perspective. Just a couple quick replies:

      1. I don’t think rap is at all “dumbing down” America. An argument can be made, defensibly, imo, that the poetry and lyrical sophistication of rap actually requires and demonstrates profound intelligence and creativity. Perhaps that’s why so many folks “don’t get it”?

      2. I don’t think there’s more virtue or intelligence exhibited in reading arcane language. The language itself has evolved considerably since the 1600s and even the 1800s. Much Puritan literature is, by the standards of modern English, just poor writing, unnecessarily complex, and turgid. I wish more teenagers–and adults!–had more stamina for working through the best of Puritan literature. But I think we’d be mistaken to think it’s superior literature or language in some way. We ought not confuse obscure with profound.

      3. No, Mather does not get a pass. For one thing, Mather is perhaps the most prolific writer in American letters. There’s hardly a thing written about which he didn’t have an opinion–often at length. That he wrote an early tract on slavery and sought the conversion of Africans is to be commended. That he wrote so little overall and failed to reject slavery itself is blameworthy. Of course he was known to get other things wrong or only partially correct, too, like the Salem witch trials.

      4. To call Mather “somewhat ignorant” when he was a renaissance man of his day is to make light of the heinousness of slavery and to diminish expectations we ought to have for our leaders. It is to “dumb down” things in a way that appears to excuse the tragedy and injustice of slavery. He was not “somewhat ignorant,” like a child who doesn’t yet know that putting their fingers in a socket is dangerous; he was somewhat evil, like a man who forcibly kidnaps, shackles, transports, abuses and robs another man of their freedom and family.

      5. Lest you think I’m being too hard on ol’ Mather, and lest we miss the concluding point of Prop’s song, we need to be reminded once again that “God hits straight licks with crooked sticks,” which crookedness we all share.

      For Jesus,

  75. David says:

    I know slavery was widely practiced among many landowners, but I’ve not heard about this being a widely Puritan practice. Was it common for Puritans to actually practice slavery?

  76. As I reread the response of Anyabwile to me, he responds, ” . I don’t think there’s more virtue or intelligence exhibited in reading arcane language. The language itself has evolved considerably since the 1600s and even the 1800s. Much Puritan literature is, by the standards of modern English, just poor writing, unnecessarily complex, and turgid. I wish more teenagers–and adults!–had more stamina for working through the best of Puritan literature. But I think we’d be mistaken to think it’s superior literature or language. MY ANSWER just poor writing, unnecessarily complex and turgid?” The fact that the Puritans were prolix, that they had run on sentences, and are difficult to read, or even that language has evolved, still doesn’t answer my original charge. That is that many a modern reader lacks the intellectual acumen and the command of the English language to enable them to read the Puritans, or reading any literature prior to the present generation. Maybe even Orwell’s 1984. But this doesn’t work for Anyabwile because the Puritans are the ones who are in his cross hairs even though my response to him included the book Lectures to Young People – William Sprague 1830. if he had stopped there, it would not have made such a grind on me, but he just can’t let this subject go. Not the subject of the Puritans, the priority of black activism. Look at his blog. He has never been able to leave the subject since the Ferguson riots.

  77. 植髮 says:


  78. Found an article about krav maga boot camps with some people in my gym trained there and raved about them so I’m sure it’ll be fine I was wondering if anyones been told different? Their classes are reasonable and they dont try and get you on a debit like other places. What do you rekon?

  79. Hahahahahahaha, this politics related YouTube video is in fact so comic, I loved it. Thanks designed for sharing this.

  80. Nixon says:

    I heard the song wich is being commented about,and a lot of christians are condemning,and others defending,but did not see a question answered by the brothers who defend puritans!.were puritans chaplains in slave ships,yes or no ,simple!!!.i will not question theology,but i will question the fruit !!.Jesus sent judas together with the eleven to preach the gospel to heal to drive away demons,so judas had good theology,but what about the fruit?,not comparing the one to the others because I didn’t know the others,I know about the one judas ,because the recording is trustworthy,and the record says he was crooked!,i will not say puritans were crooked because I don’t know them ,and their recordinds may not be trustworthy!,but if they were chaplains in slave ships ,why would i defend their acts?,Paul the apostle never defended Peter ,he told the galatians that peter had sinned,but peter acknowledged the fact by accepting paul’s writings,and peters sin was like todays racism ,yes we all make mistakes but we have to acknowledge them ,not justify ourselves!.i read some comments,that make it look like we need puritans and their writings,but isn’t the bible enough??,not saying that them are bad nor their writings!.

  81. But a smiling visitant here to share the love (:, btw great design and style .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Search this blog


Thabiti Anyabwile photo

Thabiti Anyabwile

Thabiti Anyabwile is a pastor for Anacostia River Church in southeast Washington, DC and a council member of The Gospel Coalition.

Thabiti Anyabwile's Books