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The Implications of Puritan Preaching for Modern Church


The problem of preaching, namely, the tension between the profundity of the gospel message and the simplicity of preaching is not particularly new in our generation. The preachers of every generation know their struggle with this on-going tension between deep understanding of the Bible and communicating in accessible language.  This is how we believe that we can gain profit from the lessons our forefathers of preaching had left to us.  The historical backgrounds may not the same, the social contexts may differ, yet the way the Puritan preachers had overcome those tensions are significant for today's preaching.  Quoting from Packer, "The well-being of the church today depends in large measure on a revival of preaching in the Puritan vein" (1994:281).

The Puritan Model of Evangelistic Preaching

The first significance of Puritan preaching for us is that it was 'missionary proclamation' in its emphasis on evangelism and conversion. From his study of Puritan evangelism Packer suggests its implication for modern evangelism:

      Modern evangelism will always depend for its fruitfulness under ordinary circumstances, on the prior exposure of the audience it gathers to evangelism of the Puritan typelonger-term , broader-based, deeper- digging, church-, community- and friendship-centered, oriented more to worship and less to entertainment.  Modern evangelism is only likely to reap where Puritan evangelism has first sowed (1994:301).

In other words, the Puritan preaching can serve as the model of pastoral preaching with evangelistic emphasis.  The dichotomy of evangelistic preaching from the pastoral preaching was not the Puritan model.  Or even further, the professionalism of pastoral ministry was not the Puritan model.  Indeed, evangelism and pastorate was not separated function for them.  

         For Puritan preachers their audience was both inside and outside the Church.  They were always ready for evangelistic preaching if circumstance demands it.  They preached not just to teach the devoted, but also to reach the lost and convert them. 

        The Puritan model of evangelistic preaching or 'missionary proclamation' may stand good contrast to today's tendency such as TV-evangelism.  Changing society may require different approach.  Yet, the achievement of the Puritan preaching is the illustration that one advantage of mobilizing local congregations for evangelistic preaching is deeper penetration into the society.  Approaches to evangelistic preaching, whether mono-culturally or cross-culturally, may vary.  Yet, the potential of evangelistic preaching by local congregations, whether large or small, should not be undervalued.  Their preaching is a living testimony of it.

           Second, the Puritan preaching furnishes us with a classical model for missionary proclamation in a nominal society.  Their preaching brought transformation in spiritual, individual as well as social realm.  The puritan preaching, in their exposition and application, had a power of purifying transformation first inside their churches, then in their societies outside the church wall.  As a result of their preaching sleeping souls were quickened, individual lives were changed, and the society was transformed.  Especially, their preaching brought transformation in a nominal or secularized Christendom. This has implication in today's post-Christian cultures.  The same, or even greater needs for transformation we have in our own context of preaching. 

        The third great value of the Puritan preaching for us is the unity of 'Bible exposition' and 'life application.' It is in their preaching that we find the a rich repository of spiritual treasures.  Yet, they did not keep them to their knowledge.  They made their preaching relevant to the needs of their audience by applying it.  

The Puritan Hope and the Future

The Puritans held that we are to fulfill the great commission to teach all nations. As Iain Murray shows in his book The Puritan Hope, the eschatology of the English Puritans lay at the heart of the great world-wide missionary movement of the 19th century. This positive view of the future known as the eschatology of victory has tremendous implications because it inspires vision. It motivates effort and enterprise. If we believe that evil will overcome everything we will be subject to fear and despair. We will not be inclined to attempt very much. If the gospel is destined to prevail in all nations then we will be inspired to attempt great things for God. We will seek to win the nations for Christ. And winning the nations for Christ means that the hearts of men and women are renewed and brought into obedience to the gospel. The kingdom of God is within us. From that position of being 'in Christ' we then apply the teachings of Scripture to every sphere of life as Calvin and the English Puritans sought to do (Hulse 1996)


The Puritan Example of the Cultural Mandate

         Based on Romans, Ephesians and I Peter, Hulse illustrates the Puritan principle of a threefold application of the gospel: first our position in the church, second marriage and the family, and third our position in the world.

First the life must be changed and brought under the dominion of Christ. From the Church as the center where the believer should be inspired by the preaching he goes out into the world. There in the world he is to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matt 5:13-16).

With regard to culture we have a mandate to develop every sphere and bring every area of human life under the rule and dominion of the Prince of Peace (Ps. 8). We are to pray always that his justice will prevail.  We are to pray the prayer of Psalm 72.  We must plead that the Prince of Peace will prevail. We expect him to defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy. We are to pray that the whole earth be filled with his glory as the waters cover the sea (Ps. 72).  These prospects were believed by the Puritans as most certain of fulfillment. The future was as bright as the promises of God (Hulse 1996).

        Packer comments, "Strength of application was, from one standpoint, the most striking feature of Puritan preaching, and it is arguable that the theory of discriminating application is the most valuable legacy that Puritan preaching have left to those who would preach the Bible and its gospel effectively today" (1994:286-87).



  This article is an excerpt from Dae Ryeong Kim's paper, "The Missionary Proclamation of the English Puritanism,"