Michael Winship is a professor of history at the University of Georgia and a prolific author of historical volumes. In Hot Protestants, a term used by their contemporaries for Protestants who would later be called puritans (p. 1), Winship traces the history of puritanism from its roots in the 1540s to its collapse, on both sides of the Atlantic around 1690 (p. 1). John Hooper, who was executed in 1555 (p. 10-17), is identified as the first puritan. He, along with all puritans who followed, rebelled against the Book of Common Prayer and the accompanying rituals, especially the wearing of Catholic vestments and kneeling at the Lord’s Supper. The early Protestants viewed the Pope as the Antichrist and the Catholic Church as the devil’s church, therefore anything that smacked of Romanism in doctrine or practice was rejected by hot Protestants. Vitally connected to their attempts to purify the church would be the English monarchy, which tended to swing from Catholic to Protestant and back on a regular basis. Puritans wanted neither Rome nor a watered-down form of Protestantism (i.e. the Church of England). Their ultimate desire was a nation shaped after the model of John Calvin’s Geneva, which they saw as the gold standard (p. 22). Over the decades they would battle kings and queens, archbishops and parliament, and one another, in an effort to duplicate Geneva, first in England, and later in the North American colonies. The efforts, while seemingly successful at times, ultimately failed on both continents.
Winship skillfully weaves through the theological and political issues relevant to puritanism. At times the puritans were persecuted for their beliefs and at other times they were honored and allowed freedom. During the years of Oliver Cromwell in Great Britain, and in the early decades in the American colonies, the puritans were even dominant. But in the end, puritanism could withstand neither the external nor the internal pressures.
Internally, Puritans were divided sharply, theologically and ecclesiastically. While most Puritans were Calvinistic, they debated the extent of the atonement, justification (pp. 273-277), assurance of salvation (pp. 105-109), standards for church membership (pp. 114, 186-192, 236-240), and law and grace (pp. 123-124, 160-168). Ecclesiastically, division over forms of government and the church’s connection to the National Church of England (pp. 137-140, 146-147, 163-164, 231-232) divided Presbyterians and Congregationalists and, in a real sense, led to the puritan demise (pp. 156-159, 249, 251-262, 265-270, 273-277).
Hot Protestants is well-documented and well-written. Those who virtually idolize puritans will find portions of the book disturbing. Those who vilify the puritans will be forced to admit that while the puritans had serious flaws, they sincerely desired holiness, both personally and nationally. As a historical account, Hot Protestants is excellent.
Hot Protestants, a History of Puritanism in England and America by Michael P. Winship (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018) pp. 351 plus XIII, Hard $19.37
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher at Southern View Chapel