I just recently finished a magnificent book, The Puritan Origins of American Patriotism, and a taxonomical breakdown occurred to me. I thought I’d share. There are four kinds of Puritan, stretching across the centuruies. Since the sixteenth century, the story has mostly been one of devolution, although there have been some delightful throwbacks here and there. The first two types of Puritan know and love Jesus, the Lord of all, and the last two don’t.
Puritanus Major: This is the Puritan with the big picture. He has a clear vision of the transcendent, and of the Lord high and lifted up. He is someone like William Tyndale, or Jonathan Edwards. His heart has been enlarged, as the apostle urged (2 Cor. 6:12-13).
Puritanus Minor: This Puritan is an organizer, an administrator. He gets what the great hearts just mentioned were talking about. He understands it, articulates it, advances it . . . and tidies it up somewhat. He could not have cast the vision himself in the first place, but he is an honorable disciple of it. I am thinking of great men like Owen or Turretin.
Puritanus Crusader: When the vision of the Lord is lost, and the organizers of it have been out-maneuvered, when the transcendent vision becomes an immanent one, we think the greatness of the task (whatever it was) still lies before us. Onward, through the fog! This is how we wind up with leaders like Woodrow Wilson, or fishwife scolds like Al Gore. The motive force for the “crusade” is no longer the love of God, but is now the lash of guilt and fear. The darkness descends. Although Mencken misplaced his jab, he was talking about a genuine reality in the world — this kind of Puritanism is the haunting fear that somewhere, somehow, someone might be happy.
Puritanus Fusser: The water that melted on the mountain tops has finally made its way down into the gulch. This is the neighbor down the street who launches complaints with the city about whether you are recycling properly. We might call this the dregs of Puritanism, the vestiges of it. I won’t mention this particular Puritan’s name, but he is the one looking at your house right now through his blinds, checking out the color of your bins.