Joseph Boot, The Mission of God: A Manifesto of Hope for Society, 2nd ed. (2014; Toronto: Ezra Press, 2016), 978-0-9947279-0-9, 683 pages.

Many Christians do not have a worked out political theology. We are aware of the importance of being good citizens, as Paul tells us in Romans 13, but it’s not until we find ourselves in the throes of political conflict that we are forced to work out what we believe about living faithfully in a civil society that is openly hostile to our faith. Certainly Covid-19 has caused the church to think more about our relationship to politics. As we’ve moved from mask mandates and restricted worship gatherings now to vaccine passports and possibly even vaccine taxes, Christians are struggling to understand what obedience to government really looks like. To make matters worse, the Canadian government has now legislated against basic Christian sexual ethics in such a way as to make all Christians, not just pastors and counselors, liable for any advice they give on sexual orientation or gender identity. In these troubled times we want answers, but often such answers don’t come pre-packaged, nor do they have the power of universal explanation, much as we’d like them to. The problems that we are facing are not easy to work through and require prudential study of the bible and the Christian tradition. As the church has been equipped over the past two thousand years with sources to help us think through these important matters, searching them out requires patience, nuance, and ability to rightly appropriate the past. We should be turning to the ancient church to understand how those Christians dealt with state persecution and martyrdom, we should look to the medieval church for help understanding the pros and cons of Christendom. Protestants especially have a wealth of resources at their disposal, especially in the Magisterial Reformers, to help us think about the two kingdoms, natural law, obedience or resistance to the magistrate.

One particularly rich stream of Protestantism that we could be drawing from is the English puritan tradition that, in all of its variety, has much to teach us about holding the government to account. The puritans had to wrestle through a civil war that culminated in regicide; surely they have something to say that’s worth hearing in our context. However, the puritan era, like any other in history, is subject to misinterpretation. A classic example is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s (1804-1864) portrayal of them as narrow-minded bigots in The Scarlet Letter (1850). Confusion about the puritans by those who criticize them is one thing, but misunderstandings by those who sympathize with them is another. This often happens with those who approach the past looking for some kind of golden age that our own will never live up to. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981), who more than anybody was responsible for the renewed interest in the puritans in the twentieth century, observed that many were tempted to theological ignorance by “using the Puritans and their writings as a substitute for thought.”[1] When we are approaching the past for our political theology, or anything else, we want to rightly appropriate it for use today. We must pursue truth, even if our pursuit of it leads us to unlikely conclusions. Failure at this level can have long-lasting consequences as our misunderstandings can blow up in our face. What is required is a patient, non-compromising, and irenic engagement with our culture that is informed by the bible, theology, and church history.

The Mission of God

The book under review attempts to engage culture effectively using the past, especially the puritans. In what follows I will evaluate whether The Mission of God: A Manifesto of Hope for Society, is successful in its appropriation of puritanism as an antidote for today’s political ills. The book was first published in 2014 by Joseph Boot, a British apologist working in Canada, though my review is of the second edition of the book as it was published initially with the now defunct Canadian publisher Freedom Press International.[2] Boot opted to self-publish his second edition in 2016 with Ezra Press, an arm of his think tank, the Ezra Institute for Contemporary Christianity. Boot is also a pastor at Westminster Chapel in Toronto, a church he founded, and is involved in Britain with the Wilberforce Academy and Christian Concern. Boot’s book garnered him a Doctor of Philosophy in Christian Intellectual Thought from Whitefield Theological Seminary in Lakeland, Florida. It is surprising that he would be awarded such a degree, as the book does not meet academic standards for a PhD.[3] In respect to what is on display in The Mission of God, Boot lacks the requisite skills of an historian, which concerns me as my own academic interests have addressed how evangelicals can use and abuse the past.[4]

The purpose of this review is narrower than noting The Mission of God’s overall demerits.[5] Rather, I address one of Boot’s key arguments, which is that the puritans were the prototypes of the modern Theonomic or Christian Reconstructionist movement and that for one to be a true heir of the puritans one must be a Theonomist or Reconstructionist. I am not going to argue whether a case can be made for a relationship between Theonomy and puritanism, rather I am going to look at whether Boot successfully makes that case.[6] In what follows I briefly describe Theonomy and Christian Reconstruction, generally survey some of the book’s aims, addressing his treatment of the puritans with my own criticisms interspersed throughout, and conclude with some general observations of the value of Boot’s book.[7]

Theonomy and Christian Reconstruction

Before engaging The Mission of God’s treatment of the puritans as Theonomists, it is worth describing Theonomy.[8] Christian Reconstruction was developed in the mid-twentieth century by the Armenian-American writer Rousas John Rushdoony (1916-2001), a missionary, activist, author, and founder of the Chalcedon Foundation.[9] The movement gained traction and controversy through its popularization by the apologist Greg L. Bahnsen (1948-1995) and economist Gary North. It is to North that we owe the term “Christian Reconstruction,” which he first used in 1974 for his Journal of Christian Reconstruction. Bahnsen was the most serious Reconstructionist and his works Theonomy and Christian Ethics and By This Standard are erudite treatments of the major themes addressed by Theonomy, particularly the relation of the Old Testament to Christian ethics.[10] North is the late Rushdoony’s son-in-law, though the two had an acrimonious split that saw North move from Vallecito, California, where the Chalcedon Foundation is located, to Tyler, Texas, that became the home of his Geneva Ministries and Institute for Christian Economics.[11] The movement largely dissolved after the North-Rushdoony split and the death of Bahnsen, with thinkers like Douglas Wilson, Peter Leithart, and James B. Jordan, who had varying degrees of relationships to the movement, leaving the fold.[12] Though a number of definitions of Theonomy have been articulated by exponents, for the sake of this review, I will go with Jordan’s. He argued that the movement is concerned with advocating the sovereignty of God under three headings: postmillennial eschatology, the presuppositional apologetics developed by Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987), and the abiding character of Old Testament law (hence, Theonomy).[13] Theonomy is sometimes described as “Dominion Theology,”[14] that relates to their victorious view of postmillennialism, where they argue that society will be Christianized at the return of Christ. Relatedly, presuppositionalism makes the claim that all knowledge must explicitly accept the lordship of Jesus Christ for it to be true knowledge.[15] When Christ returns, society will be governed by the Mosaic law. Hence, these three distinctives are the Theonomists’ way of advocating for the absolute lordship of Jesus Christ over all things.

With this general overview of Theonomy and Reconstructionism in mind, we can turn to evaluating Boot’s book. In light of what has been said in defining the movement, it should be observed that Boot seems to be concerned with the earlier brand of Reconstruction as developed by Rushdoony. Little mention is made of the other Theonomists like North, Jordan, or Chilton. They appear in the bibliography, but not in the index to the book. Bahnsen also does not appear in the index, though his work is in both the bibliography and endnotes with some frequency.

The Purpose of The Mission of God

Before engaging Boot’s claims about puritanism it would also help to explain the aim of The Mission of God, as best as possible for a book that is quite large and that tackles a variety of subjects. My focus is to summarize aspects of the book that pertain to puritanism – it would take me far afield to get into specifics of missiological debates, questions of exclusivism versus inclusivism, Canadian politics, apologetic method, holocaust denial, etc.

Missiology is Boot’s overarching concern: “[P]art of my motivation in writing this study is to help stimulate and encourage critical reflection on the biblical missiology that did so much to shape our liberties and free institutions that are eroding before our very eyes.”[16] This is a noble aim, one that all Christians should think seriously about. He argues that the church needs a full-orbed gospel of the kingdom in order to combat societal decay, a gospel exemplified by the puritans and Theonomists. Boot is not content with a gospel that is merely about saving lost souls, he wants an evangelism that is rooted in societal change.[17] The gospel is about all of life and thus has cultural implications for the lordship of Christ. With this most Christians should agree, generally speaking. It’s Boot’s argument that to remedy this weakness evangelicalism needs an injection of the Theonomic understanding of the kingdom of God. This will help it grow in cultural effectiveness as we encounter new challenges and problems.

The Mission of God and Puritanism

Boot is critical of those who only read puritan spirituality but who do not take their view of the law seriously. Rhetorically, he asks: “Is it not disingenuous to claim an affinity for the Puritans, delighting in the vitality of their prayers and piety whilst ignoring its source—their vision of God’s covenant and reign in history?” He goes on to argue, “There is no accurate understanding of John Knox, Samuel Rutherford, John Owen, John Elliot [sic], John Cotton or Oliver Cromwell to be had, whilst ignoring their view of Christ’s present reign at God’s right hand as King of kings and Lord of lords, to whom all men are subject, under whose law all men are held to account (whether king or commoner), and by whose gospel alone men can find redemption and restoration.”[18] He points to the “contemporary evangelical indifference” to puritanism as a reason that the Theonomists, whom he refers to as the puritans’ “most consistent modern heirs,” have been denigrated in the church.[19] Boot argues that the Theonomists have been censured because “they have taken up and revived key elements in our Puritan heritage that the rest of the modern evangelical community has chosen to forget or ignore.”[20] Those key elements include the puritan view of the law. What is unhelpful about this quote is that Boot does not cite those who love the puritans but ignore those key elements. Even worse, Boot does not take into account recent studies of the puritan view of the law, pre-eminent among them are Ernest Kevan’s (1903-1965) two books The Grace of Law: A Study of Puritan Theology and The Moral Law, which are important for our understanding of the period. In them, Kevan draws heavily from Anthony Burgess (1600-1663) and his view of the law, a puritan who, incidentally, does not appear in Boot’s book.[21] Most significantly, neither book makes the case that Theonomy is the consistent puritan view of the law. As we will see below, the puritan view of the law does not fit so nicely with the arguments of The Mission of God.

Boot regularly–and rightly– outlines the decline of the West due to its abandonment of Christian faith. For Boot, church and society need to go back and recapture the holistic view of the puritans who applied biblical law to all areas of life, from economics, education, politics, and family. Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) is, for Boot, the preeminent example of this application of the Christian faith to all of life by a political leader who honors God’s law. Cromwell is the quintessential puritan who, in Boot’s words, is “generally seen as the most important Puritan statesman in European history.”[22] It was Cromwell and the other puritans who laid the foundations of the freedoms that we enjoy in the modern West, and to abandon them is to abandon the gains they won for us. Again, it is to the Theonomists that we must turn to recapture the puritan view of life, where a total reconstruction of society will start with the family as the first stage of renewal and then move on to other spheres of life like church and state.[23]

One philosophical culprit that Boot takes aim at throughout the book is dualism, that he describes as the contrast between religion and other aspects of life. The Reformation broke down the secular/sacred divide, rendering all of life as intrinsically religious. Boot locates dualism in Greek thought that has dogged the church since its inception, particularly with heretics like Marcion (ca. 110-160) who gets regular mention.[24] We have, since the puritan era, been mired in a “progressive re-Hellenization” that marks a return to dualism. What Christianity is called to do is return to its non-dualistic, Old Testament heritage expressed by the puritans.[25] Instead, the church is mired in what he would describe as versions of the Marcionite heresy, one of which is premillennialism, especially the dispensationalism of “J. N. Darby and C. I. Schofield [sic].”[26] Their dualism is between the soul—the focus of premillennial evangelism strategies—and the body that can be disregarded in the pursuit of spiritual aims. Premillennialists are retreatists, but what the church needs is the puritan eschatology of postmillennialism, that is non-dualistic, optimistic, and victorious. This eschatological vision comports with how a Christianized society can be reconstructed according to God’s law as laid out in the Old Testament and recaptured at the Reformation. It was the Enlightenment that marked the unraveling of God’s law in the West, and the dualism that insidiously encroaches on the church witnessing a return to ancient Marcionism.[27]

Alongside premillennialism, Boot also argues that certain Reformed “two kingdoms” views are likewise a form of Marcionite dualism.[28] In a section titled “Cultural Cowardice,” Boot takes theologian Michael S. Horton to task for advocating a kind of cultural retreat. Though he devotes fifteen pages to discussing Horton, Boot does not deal with the broad scope of Horton’s work, instead he focuses on a single article he published in the 9Marks journal, a popular periodical issued by 9Marks Ministries.[29] Boot claims that Horton’s two kingdoms theology “seems to be that of double sovereignty or two kingdoms (with similarities to the nature/grace dualism of scholastic philosophy).”[30] Due to his sharp law-gospel distinction, that Boot asserts is “not a Reformed perspective,” Horton’s two kingdoms theology has “neo-Marcionite tendencies” that “lead also to an antinomian tone in his writing.”[31] The two kingdoms “leaves space for [Horton’s] ‘secular callings’ (religiously neutral spheres) and ‘common grace’ (or natural theology/law) as areas where a specifically biblical and Christian approach to life is completely unnecessary, from education, to arts, politics and science.” This “strange dualism” is due to Horton’s view of Christ’s absence from the earth.[32] Boot’s critiques of premillennialism and two kingdoms theology—both of which are guilty of the heresy of Marcion—explain why the puritans and Theonomists need to be rediscovered.

As part of the rejection of the lordship of Christ, Boot argues correctly that we live in an historically rootless society that will lead to eventual collapse as our “barbarian” culture “ceases to value and identify with the past” and thus will have “no ability to navigate forward responsibly.”[33] While Boot is right to argue for the importance of history as a way of steering our culture back to some form of sanity, the irony is that his reading of history is often anachronistic and unhelpful. Nevertheless, he argues that a Christian view of history must be grounded in the doctrines of creation and providence, as argued biblically, in Augustine, and in the puritans. Such views have been eclipsed with negative consequences for law, politics, and the church. Christians are “humanistic and antinomian” in their views of history, some even being captivated by occultist “positive thinking” views, or the retreatism of Christians who want to escape the calamities of creaturely affairs.[34] Here, Boot is right to note the historical amnesia of the church today, especially in evangelicalism, but his own historiography does not push the church forward in a way that will help us make good use of the past. If anything, Boot is an example of how not to use history in service of the church.

Much more could be said of The Mission of God but space constraints are already being pushed. In sum, the thrust of Boot’s argument is to demonstrate the collapse of society and the church due to a Hellenized and Enlightenment-influence rejection of the law of God as espoused by the Reformers and the puritans. The church suffers from a dualism that results in a cultural retreat and a tacit betrayal of the lordship of Christ over all domains of life. Boot’s remedy to rebuild society and the church is to recapture the puritan spirit of law exemplified by the Theonomists.

Defining Puritanism

Boot’s book raises many questions. If his argument is that we need a return to a theonomic society and that the puritans can help light the path toward that end, the first question to ask is if his account of the puritans is actually correct. It is not. Of the importance of defining puritanism, historian Richard L. Greaves (1938-2004) said, “The debate has been salutary, for without an accurate understanding of these terms it is extremely difficult to engage in constructive dialogue about any of the facets of Puritan history and the broader historical pageant of which it is an integral part.”[35] In 2010 I published, “Hot Protestants: A Taxonomy of English Puritanism,” where I traced the history of the interpretation of puritanism and, noting the difficulty of trying to define it, came up with a broad definition. I argued that the puritan movement developed at the end of the Elizabethan Settlement and roughly ended with the death of John Howe (1630-1705).[36] My definition noted that puritanism was not solely a Calvinistic movement, that though it was Protestant, it was indebted to catholic thought, and was grounded in experiential piety. Here is my definition:

A ‘Puritan’ was one who considered himself as ‘godly,’ who politically reacted against enforced forms of medieval-style worship during and after the Elizabethan Settlement in favor of a more thorough reformation of the English church; who, socially, promoted evangelism, catechizing, and spiritual nourishment through the preaching and teaching of the Bible; who, theologically, held to the best of catholic theology such as the christological and trinitarian formulations of the early church; and held to the Protestant doctrines of faith (sola fide), grace (sola gratia) and Scripture (sola scriptura); and who, devotionally, strove for personal holiness, a practical faith, communion with God, and the glory of God in all things.[37]

Were I to write it again, I would note that the puritans, contrary to Boot’s understanding, were indebted to medieval scholasticism and Thomism as a number of recent studies have made clear.[38] My definition attempted to portray puritan faith and practice as spanning an inclusive expanse of time and that accounts for a diverse range of thinkers from the Calvinist John Owen (1616-1683) to the Arminian John Goodwin (1594-1665).[39] All of this accords with recent studies showing the diversity of seventeenth-century Protestantism.[40]

According to Boot, the Theonomist who was most marginalized, though he was the most consistent heir of the puritans, was Rushdoony, who merits the title of “New Puritan,” a term that Boot is happy to apply to himself and others like Van Til, Bahnsen, Jordan, John Frame, Gary DeMar, Kenneth Talbot, P. Andrew Sandlin, and Jeffrey Ventrella.[41] Of himself, Boot says, “I self-consciously stand in the Augustinian, Calvinistic, and Puritan tradition.”[42]

Boot’s survey of puritanism follows a whiggish approach to history arguing that “the culture of Puritanism” gave shape to the West.[43] The puritan “worldview” was concerned with education, as evidenced by the founding of Harvard and Yale Universities. An example of their robust intellectual concern was Jonathan Edwards in America (1703-1758), whom Boot refers to as the “last of the Puritans,” and John Owen in England, who stressed the Bible’s importance for society.[44] Boot quotes political theorist George Sabine’s (1880-1961) argument that the “separation of church and state…was an essential element of Calvinism.”[45] As such, the puritans were a bulwark against tyranny, as seen in the English Civil Wars fought against the tyrant Charles I (1600-1649) and the eventual regicide.[46] Puritan love for freedom formed the backdrop not only for the separation of church and state, but also, following Calvin, the rise of American democracy, free markets, and capitalism.[47] With the Restoration of the monarchy under Charles II (1630-1685), “‘organized’ Puritanism essentially collapsed,” though its influence was maintained as it “laid the foundations for the first great political revolution of modern times.”[48] The Restoration brought with it the “persecution of non-conformity with around 20,000 Puritans spending time in prison,” such that by the toleration of 1689 puritanism’s strength had been “sapped.”[49] In sum, puritanism gave us “a group of uncompromisingly Christian political leaders such as Oliver Cromwell, John Winthrop and William Bradford, as have never been seen since.”[50]

A key statement that Boot makes about his view of the puritans and how he uses them in The Mission of God is the following:

Although the rest of this work is not a study of seventeenth-century Puritanism but rather an examination of the mission of God, from a Calvinistic reading of Scripture, I use the term “Puritan” from here on as representative of my perspective (one dominant aspect of the reformed [sic] tradition). I am fully cognizant that this self-identification is not exacting if we limit the definition of Puritanism to an historical movement – though I have tried to show that Puritanism did not die but survives in reformed evangelicalism. Theologically, this identification is complicated by the fact that not all Puritans believed exactly the same things; like all movements, there was diversity. Nonetheless it is, I think, a valid generalization to identify what informs my vision of the mission and reign of God as Puritanism. As we have seen, Puritanism is a theological interpretation of life based on Scripture as well as an historical movement, and it is this God-centred, Biblicist, theological interpretation of all life with which I strongly identify. Critical also to my purpose is to note that this Puritan vision might also be described as essentially theonomic.[51]

Some comments about this are in order. First, it is confusing to say that The Mission of God is not a study of seventeenth-century Puritanism, when it purports to be just that. The book’s argument is that the puritans provide a “holistic gospel” that has been revived by the Theonomists. The first part of the book refers to the puritans as a paradigm for social order. Second, he does not define a “Calvinistic reading of Scripture.” “Calvinism” is variegated such that to make it look like there is one “Calvinistic” reading of scripture is myopic and does not understand Protestant hermeneutics.[52] Boot says, “It is then my purpose to bring the Puritan hermeneutic of submission to God’s word to bear on the major themes of contemporary missiology.”[53] Yet there is no discussion of puritan approaches to interpretation. If the book is about puritan hermeneutics, should he not engage with the types of approaches various puritans employed?[54] Third, Boot pays lip-service to the diversity of puritanism but never explains that diversity and where his approach fits. The book contradicts this acknowledgement of diversity and treats puritanism as if it were monolithic. As argued below, there are strains of puritan thought that militate against Boot’s thesis. Fourth, he uses the term “Biblicist,” which needs defining. Does Boot use the term as understood by the Bebbington Quadrilateral?[55] Here, biblicism refers to the focus that eighteenth-century evangelicalism put on the bible, particularly in relation to debates over biblical inspiration. Or does he use it in the sense of approaching biblical interpretation without any metaphysical foundation? If the latter, this could get Boot into theological problems, particularly as we relate metaphysics to hermeneutics and the two mysteries of the faith.[56]

Source Material and Scholarly Vocabulary

Boot’s source material is severely lacking. His use of primary sources is almost non-existent. If he does quote an older author, it is almost always through a secondary source.[57] There is not much interaction with scholars of puritanism like Peter Lake, Nicholas Tyacke or John Spurr. Boot does quote from the Cambridge Companion to Puritanism, which is scholarly, but also introductory. Of its essays, Boot predominantly relies upon John Morrill’s chapter on the English Revolution and John Coffey’s on puritan legacies.[58] The irony in using this source as it pertains to the thesis of The Mission of God is that not once does Rushdoony, Theonomy, or Christian Reconstruction appear in it. If Boot’s thesis is correct, that the true heirs of the puritans were the Theonomists, it is curious that Coffey’s essay, especially, does not mention them.

As part of his misunderstanding, Boot takes puritanism to be a movement that is essentially Calvinistic. He often qualifies the term “puritan” with “Calvinist” showing little awareness of the debates surrounding the nature of Calvinism and puritanism.[59] When it comes to “Calvinism” much ink has been spilled over the usefulness of it as a term to describe a non-Lutheran brand of Protestantism. Richard A. Muller, amongst others, has shown that Calvin does not stand alone as the fountain of the Reformation and his importance should be tempered by that of others like Martin Bucer (1491-1551), Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499-1562), Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575), and others. Of course, Calvin was important, but his standing was relative such that “Calvinism” is a misnomer.[60] Yet Boot takes for granted that the puritans were Calvinists.[61] While many certainly were Reformed, as my definition of puritanism above noted, the puritans were a highly diverse group. Because puritanism began at the end of the Elizabethan Settlement, it can muddle our understanding of who originated the movement. The puritans came from a range of denominational backgrounds including the Church of England, Presbyterianism, Congregationalism, the Baptists, and if you consider historian Geoffrey Nuttall, one could include even the Quakers.[62] Beyond denominational affiliation, the theology of the puritans was not homogenous, especially the question of Reformed theology. General Baptists like Thomas Grantham (1634-1692)—who was an Arminian—were puritans, as was the aforementioned John Goodwin.[63] In relation to Boot’s disdain for antinomianism, how does he account for puritans like the antinomian Tobias Crisp (1600-1643)?[64] In fact, for as much as Boot rails against it, nowhere does he engage with studies on puritanism and antinomianism.[65]

Oliver Cromwell as the Ideal Puritan

Oliver Cromwell, whom Boot calls “one of the greatest of all the Puritans…[who] exemplified the Puritan spirit and sense of the mission of God,” is the hero of The Mission of God.[66] Boot describes the “building of a God-fearing Christian nation” as Cromwell’s main mission coupled with his stress on liberty of conscience, freedom from tyranny, and a “locally governed” social order grounded in biblical law.[67] Boot says, “Oliver Cromwell and John Owen were both great exponents of this ideal, stemming from their desire that England be governed by Biblical law.”[68] As idealized as Cromwell is for The Mission of God, what is not acknowledged is that he involved a range of figures in the New Model Army that Boot would deem unorthodox. Boot is aware that puritanism included “Antinomians, Diggers and Levellers some of whom advocated for the abolition of private property and a grand levelling of all society,” yet he does not account for their role in Cromwell’s army and the influence it had on the changing shape of society that came after the English Civil Wars.[69] Heterodox groups were much more pervasive than Boot acknowledges, especially in the army. The puritan Richard Baxter (1615-1691) observed first-hand that he often disputed with soldiers “about free-grace and free-will, and all the points of Antinomianism and Arminianism.”[70] As Coffey argues, the English Revolution led to the “Radical Reformation” in England and that the New Model Army was responsible for the varying unorthodox sects that would trouble orthodox puritans after the Civil War.[71] Proto-communist groups like the Levellers did not just serve in Cromwell’s army, but were officers, notably Col. William Eyres (fl. 1634-1675).[72] If Cromwell is the ideal puritan that we should turn to for a Theonomic view of God’s law, how does Boot account for the various unorthodox persons and sects, especially the antinomians and Levellers, that were close to Cromwell? If he advocates for societal transformation based on the puritanism of Cromwell, what of the change of society that came during the Interregnum of which Cromwell was Lord Protector? Maybe Boot can defend Cromwell on this score, but he does not make the attempt.[73]

Boot also refers to John Owen, “perhaps the greatest of Puritan minds in Old England.”[74] He refers to Owen as one of Cromwell’s “favorite co-laborers,” ignorant of the fraught relationship between the two.[75] Beyond misunderstanding their relationship, Boot claims that Owen was Theonomic. As part of his work with Cromwell, Boot claims that “one of Owen’s tasks was to reform the law, and Owen was, using the contemporary theological term, essentially theonomic in his outlook.”[76] Here we run into the problem of Boot’s equivocating on the use of “theonomy.” Because a writer like Owen speaks about the use of law, it makes him a Theonomist, yet Boot does not account for the difference of theological method between Owen and the Theonomists. We are not treated to any extended exposition of Owen on the law, of which there is much debate in Owen scholarship. Instead, we are given this assertion and are expected to take it at face value. He does not acknowledge that Owen was something of an anomaly on the role of the law and the relationship between the covenants, seen in his Hebrews commentary, particularly on texts that speak to the abrogation of the Mosaic covenant. For instance, Owen said things like: “By all these ways was the church of the Hebrews forewarned that the time would come when the whole Mosaical law, as to its legal or covenant efficacy, should be disannulled, unto the unspeakable advantage of the church.”[77] It is not my intent to get into the debate over Owen and the law, my aim is to point out that there are enough statements in his work on the superiority of the New Covenant over the Old as to make claims about a positive relationship between him and Theonomy suspect. Second, Owen was not tasked with law reform, he was merely a chaplain to Cromwell and chancellor of Oxford, and though he tried, he did not sit as a Member of Parliament. He did preach sermons to Parliament and a number of those advocated for legal reform in England, and those reforms did look like the ones he implemented as chancellor at Oxford, but he had no direct role in enacting any of those on a national scale.[78] When it comes to Owen and the law, Boot would have been on surer ground to compare the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) and the Savoy Declaration (1658), the latter a Congregationalist confession that Owen had a hand in drafting. As Crawford Gribben argues, the Savoy was more radical in its politics than the Westminster and allowed for more latitude in using the Mosaic judicial laws for governance in England.[79]

The Puritans and Natural Law

Boot is negative towards the scholastic tradition, exemplified by the medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), and its view of natural law.[80] It might be here, more than anywhere, that Boot most misunderstands the puritans, and thus undermines the argument of his book. Before evaluating his take on puritanism and natural law, we should summarize his understanding of the concept. It is not surprising that Boot leans heavily on Rushdoony’s critique of natural law. He gives a sizable block quote, that he calls an “excellent summary,” where Rushdoony sees a contradiction in Christian views of natural law: “[H]ow can a fallen world give us law?” Rushdoony argues that “[n]atural law is usually invoked to evade God’s law while having some transcendental reference. The specifics of natural law cannot be agreed upon. There is no given body of natural law.”[81] Rushdoony seems to misunderstand natural law, as it is not something given by a fallen world, but by God himself in creation. Natural law is not invented by humans, but discovered as it relates to natural revelation. For Boot, the “main rival to biblical law in Christian thought has been variations of natural law theory. Natural law theories are a speculative and complex combination of metaphysical and moral philosophy with a long history.” He briefly notes the influence of Aristotle and Aquinas before an extraneous summary of the Stoics on natural law. He concludes that due to the influence of Greek thought on the development of natural law, it is wrong for Christians to invoke it: “[F]or Christians to try and save modern civilization by an appeal to natural law (disconnected from the God of Scripture and his revealed law), is to appeal to classical philosophy and constitutes a death wish.”[82]

After such a stark claim, Boot curiously explains that Paul acknowledges that all humans know the work of God’s law by “created instinct” because it is written on the human heart, basing this on Romans 2:14-15. Boot argues that this knowledge does not come by natural law, but by common grace: “Thus the work of God’s law known by common grace (not by natural law) serves only to condemn people in their sin and rebellion, and does not provide an alternate law structure to biblical law, since rightly understood (not perverted or suppressed), the law in man’s being only confirms God’s written law (Rom. 2).”[83] This confused statement bifurcates general and special revelation and grounds knowledge of God in common grace without acknowledging the role that natural law plays in relation to common grace. Oddly, the argument he makes about knowledge of God in nature from Romans 2 is the same argument that natural law theorists make in favor of natural law. David Haines and Andrew A. Fulford refer to it as the locus classicus of natural law in Scripture.[84] It is also confusing because the Christian natural law tradition recognizes that before God natural law condemns lost sinners, but it does not deny that natural law has other ethical uses.

Boot argues that the appeal of natural law for some Christians is that “it pretends to neutrality,” which is why some find it useful in discussions with non-Christians over ethics.[85] Once a religious vision for society is lost, “people’s vision of what ‘natural law’ is becomes totally disparate or is abandoned altogether.” Christians who have been unduly influenced by the culture (as in the acceptance of Darwinism) have to make an “unconvincing appeal to pagan natural law theory (usually in modified forms of Thomistic thought) as a basis for civil righteousness and social order.”[86] This leads to relativism, lawless pluralism, and polytheism. Such a statement does not account for the fact that natural law theory long predated anything like the modern problems of Darwinism. For Boot, natural law “in whatever form it is presented” shifts authority from God to man, and from revelation to nature and reason. Such a claim fails to understand natural revelation. Why would natural law be a move away from God’s law if it is grounded in revelation? Yet Boot rhetorically asks, can “anyone determine for himself or others a minimum content of natural law that binds all people and can therefore be coerced by legislation without being hopelessly arbitrary?”[87]

Boot nowhere gets into the debates over natural law that have been ongoing throughout the Reformed tradition. Nor does he cite any relevant sources, beyond Theonomists like Ray Sutton and quotes from the Thomist D. J. O’Connor.[88] Beyond this, he shows little awareness of the pervasiveness of natural law thinking in the puritans.[89] What does Boot do with a typical quote like this from Calvin in The Institutes of the Christian Religion? “There is nothing more common than for a man to be sufficiently instructed in a right standard of conduct by natural law.”[90] On Calvin and natural law, Paul Helm argues that “there are important elements of continuity between representative medievals such as Thomas Aquinas, the Reformer John Calvin, and representative Puritans such as John Owen.”[91] Likewise David Sytsma argues that “when sixteenth- and seventeenth- century Reformed theologians looked for useful medieval approaches to the question of natural law and ethics, many turned to Aquinas’s Summa theologiae as a resource. Calvin’s contemporary Wolfgang Musculus [1497-1563], who in many respects favored medieval Franciscan precedents, nonetheless followed Aquinas in defining the natural law as a participation in the eternal law.”[92] Sytsma goes through a list of Reformed theologians who all held to this notion of natural law including Calvin, Girolamo Zanchi (1516-1590), Lambert Daneau (1535-1590), Fransciscus Junius (1545-1602), as well as puritans like Baxter and William Ames (1576-1633), amongst many others.[93] Far from noting an arbitrary break between God’s revealed law in scripture and natural law, the Protestant view, drawing from Aquinas, is that both are located in God’s own eternal law. This comports with Muller’s definition of lex naturalis as “the divinely given order or rule of the creation and, accordingly, the universal law either impressed by God upon the minds of all rational creatures or immediately discerned by the reason in its encounter with the order of nature.” Muller goes on to note that “[j]ust as the more Thomistically inclined of the orthodox writers argue that created beings exist by participation in the divine being, they also hold that the natural law exists in the mind or reason by participation in the eternal law and is essentially God’s eternal law.”

Contrary to Boot’s claim that natural law is opposed to biblical law, Muller says that “[t]he natural law, like the moral law (lex moralis, q.v.) and the law of Moses (lex Mosaica, q.v.), rests on the righteous and utterly holy divine nature and is good because God is good, in contrast to the positive law (lex positiva, q.v.) of God, which is good because God has commanded it…The lex naturalis is sometimes defined as a participation in the eternal law.” Muller’s definition goes on to say that the natural law was available to all humans, including pagans who did not have access to Moses, “with the result that they were left without excuse in their sins.” This is because “[t]he lex naturalis is inward, written on the heart (Rom. 2:14-15) and therefore obscure, whereas the lex Mosaica is revealed externally, written on tablets, and thus of greater clarity.”[94] Far from being ungrounded and arbitrary, lex naturalis is a “universal law” that is knowable to all rational creatures through reason’s engagement with the order of nature.[95] Note, natural law was available to pagans who as such were left without excuse for the knowledge of God they had – an appeal to Romans 1. As Calvin says, “If the Gentiles by nature have law righteousness engraved upon their minds we surely cannot say they are utterly blind as to the conduct of life.”[96]

Samuel Rutherford and Natural Law

One puritan who used natural law for his vision for political order was Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661), who appears a number of times in The Mission of God, and is used by the Theonomists.[97] Boot makes appeal to Rutherford’s classic Lex, Rex (1644) wherein the puritan confronts the “question about the source of law.”[98] Boot summarizes Rutherford saying that though the “papists” argued that the king was subject to God, when he “practiced” his office, he was not subject to the law of God otherwise. Drawing heavily from Richard Flinn’s article for Journal of Christian Reconstruction, Boot argues that “the heart of the Calvinist view of biblical political theory is that the civil government must be under God’s law, or be blasphemous.”[99]

Herein lies a problem for Boot: Rutherford, in his treatment of God’s law, stands squarely in the scholastic, natural law tradition as it came down through Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, and Calvin. Lex, Rex is a treatment of the importance of the natural law for a Christian commonwealth. Of the ancient writers cited in Lex, Rex, the two who appear most frequently are Aristotle and Augustine, who, of course, were synthesized in the medieval period by Thomas Aquinas. It’s not surprising, therefore, that Rutherford frequently cites Roman Catholic natural law theorists. As Coffey says of Lex, Rex, “Although written by a Calvinist, it was in some ways a deeply Thomistic book…In several places [Rutherford] appealed to Aquinas’s classic maxim, ‘Grace does not destroy nature but perfects it.’ This maxim is perhaps the key to Lex, Rex, because Rutherford insisted throughout on the compatibility of natural reason’s conclusions and God’s revelation in Scripture.”[100] Coffey argues for the importance of understanding this relationship, especially as Rutherford used the Old Testament as a “natural-law casebook” to demonstrate what principles could be known by “human reason.”[101] Rutherford could do this because he believed that the God who inspired scripture also created the human conscience and thus, quoting Rutherford, “the Scripture’s arguments may be drawn out of the school of nature.”[102] He recognized that the Decalogue was written by God on the heart and though it could direct sinful humans in terms of societal norms, unaided natural law could not save a lost sinner. Nevertheless, “Scripture, therefore, may not have added much to what ontologically speaking was part of natural law, but it added immeasurably to what epistemologically speaking men could know through natural reason.”[103] Rutherford was not alone amongst the Reformed orthodox, and especially amongst the puritans, in his Thomism in general, and his use of natural law in specific.[104]

The implications of this for The Mission of God are obvious. If natural law “constitutes a death wish,” as Boot says, and we are to instead return to the puritan view of law, Boot is caught on the sharp horns of a dilemma, because the puritans were all indebted to the natural law tradition as it originated in pagan thinkers like Aristotle and the Stoics and taken up by Christians like Augustine, Aquinas, and Calvin. Boot fails to see the problem because he did not adequately deal with natural law either at the level of a basic definition nor in its use in the Christian tradition. Far from being the heirs of the puritans, if the Theonomists decry the use of natural law, as Rushdoony did, they mark a significant break from the very tradition that Boot claims they are the consistent followers of. This historical-theological ignorance completely undermines the argument of Boot’s book.

What is sadly ironic about Boot’s distaste for natural law is that were he to actually engage with puritan natural law thinking, he’d be on much surer grounding with his critique of culture. Puritan political theology made good use of natural law towards shaping a view of society that is grounded in God’s own law, both biblical and natural; dispelling with it seems like cultural suicide. Take, for instance, what Lee Gibbs says about the influential puritan William Ames’ view of natural law: “Ames’ theory of natural law has historical importance because of its contribution to the formulation of fundamental doctrines upon which modern democratic institutions were raised — such doctrines as the duties and inalienable rights of individual citizens, the social contract or government by consent of the people, and the right of resistance when a government exceeds the bounds of its authority.”[105] Is this not the overarching aim of Boot’s Ezra Institute? Yet Boot has oddly abandoned one of God’s means for governing society, that the Christian – and especially puritan – tradition well understood.[106] Even Oliver Cromwell understood the positive implications of natural law theory for what drew English society together in what Anthony Fletcher called Cromwell’s “natural law contractualism.”[107]

Conclusion

Reformed historian R. Scott Clark makes a strong claim about Rushdoony and the Reformed tradition that has some bearing on my review of The Mission of God: “Rushdoony’s relationship to the Reformed confession was tenuous so it is doubtful that his theories have much to do with Reformed theology, piety, or practice.”[108] While I might not be as strong as Clark in my assessment, I have made the case that Boot’s treatment of the relationship between Theonomy and puritanism is tenuous at best. What I have tried to do is show that Boot misrepresents the puritan tradition that he argues exemplifies the best approach to political theology. If, as he says, church and society need to return to the puritan heritage and that the best way to do that is through the twentieth-century Theonomists like Rushdoony, Boot is in serious trouble. The puritans were a diverse group, many of whom espoused ideas directly at odds with Boot’s objectives like the Arminians and Antinomians. The paragon of political social theory, Oliver Cromwell, is likewise problematic for Boot. If post-Enlightenment Christians are guilty of using pagan sources like natural law, the puritans are of no help, because they made use of such sources themselves for their political theology. Problems with The Mission of God go beyond Boot’s misunderstanding of the Reformed and puritan traditions, but I will leave it to others to critique those. Suffice it to say, if Boot is wrong on such a core element of his book, we should question the wisdom of using it as a guide for cultural analysis as a whole. The church faces difficult times ahead. We can agree with Boot that one way that Christians can engage with a hostile culture is to make use of puritan political theology. But that theology is firmly grounded in the larger Christian tradition that includes medieval Thomism and makes clear use of natural theology and natural law. With them we are given a firmer ground to stand as we declare that reality is the way God made it at creation and that we would do well to abide by it if humans are truly to flourish.

Footnotes

  1. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Puritans: Their Origin and Successors (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1987), 32.
  2. Freedom Press International was run by Tristan Emmanuel, formerly an Orthodox Presbyterian minister who gained notoriety over his vitriolic engagement with Canadian politics. Marci McDonald, The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada (Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2011).
  3. Whitefield Theological Seminary is a distance-education, unaccredited seminary. https://seminary.reformed.info/graduate-school-of-theology-academic-degrees/ (accessed November 23, 2021). The following are select examples of Boot’s failure to write in a way appropriate for a doctoral dissertation. On page 625 Boot cites the popular book Don Colbert, What Would Jesus Eat: The Ultimate program for eating well, feeling great and living longer (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005) to prove that following biblical dietary requirements makes one healthy. On pages 50-51 he cites the novelist Marilynne Robinson as part of his definition of puritanism; while Robinson is a fascinating author, she is not a trained historian. On page 605, instead of directly citing William Edgar, “The Passing of R. J. Rushdoony,” First Things (August 2001), https://www.firstthings.com/article/2001/08/the-passing-of-r-j-rushdoony (accessed November 21, 2021), Boot cites the link from the “Puritan Board” online message board. On page 669 Boot cites a letter he received from an unnamed student at Toronto’s York University. For historical mistakes, Boot indicates on page 378 that Alfred Edersheim (1825-1889), whom he calls a “leading historian of antiquity,” highlighted that “few people today appreciate the influence of Christianity.” The problem is that Edersheim died in 1889 and thus cannot comment on “today.” On page 577 Boot argues that the revivalist George Whitefield did not count converts during his revivals, though exactly the opposite was the case. In fact, Whitefield had to retract his published Journals for this very reason. Boot cites from Harry Stout’s Divine Dramatist as support, though Stout’s book details many of Whitefield’s problems in this regard. See Harry S. Stout, Divine Dramatist: George Whitefield and the Rise of Modern Evangelicalism, Library of Religious Biography (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1991). There are numerous examples of Boot’s uncharitable treatment of others. For instance, in his discussion of Timothy Keller’s work on justice on page 204 Boot accuses Keller of being “overanxious to please the current culture and sound trendy.” In his defense of Rushdoony against the charge of antisemitism in an endnote for Appendix 1 on page 644, he accuses historian Carl Trueman of “quintessential English snobbery…[an] anti-Americanism and an intractable hostility to the Christian Right.” Examples such as this demonstrate the book’s failure as a serious work of scholarship.
  4. Ian Hugh Clary, Reformed Evangelicalism and the Search for a Usable Past: The Historiography of Arnold Dallimore, Pastor-Historian, Reformed Historical Theology 61 (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2020).
  5. For a broader review see Paul Lusk, “Time for Theocracy?” Evangelicals Now (July 2019), https://www.e-n.org.uk/2019/07/reviews/time-for-theocracy/ (accessed November 21, 2021). Boot posted a reply to Lusk’s review here: http://www.lusk.org.uk/bootreviewen.html (accessed November 21, 2021). For review that focuses on its failings in regard to exegesis and biblical theology, see Tom Musetti, “Book Review: The Mission of God,” The London Lyceum (January 17, 2022), https://www.thelondonlyceum.com/book-review-the-mission-of-god/ (accessed January 17, 2022).
  6. See Sinclair B. Ferguson, “An Assembly of Theonomists?” in William S. Barker and W. Robert Godfrey, ed., Theonomy: A Reformed Critique (Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books, 1990), 315-349.
  7. It should be noted that I am a Canadian from Toronto, that I am ordained in the same denomination that Boot ministers in, and that I know Boot personally and have benefited from aspects of his ministry. My children were some of the first students at Westminster Classical Christian Academy, which Boot founded; the school first met in the basement of the church that I co-pastored. Though this is a critical review of his book, I hold no animosity towards Boot and hope that this review can be taken as an engagement on a particular area of Christian historiography towards bringing clarity to who the puritans were and where their importance lies.
  8. I capitalize “Theonomy” to indicate this brand of twentieth-century Reformed Christian thought. It has been observed that the general term “theonomy” refers, etymologically, to “God’s law.” As many Reformed Christians do believe in the abiding use of the moral law of God, they could all be called theonomists. The issue in the debate over Theonomy is their particular hermeneutic that sees more carry-over of the ceremonial and civil laws of the Israelite theocracy than traditional Reformed theology has typically recognized. Boot often equivocates on the use of “Theonomy” and “theonomy,” making it seem that any Christians who had a positive view of the law was Theonomic.
  9. Michael J. McVicar, Christian Reconstruction: R. J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2015). See my review, Ian Clary, “Christian Reconstruction,” Reformation21 (September 14, 2015), https://www.reformation21.org/articles/christian-reconstruction.php (accessed November 21, 2021). Cf.Molly Worthen, “The Chalcedon Problem: Rousas John Rushdoony and the Origins of Christian Reconstruction,” Church History 77.2 (June 2008): 399-437. An enlightening, though highly critical, study of Christian Reconstruction is written by Julie Ingersoll, who had been married to a key Reconstructionist and has since broke from the movement. Though she gives an interesting insider’s perspective, her negative experience also colors her criticisms. Julie J. Ingersoll, Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).
  10. Greg L. Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics, 3rd ed. (Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, 2002) and idem., By This Standard: The Authority of God’s Law Today (Nacogdoches, TX and Powder Springs, GA: Covenant Media Press and American Vision, 2008, 2020).
  11. McVicar, Christian Reconstruction, 151.
  12. An excellent treatment of the relation of Wilson to Christian Reconstruction is Crawford Gribben, Survival and Resistance in Evangelical America: Christian Reconstruction in the Pacific Northwest (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021).
  13. James B. Jordan, “The Reconstructionist Movement,” The Geneva Review 18 (March 1985), 1. This is the working definition that Rodney Clapp uses in his essay on Christian Reconstruction. Rodney Clapp, “Democracy as Heresy,” Christianity Today 31 (February 20, 1987), https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/1987/february-20/democracy-as-heresy.html (accessed November 21, 2021). For a representative work of Theonomic postmillennialism see David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation, reprint edition (1987; Fort Worth: Dominion Press, 2006). Greg Bahnsen was a student of Cornelius Van Til at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and wrote what could be considered the definitive analysis of Van Til’s thought. Greg L. Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis (Phillipsburg, PA: P&R Publishing, 1998).
  14. H. Wayne House and Thomas Ice, Dominion Theology: Blessing or Curse? An Analysis of Christian Reconstructionism (Portland: Multnomah Press, 1988).
  15. For my own survey of presuppositionalism see Ian Hugh Clary, “An Introduction to Presuppositional Apologetics,” Hope’s Reason: A Journal of Apologetics 1.1 (2010): 49-68. For helpful critiques of presuppositionalism from a Reformed perspective see J. V. Fesko, Reforming Apologetics: Retrieving the Classical Reformed Approach to Defending the Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2019) and David Haines, ed., Without Excuse: Scripture, Reason, and Presuppositional Apologetics (Leesburg, VA: The Davenant Press, 2020).
  16. Book, Mission of God, 45.
  17. Boot, Mission of God, 68-69.
  18. Boot, Mission of God, 27. It is curious that he includes the Scottish Reformer John Knox in a list of puritans.
  19. Boot, Mission of God, 27.
  20. Boot, Mission of God, 27.
  21. Ernest Kevan, The Grace of Law: A Study of Puritan Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1965); idem., The Moral Law (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1991). For Kevan’s importance, see Paul E. Brown, Ernest Kevan: Leader in Twentieth Century British Evangelicalism (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2012). For Burgess on the law see Anthony Burgess, Vindiciae legis, or, A vindication of the morall law and the covenants, from the errours of Papists, Arminians, Socinians, and more especially, Antinomians in XXX lectures, preached at Laurence-Jury, London (London : James Young, for Thomas Underhill, 1647).
  22. Boot, Mission of God, 54.
  23. Boot says, “The starting point of our mission today as God’s people is not with political or social reform, or even with the ecclesiastical structures of the church…but with the gospel, the renewed covenant in Christ, and its personal and familial application to life.” Boot, Mission of God, 66. Following Rushdoony, Boot makes the family the priority for renewal. It is strange, therefore, that he seems to denigrate those who only pay attention to the spiritual side of the puritans. One would think such spiritual resources would strengthen the family and thus strengthen the rest of culture. For Rushdoony on the family see R. J. Rushdoony, Law & Liberty (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2009).
  24. Boot, Mission of God, 99.
  25. Book, Mission of God, 80.
  26. Boot, Mission of God, 85. See pages 82-89 for his fuller treatment of premillennialism.
  27. It is odd that Boot accuses dispensationalists of heresy while saying that he has “respect and honour” for his “brothers and sisters in Christ who hold to historic pre-millennialism (and/or dispensationalism).” If they are his Christian brethren whom he respects, why accuse them of heresy? Boot, Mission of God, 83.
  28. Boot only addresses one modern approach to the two kingdoms and not as it appears in the Magisterial Reformers. For a more thorough understanding see, William J. Wright, Martin Luther’s Understanding of God’s Two Kingdoms: A Response to the Challenge of Skepticism, Texts and Studies in Reformation and Post-Reformation Thought (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010); W. Bradford Littlejohn, The Two Kingdoms: A Guide for the Perplexed, Davenant Guides (Lincoln, NE: The Davenant Trust, 2017).
  29. Michael Horton, “Transforming Culture with a Messiah Complex,” 9Marks Journal (February 2010), https://www.9marks.org/article/transforming-culture-messiah-complex/ (accessed November 22, 2021). Boot cites it with a different URL with the date of December 2007.
  30. Boot, Mission of God, 380. Emphasis his.
  31. Boot, Mission of God, 389. Boot often refers to Horton’s views as having Marcionite tendencies, for instance Boot, Mission of God, 386.
  32. Boot, Mission of God, 391.
  33. Boot, Mission of God, 109-110.
  34. Boot, Mission of God, 138.
  35. Richard L. Greaves, “The Puritan-Nonconformist Tradition in England, 1560-1700: Historiographical Reflections,” Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies 17.4 (Winter, 1985), 449.
  36. I referred to William Perkins (1558-1602) as one of the first puritans, though the work of W. B. Patterson has since argued against this notion. Instead Patterson argued that Perkins is best understood as an immediate precursor to the puritans, but was not technically one himself. W. B. Patterson, William Perkins and the Making of Protestant England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 40.
  37. Ian Hugh Clary, “Hot Protestants: A Taxonomy of English Puritanism,” Puritan Reformed Journal 2.1 (2010), 65-66.
  38. Cf. Christopher Cleveland, Thomism in John Owen (London and New York: Routledge, 2016).
  39. The definitive study of Owen is Crawford Gribben, John Owen and English Puritanism: Experiences of Defeat, Oxford Studies in Historical Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017). For John Goodwin as a puritan see John Coffey, John Goodwin and the Puritan Revolution (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 2006).
  40. Cf. Michael A. G. Haykin and Mark Jones, eds., Drawn Into Controversie: Reformed Theological Diversity Within Seventeenth Century British Puritanism, Reformed Historical Theology 17 (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2011); Randall J. Pederson, Unity in Diversity: English Puritans and the Puritan Reformation, 1603-1689, Brill Series in Church History 68 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2014).
  41. Boot, Mission of God, 356. There are a few things worth noting about this list. While sympathetic to some of Rushdoony’s thought, Frame was nevertheless critical. John Frame, “Penultimate Thoughts on Theonomy,” IIIM Magazine Online 3.34 (August 2001), https://www.thirdmill.org/files/english/theology/45883~8_20_01_8-07-05_PM~TH.Frame.Theonomy.pdf. Talbot, Sandlin, and Ventrella are close associates of Boot. James Jordan has since distanced himself from Christian Reconstruction, see his lecture “Theocratic Critique of Theonomy”: https://soundcloud.com/user-812874628/episode-423-a-theocratic-critique-of-theonomy-part-1-with-james-jordan (accessed November 22, 2021).
  42. Boot, Mission of God, 50.
  43. Boot, Mission of God, 51. Boot does not explain how the entirety of Western civilization was shaped by the puritans, he might be on better ground to narrow their influence primarily to the Anglosphere.
  44. Boot says that Edwards was “the Princeton theologian and philosopher,” though Edwards died as president of The College of New Jersey, the precursor to Princeton. Boot, Mission of God, 49.
  45. George H. Sabine, A History of Political Theory 3rd ed. (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1961), 444-447, cited in Boot, Mission of God, 51. While Sabine was an important textbook in its day, it is an outdated source. Since then much has been written on the relation of church and state in Protestant thought, and the idea of the essentiality of the “separation” is not as clear-cut, especially when one considers the importance of Erastianism to the Reformation, particularly in Swiss cantons like Zurich or in the English Reformation. Even Independents like John Owen, whom Coffey called a “Magisterial Puritan,” though arguing for self-governing churches, still advocated for a “state religion.” John Coffey, “Religious Thought,” in Michael J. Braddick, ed., The Oxford Handbook of the English Revolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 460. See also the argument of Jeong Jeon who noted “that Calvin was unable to offer a clear distinction between church and state, even though it was his goal to do so through his analysis of the concept of the two kingdoms.” Jeong Koo Jeon, “Calvin and the Two Kingdoms: Calvin’s Political Philosophy in Light of Contemporary Discussion,” Westminster Theological Journal 72 (January 2010), 300.
  46. It is interesting to note that even a radical puritan like Samuel Rutherford in Lex, Rex argued that Charles I was not “a tyrant, void of all title,” but was a legitimate king who acted tyrannically. John Coffey, Politics, Religion and the British Revolutions: The Mind of Samuel Rutherford, Cambridge Studies in Early Modern History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 178.
  47. Boot, Mission of God, 52. Citing the popular work David W. Hall, The Legacy of John Calvin: His Influence on the Modern World (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2008), 28-29.
  48. Boot, Mission of God, 52. Boot does not specify what revolution this was; he could be referring to the English Revolution or the American Revolution.
  49. Boot, Mission of God, 55, 280. Boot grossly inflates the number of puritans who were imprisoned, presuming that he is speaking of the “Great Ejection” of 1662. Here, the typical number of puritans who were ejected from their pulpits was around 2000. Boot does not provide a source to indicate where he got his statistics from. See Lee Gatiss, The Tragedy of 1662: The Ejection and Persecution of the Puritans, Latimer Studies 66 (London: Latimer Trust, 2007).
  50. Boot, Mission of God, 52.
  51. Boot, Mission of God, 70.
  52. The classic text that does not get mentioned by Boot is Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation: A Textbook of Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 1999). Frame notes that there is also not a unified Theonomic hermeneutic, Frame, “Penultimate Thoughts,” 1.
  53. Boot, Mission of God, 25.
  54. Cf. Carolyn Mary Polizzotto, “Types and Typology: A Study in Puritan Hermeneutics” (unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of London, 1975).
  55. D. W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History From 1730s to the 1980s (1989; London and New York: Routledge, 2005). Boot seems to understand biblicism as the way the puritans understood the bible as divine revelation. Boot, Mission of God, 49.
  56. Cf. Richard A. Muller, “The Study of Theology Revisited: A Response to John Frame,” Westminster Theological Journal 56:2 (Fall 1994), 409-417.
  57. He even cites Wikipedia at a number of points.
  58. John Morrill, “The Puritan Revolution,” in John Coffey and Paul C. H. Lim, eds., The Cambridge Companion to Puritanism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 67-88; John Coffey, “Puritan Legacies,” in Coffey and Lim, eds., Cambridge Companion to Puritanism, 327-345.
  59. Boot, Mission of God, 25, 53, 137.
  60. Richard A. Muller, Calvin and the Reformed Tradition: On the Work of Christ and the Order of Salvation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2021), 51-69. Muller does not appear once in Mission of God, which is an inexcusable omission as Muller is the leading scholar of post-Reformation Reformed theology.
  61. Boot, Mission of God, 53.
  62. Geoffrey F. Nuttall, The Holy Spirit in Puritan Faith and Experience (1946; Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992).
  63. See Clint C. Bass, Thomas Grantham (1633-1692) and General Baptist Theology, Centre for Baptist Studies in Oxford Publications 10 (2013; Oxford: Centre for Baptist Studies in Oxford, 2019); Coffey, John Goodwin and the Puritan Revolution.
  64. See the chapter on Crisp in Pederson, Unity in Diversity, 210-260.
  65. Theodore Dwight Bozeman, The Precisianist Strain: Disciplinary Religion and Antinomian Backlash in Puritanism to 1638 (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004).
  66. Boot, Mission of God, 61.
  67. Boot, Mission of God, 62.
  68. Boot, Mission of God, 59.
  69. Boot, Mission of God, 239. Boot does not engage with the Marxist historian Christopher Hill and his various works on Cromwellian England like the classic Christopher Hill, God’s Englishman: Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution (Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1997).
  70. Richard Baxter, Reliquiae Baxterianae, ed. Matthew Sylvester (London: 1696), I.i.77, 53.
  71. John Coffey, “Was the English Civil War a Calvinist Revolt?” (unpublished essay, in my personal possession, 2009). Coffey’s basic thesis is that many Calvinists supported the monarchy and many non-Calvinists supported the parliament. See also Leo F. Solt, “John Saltmarsh: New Model Army Chaplain,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 2.1 (April 1951): 69-80.
  72. Andrew Sharp, ed., The English Levellers, Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), ix. For Eyres see Sarah Barber, “‘A Bastard Kind of Militia’, localism, and tactics in the second civil war,” in Ian Gentles, John Morrill and Blair Worden, eds., Soldiers, Writers and Statesmen of the English Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 139-142.
  73. On Cromwell, Boot relies almost entirely on secondary sources. While Boot romanticizes Cromwell, Ian Gentles, one of Boot’s key sources, does not. Gentles notes that while Cromwell was one of the “half-dozen great figures of English history…In the end, as with most revolutionaries, his accomplishments were chiefly destructive.” Ian Gentles, Oliver Cromwell: God’s Warrior and the English Revolution (London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2011), 201-202.
  74. Boot, Mission of God, 49.
  75. Tim Cooper argues that “during the 1650s their [Owen and Cromwell] relationship shifted from an early phase of relative proximity and initial warmth to one of greater distance and eventual strain.” Tim Cooper, John Owen, Richard Baxter and the Formation of Nonconformity (Surrey: Ashgate, 2011), 106.
  76. Boot, Mission of God, 62.
  77. John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, ed. W. H. Goold (Edinburgh: Johnstone and Hunter, 1855), 5:469. For Owen on the place of the Old Testament in Hebrews see John W. Tweeddale, John Owen and Hebrews: The Foundation of Biblical Interpretation, T&T Clark Studies in English Theology (London: T&T Clark, 2019), 83-102.
  78. Martyn Calvin Cowan, John Owen and the Civil War Apocalypse: Preaching, Prophecy and Politics, Religious Cultures in the Early Modern World (Abingdon: Routledge, 2018), 112. If any figure can be pointed to for Cromwellian legal reforms it would be the barrister William Sheppard (d. 1675). Nancy L. Mathews, William Sheppard, Cromwell’s Law Reformer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).
  79. Gribben, John Owen and English Puritanism, 198.
  80. Boot, Mission of God, 261-269.
  81. Rushdoony, cited in Boot, Mission of God, 262.
  82. Boot, Mission of God, 264.
  83. Boot, Mission of God, 265.
  84. David Haines and Andrew A. Fulford, Natural Law: A Brief Introduction and Biblical Defense, Davenant Guides (Lincoln, NE: The Davenant Press, 2017), 93. See also J. Daryl Charles, Retrieving the Natural Law: A Return to Moral First Things (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2008).
  85. One presumes that Boot is thinking of works like Robert P. George, In Defense of Natural Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), though he does not mention it.
  86. Boot, Mission of God, 265.
  87. Boot, Mission of God, 266.
  88. Boot, Mission of God, 262, 266.
  89. It is negligent that Boot does not engage Stephen J. Grabill, Rediscovering the Natural Law in Reformed Theological Ethics, Emory University Studies in Law and Religion (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2006). In this definitive study Grabill traces the influence of the medieval natural law tradition on Protestantism, and its use in Calvin, Vermigli, Johannes Althusius (1563-1638), and Francis Turretin (1623-1687). Cf. Jennifer Herdt, “Natural Law in Protestant Christianity,” in Tom Angier, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Natural Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019), 155-178.
  90. John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, ed., John T. McNeill, The Library of Christian Classics (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 2.2.22.
  91. Paul Helm, “Calvin and Natural Law,” Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology 2 (1984), 5. Cf. the critique of attempts to connect Calvin to Theonomy in J. Esmond Bernie, “Testing the Foundations of Theonomy and Reconstruction,” Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology 15.1 (Spring 1997), 20-22.
  92. David S. Sytsma, Richard Baxter and the Mechanical Philosophers, Oxford Studies in Historical Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 221.
  93. See Timon Cline’s treatment of the distinctions that the Reformed theologian Franciscus Junius made regarding law. Timon Cline, “What Theonomy Gets Wrong About the Law,” Mere Orthodoxy (May 11, 2021), https://mereorthodoxy.com/theonomy-gets-wrong-law/ (accessed November 27, 2021).
  94. Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally From Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1985), 175.
  95. One wonders whether Boot has read C. S. Lewis’ discussion of what he calls the “Tao” in The Abolition of Man, especially in the appendix. C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York: HarperCollins, 1974), 83-102.
  96. Calvin, Institutes, 2.2.22.
  97. Though Rutherford does not appear in the index, he is discussed in Boot, Mission of God, 27, 64, 266, 310. Boot makes use of Richard Flinn, “Rutherford and Political Theory,” Journal of Christian Reconstruction: Symposium on Puritanism and Law 5.2 (1978): 65-98.
  98. Boot, Mission of God, 266. Emphasis his.
  99. Boot, Mission of God, 266.
  100. Coffey, Politics, 152-153.
  101. Coffey, Politics, 153. It was not uncommon for Protestants to draw from pagan sources to demonstrate what can be known from reason. The Danish Lutheran Niels Hemmingsen (1513-1600), who had been trained under Luther at Wittenberg University, does exactly this. Niels Hemmingsen, On the Law of Nature: A Demonstrative Method, Sources in Early Modern Economics, Ethics, and Law, trans. and ed., E. J. Hutchinson (Grand Rapids, MI: CLP Academic, 2018).
  102. Samuel Rutherford, Lex, Rex, or The Law and the Prince (London: 1644) cited in Coffey, Politics, 153.
  103. Coffey, Politics, 154.
  104. Cleveland, Thomism in John Owen. See also the classic essay John Patrick Donnelly, SJ, “Calvinist Thomism,” Viator 7 (January 1976): 441-455, and the collection of essays in Manfred Svennson and David VanDrunen, eds., Aquinas Amongst the Protestants (Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2018). The Reformed natural law tradition extends after the puritans as well, see Timon Cline, “Natural Law in the Second London Confession,” Founders Journal 115 (Winter 2019): 25-37; idem., “Jonathan Edwards on Natural Law and Conscience,” in Robert L. Boss and Sarah B. Boss, eds., The Jonathan Edwards Miscellanies Companion, 2 vols. (Fort Worth, TX: JESociety Press, 2021), 149-168.
  105. Lee W. Gibbs, “The Puritan Natural Law Theory of William Ames,” Harvard Theological Review 64 (1971), 37.
  106. The puritans were inheritors of Protestant political theology on the role that natural law can have in shaping society. See Andrew Forsyth, Common Law and Natural Law in America: From the Puritans to the Legal Realists (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019); A. W. G. Raath and S. A. de Freitas, “From Luther to the Founding Fathers: Puritanism and the Ciceronian Spirit on Natural Law, Covenant, and Resistance to Tyranny,” Journal or Christian Scholarship 43.3-4 (2007), 157-177.
  107. Anthony Fletcher, “Oliver Cromwell and the Godly Nation,” in John Morrill, ed., Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution (New York: Longman, 1990), 235.
  108. R. Scott Clark, “A House of Cards? A Response to Bingham, Gribben, and Caughey,” in Matthew C. Bingham, Chris Caughey, R. Scott Clark, Crawford Gribben and D. G. Hart, On Being Reformed: Debates Over a Theological Identity, Christianities in the Trans-Atlantic World (Cham, CH: Palgrave MacMillan, 2018), 83.
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Posted by Ian Clary

Ian Clary is assistant professor of historical theology at Colorado Christian University. Clary is a native of Canada, most recently he lived in Toronto, Ontario, where he served as a minister in a Baptist church. He taught at various institutions, including Redeemer University College and Heritage College.

5 Comments

  1. Thanks for the review of a book that I would likely have never read. Theonomy in the 1980s and 1990s was never anything more than a grift. It sounds like there’s been no change.

    Someone asked me recently why social conservatives always lose. My response is that their arguments against progressivism are rarely serious. I often think back to the comment of conservative jurist, Judge John Hepburn, who described the arguments of same-sex marriage opponents as follows: “These arguments are not those of serious people.” And he was right. The opposition to same-sex marriage was largely a grift. Sure, there were good arguments to be made, which would likely have led to reasonable compromises with which both sides could be happy. But those arguments rarely got any air time within the opposition movement. So, the movement pressed forward with foolish arguments, thus giving credence to the now-widespread notion that only fools would oppose same-sex marriage.

    Social progressives win because they can usually count on social conservatives to bypass complex and nuances arguments that have persuasive force in favor of simple and hand-fisted grift that has no power to persuade anyone.

    I read Albion’s Seed a few years ago, and particularly enjoyed the chapters on Puritan New England. The Puritans were a fascinating people who are difficult to pigeonhole along ideological lines. At the very least, few Puritans would see the Theonomists as their heirs. The rejection of Theonomists of natural law would seem to be a striking difference.

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  2. Respectfully Ian, I think this critical review misses the mark in a number of ways.

    Firstly, I don’t think one in ten people would agree with you that The Mission of God is a study of 17th-century Puritanism. Not sure how you can even get there, honestly. And this is an important mis-fire because so much of your critique that follows is of the “Boot missed out on this thing” sort. In other words, it is only by misrepresenting this thesis that allows so many of the critiques which follow.

    There is a strange demand for rigour in your review outside of Boot’s major thesis and his popular-level audience. For instance, I don’t think the average educated reader would think of Boot’s use of “calvinistic” or “puritan” as overly narrow at all. I think it is pretty standard. It seems a vast overreach to call it a “misunderstanding” that the Puritans were “essentially Calvinistic.” I am no expert but I’ve done considerable reading in the Puritans and I can’t think of one major figure that would not have been generally Calvinistic. Only after you have defined puritanism in your very-broad fashion, could you even begin to level this kind of critique. And you think Boot’s thesis called for an interaction with Tobias Crisp?! If Boot was writing on the history of the puritan’s view of the law, perhaps.

    Furthermore, I am not following at all how heterodoxy among some groups associated with Cromwell at all touches Boot’s thesis or undermines anything he says in the book. It just doesn’t matter. In general the first half of your critique seems like grasping at straws to me.

    Your critique of Boot’s view of natural law is good and helpful. It is clear to me that the Puritans drew regularly from the Scholastics. But I don’t think any mistakes here by Boot undermine his central thesis.

    Thanks for listening.

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  3. […] concerns me as my own academic interests have addressed how evangelicals can use and abuse the past.[4] The purpose of this review is narrower than noting The Mission of God’s overall […]

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  4. In your overview of Christian Reconstuction you say that they believe that “When Christ returns society will be governed by Mosaic Law.” You miss the boat at the very beginning. I’ve been around Theonomists a long time, but I’ve never heard anything like that. They talk about the hope of the “general equity” as the basis of law in a Christian Society, which is something quite different. Maybe you need to be as concise as you demand of Boot.
    Another misstep is when you say that theonomists believe that “evangelism is rooted in societal change.” I’ve never heard a theonomist say that. Societal change is the result of evangelism, not the root.
    So, indeed, many of the Puritans were influenced by the Enlightenment and earlier figures. That’s nothing new. Most of us already knew that, as probably does Boot. Later, even John Witherspoon conflated natural law with his Christian Faith. He sided with a “neutral” United States Constitution succumbing to natural law theory.
    Natural Law has some validity in a Christian Society, but in a pagan society it is worthless, maybe worse than worthless. Homosexual marriage is now natural and also is now law.
    Thanks for your exposing some of the faults of the Puritans. You have contributed to a discussion that probably could use more scholarly work. Boot has a wider audience, and his goal was not to highlight the inconsistences of the Puritans, but to lead modern Christians through the maze of ignorance prevalent in our modern world.

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    1. His point is that the Puritan movement is relatively heterogeneous, and provides little support, in the main, for theonomy.

      You mention “homosexual marriage,” and suggest that the Puritans wouldn’t have supported it. Well, the Puritans rejected the notion of marriage as a sacrament, and saw it as a civil-contractual arrangement governed by pragmatic considerations. In short, the Puritans accepted the severance of marriage from procreation. So, why would the Puritans, if they were teleported to the present day, object to a civil-contractual arrangement between members of the same sex if it imposes no harm on the broader society (except for harm to the fragile psyches of homophobic people who would prefer that gay people remain in the closet)?

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