- Hartford Puritanism: Thomas Hooker, Samuel Stone, and Their Terrifying God by Baird Tipson
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015
Baird Tipson, in Thomas Hooker, Samuel Stone, and Their Terrifying God, offers a study of Thomas Hooker that is as effective as it is helpful in clarifying the cultural and theological context of this sadly understudied figure of transatlantic Puritanism. It might be said that by establishing his argument as a counter to Perry Miller, Tipson sets up something of a straw man: Miller’s declension thesis, as Tipson himself remarks, has been thoroughly qualified by students of Puritanism at least since Patrick Collinson in 1967 (16). Nonetheless, Tipson’s examination of Hooker and to a lesser degree his colleague at Hartford, Samuel Stone, is so thorough and so elegantly written that there can be little doubt that this book will prove of great value to subsequent researchers into Hooker and his milieu.
Tipson argues that far from mitigating the demanding theology of John Calvin, Hooker epitomizes a wholly orthodox version of “extreme Augustinianism” (x). Hooker’s theology emerges from three primary sources: the profound influence of William Perkins’s writing on Hooker and other students of Emmanuel College, the homiletics he learned from John Rogers at Dedham, and the hermeneutical Ramism of Alexander Richardson. These three strands intertwine in Hooker to make him a fairly distinctive figure of New English Puritanism, especially when his rhetorical approach to the subject of predestined grace is contrasted with that of his peer and colleague John Cotton, but Hooker’s thought is far from atypical.
Tipson’s study divides itself into four neat parts. First, he contextualizes previous examinations of Hooker, of New English Puritanism, and of Puritanism as part of the long English Reformation. Second, he surveys the intellectual history of radical predestinarianism by showing how it arose, somewhat unintentionally, as a result of Augustine’s debate with Pelagius, and how it was later made a new point of theological contention—first in Martin Luther and then in William Perkins’s rebuttal of the Jesuits. Third, he shows how both the Ramist logic of Alexander Richardson and the firebrand preaching of John Rogers contributed to Hooker’s own thinking. Finally, he explores how these antecedents led to Hooker’s [End Page 807] and Stone’s views on conversion, justification, and sanctification, and how these were enacted in the particular practice of church polity at Hartford.
The conclusions reached by Tipson hinge upon his summaries of the theological works of Augustine and Richardson’s Ramism. Though he rather modestly suggests that the longtime student of the Reformation can dispense with the introductory overview of Augustine (ix), it would be a mistake to do so. Tipson’s encapsulation of Augustine’s polemic against Pelagius is so adept and so carefully designed to show how questions of the orientation of one’s will to righteousness came to dominate Reformation theology that it is nearly impossible to appreciate Hooker’s own application of this belief without reading these chapters.
Augustine’s belief was not only radical within the culture of Rome, which placed a primacy on the responsibility one had for one’s ethical choices (93), but became increasingly stringent as a result of his many fierce exchanges, first with Pelagius and later with Pelagius’s disciple, Julian of Eclanum. Perhaps without entirely meaning to, Augustine came to espouse a doctrine of “prevenient grace” (103): the idea that the divine operation of grace had to precede any will toward the good. Augustine used three verbs to describe this action of grace upon human desire: inclination, preparation, or framing (103). It is a misreading of this notion of preparation as somehow voluntary that Tipson thinks is behind Miller’s misapprehension of Hooker as more progressive than his contemporaries (9). The work of the minister is crucial in bringing the divine preparation of the heart to light (105), but no Christians could safely conclude that they responded to preaching through their own volition.
The Council of Ephesus condemned Pelagianism in 431 but the church fathers at the Second Council of Orange...