Bremer’s book The Puritan Experiment was one born out of a desire to present recent scholarship on a somewhat enigmatic movement that desired to bring reform to the Church of England from within. Impacting “tens of thousands of Englishmen and Americans in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries” (1), Puritanism served to meet the spiritual needs of those who desired to live out more fully the effects of the Protestant Reformation. At the heart of the movement lie the desire to break free from Monarchial influence and control over how they lived out their faith. Puritanism was a critical voice in response to “the intractability of the establishment and to alterations in the official stance of the church (15). Heavily rooted in Calvinism and as the progenitors of “Federal Theology,” what drew so many to the movement at the time was its emphasis on the desire to address inadequacies in the church and the fact that there were needs the Puritans spoke to more than the Bishops (24). It provided a Psychological certitude that helped many to adapt to changing times and circumstances (27).
As the struggle for reform in the church continued the desire for separation developed because hope of reforming the church was abandoned (29). The Separatists among the Puritans were then emboldened and voiced the continued compromise with the Church of England was against the will of God and formed their own congregations in defiance of Monarchial authority and the laws of England (29). In time, the Separatists and Puritans felt they could not long stay in England for fear of judgment (38) and in stages, they began to go abroad to seek places to live their lives as they saw fit. A group of Puritans left the New World upon the Mayflower in 1620 and formed a living community in the New World. While puritanism was generally a transatlantic movement, not all Puritans left England exasperated by the Church of England or in fear of judgment. The reasons for leaving for the New World were varied. Some saw themselves fleeing to the wilderness (43) whole others saw the chance to form a community that would be “a City on a Hill,” while others simply wanted to pursue religious freedom.
Once in the New World, the Puritan experiment began. Riddled with separatists ideals from the beginning, they struggle to maintain unity. While in Plymouth, some groups broke off and in time Massachusetts became the center of the “City on a Hill” experiment (55ff). Because the desire for purity in life and worship was the bedrock of Puritan theology, the leadership came down hard on any who rebelled or went against the ideals of Puritan ideology. For example, in Salem, those found to differ from the orthodox majority were prompted to live somewhere else. If that was resisted they faced trial. Thomas Morton was sent back to England (56). The ultimate plan was to create a model society and it was expected that all would support that goal. In time, the Puritans spread throughout the Northeast and by the time of Johnathan Edwards though Puritan ideals were embedded in society the movement had become influenced by the enlightenment and evangelicalism (225ff). Even so their ideals have long remained and remained deeply embedded in American society. On the whole, Bremer’s work is a valuable and thoroughgoing project that offers extensive and deep insight into the Puritans.