Up INTRODUCTION TOPIC 1 TOPIC 2 TOPIC 3 TOPIC 4 Topic 5 Topic 6 Topic 7 Topic 8 Topic 9


THEME: Although diverse religious influences have shaped American culture, the dominant tradition has been Protestant Christianity. This topic provides an overview of  how traditional Catholic Christianity was transformed by the Protestant Reformation in the early modern period when Europeans settled the Americas.

Points to remember:


Christianity is the most general term to denote all groups based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.


The three main groups are Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox


Before the 16th century,  Christianity was Catholic (Latin) in western and central Europe and Orthodox (Greek or Slavic) in eastern Europe. Both were variations on traditional classical Christianity.


In the 16th century Catholic (Latin) Christianity was split by the Protestant Reformation. Eastern Orthodoxy was not affected.

Read Marty, chapter 4

Traditional Christianity: Cultus, Creed, Community: What are the main features of traditional Christianity?

bulletChristian Myth: Creation, Fall, Redemption
bulletChrist:: "The Second Adam"
bulletLogos and Incarnation
bulletAtonement: Sacrifice of the Cross
bulletResurrection and Second Coming
bulletKingdom of God & the End Time: Now and Not Yet
bulletConsecration of Nature
bulletSacramental System
bulletChurch as the Body of Christ
bulletEconomy of Salvation
bulletPriesthood and Laity
bulletConsecration of Time
bulletSacred History
bulletLiturgical Cycle
bulletPopular Devotions: Cult of Saints and Pilgrimages
bulletChristendom: Ideal of Community
bulletThe Two Cities
bulletConstantine's Legacy
bulletChristendom: Expansive and Besieged
bulletMissionary Tradition
bulletThe Great Rival: Islam
bulletOverview of Christian history, 100-800 [from my course, Jesus and the Christian Tradition]

Age of Renaissance & Reformation: Emergence of the Modern World

bulletLate Medieval Crisis and the Tradition of Renewal and Reform
bulletEcclesia Semper Reformanda (The Church Always in Need of Reform)
bulletThe Renaissance, Intellectual Challenge & the Reform Impulse: Ad Fontes! (To the Sources!)
bulletCompetitive Dynastic States (link to my Core 4 lecture for more background)
bulletEmergence of World Market
bulletRoots of American Religious Pluralism
bulletSplintering of Traditional Christianity in the West (Read Marty, chap. 4)
bullet Reformation: Age of Upheaval (1517-1648)Note the wealth of material at the BBC's site on the Reformation.
bulletProtestants, Catholics, and Reshaping of Traditional Christianity
bulletMartin Luther and Lutherans: For a clear and short presentation of Luther's criticism of the Church's leadership read his Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation (1520)
bulletJean Calvin  & Calvinists
bulletCouncil of Trent & Tridentine Catholicism
bulletEnglish Christianity, 1520-1620
bulletTyndal's New Testament, 1525
bulletAct of Supremacy, 1534
bulletThomas Cranmer & the Book of Common Prayer, 1549
bulletMary Tudor & the "Martyrs," 1553-1558
bulletQueen Elizabeth, the Elizabethan Age, & the Religious Settlement,1559-1603
bulletRise of Puritanism

Read Marty, chapter 5
Cherry, Part 1, pp. 61-53

English Protestantism in the New World: City on a Hill

bulletPLANTINGS: 17th century Virginia, New England, & In Between
bulletHow important were Puritanism & the New England Way?
bulletUnity and Diversity: Note how Marty (chap. 5) stresses the differences between Virginia, New England, and the Middle Colonies.
bulletConversion Experience
bulletHearts pierced by the Word: "They whose hearts are pierced by the ministry of the word they are carried with love and respect to the ministers of it." (Thomas Hooker (1586-1647), Repentant Sinners and Their Ministers)
bulletTransformed Personalities
bulletThomas Shepard as a Case History of  the Puritan Experience
bulletEmanuel College, Cambridge, 1620s (3rd generation of English Protestantism)
bulletPattern of his conversion experience (See excerpts in the Shepard document.) Note that his account, in both form and images, is like a sexual seduction; (note male and female images)
bulletThe Way Down
bulletThe Pit
bulletStumbling out and up
bulletAcceptance of grace and the Covenant; he saw God's mercy as free and himself as passive in coming to Christ. He also saw Christ as his antithesis. he also saw that he was elected for this gift of becoming completed united to his antithesis. (Again, note the sexual imagery.)
bulletPuritan Theology to Fit the Experience: The major Protestant theologian for Puritans was John Calvin, although they drew on others as well.
bulletJustification and Sanctification (See John Cotton document on the Covenant of Grace.)
bulletDivine Sovereignty and Will
bulletHuman Depravity & God's Grace
bulletSeparation of Nature and Grace:This is perhaps the most important Protestant departure from traditional Christianity. (See Consecration of Nature)
bulletThe Elect & Predestination: See the Calvin document..
bulletCovenant & Community of Saints (See Winthrop & Wigglesworth in Cherry.)
bulletA person, once convinced of being touched by grace, made a covenant with God and a covenant with other saints to gather into a church. For them the church was not everyone within a parish boundary but rather those who had the experience of grace. Thus the Puritans saw themselves as apart from the rest of society, a vanguard called to lead the way towards God's kingdom.
bulletThe Church for a people of covenant.  
bulletThe Cambridge Platform (1648)and Congregationalism
bullet Cambridge Platform,  (source text)
bulletVocation (calling) and  Mission
bulletCalling was an important part of the Puritan experience. It is remarkable that although they believed in predestination, once convinced they were favored with God grace, they were relentlessly activist.
bulletGod and Humankind as active forces in history (See Whitaker in Cherry)
bulletEschatology & Millennialism (See Edwards in Cherry)
bulletPuritan Resources
bulletCotton Mather Home Page

Read Marty, chapter 6

THE NEW ENGLAND WAY: A Polity for a City Upon a Hill.

The Puritan's theology of justification, experience of grace, covenant, and church led them to develop in New England a particular political and social order to serve Winthrop's vision in The Model of Christian Charity. By 1648 the ideas the shaped the New England Way were expressed in the Cambridge Platform.

bulletOnly those admitted to full membership in the church could fully participate in government
bulletThe Church was the moral compass for society and its rules and moral teachings were enforced by the government. The government protected and supported the church and the church served the political order.
bulletReligious diversity and disrespect for established social order and traditions were not to be tolerated.


The Protestant emphasis on the individual experience of grace quite naturally led some to question institutional authority. Indeed, the major Protestant reformers (Luther and Calvin) recognized the problem and tried to deal with it in various ways. For the founders of the New England Way, the problem manifested itself early in what came to be called the Antinomian Crisis. (Antinomian is based on the Latin meaning against law or rule). The crisis was centered on the activities and views of an extraordinary woman in Boston, Anne Hutchinson. But the problem, which was fundamentally the issue of the rights of individual conscience vs. the requirements for institutional authority and communal order, was also seen in the ministry of Roger Williams, the founder of  Rhode Island.

bullet Anne Hutchinson's Trial & the Antinomian Crisis  
bulletAn essay on the social significance of Hutchinson & Antinomianism (at Palo Alto College, Texas)
bulletRoger Williams
bulletThe New England Way Bedeviled
bulletWitchcraft in Salem Village
bulletSalem Witchcraft