Tullian Tchividjian|11:12 am CT

The Puritans Were Not Perfect

In a blog post entitled Beware the Puritan Paralysis, Trevin Wax boldly goes where very few in the Young, Restless, and Reformed crowd are willing to go: pointing out one of the weaknesses of the Puritans. While there are many things about who the Puritans were and what they said that are of great benefit to the modern church, they were not infallible. And too many of us have treated them as if they were. Of course, we would never say that the Puritans were perfect, but all too often even our gentle critiques of them come with qualifications that subtly shrink the critique.

I’m grateful to Trevin for highlighting what was, in my opinion, one of their glaring weaknesses (and one of ours!).

I spoke at a leadership conference recently, and one of the points I made was that the ministry is not about you. In the Q&A, there was some discussion regarding how pastors can focus their attention on making sure it’s not about them. At that point I said, “If you focus all your energy on making sure it’s not about you, then it is still about you.”

The key for a gospel-driven leader is this: remember to forget yourself.

Too many times, we dress up our introspection with flowery terms like “accountability” and “mortification” and “gospel-centered change.” Even if all these terms and concepts are good and needed, if our gaze is constantly inward-focused, then we are as self-centered as the Christian who is consumed with seeking personal pleasure apart from God.

We can avoid this type of introspection by avoiding the pitfalls of some of the Puritans. Though the Reformers sought to emphasize the assurance we can have because of God’s grace in election and salvation, their descendants sometimes undercut the beauty of assurance by stressing the fruit of sanctification more than the fact of justification. Self-examination was a “descending into our own hearts” to root out every possible sinful tendency and desire.

Read the full post here.


  1. This is a decent critique of puritanism’s tendency to cover-up the sin of over-self-analysis with theological jargon. But the irony of the criticism is it might have the tendency to perpetuate the problem. After all, it raises the question, “Am I being too much like the puritans? Am I over-analyzing my own sinful tendencies as they did?” Of course, the moment one begins asking these questions they are engaging in the very sin they are attempting to root out!

    Now, I say this in a bit of a humorous, tongue-in-cheek way, but surely there is a way to be introspective in a balanced sense, while focusing most of our energy outward into God’s field. Perhaps the Puritans were as close to this balance as any other group has ever been?

  2. [...] friend Tullian picks up on a post by Trevin Wax, “Beware the Puritan Paralysis” in which the latter [...]

  3. Todd Christensen

    My preoccupation with the unpardonable sin and my tendency to look for a cure by reading puritan analysis and some modern-day theologians who have a puritan leaning led to deep, dark despair and almost spiritual suicide. I thank our gracious God for raising up in this generation preachers and teachers who wish to get our focus back to the unqualified, no “but” grace that the sparked the reformation. As Trevin said the ironic paradox is that the more I rest in the goodness and finished work of Christ, and the less I preoccupy myself with a constant “fight” against every sin and motive, the more I actually lose my taste for sin and start to improve. This almost happens accidentally as a result of resting in Christ. Praise God that there is NOW no condemnation for those who are in Christ!

  4. [...] from Reformation 21 have responded as well. Beware the Puritan Paralysis – Trevin Wax The Puritans Were Not Perfect – Tullian Tchividjian Are you too introspective? – Reformation21 Blog Evangelicalism Goes to Widecombe Fair – [...]

  5. Open Season on Puritans.! Its funny, the people who know least of Puritan Theologians are the ones making most unfounded criticial statements of their lives and teachings. For example, take mr tupac version of the “reformed rappers” Propaganda making statements on Puritans whom hasnt inclined to recant the famous song which brought more fame to his name, EVEN when a Puritan Scholar in his own right Dr. Beeke, compassionately rebuked all the inaccuracies of his statements and erroneous views. Now we have Trevor and Tullian chiming in, Wow, how brave, does a couple of read books on Baxter really make you an expert? Maybe nowadays it does. And really, Trevor should have been more accurate and forthright of whom he spoke of most was Baxter instead of categorizing all of the Puritans. Next time guys, consult the real guys who do have copies and volumes of the old dusty works of the Puritans in their offices and libraries, AND TAKE 10 TO 15 YEARS TO READ THEM, and then decide if you will write a critique on them as so hastily is being done today. But dont come up with these bandwagon type criticisms just because you know youll get a reading, at least, not a serious reading from serious readers.

  6. Mitchell Hammonds

    The puritans were “seperatists” in their thinking, at least generally speaking. One doesn’t have to be an expert to have an opinion. My opinion of the puritans is they were extremely legalistic and introspective… ghastly habits to add on to the Gospel. But then again they were prone to the same problems we all have. One reading of Jonathan Edwards was enough to turn me away from taking much of what they taught very serious. Not that they didn’t get anything right… but I think there are much better sources to learn from… where reading is concerned. They are the forerunners of revivalism… in my opinion. I’ve had this opinion… oh about 10-15 years and it hasn’t changed.

  7. Point proven… unfounded criticism only over a few pages and browsings.

  8. Pastor
    Where are the Puritans now? They were more intolerant than the Church they were trying to escape.

  9. Mitchell Hammonds

    The more you let me know it drives you nuts the more I’ll squeeze man. It is absolutely great to talk to to someone (like yourself) who thinks it is only their opinion that matters. If you don’t like the responses answer with something besides some emotionally ridden rant that only lets everyone know – something got under your skin.
    Jonathan Edwards had a ‘divine experience’ out in the woods. It doesn’t take much reading to see where their theology was going to end up. Staring directly into your own navel. Not bad if your in to that sort of thing… I had my fill of it in the SBC. A terrible habit to have.

  10. @Mitchell Hammonds. Once again, my point is proven. You would probably fall in the camp of those who read bad history or misconstrued stories like Calvin having Servetus condemned and the likes. I dont think my opinion matters, but in matters of christian history, we should be more careful. Here is Carl Truemans take on this subject. Enjoy and weep.

  11. Tullian Tchividjian


    I’m all for discussion and even debate in the comment section of my blog. Feel free to visit and make comments, but please don’t check grace at the door when it comes to your tone.


  12. You can’t look on Christ without the light of his gospel shining bright on your own conscience, naturally leading you to see what the light exposes, which is introspection. In other words, you can’t look on Christ without looking on yourself; the two are inseparably linked and not mutually exclusive. And the more you look on Christ, the more you will become like him, a “becoming” that includes the cutting off of the flesh through mortifying sin, etc.

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