The Last Puritans: Mainline Protestants and the Power of the Past

The Last Puritans: Mainline Protestants and the Power of the Past

by Margaret Bendroth


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Congregationalists, the oldest group of American Protestants, are the heirs of New England's first founders. While they were key characters in the story of early American history, from Plymouth Rock and the founding of Harvard and Yale to the Revolutionary War, their luster and numbers have faded. But Margaret Bendroth's critical history of Congregationalism over the past two centuries reveals how the denomination is essential for understanding mainline Protestantism in the making.

Bendroth chronicles how the New England Puritans, known for their moral and doctrinal rigor, came to be the antecedents of the United Church of Christ, one of the most liberal of all Protestant denominations today. The demands of competition in the American religious marketplace spurred Congregationalists, Bendroth argues, to face their distinctive history. By engaging deeply with their denomination's storied past, they recast their modern identity. The soul-searching took diverse forms—from letter writing and eloquent sermonizing to Pilgrim-celebrating Thanksgiving pageants—as Congregationalists renegotiated old obligations to their seventeenth-century spiritual ancestors. The result was a modern piety that stood a respectful but ironic distance from the past and made a crucial contribution to the American ethos of religious tolerance.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781469624006
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date: 10/28/2015
Pages: 258
Sales rank: 1,093,461
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Margaret Bendroth is executive director of the Congregational Library and Archives in Boston. She is author of Fundamentalism and Gender, 1875 to the Present, among other books.

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Increase Mather has been called the Last Puritan; so has Jonathan Edwards. But Margaret Bendroth's new work masterfully shows us that the 'last' of anything can be the first of something else. This beautifully researched story of the Congregationalists and mainline Protestantism judiciously reveals the nature of institutional change, religious allegiance, and the slipperiness of historical memory.—Kenneth P. Minkema, Yale University

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The Last Puritans: Mainline Protestants and the Power of the Past 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Dr. Margaret Bendroth, executive director of the Congregational Library and Archives in Boston, is a respected historian who has spent years up to her elbows in the historical details of America’s founding religious tradition. In this book she examines the ways Congregationalists, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries, have understood the significance of their antecedents, including New England’s Pilgrims and Puritans; the use they have made of that history; the ways they have celebrated it, and sometimes failed to celebrate it; and the impact those historical perspectives have had on the dynamics of ongoing denominational activity. Congregationalists formed a main component of the present-day United Church of Christ—a denomination with a mixed record of struggle and success since its formation in 1957. One of Bendroth’s most welcome achievements in this book is her nuanced and balanced account of the “Great Merger Controversy” of the mid-20th century that gave birth to the UCC and two other fellowships, the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference (CCCC) and the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches (NACCC)—a conflict that still echoes in the ongoing historical consciousness of the three groups. The Last Puritans is an excellent, informative, and even entertaining read and should be high on the list of anyone interested in Congregationalism, American Protestantism in general, or simply the historical views of earnest American church people over the last two centuries.