Boorstin on New England Puritan Sermons

For New England Puritans, the sermon had, of course, additional drawing-power because of the scarcity of other amusements. It offfered an occasion to meet distant neighbors, to exchange news and gossip. Without the sermon, the early New Englander would have had few occasions of public drama. He had no newspapers, no theater, no movies, no radio, no television. The lack of these gave the minister a special opportunity to make his preaching fill the attention of his listeners.

Daniel J. Boorstin, The Americans: The Colonial Experience, p. 15

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4 responses to this post.

  1. My questions would be along these lines: Does this mean that preaching is much more difficult than before? Is this a lesson that demonstrates worldly things can crowd into the Word of God? Is this a longing for days gone by? Are we to assume the same fortitude of the prophet Jeremiah? Should we interpret the change in culture as meaning anything?

  2. Posted by Matt Waymeyer on April 10, 2008 at 1:53 am

    Good thoughts, Steve. These are the kinds of questions that Boorstin’s description raises, at least in my mind, and apparently in yours as well. In fact, that’s why I posted it–because of how thought-provoking it is in a number of directions.

  3. Thanks Matt for the quote and Steve for the comments. As a pastor, I watch men in my congregation struggle with the amount of time given to “media” whether it be games, computer, blogs, magazines, etc. I’m sure they had similar struggles in their day with other practices but it is a good reminder to wean ourselves from some of these things from time to time. The greatest need in my life is familiarity with God and His Word and most of the time media gets in the way of that.

  4. More than once I’ve run into the *subtlty expressed* attitude that the sermon is the weak-link in the worship service–if only there was more hymns, more special music, or a children’s time…ah, that would be paradise. Then I consider how some puritans willingly sat under preachers who delivered sermons that sometimes ran longer than two hours. What was going on in the minds of the congregation during the preaching? Granted, puritan sermons were clearer than other types of sermons of the day but they are still pretty complicted stuff. Was the average Christian smarter back then? I have the luxury of reading the text and I have to work hard to grasp the elaborate argumentation of Ezekiel Hopkins or Stephen Charnock. I do think the image-saturated media of today has left us with a deficit in our capacity to hear or read the expression of complex thought. Also, I am troubled by how little sound doctrine people are willing to consider. How do we engage our people?

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