Academic journal article Historical Journal of Massachusetts

Making Heretics: Militant Protestantism and Free Grace in Massachusetts, 1636-1641

Academic journal article Historical Journal of Massachusetts

Making Heretics: Militant Protestantism and Free Grace in Massachusetts, 1636-1641

Article excerpt

Making Heretics: Militant Protestantism and Free Grace in Massachusetts, 1636-1641. By Michael P. Winship. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002. 246 pp. + 76 pp. notes, index. $29.95 (paperback).

A little more than a decade after the first Puritan pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts and founded the colony, a tremendous doctrinal crisis emerged within the Puritan community which resulted in congregations divided with dissension, ecclesiastical careers terminated or ruined, and able leaders exiled to other colonies or back to England. Michael Winship, in his book Making Heretics, aptly names this crisis "the Free Grace controversy" and meticulously details the events, personalities and doctrinal issues that led up to the trials and judgments of 1636-1638.

The appellation is appropriate because the argument was essentially about how much a sinner can continue to sin and still receive the free love and grace of God. On one side were those who embodied the classic Puritan stance that life must be lived in the strictest terms, in daily repentance and prayer and largely without joy or mirth. Those who championed this way of thinking felt compelled to discipline and police the behavior of their parishioners with heightened vigilance. Of Thomas Shepherd, Winship writes that he "felt impelled to act as God's fist during the free grace controversy" (25). While the text is often tedious with detail, occasional metaphors like the fist of God render a lively reading. On the other side stood the "carnal gospelevs," centered on Ann Hutchinson, a lay woman, whose good deeds and calm assurance, especially among women and during childbirth, resulted in a large following. They believed in the charismatic revelation of God's love and generally enjoyed life in less severe terms. There were abuses, however, and Winship gives us the adulterous story of Capt. John Underhill who "enjoyed [the cooper's wife] three or four times a day" (155) knowing that he still had the absolute promise of God's free grace and forgiveness.

In between the two factions stood the moderates of which Justice Winthrop (later Governor) was one. …

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