I was given a copy of Tabletalk yesterday. I had not read this publication for quite a while. I have really enjoyed it in the past. The particular issue that I was given, entitled Proud Mediocrity: Facing the Addiction of our Culture (September 2006), was no exception. It was very well done, especially the article by George Grant, entitled “A Passion for Truth.” I was intrigued, however, by a statement made by Chris Donato in his good piece, “In the Service of the King.” He linked the waning of “the Christian ideal of vocation”—rigorously implemented by the English Puritans—to the “religious and political repression of the seventeenth century” and the replacement of the “fatalistic hyper-Calvinism of certain Puritans” by the “mechanistic Deism of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment” (page 17). This is extremely intriguing! And of course, in the small space allotted for the article, only a potted version of this thesis could be given. But it would be fascinating to pursue it further.
Donato seems to assume or assert four things.
First, the attacks on the Puritans in the Restoration era by Charles II and James II undermined the Puritan concept of vocation. Why was this so?
Second, certain Puritans were hyper-Calvinistic. Which Puritans were hyper-Calvinists? Well, certain Baptist authors in the eighteenth century are often accused of being hyper-Calvinists—I am thinking of men like John Gill and John Brine and John Skepp (the term needs to be well defined to include Gill)—but historically these men are not Puritans. If we rule out these men, I am not sure who Donato has in mind.
Third, this hyper-Calvinism precedes the “mechanistic Deism of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.” Actually, though the chronology is the other way around. Does this undermine the thesis though?
Fourth, Evangelicalism did not maintain the Puritan view of vocation. But is this so? I think one can see a Puritan view of vocation in John Wesley’s view of work and wealth, for instance (via his maternal grandfather, the Puritan Samuel Annesley). You see it when Evangelical authors address domestic issues—consider Samuel Stennett on domestic duties in his sermon series on this topic.
But these are only initial thoughts. I would love to see someone track through the idea of vocation in the 18th century, asking the question, did it change from the Puritan view? And when did it change and why?