William Perkins (1558-1602): Towards a Covenantal Education

William Perkins (1558-1602), the so-called “father of puritanism,” has experienced somewhat of a renaissance in academia during the twenty-first century. Since 2010, with the eventual reprinting of William Perkins’s entire corpus, there have been at least six academic dissertations as well as many books and journal articles on Perkins, and there are no signs that this interest in Perkins will end anytime soon. However, there are still significant gaps in research on Perkins that need to be filled. In addition to his practical and theological works, Perkins has also produced several catechetical works that have received relatively little attention in the secondary literature. Furthermore, although, as Vincent Lewis Priebe has written, covenant theology served as the basis for all of Perkins’s theology, this line of research has not been further pursued. This paper, therefore, seeks to fill research gaps in both Perkins’s catechisms as well as his covenant theology.

Research into William Perkins’s catechisms, as well as the puritans’ views on education in general, has not been a major focus in puritan studies. The most extensive treatments on puritan catechesis and education are Ian Green’s Christian’s ABC and John Morgan’s Godly Learning, although several unpublished dissertations have also been written. In addition, Andrew Ballitch has briefly commented on Perkins’s catechisms in his recent monograph, but the influence of covenant theology is not explored. While both Green and Morgan only provide indirect information regarding Perkins’s influence on puritan catechetics and their approach to education, Morgan’s work is especially critical in demonstrating how the puritans’ views on the covenant of works affected their pedagogy. It is surprising, therefore, that the puritans’ application of covenant theology on education has not been a major focus in puritan studies. Further research in puritanism must explore the relationship between the puritans’ covenant theology and their approach to education. In addition, as Perkins’s own theology was appropriated by his covenant theology, it follows that there could be a relationship between his covenant theology and his catechetics. In this paper, therefore, it will be demonstrated how covenant theology, in line with the puritan covenantal approach to human reason, serves as the overall framework behind the catechetical writings of William Perkins.

In this paper presentation, I will demonstrate how William Perkins’s covenant theology affects his catechisms. First, I will discuss the relationship between covenant theology and education in the puritans, showing how the covenants influenced their understanding of man’s ability to reason and how it affects education. Second, I will show how Perkins’s own covenant theology was in line with the puritan views and how it affected his views on reason and education. Finally, the paper will examine Perkins’s catechetical works in light of his views on education and reason to determine the relationship between his covenant theology and his catechetics. The paper will conclude with some implications for catechetical teaching today.

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