Book Review: Strangers and Pilgrims on Earth
ALWYN YORK, CONFERENCE HISTORIAN
Throughout 2020 I reviewed a number of books on the Mayflower Pilgrims in observance of the 400th anniversary of their arrival in America. I intended that this series would end as 2020 ended. I feel that I need to break that resolution. In June of this year I became aware of a book that I wish had been available as I began writing about the Pilgrims. However, it was only published last November. I believe that this book, entitled Strangers and Pilgrims on the Earth: Remembering the Mayflower Pilgrims 1620-2020, fills a crucial gap that I found in surveying books about the Pilgrims.
Unlike most contemporary writing about the Pilgrims, this book focuses on the spiritual significance of the Plymouth colonists and is unashamed to declare that the hand of God was behind their migration. The book’s perspective is evident in the opening words of the Introduction. “The pages of this book describe one of the most important events in the history of the American church, and arguably of America itself: the story of how God chose and guided a handful of oppressed religious refugees from England to found one of the greatest nations on earth.” There is a lot currently written about the Pilgrims, but most is about their role in the formation of American democracy, their relationship with their Native neighbors, their social arrangements, etc. Somehow their religion and the impact they had on the development of American Christianity are strangely neglected. I found it refreshing to encounter a book about the Pilgrims compiled by a Christian pastor and intended to be helpful to Christians.
The background to the publication of this book is interesting and unexpected. It was issued by H & E Publishing, a Canadian Evangelical publishing company. It came into being through the efforts of John Clements, an English pastor. He serves as pastor of the Old Meeting House Congregational Church in Colgate, Norwich, which he says is the oldest existing Congregational Chapel in the UK. He secured the help of Dr. Michael Haykin, Professor of Church History at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, to edit the book and find contributors. Chapters of the book were written by British Congregationalists and Baptists from America and Canada. Somehow it took the combined efforts of British Congregationalists and American Baptists and a Canadian publishing house to produce a book of particular interest to American Congregationalists. Truly God moves in mysterious ways!
The book is a collection of essays. The first was an especially valuable discovery for me. It was written by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the well-known British pastor and theologian. I have read and appreciated many of his writings, but I did not know he had studied our American Pilgrims. It was a great encouragement to me to learn that he admired the Pilgrims and felt we had much to learn from them. I believe his essay alone would justify the purchase of the book. But his chapter is just the beginning of the spiritual riches to be gleaned.
The chapter titles alone suggest the helpful material to be found. Here are a few: “Stepping Stones on the Congregational Way,” “Spiritual Lessons from the First Thanksgiving,” “The Pilgrim Mothers,” “The Pilgrims and Religious Liberty,” and “The Spirituality of the Pilgrim Fathers.” Some chapters are written in a scholarly way while others are at a more popular level. There is much to learn from them all. This book does not seem to have received much notice yet, but I hope it will have a wide readership. It is the most helpful book on the Pilgrims for biblical Congregationalists that I have found.
Update of CCCC History Book
2023 is the 75th Anniversary of the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference. In observance of this anniversary a revised and updated version of Modern Day Pilgrims, the history of the CCCC published in 2000, is planned. A committee has begun working on it.