The dominant historiographical trend in Puritan studies, started by Patrick Collinson, stresses the conservative nature of Puritanism. It notes Puritanism's strong opposition to the separatist impulses of some of the godly and the ways in which it was successfully integrated into the Church of England until the innovations of Charles I and Archbishop Laud. Far from being revolutionary, Puritanism was able to contain the disruptive energies of the Reformation within a national church structure. This picture dovetails nicely with the revisionist portrayal of an early seventeenth-century “Unrevolutionary England,” but it sits uneasily with the fratricidal cacophony of 1640s Puritanism.
The picture also sits uneasily with the Antinomian Controversy, the greatest internal dispute of pre-civil wars Puritanism. That controversy shook the infant Massachusetts Bay Colony from 1636 to 1638. Accusations of false doctrine flew back and forth, the government went into tumult, and by the time the crisis had subsided, leading colonists had voluntarily departed or had been banished. In terms of its cultural impact in England, it was probably the single most important event in seventeenth-century American colonial history; publications generated by the controversy were reprinted in England into the nineteenth century.
The Antinomian Controversy, evoking civil wars cacophony but occurring in the previous decade, offers a bridge across the current interpretive chasm between civil wars and pre-civil wars Puritanism. The crisis has generated a wide range of scholarly interpretations, but there is broad agreement that the Boston church, storm center of the crisis, was the source of its disruption.