The precisianist strain: disciplinary religion and antinomian backlash in puritanism to 1638. By Theodore Dwight Bozeman. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004. Pp. xv+349. ISBN 0-8078-2850-5. $49.95.
Making heretics: militant Protestantism and free grace in Massachusetts, 1636–1641. By Michael P. Winship. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002. Pp. xv+322. ISBN 0-691-08943-4. $33.95.
Blown by the spirit: puritanism and the emergence of an antinomian underground in pre-civil-war England. By David R. Como. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004. Pp. ix+513. ISBN 0-8047-4443-2. $70.00.
The English radical imagination: culture, religion, and revolution, 1630–1660. By Nicholas McDowell. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2003. Pp. 219. ISBN 0-19-926051-6. £49.00.
There has only been one historical monograph on the English antinomians and that was published in 1951. They are long overdue for reassessment. Fortunately, that task is well underway. Taken together, three recent books – cumulatively amounting to well over one thousand pages of text – advance our understanding in substantial and significant ways. Of course, the antinomians have not been absent from the historiography over the last five decades. Their involvement in the ‘antinomian controversy’ that wracked the early New England colony during the mid-1630s has been well-worked ground, whilst they are much too colourful a feature of the mid-seventeenth-century English ferment and upheaval to be overlooked. But they have, more often than not, been background figures, tangential characters in a bigger story. By contrast, in these works, they are in the foreground, with an elaborate and illuminating background within which to understand them in fresh and important ways. The result is a welcome reappraisal that is helpful, insightful, and comprehensive.