Since the publication of Perry Miller's The New England Mind in 1939, Puritan covenantal thought has received renewed attention from scholars in a number of different fields. Many of these analyses have tended, however, either to ignore the essential theological grounding of this movement in Calvin and in English evangelicalism or to exaggerate the individualistic character of Puritan ethics through failure to give adequate attention to such communal themes as religious and civil covenants, equity, virtue, and the common good.
Thus, Perry Miller, for example, interpreted covenantal (or federal) theology as an attempt to resolve the antinomy in Calvinist doctrine between determinism and human freedom by making salvation dependent upon good works. While the idea of such a conditional covenant was fundamentally inconsistent with the traditional Calvinist doctrine of decrees, Miller argued, it did nevertheless provide a pragmatic albeit unstable means of reconciling human freedom and moral responsibility with the doctrine of decrees. When one examines such early covenantal writers as Perkins, Preston, Sibbes, and Ames, however, one finds that they turned to the imagery of covenant primarily out of the need to provide a basis for assurance of salvation and moral guidance, not to resolve a conflict between predestination and human freedom. The latter conflict had already been largely resolved within the framework of Calvinist doctrine. Not only did Miller's focus upon the problem of decrees cause him to misconstrue the relationship between Calvin and covenantal thought in important respects; it also caused him to neglect the evangelical sources of covenantal theology and ethics.