Puritan social gospel and the City on a Hill with Francis Bremmer

Amid the many discussions of whether John Winthrop’s call for the Massachusetts Colony to be a “city on a hill” was a claim for exceptionalism for themselves and a future America, not enough attention has been paid to what a “city on a hill” really meant in 17th-century New England. This talk by Dr. Francis J. Bremer (pictured below) on September14, 2021, sponsored by the Partnership of Historic Bostons, examined how John Winthrop and others believed they should live and interact with one another to achieve that vision. Click here for the 50-minute video of Dr. Bremmer’s talk followed by a 40-minute Q&A.

Rejecting the emerging individualism of the age and its manifestations in material selfishness, the Puritans sought to create, from scratch, a society in which all members would labor to assist one another.

They espoused a social gospel deeply rooted in Christianity – a gospel especially embraced by 16th- and 17th-century Puritan reformers. (Above, John Winthrop and Cotton Mather)

A particular challenge for New Englanders was the need to define the boundaries of their new community. Dr. Bremer explored the ways in which the institutions of church and state were shaped by the imperatives of the social gospel, focusing on key individuals’ different views and how differences were dealt with. (Above, Thomas Dudley and Roger Williams.

After examining how the colonists’ behavior expressed their social gospel, he suggested how this element of the Puritan legacy is relevant to us today. Above, Ann Hutchinson.