Furnace: Roger Williams in England

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Xlibris Corporation, 2006 - Fiction - 481 pages
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LONDON, 1612. A dealer in cloth is being burned at the stake in a macabre ceremony of theological cleansing. He would be an ordinary man but for his willingness to die in extraordinary pain for his religious convictions. In the festive crowd stands a boy of nine--too young, some would say--to begin to comprehend the meaning of this judicial murder. But the impact of this burning will alter the boy's life and sent him on an unrelenting quest for answers from his society. He is Roger Williams, future founder of Rhode Island, the sanctuary for those who would worship as they please. But it is still thousands of miles and a score of years before his thinking will take flight into the doctrine of "soul liberty." The author evokes the stages of self-awareness as the young Roger gropes with doubts about the validity of a church-state collaboration. His orthodox father threatens to throw him into the street, and neither his parish church nor his schoolmasters are of any help in his search for a just and reassuring God. The random death of a beloved friend from the plague of 1623 so shocks him that he ascends an empty pulpit to admonish the Almighty. This rash confrontation does not go unnoticed by the bishop's spies. From this moment he is a marked man in the eyes of the Anglican Church. But Roger has his friends as well. There is Chief Justice Edward Coke who exposes him to the world of power and who protects him from the fallout of his rashness; his brother Sydrach who introduces him to the strong waters of Dutch liberalism; and young sensible Mary Barnard who helps him back on his path after a disastrous love affair and who accompanies him across the ocean to a rendezvous with destiny. To Roger Williams belongs the honor of being the foremost advocate in the New World of the separation of church and state. For his stance in defense of religious liberty he was reviled and even exiled from his home in Massachusetts Bay colony. But how did the founder of Rhode Island colony as a refuge for non-conformists get to be the sort of person he was? This journey from a childhood at odds with father, schoolteachers and the church to the maturity of a self-possessed champion of religious freedom is carefully chronicled in this fictional autobiography. Because religious experience, more than abstract ideas, permeate the book, it makes no pretense to being a theological tract. It is instead a lucid and compelling account of a young man's climb to greatness in the confines of 17th century Jacobean England. The statue of Roger Williams stands next to Calvin's in Geneva, but the central figure of this fast-paced, almost cinematic, novel, is no creature of stone. His mistakes were all too many, his self-betrayals all too frequent, but he clearly emerges as the complex, courageous apostle of non-conformity whom few of his contemporaries could tolerate, let along understand. History casts Roger Williams' passionate defense of religious freedom in an age of intolerance as a landmark in the evolution of 17th century thought and practice, but this is a posthumous recognition, and the boy attending the fateful burning in 1612 could hardly anticipate where his path would lead. FURNACE takes us through the many intense confrontations that molded his revolutionary stand on the separation of church and state and helps us better to understand the relationship of our own church and state in the light of his spiritual journey

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