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Friday, October 31, 2014

"The Foundation of Communion with God" (Ryan M. McGraw)

TITLE: The Foundation of Communion with God: The Trinitarian Piety of John Owen
AUTHOR: Ryan M. McGraw
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014, (136 pages).

Hailed as one of the most prominent and important theologians in the 17th Century, widely respected as a Puritan Zealot, and author of several highly regarded works on purity and religious thought, Owen is a giant when it comes to defending reformed views of the Trinity. He believes that in order to know God, one must know theology. In fact, there is no difference between knowledge and experience. They belong together. True theology must not only enrich the person's mind but with the help of the Holy Spirit, also grip the person's heart. That is why Owen wrote one of the classic books entitled, "Communion with God" which talks about our communion with the Triune God. McGraw guides us through some of Owen's theological thoughts.
  • Trinity: Believers fellowship with the Father in love, the Son in grace, and the Spirit in comfort, each representing a special way in which the distinct personality of God informs the relationship of the believer with God. 
  • Communion: With worship as the highest expression of fellowship, Owen believes that communion with God is linked closely with the religious ordinances in public worship.
  • Scripture: Worship must be biblical, especially the recognized ordinances used in the Church service.
  • Heaven: Cultivate true affections for God in worship, engaging the heart toward God.
  • Covenant and Church: Covenant of redemption is rooted in the doctrine of the Trinity and servants of God come to bring people into communion with all three members of the Triune Godhead.

The book brings together selected works of Owen based on three themes.
  1. Knowledge of the Triune God
  2. Heavenly-Mindedness and Apostasy
  3. Covenant and Church 
The first theme focuses on our communion with God by ways of "original authority," "purchased treasury," "immediate efficacy" with elaboration on what it means to commune with the Father in love, Christ in grace, the Spirit in worship, and many more. Owen's conviction is that true worship is always with the Triune God, and a failure to do so would result in false worship. Interestingly, Owen describes nine marks of communion with the Holy Spirit. Perhaps, he is aware of how little people know about the Holy Spirit and offers a way forward to inform such an audience.

The second theme also deals with biblical worship, with warning about how we can easily misplace our trust in various religious things. Here, Owen warns of the dangers of pride before communicating the means of grace. There is a reminder that the principal end of all religious duties to God glorified.

The third theme builds on worship and the glory of God with a reminder of the purpose of the covenant and living as a Church for God. From preaching to the reading of the Word, from spiritual to new covenant worship, from Sabbath to the Lord's Supper, Owen overarching thought is that every act of worship be an outworking of our communion with God.

McGraw acknowledges that Owen's works may be hard to read, and part of the reason is because it has to do with Owen's "Latinized grammar" and the multiple audiences. He gives us some good suggestions on how to read Owen; like reading aloud;  using introductions as guide; read his popular sermons first; keep reading, and keep reading deeply. I appreciate the listing of Owen's works by year to give anyone a primer about Owen and his thoughts through the years. This book is based on the author's PhD work on John Owen. It is hard to critique the book simply because readers lack the contexts for the selected works included here. Given that Owen himself require deep study and continual reading, the busy reader will have to depend on the guidance of McGraw in reading Owen's thought on the foundation of communion. If any reader want a simple introduction to Owen, this book certainly fits the bill.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Reformation Heritage Books and Cross-Focused Reviews in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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