Monday, October 27, 2014

Book Write-Up: The Foundation of Communion with God

Ryan M. McGraw, ed.  The Foundation of Communion with God: The Trinitarian Piety of John Owen.  Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014.

John Owen was a seventeenth century English Puritan.  Ryan M. McGraw’s Ph.D. work was about John Owen.  In The Foundation of Communion with God,  McGraw includes excepts from John Owen’s writings, focusing on Christians’ communion with and worship of the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

McGraw provides readers with a strong introduction about who John Owen was, the rigorous education that Owen received as a youth, the concerns of the Puritans about adding non-Scriptural elements to worship, Owen’s support for and later disagreement with the Puritan Lord Protectorate Oliver Cromwell, Owen’s views regarding the Old and New Covenants, and Owen’s polemics against the Socinians, who denied the Trinity and held to other doctrines that were not considered orthodox (e.g., that God had a body).  The information in McGraw’s introduction is helpful and lucid for a popular audience.

In an appendix, McGraw offers advice on how to read Owen.  McGraw acknowledges that John Owen is not an easy read, so he provides information about the various works of Owen, as well as gives advice about the order in which to read Owen’s works and how to read them without getting lost.  McGraw also gives a list of Owen’s works and a small list of secondary literature about Owen.

The body of the work, as I said above, contains excerpts from Owen’s writings.  McGraw states that he has “updated [Owen's] language” in order to “introduce readers to Owen’s writings and make them more accessible…”  Personally, I found the updating of Jonathan Edwards’ prose in John MacArthur’s The Vanishing Conscience to be much clearer than what McGraw did with Owen’s language, and yet McGraw’s updating was not that bad: it preserved some of the old feel and flavor of Owen’s language, and maybe it does not hurt modern readers to concentrate a bit in their reading, especially when one is reading Owen’s discussion of weighty topics.

As far as the substance of the excerpts was concerned, there were parts that I really enjoyed.  Owen talked about the believer finding comfort in Christ, stressed the need for divine grace for people to rise above their sin, and discussed how believers can use rites as a means of divine grace, while focusing on God and not the rites themselves.  Owen demonstrated his classical education, as he contrasted Christianity’s focus on grace with the self-help programs of certain ancient philosophers.  Owen has a reputation as one who stressed that believers can have an assurance of their salvation, and this was clear in two passages that I appreciated: one in which Owen said that even a believer of weak faith has the attention of God, and another in which he stated that believers should remind themselves of their sins, but not in order to beat themselves up.  There were a couple of places where Owen seemed to manifest the stereotypical Puritan insecurity, however: he talked about experiencing worship in a state of dryness, and how one should try to prevent that from happening, and he discussed how non-believers may feel good by going through certain spiritual exercises, and yet they are not experiencing divine grace.

Overall, though, I found McGraw’s work, and the excerpts from Owen, to be informative and edifying.

I received this book from the publisher through Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for an honest review.

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