Communion with the Triune God by John Owen (Book Review) ~ BitterSweetLife

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Communion with the Triune God by John Owen (Book Review)

Owen Doesn't Dance, but He Leaves Deep Footprints

Every so often, I like to read books that are several hundred years old, and then talk about them. It gives me a feeling of increased weight and relevance to be able to cite these authors, especially when they agree with me. Look, Aristotle, Augustine, and Edwards all back me on this. Don't you get it?--the wisdom of the ages is in my corner.

Actually, the moments when this happen are pretty rare. This is because, as C.S. Lewis pointed out, old books serve as a corrective to whatever obsessions are currently in vogue. They tend to destroy our fads and biases, not affirm them. They provide an outside perspective that we can never get from John Eldredge, Dan Kimball or Mark Driscoll.

Communion with the Triune God is definitely an old book. John Owen lived and died in the 17th century, and Communion was first published in 1657. Owen will never be widely cited in the 21st century, because his writing is dense and sometimes redundant--but his message is not any the less needed for that. In fact, I hold it against my seminary that I was not forced to read Owen in any of my classes.

Communion combines strong trinitarian theology with a deep concern for authentic spirituality. This may not sound very impressive, but it's rare. Have you ever heard someone ask the question, How should we interact with and experience EACH MEMBER of the trinity? In my experience, writers tend to emphasize either theology or spirituality, as if biblical truths about God belong in a different neighborhood from Jesus-like living. Owen knows they share a zip code.

His thinking is rigorous, brilliant, and, yes, rather elephantine. But Owen's paragraphs are worth the time it takes to decipher them. A couple examples.

Owen: [Jesus] has spoken [his love] as particularly to you as to anyone in the world. And for cause of love, he has as much to fix it on you as on any of the children of men; that is, none at all without himself.

Translation: You think God "can't" love you? Don't sweat it, God has no good reason to love anyone. No reason at all--except his grace.

Owen: God has so fully, so eminently revealed his love, that it may be received by faith. "You believe in God" (John 14:1); that is, the Father. And what do you believe in him? His love; for he is "love" (1 John 4:8).

Translation: Do you believe in the love of God? The Father's love--for the world, for the church, for you--is the central reality that faith affirms. If you "believe in God" but not in his love for you, your faith is empty.

Communion with the Triune God is not a book you can read quickly, but then, fast reads seldom really change us. Grab a pencil and open it with patience, because John Owen is tough on the mind but very good for the soul.

Highly recommended, A.

Of course it's there; we need more 300-year-old books on the Master Book List.

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Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife