on October 24, 2007
C.S. Lewis understood the devotional benefit of reading good theology. "For my own part," wrote Lewis, "I tend to find the doctrinal books often more helpful in devotion than the devotional books, and I rather suspect that the same experience may await many others. I believe that many who find that `nothing happens' when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand."
I believe Lewis is right. I found my heart singing while reading this lengthy treatise on the Trinity written 350 years ago by an English Puritan pastor-theologian. In Communion with the Triune God, John Owen shows from Scripture how to enjoy fellowship with each person of the Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Editors Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor have once again done the church a great service by publishing this book. Following a Foreword by Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Kapic provides a helpful introductory essay, "Worshiping the Triune God: The Shape of John Owen's Trinitarian Spirituality" that gives a "panoramic view of Owen's approach to communion with the triune God" (p. 20).
The goal of this volume, according to Taylor, is to provide "unabridged but updated and accessible edition of Owen's Communion with God" (p. 47). In other words, the editors let Owen speak for himself. This isn't an abridgement or a paraphrase. The original content is reformatted to assist the modern reader. Owen's notoriously long paragraphs are broken into smaller units. All Greek and Hebrew words are transliterated. Pithy Latin phrases are translated. Difficult words are footnoted. Helpful headings and subheadings aid in following Owen's flow of thought.
This is good news for those of us who find Owen difficult to read. However, the effort required to read this book will be repaid many times over. Mining for gold is always hard work. Passages like this keep me coming back to Owen to mine for more gold: "So much as we see of the love of God, so much shall we delight in Him, and no more. Every other discovery of God, without this, will but make the soul fly from Him; but if the heart be once much taken up with this the eminency of the Father's love, it cannot choose but be overpowered, conquered, and endeared unto Him" (p. 128).
All who desire to grow in their love and adoration for the glorious Triune God will want to read this book.
Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 448 pages
Publisher: Crossway Books (September 27, 2007)
on October 18, 2007
In 1657 John Owen put pen to paper and produced an organized treatise on the Trinity based on a series of sermons years earlier. He wrote as both a visionary of timeless truth and as a product of his times. Over the years, the barrier of time and the evolution of language have reduced Owen to a name seminarians might have heard about in Church History or the focus of study for only the most dedicated theologians. Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor think that should change.
Kapic and Taylor have edited Owen's Communion With the Triune God - revising the layout, clarifying the footnotes, updating the language and spelling, etc. - in order to produce an extraordinarily more accessible Owen. A modern reader no longer has an excuse to avoid this classic work.
In three main divisions, Owen systematically introduces the three persons of the Trinity and painstakingly (in a quite positive sense) details their roles and works in the lives of believers. The work is balanced as to the persons of the Trinity, meaning that it is not a distant look at an Almighty Father or a charismatic ballyhoo over the Spirit. Rather, each person of the Trinity gets his due as a person who wants to relate to each of the people of God. Owen, in keeping with the New Testament emphasis, rightly devotes the most contemplation to the work and fellowship of God the Son, but he does so in a way that emphasizes the holistic nature of our communion with God.
What impresses me most about this volume is Owen's approach. The book is theology done well, but is not merely a list of theological categories or abstract metaphysics. Owen wants you to know God, to fully know Him, to love Him, to abide in Him, to truly commune with Him in a deep and eternal way. Don't get me wrong, Owen does not write in a 21st Century touchy-feely self-help style by any means. But once you get into the ebb of his words and the flow of his thought, you find yourself loving God more as you realize all of the ways He intends to be a constant enlivening part of your life.
The editors have done a fine job "cleaning" the text with restraint. They have not paraphrased and have preserved Owen's authentic voice. At times, I thought they actually showed too much restraint, electing to preserve words like "nigh" with a footnote explaining the word means "near." Still, the work is quite readable with most of the retained archaic words carrying some particular theological freight in Owen's usage and defined by a glossary in the back of the book (a very considerate addition). Kapic has also included a lengthy essay on Owen's Trinitarian theology. It was quite helpful in enjoying the text proper.
I recently prepared a study of the Trinity for use in my church. Reading Communion With the Triune God helped the study stay focused on abiding with God instead of falling to the level of regurgitating factoids and formulas. There are a handful of places where I would disagree with Owen's reasoning, but the work is so meditative and thought out that I am hesitant to list my disagreements here, lest in the future I am embarrassed by the naive thoughts of my youth. Take some time with this book, perhaps a few sub-sections at a time, and revive the union with the Triune God who communicates Himself to us.
on October 4, 2007
Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor have once again done a huge service for the church by making John Owen accessible to those who desire to read him. Certainly Owen is still a towering theological giant that is challenging to read, but many barriers that could have been used as excuses have been removed in Communion with the Triune God. Kapic and Taylor have chosen a tremendous work to edit as this volume deals with rigorous exegesis, Trinitarian theology, and the practical idea of how it is we relate to God and He relates to us.
Within this book we find Owen dealing with not just how we relate to God, but how we relate to each person of the Triune Godhead. All the while Owen keeps before us that the oneness of God as well, which is not easy task, but embodies the mystery of the Trinity. For the Father Owen stresses the love that emanates toward His people, and towards Him, realizing that there are similarities and distinctions between these types of love. This love that the Father bestows on His people should be something we treasure everyday, and we should allow it to cause us to delight in Him.
In relation to the Son (where Owen spends the majority of his time), the idea of grace is lauded and seen as where our fellowship with him consists. In this section we get an unbelievable display of who Christ and all that he has accomplished on our behalf, particularly in his death and resurrection. It was at the cross that grace was purchased on our behalf, and something we should see as infinitely valuable through this eminent description. It is through the acceptance of the gospel that we are able to relate to Christ and enjoy the benefits in all things pertaining to life and godliness. Owen cites many different blessings we experience in Christ, all of which should drive us to have the obvious commitment he had in relating to the Son of God in an intimate way.
Finally, Owen gets into relating to the Holy Spirit, and what his actual ministry is in our lives as we commune with him. Owen is thoroughly scriptural in his assessment, and it should give rise to praise in our hearts for all that the Spirit does on our behalf. In this and the other sections it is helpful that Owen raises and answers objections to his positions, as we still face many of the same questions today, though perhaps in a different form.
Though it can be difficult to follow Owen's logic, as has been previously stated, this volume does an amazing job at making a challenging work accessible. Kapic and Taylor have given us immense help in understanding Owen's work by giving us a lengthy introduction (which is basically a detailed commentary), and a rigorous outline to give continuity to the work. They have also helped us immensely by footnoting translations to difficult words and phrases, updated the language, modernized punctuation, helped with Owen's citation of Scripture, as well as added Scripture where Owen alluded to it, but did not cite it, transliterated Greek and Hebrew, and many other helpful details.
Even with all of these updates this work is not for the fainthearted, and perhaps that is the only weakness of this volume. None of the works of Owen would be considered light reading in contemporary society. However, the effort put forth will reap benefits beyond what one can imagine. And this topic is certainly one that speaks to our culture just as much as it did back in Owen's day; we need to learn how to better commune with our God.
John Piper has exhorted us to find a dead hero, delve deeply into his works, and live with him there. I for one have decided to go with John Owen, who though challenging to read, has been pushing me spiritually for a while now. Thank you Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor for your work on this, it is greatly appreciated.
on November 1, 2007
Reading "Communion with the Triune God" was my first experience with John Owen. I had read from his commentaries, but never one of his works. Kapic and Taylor do an excellent job providing background for, summarizing, outlining, and updating the work. Although Owen wrote in 1657, the editors have changed (or defined) the archaic language and formatting in order to help the modern reader. I'm sure reading this updated edition made my experience with Owen much more meaningful.
Many Christians, in their worship, have sought to worship God only as One. As the Shema says, "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one," so they worship God without discerning the distinct persons within the Godhead. Owen points out many instances in the New Testament where the persons are distinct, and argues that since they are distinct, we should relate to each, Father, Son, and Spirit.
Particularly, Owen argues that communion with the Father is characterized by his love for his people. Whereas Christians many times feel oppressed by thoughts of an almighty and vengeful Father, the author demonstrates that the Father relates to the saints in love through Christ... in fact, his love is where every other grace comes from. Nothing compares to the Father's love toward his people! Owen casts a huge vision of the Father's relationship to his children in love.
In our age there are some distortions of what it means to be in a relationship with Jesus Christ. Some are pleased to simply do their duty to Christ, as a worker to his boss. Others see Christ as friend, but lack the understanding and reverence of Christ as husband. Owen argues that the communion believers have with the Son consists in grace. Christ, in taking joy in his beloved wife, the Church, purchased and cleansed her with his blood. The saints, in seeing his beauty, and treasure and prefer him above all other "pretenders." The Son gives himself to the saints, and it is their joyful duty to receive all that he offers.
Owen concludes his book with a discussion on the communion believers have with the Holy Spirit, relying on John 16:1-7. He argues that the Holy Spirit's communion with the saints is primarily as a comforter who will always be present. Not only is the Spirit given from the Father and Son, but he himself bestows power, willingness, and gifts for the strengthening of believers. He comforts the saints with the love of God and the grace of Christ. As such, he brings into view, not just himself, but the entire Trinity.
Many Christians have all but lost any concern for communion with the Holy Spirit. Others have placed their focus on him, so displacing the Father and Son. But Owen argues that one of the Spirit's main roles is to glorify Jesus Christ. If someone glorifies the Holy Spirit without acknowledging the Son, then something has gone awry, because the Spirit wants to lift up the Son for all to see and enjoy.
"Communion with the Triune God" is a moving and rich book in which John Owen clearly describes the communion that saints have with God, as Father, Son, and Spirit. In his concluding paragraphs, he reaches the pinnacle of his arguments: In worshiping one person, we worship the whole Trinity. In praying to one person, we pray to the whole Trinity. In approaching God, we worship the whole Trinity. Christians who worship and pray and approach God with these ideas in mind will, no doubt, experience God in a fresh and exciting way, and perhaps commune with him in an entirely new way, as the Triune God.
on November 26, 2007
I can't begin to express how thankful I am to God for the work of Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor. It is through these men that I was introduced to John Owen, one of the most amazing and prolific writers of his time. Having trekked through Overcoming Sin and Temptation (a feat I've yet to complete), I was excited to read Communion with the Triune God.
From my viewpoint, this book is going to have a completely different, but no less significant, impact on my life.
Part of what I enjoyed more, for me, in this work when compared to Overcoming is the fact that Kapic's introduction and outline provide a thorough overview of what the reader is about to embark upon. It is often explained to the reader what it is that Owen most likely intended to convey and thus, reading is a bit easier than simply reading Owen's original text -- which is not easy for this reader. Nonetheless, it is very rewarding.
My reading of this work has opened my eyes to the distinct personality of our God as Father, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Owen clearly outlines the role that each person of the Holy Trinity plays in the life of a believer and what the believer's response should be in worship and living (i.e. communion).
Almost a work left unpublished, we are blessed that Owen completed the work requested of him. While it is a work not to be taken lightly, reading Communion will be time well spent and will pay benefits for many years to come if time and effort is properly invested.
on February 29, 2008
Highlighting the Character of the Book
Communion with the Triune God is a republishing of John Owen's original work Communion with God (1657). Kapic and Taylor have done a good job of making this work available to the modern reader. They have left the original vocabulary, providing definitions in the footnotes for words no longer in common use. In addition, they have updated the method of Scripture citation and the usage of pronouns. (Sorry, no "thee" or "thou"). They have also provided an outline of the work with page numbers to make it easier for the reader to follow along.
The introduction by Kelly Kapic is also very helpful in providing background on the theology of John Owen. Probably the greatest weakness of this work is Owen's allegorical interpretation of the Song of Solomon. Kapic address this in his quite well in his introduction,
"While allegorical interpretations of this great biblical poem can be highly suspect and problematic, we should nevertheless avoid throwing the baby out with the bath water....Elsewhere in Scripture God is described as in a marital relationship with Israel, and Christ is the groom of his church, the bride. In fact, one day there will be a great wedding celebration when this relationship will be consummated in its fullness! Given such imagery, it is not unreasonable for theologians to speak of the believer's intimate communion, communication, and even what Owen calls `conjugal relations' with the Son. To draw this all from the Song of Songs would be problematic; to recognize this general motif in Scripture seems wholly appropriate." (34)
Highlighting the Content of the Book
The depth of understanding and exposition that Owen demonstrates in presenting this topic is difficult to summarize even in a few paragraphs. Since we have communion with the Triune God, Owen's work is divided into three parts to show how we commune with each person of the Trinity distinctly.
Regarding the believer communion with the Father, Owen shows that it consists primarily in love. The Father initiates the relationship by showing love toward His people, and they respond by returning love to Him. This love is mediated through Jesus Christ. Owen does a good job of showing the ways in which our love is the same as God's love, and yet how it is different as well. In addition, as is typical of a puritan work like this, the author anticipates and addresses possible objections to the doctrines presented.
The bulk of the book deals with the believer's communion with Son. While he begins by showing how Christ loves His church and how they response to his love, the majority of the section sets forth "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ" (2Co 13:14). He shows how the believer's love toward Christ is ultimately a result of them finding him to be "altogether lovely" on account of His being "full of grace" (Jn 1:14).
"Upon the payment of the great price of his blood, and full acquittal on the satisfaction he made, all grace whatsoever becomes, in a moral sense, his, at his disposal; and he bestows it on, or works it in, the hearts of his by the Holy Ghost, according as, in his infinite wisdom, he sees it needful. How glorious is he to the soul on this consideration! That is most excellent to us, which is suits us in a wanting condition - that which gives bread to the hungry, water to the thirsty, mercy to the perishing. All our reliefs are thus in our Beloved. Here is the life of our soul, the joy of our hearts, our relief against sin and deliverance from the wrath to come." (171)
The final section sets forth the believers communion with the Holy Spirit. Owen focuses in on the Spirits ministry as "the Comforter." He shows how the Spirit works with the word of God to bring comfort to the soul in the midst of trials. He also addresses the believers responsibility to "not grieve the Holy Spirit" (Eph 4:30), to "not quench the Spirit" (1Th 5:19), and to not resist the Holy Spirit (Act 7:51). Let me end with these words by Owen concerning our fellowship with the Spirit,
"His work we look for, his fruits we pray for; and when any effect of grace, any discovery of the image of Christ implanted in us, gives us a persuasion of our being separated and set apart for God, we have a communion with him therein" (381)
on October 31, 2007
Review of "Communion with the Triune God" by John Owen, edited by Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor.
If you are reading this review, you are probably already interested in the writings of John Owen or you have read a quote of John Owen an want to look into John Owen's writings further. Which ever the case may be this book, Communion with the Triune God, edited by Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor, will not disappoint you. The tight editing of this work making reading John Owen less taxing but not less challenging. They have update the language only where it is necessary and have left in tack the thoughts and words of John Owen. So instead of being taxed by some of the Language that Owen used, we have been freed to be challenged by the thoughts of Owen. Footnotes are plentiful as Kapic and Taylor restore the original Latin quotes that Owen use along with the English translation of the those Latin quotes. They also provide sources for the quotes for further study. Instead of having to stop every few words or sentences to chase down the meaning of a word that Owen's has used from the 16th century, Kapic and Taylor have either updated the word if necessary or they have provide the definition in same page footnotes. It makes for a much better readying, studying and understanding experience.
In the previous work edited by Kapic and Taylor, "Overcoming Sin and Temptation" three works by John Owen, they also did a wonderful job in clarifying John Owen writing. In this present work, Communion with a Triune God" they go beyond the excellent work they did before. This volume by Kapic and Taylor will be a gold mine as John Owen's thoughts are opened up to a wider readership and his thoughts challenge a whole new group of people.
Buy one for yourself and be blessed as you are challenged by the thoughts of Owens. "Buy one for your pastor-friend and be blessed again as his preached is renewed!"
on October 5, 2007
Being an owner of Overcoming Sin and Temptation (gratias tibi ago, JBA) I knew what to expect with this title. I am extremely grateful for volumes such as this new edition of John Owen's Communion with the Triune God published by Crossway. There are several reasons to rejoice at this printing.
First, while John Owen's works are notoriously onerous and culto, editors Kapic and Taylor have gone to great lengths--while neither abridging nor paraphrasing--to assist the reader in combating reader's fatigue commonly brought on by antiquated language, page-length paragraphs, and specialized vocabulary. All Latin phrases and quotes are translated. Hebrew and Greek are both transliterated and translated. Scripture references are provided. Extensive outlines and headings assist in tracking the argumentation. All the above are new to this edition and make this spiritual gold mine more accessible than ever, equipping the reader with the tools necessary to join Owen in the task of meditating on (with increasing depth) the triune nature of our great God and King.
Secondly, it bespeaks the utility of the work by the very fact that over three hundred and fifty years later it is still being reproduced. The work's longevity is due in great part to Owen's own saturation in Scripture, doing the work of a true systematic theologian tying Scripture together to weave a tapestry of the God who has revealed himself in the Bible. It is here within this work that we are invited to meet with Owen as he treats of the thrice holy God in three parts, answering our objections with grace and passion. Kevin J Vanhoozer in the foreword calls the work "indispensable reading for all those who want to go deeper into the meaning of relationality than one typically goes in the pop-theology boats that float only on the psychological surface of the matter" (12).
The (aspiring) theologian and layman alike will greatly benefit from spending these pages with Owen.
on October 18, 2007
It don't think it's an overstatement to say that the Introduction is worth the price of the book. My heart was certainly refreshed once again at reviewing the inner-workings and relationships of the Trinity and exploring the incredible privilege of being invited into that eternal relationship with them. I kept asking myself the question over again: who am I, a vile enemy of God, that I should have been invited to join this glorious communion and fellowship with God himself?
Kapic does an outstanding job summarizing the writings of Owen on this topic in the introduction. One of the most helpful distinctions that John Owen makes is between union and communion. Our union with God is "a unilateral action by God, in which those who were dead are made alive". Communion, on the other hand is when Christians "respond to God's loving embrace." So union is passive, and communion is active. Union is something that God does for us, communion is something God does with us.
"While a saint's consistency in prayer, corporate worship, and biblical meditation are not things that make God love him more or less, such activities tend to foster the beautiful experience of communion with God." There is a balance we must strike between taking God's love for us for granted, and trying to earn favor in the way we act. We can't earn favor with God, but we can cultivate our relationship with him.
Again, I think anyone who wants to foster their relationship with God and enjoy deeper intimacy with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit should pick up this book. It will be well worth the investment. More to come on this soon.
on September 11, 2013
Highly recommended to all who know and love the Triune God. From a theologian and pastor who lived out the truths he wrote of.
1Jn 1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—
1Jn 1:2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—
1Jn 1:3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.