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Biblical Theology (Puritan Writings) Hardcover – May 10, 2012
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Published in Latin in 1661 as a contribution to international reformed scholarship, this treatise draws on a very wide range of learning. The final part, in particular, where Owen characterizes evangelical theology as a gift of the Holy Spirit generating faith in Christ, holiness through Christ, and worship of Christ, is pure gold. Those with a taste for Owen, or for theology, or (best of all) for both, will read this Puritan proto-Biblical Theology with joy. --J. I. Packer, Board of Governors Professor of Theology, Regent College
Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Latin
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Biblical Theology is not necessarily a systematic theology as the title might suggest. Instead, it is the *history* of theology, rather than simply the expounding of theology. In a sense, Owen seems to be targeting a much wider audience than simply Christian believers, and there is really no direct, systematic presentation of biblical doctrine, per se. Instead, this work deals with how God has revealed Himself throughout human history, and how humans have or have not responded/interpreted this revelation. Thus, this history of theology, as Owen demonstrates, is how humans, both regenerate and unregenerate, have formed views of God (and ourselves), and have dealt with His various ways of revealing Himself down through history.
So in this examination of theology, Owen surveys a very wide field of philosophy, examining what kind of `theology' man has come up with in various ages. As a reader, we see here how unbelievably well-read Owen was in philosophy, not to mention his astounding grasp of history. Owen quotes the writings of the philosophers, both Christian and non-Christian, protestant and Catholic, and even Jewish and Muslim, dozens and dozens of times. For example, Plato is cited over 2 dozen times, as is Cicero, Aristotle, Augustine, etc.
So beginning with Adam, when for thousands of years there was no instituted `church', just families orally passing down the theology of God, Owen examines each age of the church in relation to theology formed, and does so in the order below:
-The Natural Theology of the First Man
-The Fall and loss of Natural Theology
-The Insufficiency of Natural Theology for Salvation
-Natural Theology Under Total Depravity (61 pages)
-The Renewal of Theology After the Fall
At this point, Owen demonstrates the first `reformation' of the church, which ends up happening after each stage of God's revelation. That is, the theology which God revealed to man after the fall, being to individuals and families only, and orally, not written, was insufficient in sustaining the Church, and thus reformation (cleaning out) and further revelation took place. This theme of revelation-apostasy-reformation-further revelation continues down through human history, as Owen brilliantly demonstrates. To give one good example, the flood was a `reformation' of sorts due to man's rebellion to how God had revealed Himself beforehand, and after the flood God purifies His church (indeed, the entire world) through Noah's family, and He gives them further revelation/theology post-flood to help curb the wickedness. This pattern is demonstrated by Owen to take place in various ages from Adam to its final culmination (and full reformation) in Christ and Christian theology.
One other note, Owen takes several `digressions' as he calls them, as particular topics come up that might influence a reader's opinion one way or another. Owen simply stops right in the middle of his argument and deals with these digressions in fairly extensive length. These include a digression on Universal Grace, on Bellarmine's Roman Notes of The Church, The Origin of Writing (very fascinating), The Antiquity of Hebrew, The Hebrew Vowel-Points, The Septuagint Greek Version, The Origin of the Targums, Jewish Rites and Christianity. Philosophical Corruptions of Theology.
To conclude with a few personal notes here:
1. The book is close to 1000pages with the introductions and appendix. It is a very tough read because of how detailed and long-winded Owen can be at times. This book is not meant for the weak or the wondering mind. Only the serious student will get through it, with others giving up within 200 pages or so. It is not especially entertaining or practical reading at times, and thus I would not recommend it to anyone but who is disciplined in their reading.
2. A beautiful aspect of this work is how Owen demonstrates (oftentimes, without even naming it specifically) the Regulative Principle of Worship, and how vitally important and foundational it is to proper theology. Owen never defends the principle in specifics, but he clearly shows, from a practical standpoint, how an abandonment of the Regulative Principle is the root of all idolatry. This aspect alone makes the book well worth the dedicated time it takes to get through it.
3. The last chapter on `Evangelical Theology' is truly, as JI Packer says, `Pure Gold'. It is worth the price of the book alone, as Owen beautifully sums up his entire argument, and the redemptive-historical method of biblical theology is wonderfully explained and proven. In short, Owen shows how vital the indwelling Spirit, and essentially the gospel, is to proper biblical interpretation, and this above and beyond those who stress secular academics as the highest means of interpreting scripture. This portion, I believe, would be very profitable in many circles today, even reformed circles, as proof-texting and an over-emphasis on `literal' and or `academic' interpretation of scripture is one fall-out from the fundamentalist movement of the last few decades.
4. Lastly, Owen provides an appendix entitled "A Defense of Scripture against Modern Fanaticism". This shows that even in his day people were interpreting scripture by the primary means of God inwardly talking to them or giving them impressions, and that Owen was indeed what we would call a Cessationist.
Overall, I give this book 4 stars out of 5. The length and detail of the work will prove way too much for it to be profitable to anyone but the serious student, and this is to be somewhat lamented.
It does not read like a novel, but it is worth the time to read Owen's material on Biblical theology.
Note: Biblical Theology is that which starts with Genesis and builds teachings based *only* on what the particular writers have to say about a topic, building the theme together as one progresses through Scripture. "Systematic Theology" is that which takes a topic (i.e., the atonement) and finds all applicable texts from all over Scripture to form a concise teaching of that doctrine.
Owen's book is a Biblical theology. He begins with the Garden and progresses through the whole of Scripture developing themes and teachings as he takes the reader through.
Difficult but very insightful!
One of the few issues I have with him is Owen's incessant use of "Church" to describe the OT Patriarchs and Israel. Easily remedied.
His masterful chapter 5 of book 6, on genuine salvation, is worth reprinting as a separate booklet.
Would I buy it again? Probably. I went ahead and purchased the 16 vol. Works of Owen, if that tells you anything.