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Communion with God: The Divine and the Human in the Theology of John Owen Paperback – March 1, 2007
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From the Back Cover
"This is a landmark book in modern Puritan study, and it is a joy to commend it."--J. I. Packer, from the foreword
"John Owen was one of the giants of Puritanism, his massive erudition displayed on every page of the many volumes that flowed from his pen. We now have no better guide to Owen's thought than Kapic's study. Focusing on the relation of humans to God and the communion with God established by Christ, Kapic masterfully opens up all aspects of the great Puritan's theology. This fresh look is a most welcomed resource as it probes significant aspects of Owen's thought for contemporary theology and Christian life."--Donald K. McKim, editor, Encyclopedia of the Reformed Faith
"Kelly Kapic's work makes two major contributions. First, Kapic effectively dislodges the assumption that pejoratively identifies the Protestant scholasticism of the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as being ossifying and unduly scholastic. He does so in a way that is truly ecumenical and amiable rather than pugnacious and polemical. Second, as the best examples of 'pre-critical' exegesis are in need of fresh attention, Kapic's sophisticated contextualization of Owen within the wider intellectual context of seventeenth-century Europe deserves our attention."--Paul C. H. Lim, Vanderbilt University; co-editor, The Cambridge Companion to Puritanism
"Those who know the theology of John Owen recognize one of the most powerful, and sometimes original, theologians to have written in the English language, but there are few studies tracing the themes and arguments of this great thinker. Thankfully, this is now being reversed, and Kapic's study not only provides the reader with a much-needed guide to the literature that is becoming available but also adds its own significant and powerful contribution. This is a clear, careful, and compelling exposition of a powerful and challenging theological scheme. It deserves to be widely read, for both the greatness of the subject and the ability of the interpreter."--Steven R. Holmes, St. Mary's College, University of St. Andrews
"Kapic is an able guide to England's greatest theologian, and he has restored Owen's remarkable exposition of communion with God to its central place. Here is a study that understands and underlines the Puritan conviction that all truly biblical theology is profoundly pastoral."--Sinclair B. Ferguson, senior minister, First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, SC; professor, Westminster Theological Seminary
"This well-rounded research will be of interest to anyone concerned with the development of Reformed theology from a historical or systematic perspective. Kapic's analysis is clear and well constructed, solidly grounded in an excellent grasp of recent writing on Owen and with a sure sense of where its own distinctive contribution lies. Kapic has produced a meticulous piece of scholarship, which brings a sophisticated and nuanced approach to the exploration of crucial themes in Owen's theology."--Susan Hardman Moore, School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh
"Kelly Kapic has carefully mined the theological riches of John Owen and has presented them for our study and edification. This welcome work provides the theological foundation for understanding the spiritual hunger and needs of our contemporary church and points us in the proper direction for addressing them. We are greatly in debt to Kapic for this reminder of the transforming message of John Owen for today."--Tom Schwanda, associate professor of Christian formation and ministry, Wheaton College
"This book, which draws from an impressive array of sources, is a marvelously rich, full, and systematic treatment of Owen's focus on communion with God. It will enhance our understanding and appreciation of Owen and, most importantly, of personal communion with the Triune God."--Joel R. Beeke, president and professor of systematic theology and homiletics, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary
About the Author
Kelly M. Kapic (PhD, King's College, University of London) is associate professor of theological studies at Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia. He is the coeditor, along with Randall Gleason, of The Devoted Life: An Invitation to the Puritan Classics.
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On communion with the Father, for example, "Owen encourages his readers to use their imagination by asking them to picture anything that appears to have a loving and tender nature in the world, and after imagining away any imperfections or weaknesses, the love of the Father becomes easier to conceive: He is as a father, a mother, a shepherd, a hen over chickens. All these earthly manifestation of love serve as imperfect pointers to the source of love itself, the perfect love of the Father."(p.170). Further down the line of thoughts, under the same heading of the communion and love of the Father, he also commented, "Believers also discover God to be their rest and delight. While the soul has looked for a place to rest from its wanderings, nothing it has loved satisfies its longing until it embraces God, who alone fills the soul with present and eternal rest," (p.172), which does two things. First, it reminds me of Augustine's famous quote, "that he is happy who possesses God. You made us for yourself, and our hearts find no peace till they rest in you."
Second, this could be a reference of Owen's uncommon interpretation of Heb 4:10. Here we see the difficulty associated with the word "he" which is in the King James Version that Owen most likely used, and modern translations that use the word "anyone" (NIV) and "whoever" (ESV) that causes a significantly different interpretation. While most scholars agree that "he" or "whoever" or "anyone" in v.10 refers to believers and the word "rest" means the eternal rest in heaven, Owen, on the contrary, gives convincing arguments why "he", not "anyone" or "whoever", actually refers to Christ and "rest" refers to Christ resting, not literally, after the Resurrection; the completion of his redemptive work. The "rest" referred to here is not only primarily "peace and communion with God" which is available to all believers at the present time, but also points to a future blessedness of an interrupted eternal communion with God in heaven, and indeed is exhorted in the next verse 11, where "us" refers to believers, and "make every effort to enter this rest" means to earnestly pursue to delight in this most precious communion with God, even at the present time, which Prof J.I Packer describes as "the essence of true religion" and "the definition of Christianity."
On the work of each Person of the Trinity, Owen summarizes it as follows, "The emanation of divine love to us begins with the Father,... the Father designing, the Son purchasing, the Spirit effectually working." (p.187) To me, this sounds like the doctrine of the sovereignty, exhaustive foreknowledge of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Now while covering the communion with the Holy Spirit, I saw a warning for both sides of evangelical camps; the Cessasionists and the "Enthusiasts"; the former being those who tend to discount today's greater miraculous manifestations of the Holy Spirit and the latter being the Pantecostals who tend to go to the other extreme. On p.219 and in the table on p.220, Owen indicates the danger of both extremes. On the Cessasionists' side where there tends to be a paranoia when the subject of the Holy Spirit is brought up, the results are, "... dependence on the Spirit's ministry and gifting is lessened, leaving instead a sophisticated liturgy devoid of spiritual power", "... the Spirit is neglected. ... cry up ordinances without the Spirit, a ministry without the Spirit, reading of word enough without preaching or praying by the Spirit, [and] allowed a literal embracing of what Christ had done in the flesh." To my surprise, in response to this extreme, "Owen boldly proclaims, `Let us be zealous of the gifts of the Spirit, not envious at them.'" The effects of the other extreme are equally dangerous, where Owen believes in this case, "... Satan's tactic moved from outrightly opposing the Spirit to masquerading as him," and the resulting errors are, "Cry up a spirit without and against ordinances, a spirit without ministry, the Spirit is enough without reading or studying the Word, [and] talks of Christ in the Spirit only, denying he came in the flesh."
Likewise, Owen warns the danger of both extremes in the last chapter, of interpreting the Lord's Supper; transubstantiation and empty symbolism; or in my view, a better way to describe the latter is "thoughtless and affectionless symbolism". Indeed Owen seems to be hammering over and over again on the importance and preciousness of a heartfelt observation of the Lord's Supper; the reason being not only is it for "our further growth in Christ", but also through which we "enjoy a special (and here I would add personal) fellowship with God", and the participation of which "brings the same advantage as there would have been if we had stood by the cross." Finally, there are some quotes worth pondering at the end; "Proportional to the renovation of the image and likeness of God upon any of our souls, is our love to Jesus Christ. He that knows Christ most, is most like unto God; for there the soul of God rests... Human communion with God occurs in, with and through the incarnate Christ. The person who seeks renewal in God's image must exercise his love for Christ... Humans reflect God to the degree that they love Jesus Christ... A person never images God more clearly than when he or she is loving Jesus Christ. To love Christ is to love God; to oppose Christ is to oppose God. To be loved by Christ is to be loved by God. To be fully human as originally created is to be in communion with God, and that fellowship can only be centered upon Christ, where God and humanity meet." (p.232-233)
Kapic is no stranger to the Puritans or to Owen. He has preciously edited with Randall Gleason, The Devoted Life: An Invitation to the Puritan Classics (IVP) and has recently updated a number of John Owen's works with the help of Justin Taylor (Overcoming Sin and Temptation and Communion with the Triune God both from Crossway). This volume is the edited substance of his PhD dissertation from King's College, University of London).
Owen serves as crucial figure for study in the life of the Puritans. The "Calvin of England," the chaplain to Oliver Cromwell, the Presbyterian turned Congregationalist, the writer of numerous books, the preacher of many sermons, the scholarly academic, the admirer of the country preacher (Bunyan to be precise), Owen is a necessary figure to study. Many find him daunting as his writing has been referred to as "dense." Therefore, a study like Kapic's on the relationship of the divine and human in Owen's thought, is most needed in our day of both historical and theological imprecision.
The primary thrust then of the thought of the book revolves around the relationship between God and man. Kapic writes near the end of his introductory chapter on the life of Owen, "Since humanity was created to commune with God, the theological enterprise must be primarily concerned with understanding humanity in its relation with God. As we see at the very end of our study, being made in God's image is primarily about loving Jesus Christ, who is the mediator between God and humanity. This unique relationship is ultimately what defines being in communion with God" (pp. 33-34). Kapic then proceeds to flesh out this thinking in the following chapters. Chapter 2 deals with exploring humanity as made in the image of God and works through Owen's use of faculty psychology, and a brief survey of humanity through history, providing a framework for fitting creation, fall, and redemption into Owen's thinking on the relationship between God and man. In chapter 3 Kapic turns to the ultimate expression of relationship between God and man, the God-man, Jesus Christ and answers questions like, why the incarnation? Chapter 4 deals with the issue of justification and works through Owen's understanding of faith and his disagreement with Roman Catholic opponents and how he understands negative and positive imputation. Chapter 5 moves to the main core of the book which is human communion with God. Specifically Kapic looks at Owens's creative attempt to view the Trinity within the context of worship. Finally, in chapter 6, he turns to the Lord's day and the Lord's supper which are two examples that Owen uses to foster the relationship between God and man.
The book is a great success in working through the massive writing of Owen on these issues and develops for readers today, a helpful theological construct in understanding the theology behind the relationship between God and man. In a day when there is an incredible lack of focus on precision in theology, especially in the life of the church, a study of a great theologian and church man like Owen on these issues is incredibly important. In a brief review like this, one cannot work through all the work that Kapic has done here but suffice to say, this is a rich work that deserves wide readership and hopefully, a desire to go back to the sources and read Owen himself. Owen has much to say to readers today if they are willing to pursue the hard work of mining the riches of this great man. The importance of this book is summed up from part of the forward by the great student of the Puritan's himself, J.I. Packer:
For understanding, enjoying, and communicating communion with God was what Owen understood his life and ministry to be all about. His writings reveal him as not only an evangelical confessor and controversialist in the Reformed mainstream, but also as a Calvinist catechist, weaving in applicatory pastoral rhetoric at every point. Dr. Kapic coins the word anthroposensitive to characterize this aspect of his expository method. It fits. This is a landmark book in modern Puritan study, and it is a joy to commend it.
This reviewer completely agrees. This book is recommended for seminary students and professors, pastors, and believers who have a serious desire to study in depth theology and church history. Tolle lege!