McGraw, R. (Ed.). (2014). The Foundation of Communion with God: The Trinitarian Piety of John Owen (p. 136). Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books.
In a scene from a popular childhood movie Revered Paul Ford stands high atop his pulpit and declares with force that, “Death comes unexpectedly,” effectively catching the attention of his congregation. Cast as, what some would call a Puritan, the Reverend incites fear into his congregation to the effect that an altar call would cause the same kind of response for repentance. In a very “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” sort of way the Rev. goes on to speak only of the impending wrath due them. In this false view of what Puritans were like, Hollywood makes an assumption that this is how their preaching was really done. In fact, as we shall see in The Foundation of Communion with God: The Trinitarian Piety of John Owen, Puritan preaching was very God focused and full of wise yet gracious words.
An excellent addition to the Profiles in Reformed Spirituality series, the editors do an excellent job of making the brightest of the English Puritans accessible to the average reader. The works of John Owen, which have seen a resurgence in popularity recently, have been chopped up into 41 devotional chapters which gives the reader a flyover view of the 24 volumes which have Owen’s name on the spine.
McGraw introduces us to Owen and sets the context in which we are to read his works. The worth of reading Owen is noted early on when he reveals a little of this giant’s theology by saying that, “Owen potentially meets several contemporary needs at once. First, he provides us with a model of the inseparable connection between doctrine and piety in Reformed theology. Second, he places the doctrine of the Trinity, which is merely an intellectual exercise for many people, at the heart of Christian experience and godly living. Third, he recognizes that who we worship and how we worship Him is not a secondary question in the Christian life.” (2)
Being intimidated by Owen in the past I have not gotten past the title on much of his works. Diving right into this volume was a different experience. McGraw has made Owen very clear by providing some definitions of words long forgotten and expressions which may be strange to the reader. At the end of this little volume McGraw provides a section on reading Owen and where one should begin his lifelong endeavor through the works of Owen. I appreciate this section because I’ve heard lots of great theologians talk about Owen but not so specifically as to what works one should pick up in order not to be immediately overrun by the sheer genius that God has blessed Owen with.
This volume was concise and filled with extremely practical applications. The writing of Owen jumped off the page and became alive as I read of communing with God in ways I have not experienced. The Christ that worked in these mighty Puritans works in our lives as well and there should be no reason to ignore these men who point us to the awesomeness of Christ and how to have a deeper and more loving communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.