Ryan M. McGraw. The Foundation of Communion with God: The Trinitarian Piety of John Owen. Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014. 136 pp. $10.00. Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Christianbook.com | Reformation Heritage Books
John Owen offers the world a prolific treasury of theological riches. This 17th century English non-conformist renaissance man provided a richly biblical and affectionate reply to the theological controversies of his day. Recognizing that the work of John Owen is little known outside very compact theological circles, Carl Trueman remarks, “This is unfortunate, for Owen was without doubt the most significant theological intellect in England in the third quarter of the seventeenth century, and one of the two or three most impressive Protestant theologians in Europe at the time.” Ryan M. McGraw, likewise, recognizes this paucity of Owen recognition. Therefore his book, The Foundation of Communion with God: The Trinitarian Piety of John Owen, seeks to introduce a wider audience to the theological brilliance and biblical spirituality of this most accomplished thinker. This accessible volume, published by Reformation Heritage Books in the Profiles in Reformed Spirituality series, gives readers an entry point into understanding and appreciating the theological mind of John Owen.
Divided into three sections and forty-one short chapters, McGraw draws from selections of Owen’s writings to demonstrate his rich Trinitarian piety. Missing in this text is a more robust engagement with Owen’s thought, so interested readers should look elsewhere for such a text. For that interested person, McGraw provides three brief but helpful appendices with a reading strategy for Owen, as well as timeline of his published works, and a starting place for secondary sources on Owen. The majority of the text is devoted to short edited chapters from Owen which speak to his richly affectionate language for the love of God. These short chapters read almost like a John Owen devotional, yet are more than just a helpful “thought for the day.” Owen moves from deep ruminations on our communion with Christ, to the necessity of the Spirit in the life of the believer, to profound reflections on the love of the Father. Regarding worship Owen maintains, “The proper and peculiar object of divine worship and invocation is the essence of God, in its infinite excellency, dignity, majesty, and its causality, as the first sovereign cause of all things” (58). Regarding the weightiness of the Lord’s Supper Owen remarks, “The principal design of the gospel is to declare to us the love and grace of Christ and our reconciliation to God by His blood. Howbeit, herein there is such an eminent representation of them as cannot be made by words.” (129).
The previous quotations reveal one of the potential stumbling block in making the book accessible—Owen himself. The language, while not being overly abstract, is not a kind of English most of us encounter on an everyday basis. Additionally, this introduction to the writings of Owen may not be the first book you hand a new believer. It can, however, serve as a personal devotional piece or even a text for a discussion group or spiritual mentoring relationship. The richness of theological truth represented in Owen represents the fundamental facets of the Christian faith, therefore all readers should appreciate and seek to learn from this learned voice within Christian history. As such, Owen sets the bar high for readers, but McGraw does an admirable job of helping hoist readers up to that bar. This text is an impactful volume as McGraw lets Owen speak for himself, mining the depths of Owen’s thought to present a readable introduction to the piety of this still little known Christian sage of the seventeenth century.
Thanks to Reformation Heritage Books for providing a free review copy in exchange for an honest review!
The title “renaissance man” comes from the title of Carl Trueman’s biography of Owen entitled John Owen: Reformed Catholic, Renaissance Man (Hampshire, England: Ashgate, 2007).
Trueman, John Owen, 1.