on 3 November 2007
It was pleasure to re-read this classic by one of the greats of theology in this wonderful new edition. Following on from the success of Overcoming Sin and Temptation, Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor have produced an updated, but unabridged, version of the John Owen's Communion with God.
Let me give you three reasons why you might want to read it.
First, John Owen emphasises the mutuality of communion with God. Conservative evangelicalism has a tendency to emphasise objectivity in its understanding of the Christian life, sometimes to the near exclusion of subjectivity. We are left with a rationalistic approach in which we simply live out the logic of the faith handed down to us. Owen is a wonderful counter-balance to this. Communion with God will restore in you what used to be called `experiential Christianity' - Christianity that is experienced.
Objectivity is there, of course, as it must be. Owen argues that communion with God (subjective experience) is based on union with God in Christ (objective reality). Communion is a mutual, but this grounded on the unilateral, gracious work of God in uniting us with Christ. What I want to highlight, however, is that the experience of communion with God is mutual. It is, argues Owen, an experience of giving and receiving.
Second, I love Owen's trinitarian approach. Communion with God is communion with the persons of the Trinity. What I particularly appreciate is that this trinitarianism does not simply mean, as it often does for people today, that Owen has something to say about the Father, then the Son and then the Spirit. No, Owen's is a proper trinitarianism in which the threeness of God and the oneness of God are always integrated. He does this by emphasising that the work of one is the work of the three. In Christ we do not relate to part of God: we relate to God.
Third, Owen is great on the love of God, particularly the love of the Father, though the same emphasis comes through with the Son and Spirit. We can often think of the Father as ill-disposed towards us or distant from us. Jesus becomes the `kind' person of the Trinity. But Owen beautifully expounds the love of the Father. The work of the Son is the outcome of the Father's love. In his introduction, Kelly highlights one area in which this is relevant for us today:
It is also the danger of evangelical Christians who, in practice, live as if God's love for them ebbs and flows according to their actions. So when we have our quiet times for the day, or when we have given a tithe, we are confident of God's love toward us. But when our days become crowded and personal devotions end up neglected, we start to avoid God, sensing that we are under his wrath and anger. We imagine that God is waiting for us to get ourselves together before we again enter his presence. Such thinking betrays our failure to grasp the security of our union and the depth of God's love and consequently disrupts our communion with him. (p. 30).
As for this edition, I have nothing but praise for it (except, of course, that, as a Brit, I must object to the Americanisation of the spellings). Long paragraphs have been broken up, spelling and punctuation modernized, headings have been added, Owen's own (often convoluted) numbering replaced with a separate outline and foreign quotations translated. Communion with God was not one of the Owen's hard works to read. This edition makes reading it a pleasure. It is capped off with a great introduction by Kelly Kapic - a fine example of theological exposition encompassing the relevant historical background, a summary that illuminates the main text and pointers to its contemporary significance.