Category Archives: BR > P&R
Blog readers here know I particularly like to focus my attention on the many consequences of Christ’s glorious resurrection, the promise of the New Creation being one of these consequences. Recently I came across the following quote in a really excellent book by Michael Williams, Far As The Curse Is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption (P&R, 2005). This comes under the heading “The Resurrection Previews the Final Chapter: The Restoration of Creation.”
The flesh Jesus takes on in the incarnation is a flesh he never lays down. It is there in his ministry: Immanuel, God with us, come in the flesh to cure his broken world. And that same flesh, repaired, renewed, and glorified in resurrection, is there in the risen and ascended Christ. In Jesus’ bodily resurrection we view with Thomas the very meaning of the resurrection: the restoration of creation.
G. C. Berkouwer once observed that if we conceive of the Christian faith—and what it proclaims about human destiny and the goal of all things—apart from reference to the resurrection of Christ, without appreciating its nature as the restoration of all things, then we have not truly grasped the nature of redemption. Since we have been born again to “a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3), the hope of the believer “rests on a promise inseparable from the salvation already granted” in Christ’s resurrection from the dead.
In God’s mighty act of raising Jesus bodily from the grave we are right to glimpse the final chapter of the drama of redemption. Indeed, an understanding of redemption that fails to take its moorings from Christ’s victory over sin and death via bodily resurrection, and the promise of ultimate restoration of all things declared by the empty tomb, is not a biblical understanding of redemption at all. …
The resurrection is something of a foretaste, a movie trailer or commercial for God’s ultimate future, for in Christ’s resurrection we have a picture of the future given before its arrival. The end is seen ahead of time. As the beginning and foretaste of the future, the resurrection is the firstfruits or the first stage of the coming redemption. The bodily resurrection of Christ not only signifies God’s victory over sin and death but also declares the nature of that victory. It is total, comprehensive; so comprehensive that it claims that history is moving toward nothing less than a fully restored and glorified universe. Those who are in Christ, along with the entirety of creation, will receive his resurrection life upon his appearing (Rom. 8:21-25).
2009 marks the 500th birthday of Jean Cauvin. You may have noticed a lot of buzz around the reformer this year, as evidenced by the stack of new books published on Calvin in 2009. Included in that stack of new releases is one creative historical novel of the life of Calvin, The Betrayal (P&R 2009). The novel is written from the perspective of a (fictional) confidant, turned betrayer of Calvin, named Jean-Louis Mourin. But much of the book’s detail and dialog is taken straight from the letters and sermons of Calvin. The book is well written and the author pulls you into life during the period of the reformation. I hope to have it read by the end of the long weekend.
Today I’ll share an excerpt from the book that provides us a peek into how the reformation affected the average person. When I read this it reminded me of the scenes in the modern Luther movie featuring the young mom with her crippled daughter. Or the scene of the masses praying up the stairs in Rome on their knees. These little snapshots are reminders that the reformation was more than academic kerfuffle over doctrine. The doctrinal debates were vital to the reformation because they made the gospel clear, prioritized the preaching of the Word of God, and sharpened the practices of the church. And these changes directly influenced the lives of commoners. I find my appreciation for the reformation deepens when I am invited into the story to brush shoulders with fellow commoners and to view the reformation changes from their eyes.
An excerpt from The Betrayal:
That evening, with torches burning, Calvin stepped before a peasant band of illiterates, who reeked of the hayfields, of laboring sweat, and of chickens. Standing before a rough stone for a pulpit, opening his Gospels, he read therein to the people. I studied their faces as they listened. For many it must have been the first time they had ever heard and understood the words they were hearing in their own language. Hence, there was wonder glowing in the cheeks of a fair maiden, there were tears of joy in the eyes of an old man, there was hunger and attention on the faces of fathers and mothers and ruddy-cheeked youths.
When he completed his sermon, I observed him—nay, I was drawn into assisting him—as he offered the bread of the Lord’s Supper to these poor folks. Scowling, I rendered up our last loaf into Calvin’s waiting hands, wondering what we would eat that night. He proceeded to break it.
“From the physical things set forth in the sacrament we are led by analogy to spiritual things. This bread is given as a symbol of Christ’s body, and as bread nourishes, sustains, and keeps the body, so Christ’s body is the only food to invigorate and enliven our soul.”
He paused, then continued. “Christ said, ‘This is my body which is given for you.’ All those here who genuinely hope in Christ alone for their eternal salvation, freely take and eat.”
When our last loaf had been mangled by the coarse hands of the attending peasants, and not a crumb remained, Calvin continued.
“When they had eaten, our Lord took up the cup and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant shed for many. Drink all of it.’”
Beckoning me to him, he whispered in my ear for me to bring to him a bottle of wine and a cup. When I had fetched these from our cart and handed these to him, I expected Calvin to do what every priest in Christendom always did: while the peasant masses looked on in thirst, the priest quaffed the wine to the dregs. So it had, in my experience, always been. But not so John Calvin. He did the remarkable, the unthinkable.
Pouring wine into the cup, he held it in both hands and said, “When Christ sets wine before us as a symbol of his blood, we must reflect on the benefits which wine imparts to the body, and so realize that the same are spiritually imparted to us by Christ’s blood. These benefits are to nourish, refresh, and gladden our hearts. So Christ, by the mystery of his secret union with the devout, does with his blood for our souls. All you who trust alone in Christ’s blood and imputed righteousness for your salvation, take and drink.”
He extended the cup of wine to the one nearest him. The poor soul stared blankly back at Calvin. Never before in the Roman Mass had the priest so extended the cup to him. Never before had the elements in both kinds been offered to the common man. Not one of them made a move to receive the cup. Wine was for the priests, but here, for the first time in centuries, Calvin was extending the cup of wine to the peasants.
“Take and drink,” he said again. This time he took hold of the man’s hand and placed the cup in it. “Now drink,” he said kindly.
—Douglas Bond, The Betrayal (P&R 2009), pp. 251-253.
Along with classic oxymorons like “jumbo shrimp” and “pretty ugly” we can add a new phrase—“concise 940-page book.”
The new Concise Reformed Dogmatics from P&R is a contemporary, single-volume systematic theology that collects the best of the rich reformed theology of our Dutch friends.
For a single-volume theology I’ve never seen anything like it.
There is no doubt that authors could have easily fluffed this volume out into a 3 or 4 volume series. But instead they carefully distilled the content into a “concise” and sharpened format. And it doesn’t take long to notice this in the details and in the weightiness of each sentence.
The contemporary Dutch authors (J. van Genderen and W. H. Velema) and the English translators (Gerrit Bilkes and Ed M. van der Maas) have blessed the church with an excellent work of theology that captures the best dogmatic exegesis, the most valuable thoughts of Augustine, John Calvin, and Martin Luther, the best of our Dutch homeboys like Herman Bavinck, Wilhelmus à Brakel, and Abraham Kuyper and manage to interact frequently with the notorious Karl Barth.
Typical of Dutch dogmatics, it’s really not exactly what we think of in American when we talk about “systematic theology.” It’s more a combination of a little John Frame ethics and a little J.I. Packer practical theology added to Wayne Grudem’s systematic theology. I mean when is the last time you read a systematic theology with sections covering prayer, mission work, and human sexuality?
For a single-volume dogmatic, this is a precious gift to the church. And despite it’s length (940 pages) and price tag ($40) the addition of this volume to your library is worth consideration.
You can view the table of contents and a sample chapter over here.
Title: Concise Reformed Dogmatics
Authors: J. van Genderen and W. H. Velema (Dutch)
Translators: Gerrit Bilkes and Ed M. van der Maas (English)
PDFs: Sample chapters available here.
Boards: cloth (as in real cloth)
Dust jacket: yes
Topical index: yes
Scriptural index: yes
Text: perfect type
Year: 1992 (Dutch) + 2008 (English)
Price USD: $59.99 / $40.79 at Westminster
Until recently, readers wanting to tackle the works of Cornelius Van Til could expect a number of difficulties along the way. Van Til’s complex and lengthy arguments, and his robust vocabulary, had the potential at any point to turn a reader’s well-fought comprehension into a concession of confusion. Readers (like myself) need a trail guide through the writings of Van Til. And now we have them.
P&R has been releasing classic works by Van Til in a retypeset version of the original, adding to them detailed introductions and hundreds of clarifying footnotes to lead the reader in their journey through the works of this pioneer of apologetics. To date three volumes are available in their newly edited form:
Christian Apologetics, second edition, edited by William Edgar (P&R, 2003). Paperback, 206 pages. $10.39.
An Introduction to Systematic Theology, second edition, edited by William Edgar (P&R, 2007). Paperback, 409 pages. $13.64.
The Defense of the Faith, fourth edition, edited by K. Scott Oliphint (P&R, 2008). Paperback, 427 pages. $13.19.
The stack of excellent Christian books published in 2007 would reach at least 5 feet in the air. So while I’m privileged to have read so many great books, whittling down my top 30 favorites is no easy assignment.
In the past, some TSS readers have asked what criteria I use in making this determination and I admit it’s very subjective. My list of top books is based upon a personal opinion of the overall value of individual volumes. Which volumes pioneer new territory? Which books clarify topics of great importance? Which books from 2007 will my kids read in 10 years?
Included in the list are complex doctrinal books, academic polemics, historical biographies, children’s books, marriage books, exegetical guides, etc. My reading interests are wide open, and so is the TSS book of the year competition. There are book recommendations for pretty much all readers.
Themes in 2007
Topically, 2007 will be remembered as the year where precious doctrines like justification and the atonement took rightful center stage (see The Truth of the Cross by R.C. Sproul, The Great Exchange by Bridges and Bevington, and also #3, #12, and #25 on the top-30 list). The doctrine of assurance was the focus of two excellent new volumes (see #13 and #23). Church history and the events of the Reformation found themselves in three excellent volumes (see #8, #11, and #30). But 2007 will also be remembered as the year of John Owen, reformed spirituality, and communion with God (see #6, #14, #15, and #21). We also saw the publishing of one of the best new children’s books (see #4). All around, it was a very fruitful year for some very important topics.
2007 Books of the Year
But two books stand apart from the rest in 2007, because they are volumes that promise to shed a wealth of understanding over large sections of Scripture. They captured my attention because I know I myself have some work to do in discovering the richness of God’s revealed truth in Scripture (and especially in the Old Testament narratives).
So today I happily announce the 2007 TSS books of the year – The ESV Literary Study Bible by Leland and Philip Ryken and An Old Testament Theology by Bruce Waltke.
TSS top-30 books from 2007
1 (tie). ESV Literary Study Bible edited by Leland and Philip Ryken (Crossway). Getting readers comfortable enough to read large selections of Scripture was formerly the work of dynamic equivalent translations like The Message. But the Rykens establish a framework for readers to comprehend large sections of Scripture for themselves by introducing each chapter, exposing the literary style of the work, and providing a general outline of what to expect. Then readers can jump into the literature of Scripture to experience the text for themselves. In the end, the Rykens have produced a Bible that retains the “word-for-word” literal language of the ancient Scriptures (ESV) while helping readers along in fruitful comprehension. Readers who have never enjoyed the Bible from cover-to-cover will especially benefit and find the biblical storyline easier to follow. This is no ordinary study Bible, and it is one that will be cherished by the church long into the future. We wrote a full review of the LSB and also talked with Leland Ryken about it this Summer. $31.49
1 (tie). An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach by Bruce Waltke (Zondervan). Some of the details of the Old Testament appear to simply hang suspended for the modern reader. Let’s take Exodus 2:11 for example: Why is it important that Moses became angry when he saw the harsh treatment of the Israelite by an Egyptian? Why did Moses kill the Egyptian? Why would the biblical author record this event in the first place? Some events in the Old Testament don’t entirely make sense on the surface. Waltke takes these events from the biblical narratives and weaves them into the bigger storyline of Scripture. For this specific example, it helps to understand that Moses was in transition from his identity in Pharaoh’s palace to his new identity with Israel (p. 352). Exodus 2:11 is actually critical in establishing Moses’ transition from Egyptian-raised to Israel’s front-man in the Exodus. And this is just one itsy-bitsy detail from the Old Testament. By taking these seemingly disconnected events and connecting them into the bigger picture of Scripture, Waltke has given us a very helpful guide to understanding the Old Testament. And his insights into the Ten Commandments are worth the price of the volume (see pp. 415-433). In the end, Waltke’s clear articulation of the Old Testament informs the church of her past and thereby informs her present identity. This is a volume you will want to read slowly and digest fully, perhaps within a group of fellow Christians. It will open up the theology and storyline of the Old Testament like no other book I’ve seen. Read more about this volume in our full review. $29.69
3. Pierced for our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution (UK:IVP/US:Crossway). Written by Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach, this book has proven to be a huge success in both the UK and the US in defending the core of the atonement of Jesus Christ. If you want to understand the Cross at a deeper level (don’t we all) you will cherish this volume. It will go on my shelf along with some of the giants on this topic (like Stott). But what makes this volume especially important is the central role it represents in bringing together a worldwide brotherhood of Christians who believe and cherish the penal substitutionary atonement of the Cross. What Together for the Gospel and the Gospel Coalition conferences have done to unify American churches and ministries around these precious truths, Pierced for Our Transgressions has accomplished on an international scale. $16.50
4. The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name by Sally Lloyd-Jones (Zondervan). Finding children’s books that introduce little ones to the major stories of the Bible while simultaneously pointing their souls to the Cross is a rarity. This is perhaps the best children’s storybook Bible on the market, and a must-have for any parent of young children. Incredible illustrations, too. $11.65
5. When Sinners Say “I Do”: Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage by Dave Harvey (Shepherd Press). Harvey has blessed couples with an excellent book for connecting the Cross to the daily trials and triumphs of marriage. Don’t attempt marriage without the Gospel. Bring Harvey along to explain why. $11.16
6. Communion with the Triune God by John Owen (Crossway). The classic book written by English Puritan John Owen resurfaced in 2007, in a new edition edited by Kelly Kapic and Justin Taylor. It’s unlikely I can overstate the importance of Taylor and Kapic’s editorial work in introducing Owen to the new generation of young, reformed Christians. An excellent follow-up to last year’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation (Crossway). $14.96
7. Doing Things Right in Matters of the Heart by John Ensor (Crossway). Ensor provides an excellent introduction to biblical manhood and femininity that will help engaged or married couples understand their God-ordained roles. This book is perhaps the best introductory volume on these often controversial topics. $9.59
8. The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World by Stephen Nichols (Crossway). With brevity, pictures, call-out boxes and humor, Stephen Nichols walks through the highlights of the Reformation to help us see that “the Reformers saw nothing less than the gospel at stake” (p. 21). It’s cliché, but true: I couldn’t put this volume down. Nichols is always good, but especially here. $10.39
9. The Reading and Preaching of the Scripture in the Worship of the Christian Church: The Modern Age by Hughes Oliphant Old (Eerdmans). This is volume six of Old’s large series tracing out the history of preaching from the Biblical era (vol. 1; 1998), the Patristic age (vol. 2; 1998), the Medieval church (vol. 3; 1999), the Reformation period (vol. 4; 2002), during Moderatism, Pietism and Awakening (vol. 5; 2004) and now the most recent volume covering the modern age of 1789-1989. Volume six alone is about 1,000 pages and covers preachers like Broadus, Kuyper, Maclaren, Moody, Spurgeon and Lloyd-Jones. Very insightful work on the history of preaching that has replaced Dargan on my shelves. $36.50
10. Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards’ ‘Religious Affections’ by Samuel Storms (Crossway). Edwards’ work is classic, and Storms helps the contemporary reader glean its gold. Excellent commentary on one of Edwards’ most valuable works. $10.87
11. Church History: A Crash Course for the Curious by Christopher Catherwood (Crossway). Catherwood sets out the history of the Church from a global perspective, and at all times relays the implications of history to contemporary events. This “crash course” is another volume published this year for a popular audience that will help readers grown in appreciation for developments in the church’s history. $12.99
12. The Future of Justification: A Response to N.T. Wright by John Piper (Crossway). Piper excels with a clarification on justification in light of the contemporary debate. $12.23
13. Assured by God: Living in the Fullness of God’s Grace by Philip Graham Ryken, Al Mohler, Joel Beeke, Sinclair Ferguson, John MacArthur, Jerry Bridges and R.C. Sproul (P&R). This collaborative effort is a very helpful collection of essays on the topic of the reformed doctrine of assurance. How do we know that we know God? (see Tullian Tchividjian’s work later.) $12.24
14. Sweet Communion: Trajectories of Spirituality from the Middle Ages through the Further Reformation (Baker Academic). Written originally in Dutch by Arie de Reuver, this academic work was made available in English in 2007. It traces the influences of Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) and Thomas à Kempis (1379-1471) upon the “Dutch Puritans” like Willem Teellinck, Herman Witsius and Thodorus and Wilhelmus à Brakel. The seven biographies that fill this volume are excellent. This volumes helps us develop a “reformed spirituality,” a seeking after God’s presence illuminated by genuine theology. $21.89
15. The Inner Sanctum of Puritan Piety: John Flavel’s Doctrine of Mystical Union with Christ (Reformation Heritage Books). Flavel is one of the most valuable Puritans, and this study by Stephen J. Yuille looks at one facet of his theology. The doctrine of the believer’s union with Christ lies at the heart of the Puritan pursuit of godliness, and this small but wonderful outline traces the doctrine generally and highlights Flavel’s rich teaching specifically. $12.00
16. Chosen for Life: The Case for Divine Election (Crossway) by Sam Storms. Originally published in 1987 by Baker under the title, Chosen for Life: An introductory guide to the doctrine of divine election, Storms’ work was republished in 2007 and remains one of the clearest defenses for reformed soteriology. $12.23
17. Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate by Jerry Bridges (NavPress). Hitting from all sides, Bridges confronts all those sins we would rather not talk about, and provides a very Cross-centered approach to killing the flesh. $12.91
18. B.B. Warfield: Essays on His Life and Thought edited by Gary L.W. Johnson (P&R). Part biography, part theology, this new book on Warfield provides a treasure of essays on the thought and life of the outstanding theologian. $15.59
19. A Sweet Flame: Piety in the Letters of Jonathan Edwards by Michael A.G. Haykin (Reformation Heritage Books). A short but excellent collection of Edwards’ most important and moving personal letters, this little volume makes a great gift. $7.50
20. By Faith Alone: Answering the Challenges to the Doctrine of Justification edited by Gary L.W. Johnson and Guy P. Waters (Crossway). Including chapters by David Wells, Cornelius Venema and Al Mohler, this work tackles contemporary attacks upon the gospel (and especially those of N.T. Wright). $12.23
21. Communion with God: The Divine and the Human in the Theology of John Owen by Kelly Kapic (Baker Academic). The long-awaited printing of Kapic’s research did not disappoint. On these same lines, Kapic also wrote the introduction to Communion with God (see #6). $18.47
22. The Expository Genius of John Calvin by Steven J. Lawson (Reformation Trust). This short work traces out 32 distinctives from the expositional ministry of the great Reformer, and sets them out as patterns for contemporary preachers. A short and encouraging work for pastors.
23. Do I Know God? Finding Certainty in Life’s Most Important Relationship by Tullian Tchividjian (Random House). An understanding of assurance written from a very personal and compelling vantage point. Excellent in content, but I especially appreciate the format that other writers can follow in communicating biblical doctrine to a new generation of readers. $11.55
24. Interpreting the Psalms: An Exegetical Handbook by Mark D. Futato (Kregel). Excellent little handbook in helping expositors pull all the meat from the Psalms for their their sermon preparations. Not just exegetical, but also helpful in determining the overall theology of the Psalms. $14.27
25. Justified in Christ: God’s Plan for us in Justification (Christian Focus). Edited by K. Scott Oliphant this compilation includes an intro by Sinclair Ferguson and chapters by men like Carl Trueman, William Edgar and Peter Lillback on the importance of justification by faith alone, in Christ alone. Looks at traditional problems with Roman Catholic theology and contemporary concerns with N.T. Wright on union and imputation. $12.99
26. The Majesty of God in the Old Testament: A Guide for Preaching and Teaching (Baker Academic). Renowned Old Testament scholar Walter C. Kaiser Jr. says we should preach more of the Old Testament and in his newest book he takes the preacher by the hand and shows them exactly how. Walking through 10 texts, Kaiser models exegesis and outlining of each specific texts. But in it’s easy-to-read format and concluding application questions in each chapter, this book will double as a group study of God in the Old Testament. $11.55
27. Preaching the Cross: Together for the Gospel (Crossway). The transcripts from the 2006 Together for the Gospel conference written and delivered by Ligon Duncan, Al Mohler, Mark Dever, C.J. Mahaney, John MacArthur, John Piper and R.C. Sproul. An all-star lineup and one of the best compilation on the topic of preaching the gospel. $13.59
28. Revelation and Reason: New Essays in Reformed Apologetics (P&R). Edited by K. Scott Oliphint and Lane G. Tipton. Yet another excellent collection of essays from P&R that captured my attention and helped me work through various difficulties in apologetics. $18.24
29. The Faithful Preacher: Recapturing the Vision of Three Pioneering African-American Pastors by Thabiti Anyabwile (Crossway). Highlights Lemuel Haynes (1753-1833), Daniel A. Payne (1811-1893) and Francis J. Grimké (1850-1937). The book contains one short biography of each man, but is largely comprised of sermon transcripts. Anyabwile’s book is especially important because he is challenging the contemporary African-American churches to consider the gospel of first importance and is thereby calling for large-scale reform. $10.87
30. Reformation Heroes: A Simple, Illustrated Overview of People Who Assisted in the Great Work of the Reformation by Joel R. Beeke and Diana Kleyn (Reformation Heritage). The men, women and events of the Reformation written for older children and teens to boost their appreciation for the church. $18.00
And here are some other titles that are likely worthy of the above list, and I wish I made time to read:
- Andrew Hoffecker, ed., Revolutions in Worldview: Understanding the Flow of Western Thought (P&R) $23.51
- Norman Geisler, Reasons for Faith: Making a Case for the Christian Faith (Crossway) $12.23
- J. Mark Bertrand, Rethinking Worldview: Learning to Think, Live, and Speak in This World (Crossway) $11.55
- Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington, The Great Exchange: My Sin for His Righteousness (Crossway) $10.87
- Herman J. Selderhuis, Calvin’s Theology of the Psalms: Texts and Studies in Reformation and Post-Reformation Thought (Baker Academic) $21.89
- Sinclair Ferguson, In Christ Alone (Reformation Trust) $14.40
- Justin Taylor and John Piper, The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World (Crossway) $10.19
- R.C. Sproul, Gospel of God: An Exposition of Romans (Christian Focus) $14.99
- Thabiti M. Anyabwile, The Decline of African American Theology: From Biblical Faith to Cultural Captivity (IVP) $13.60
So these are my favorite books of 2007. I hope this list serves you in your book-purchasing for the glory of Christ!
Blessings to you all and Merry Christmas from your friends at TSS,
“Cornelius Van Til’s Introduction to Systematic Theology is one of his two or three most important books, certainly a must-read for anyone who is trying to understand Van Til. And it is important for Christians to understand Van Til today, as never before. He challenges Christians to think in a distinctively biblical way. That biblical way opposes and challenges all religions and secular philosophies, all ideologies that place the ultimate source of truth and value in human beings rather than in God.” – John Frame
Download the table of contents and intro as PDF here.
John Owen and Communion with the Triune God
Interview with Dr. Derek Thomas
What comes to mind when you think of communion? Bread, wine, and religious ordinance? The following interview is for fellow 21st century pilgrims unfamiliar with the term ‘communion’ and specifically ‘communion’ with God.
October 12th is the scheduled release date of Justin Taylor and Kelly Kapic’s newest volume in the writings of Puritan John Owen, Communion with the Triune God (Crossway: 2007). Communion was first published in 1657. The original edition is in the public domain, has been printed in various shapes and sizes, and is available for free online. In the past 50 years this work has been known as the second volume of The Works of John Owen (Banner of Truth).
The 2007 Crossway edition includes several enhancements like helpful indexing, introductions, extensive outline and glossary. Owen’s work has never been more accessible for readers (see our review here).
Dr. Thomas is from Wales and currently serves as John E. Richards Professor of Systematic and Practical Theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi. After pastoring for 17 years in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Dr. Thomas returned to the United States in 1996 and also serves as the Minister of Teaching at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson. He has lectured extensively on Owen (listen to his lectures on Owen here).
TSS: Dr. Thomas, it is always an honor to have you join us here on The Shepherd’s Scrapbook! Being a scholar of John Owen and well-acquainted with his works, what are your initial thoughts of this classic, Communion with the Triune God?
DT: Thank you, Tony. It is a great honor for me to join you here at The Shepherd’s Scrapbook. It is one of my favorite sites to visit.
I am also delighted to speak about John Owen. Along with John Calvin, he has been the most influential theologian in my life (at least, among dead ones!). I think I “commune” with him most days about something. That’s the great value of books. The authors may have died, but their writings live on.
I’m as excited as you about the forthcoming publication of Communion with the Triune God, after the splendid job they did with Overcoming Sin and Temptation (Crossway, 2006).
What comes to mind about Owen’s volume, Communion with the Triune God, is its essential Trinitarianism. Owen does a number of things that are important for us to see.
First, he is thoroughly indebted to Calvin and the Fathers in his Trinitarian theology. In an age when the church would find it difficult to expound the Trinity in any meaningful way, Owen assumes a line of theological continuity from the early centuries to his own day (thereby removing the charge made by Rome that Protestantism was ‘new’ and therefore suspect). He cites, for example, the classic formula of Augustine that the external acts of the Trinity cannot be divided (opera ad extra Trinitatis indivisa sunt) without any embarrassment! And, if my memory serves me correctly, we’re only a few pages into the volume!
The second thing about this volume is not only its catholicity (linking with the Fathers), but its centrality. In focusing on the believer’s fellowship with God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit), Owen is picking up what Calvin had insisted lay at the heart of the all theology – union with Christ. Owen is doing so in a more overtly Trinitarian fashion than perhaps Calvin did; but he is bringing to surface what is at the heart of God’s covenant relationship with redeemed sinners. In doing so, of course, Owen can’t help but be experiential in his theology. In that sense, Owen is a perfect example of the puritan oeuvre.
TSS: At first glance of the title people may confuse this book as a long work on prayer or the spiritual disciplines. Or it may be shelved in bookstores with purely subjective books on how to experience some divine warm-fuzzy. Communion with the Triune God is very unique. What does Owen mean when he talks about “communion”?
DT: This is a really good question! And if the publication of this volume can do something to displace these unhelpful books to which you refer, then all the better for it!
Why is the reformed church so confused about reformed spirituality? This is where a volume like Owen’s Communion with the Triune God is so valuable at this present time.
Owen has a fairly complicated view of what communion in this context means. It begins with the idea of what “communion” or “fellowship” in Greek (koinia) means: to share in common with. This raises some important theological (and practical) distinctions: union and communion are not synonyms for Owen. Our union with Christ, brought about by God’s initiative and covenant. It introduces into a status from which flows (as fruit) communion with God. Kelly Kapic summarizes it this way:
- God communicates of himself to us.
- Union with Christ establishes our relationship with God.
- The resulting overflow of union is our returning unto God what is both required and accepted by him (i.e. communion). [endnote 1]
The union with Christ is brought about unilaterally; the communion on the other hand is a bi-lateral issue. Our communion with God can be affected by our sin, unresponsiveness, and especially neglect of the ordinary means of grace.
It is Owen’s Trinitarian emphasis, based to be sure on a disputed text (1 John 5:7), that enables him to expound a multi-faceted dimension to communion. Communing with the Father helps us appreciate the nature of love and reciprocate it; fellowshipping with the Son helps us appreciate and reciprocate grace; fellowshipping with the Holy Spirit encourages assurance as he draws us back to the embrace of Jesus Christ offered to us in the gospel of the Father’s love.
TSS: Communion with the Triune God is rightly hailed as a masterpiece on the Triunity of God. Why is this Triune distinction important in Owen’s understanding of communion?
DT: I have preempted this question somewhat already. But allow me to narrow the focus a little.
The obvious place to begin is to state that for Owen God is Trinitarian in nature. The only fellowship with God that is possible is with the entirety of the Godhead and therefore with each Person that constitutes the One God. If the place of any of the three persons is misconceived or denied, the gospel falls. Thus Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons or liberal Protestants who deny the Trinity as empty verbiage can never state the gospel properly because their view of God is all wrong.
The gospel in both its accomplishment and application involves a salvation planned, an atonement made and a salvation applied and none of these are possible apart from the work of all three Persons. For Owen, then, communion with all three keeps the gospel straight and the Christian life in good shape. From it flowed all manner of issues relating to the assurance of salvation – too often argued subjectively without recourse to the nature of salvation itself.
TSS: I’ve watched enough YouTube videos to notice that a large segment of professing Christianity in America dogmatically assert that Christianity is a relationship whereas theology is peripheral. For Owen, experiencing God personally and knowing God accurately are inseparable. Can you explain further how this is revealed in Owen’s thought and why this is important for us to grasp today?
DT: I’ll have to take your word about YouTube, but it is time for us to announce a Declaration of War against the creeping influence of Schleiermacher on modern evangelicalism.
I draw your attention to an essay by Carl Trueman called “John Owen as a Theologian” in a volume of essays on Owen, John Owen: The Man and His Theology (P&R and EP, 2002). These were lectures delivered at a conference on Owen in 2000. It says everything that needs to be said, first of all, about Owen’s distinctive theological emphases, and secondly why theology must be in the service of the experiential and not vice versa.
Owen was no different here than his Calvinstic predecessors, or for that matter, John Calvin himself. From Calvin’s opening sentence of the Institutes, which declared that nearly all the wisdom we possess consists in knowing God and knowing ourselves, comes the distinction that knowledge of God is more than knowing about God. There is a difference between knowledge by description and knowledge by acquaintance.
I had a student in my office recently who obviously loves Sinclair Ferguson. He had listened to what sounded like hundreds of Ferguson’s taped messages. I listened with interest and then (half anticipating the reaction), I said with cool detachment, “I’ve known Sinclair for 30 years and he’s a close, personal friend.” There was an awed silence! “Really!”
Well, Owen would say, Christians brought into a saving relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ can say, “I know God – personally.” True, the descriptive “personally” is a modern one and not one the seventeenth century would have employed in quite the same way, but the intent is precisely the same.
For Owen, as for Calvin, there is no sense in trying to talk about knowing God by experience if we don’t know how to articulate who God is! The only God there is has revealed himself to us in creation and providence, but supremely in the Scriptures and in his Son’s incarnation. But to have those things clear in our minds and be able to articulate them is not yet to know God. To know God, cognitio Dei is relational knowledge, knowledge that comes to us, in the relationship of faith.
TSS: You mention the “personal” aspects of a relationship with God would have been stated differently by Owen and the Puritans. Explain this further. How is this differently stated? Why?
DT: Well, forgive me, but I think we tend to use the word “personally” in some quasi-therapeutic sense, often at some disparagement to anything cerebral or structured. The puritans adopted (on the whole) a very definite faculty-psychology in which the mind must govern the will and the affections. Personal knowledge of God comes through the integration of this faculty psychology and through some back door to the heart.
TSS: This is very helpful in light of earlier questions. Thank you! … Owen seems to balance well an understanding of our Father who remains transcendent, majestic and holy but for the saint is also their loving, adoptive Father who “from eternity … laid in his own bosom a design for our happiness.” Owen calls us to “rejoice before him with trembling” and of course says if we don’t understand the deep love of the Father we will not draw to Him in communion. Owen writes, “So much as we see of the love of God, so much shall we delight in him, and no more. Every other discovery of God, without this, will but make the soul fly from him; but if the heart be once much taken up with this the eminency of the Father’s love, it cannot choose but be overpowered, conquered, and endeared unto him” (p. 128). How does Owen excel in this theme of communion with the Father?
DT: Of course, ravishing as this language is, it should be recalled that Owen is expounding the Father’s love for us employing the Song of Solomon (Canticles) as background. This was typical of the puritans as a whole to view the Song as an allegory of salvation.
Owen is dealing with a surprisingly modern problem at this point: that in communing with Jesus it is all too possible to draw the conclusion that whereas the Son loves us, the Father is angry with us. From such a distorted view emerges a misshaped view of the gospel, of course. Jesus has no need to make the Father love us because his coming into the world is evidence of it. The Father is the “fountain” or “source” of love.
“Though there be no light for us but in the beams, yet we may by beams see the sun, which is the fountain of it. Though all our refreshments actually lie in the streams, yet by them we are led up unto the fountain. Jesus Christ, in respect of the love of the Father, is but the beam, the stream; wherein though actually all our light, our refreshment lies, yet by him we are led to the fountain, the sun of eternal love itself. … (Communion with the Father) begins in the love of God, and ends in our love to him” (2:23-24).
TSS: That’s a helpful quote that captures Owen well. Thank you! … A year ago I interviewed Kris Lundgaard, an author who has taken John Owen and rewritten his books for contemporary audiences. He said he was surprised that sales of his book on overcoming sin (The Enemy Within) far outsold his book on the beauty of Christ (Through the Looking Glass). This was to him a surprise because seeing the glory of Christ is critical in the fight against sin (2 Cor. 3:18)! It’s likely that the overtly practical Overcoming Sin and Temptation from last year will outsell Communion with the Triune God (or any other Owen titles for that matter). What are the practical implications of Communion with the Triune God to the mortification of sin and the pursuit of holiness?
DT: Well, there’s no way I can come up to Kris standard, but I along with others am so grateful for his love for Owen and his publication. He manages to make Owen appear user-friendly to those who might otherwise be intimated.
I think I can understand why a volume on mortifying sin and dealing with temptation outsells because we all feel the need for help in this area. But perhaps this is a reflection of what another theologian-preacher once called, “sanctification by vinegar,” meaning we are sometimes forced into a set of behavioral responses by the fear of being caught or the being punished rather than because we have a desire to do it.
Only by a grasp of the true nature of God and the delights of communing with him can we really respond in the way we should. Owen, as all good theologians of Paul, observed what we might call gospel grammar. The imperative must follow the indicative. Holiness follows from what grace has reckoned us to be in Christ. What this volume does is tell us who we are. It solves the identity crises which sin can so easily bring. The volumes ought to be read in that order – Communion with the Triune God followed by Overcoming Sin and Temptation. It would be the Bible’s way.
TSS: Dr. Thomas, I love this: “What this volume does is tell us who we are”! This is a helpful observation on the importance of Communion with the Triune God. … Again, thank you for joining on TSS. You are a valued friend in our ministry. Blessings to you!
Related: Read our full review of Communion with the Triune God.
[endnote 1] Kelly Kapic, Communion with God: The Divine and the Human in the Theology of John Owen [Baker Academic, 2007], 157.
The TSS mailbag is filled with excellent questions from readers. One such question comes from Phil, a man striving for a consistent family worship schedule despite an unattentive little child. What to do? Dr. J. Ligon Duncan has written about family worship and so I passed the question along to him for his advice. He kindly responded with this excellent perspective:
My own answer is you start family worship as soon as possible, as soon as one is married, and continue it after children come along, no matter how young the children are (and the younger the better). The point is not for the youngest children to be able to comprehend (or even to sit still during it!). The point is impress upon them, by paternal example the priority of God and his word in all of life. They learn this, even if they comprehend nothing in the reading, praying and singing, simply by seeing a father pausing day after day to read the word with his family.
Here is what I said in Give Praise to God (P&R):
“Now there is a whole host of practical questions and problems that come to mind once we determine to begin family worship. How long should it last? It should be regularly brief, as little as 10 minutes when the children are very young. Gradually, it will run a little longer as they grow older and conversations strike up. Don’t kill it by trying to go too long. Pace yourself. Regularity and repetition is the key. When should we do family worship? When it works – morning/breakfast, suppertime or bedtime are the three most common times.
“… There are dozens of potential hindrances: a lack of discipline, a lack of sense of the importance of family worship, a lack of experience of family worship in one’s own upbringing and more.
“But above all, there is the enemy of idealism. You have this picture of a Puritan family sitting around the table attentively and reverently reading the whole book of 1 Chronicles at a sitting, singing half the Psalter from memory, and praying for ninety minutes, and then you look around your table and your wife is rolling her eyes, your two-year old is throwing left-over spaghetti around the kitchen, your eight-year old is making faces at her sister and your teenager would rather do calculus. Don’t let the gap between the ideal and the reality stop you! Those unattentive children will grow up and thank you for persevering, and the memories of a father who loved them enough to make that kind of an effort will etch a permanent affection in their hearts.”
J. Ligon Duncan
First Presbyterian Church
Excellent advice! Thank you Dr. Duncan. For more insight on family worship see Duncan’s chapter in Give Praise to God: A Vision for Reforming Worship (P&R: 2003). Duncan lays the foundation for family worship – Scripture reading, song and prayer – and then addresses several other common hurdles to success.
Have a question to throw in the TSS mailbag? Pass it along via email (tony AT takeupandread DOT com). Thanks for reading! Tony
Understanding our motives
One of the deepest questions we can ask of ourselves is very simple: Why do we do what we do? Here are some thoughts on the topic.
Scripture addresses our motives in a profound way. Take James 4 for example: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (v. 1). Our quarrels with others spring from our own hearts because we entertain self-centered desires. James tells us that we fight, not because we have enemies without, rather, we fight because we have a sinful heart within. The conflict problem is me. At some level, I start every fight. And this angry heart rages hot because our sinful motives arise from unmet idolatrous desires: “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel” (v. 2). In verses 3-10, James says our motives cause conflict because we are worldly, because we fail to ask God for His grace, because we fail to pursue humility and fail to resist Satan’s temptations. Motives are at the root of all conflict. The evil of fighting is not that we land punches. The evil of fighting is that it reveals worldly idols and pridefulness towards God in the heart. Conflict with others is profoundly theological.
In a series of articles comparing modern psychotherapies with the cure of souls, Dr. David Powlison writes, “…the dynamics of human intention and desire cannot be defined in purely psychological terms (or psycho-social terms, or psycho-social-somatic terms). Motivational dynamics do not simply operate within or between persons. The human heart has to do with God. So when the Bible describes the desires that obviously play within our souls and rule our lives, it does not portray them as hard-wired psychological or physiological givens: as needs, instincts, drives, longings, wishes. It speaks of them as morally freighted vis-à-vis God, as moral-covenantal choices: we are ruled either by cravings of the flesh or by repentance-faith-obedience to God’s desires. Our desires are tilted one way or the other, either toward the true God or toward the host of idols we fabricate both collectively and idiosyncratically. Our mastering desires are relationally and morally qualified. … In sum, the human heart – the answer to why we do what we do – must be understood as an active-verb-with-respect-to-God. Climb inside any emotional reaction, any behavioral choice or habit, any cognitive content, any reaction pattern to suffering, and you are meant to hear and see active verbs working out. Love God or anything else. Fear God or anything else. Want God or anything else. Need God or anything else. Hope in God or anything else. Take refuge in God or anything else. Obey God or anything else. Trust God or anything else. Seek God or anything else. Serve God or anything else. The Bible’s motivation theory shouts from every page – but it does not look like a motivation theory to those whose gaze has been bent and blinded by sin’s intellectual logic” [The Journal of Biblical Counseling (Spring 2007, vol. 25, No. 2) p. 24].
It’s no exaggeration to say Instruments in the Hand’s of the Redeemer (P&R: 2002) is on my top ten list of favorite books. Without hesitation, I would consider this book essential reading for pastors, fellowship group leaders, and really any thinking and reading Christian. In it author Paul David Tripp writes, “We must humbly admit we are sinners while we lay hold of the hope of our union with Christ. We don’t simply suffer; we suffer as sinners with a deep propensity to run after god-replacements. And, as believers, we don’t just suffer as sinners, but as those who have been united with Christ and therefore no longer live under the mastery of sin. We bring these two realities to times of blessing as well. Holding onto both truths is the only way to do battle with our own hearts, and the only way to be part of what God is doing in our lives and others’. This is a perspective on life that only those who believe God’s Word will ever embrace. Ist is the heart of biblical personal ministry. It is more than a topical list of problem-solving principles, more than a collection of morals on how to live life, more than an empathetic relationship or a dynamic therapeutic encounter. Biblical personal ministry is rooted in the story of a war and a Savior King. As we place our stories within this great story of the compassion and love of Christ, we will understand who we are and live as we were meant to live” (pp. 93-94).
We act and sin in certain ways because of the idolatrous motives of our hearts. This is our biggest problem: We expect to get what we want and what we naturally (and sinfully) want is an idolatrous replacement for God to steal His glory for ourselves. We are at war. “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh” (Gal. 5:17). At a very deep level of motive-confrontation God calls us to fight worldliness, ask for more Cross-purchased grace, pursue personal humility and resist Satan’s temptations. Scripture lays for us a profound understanding of our personal motives and — in light of the precious Cross of Christ — what to do about it.
Excellent biblical counseling resources for further study…
*** Paul David Tripp. Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People in Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change (P&R: 2002) 362 pp. More conceptual in nature. One of the most important contemporary Christian books in print. Essential reading for pastors and fellowship group leaders.
*** David Powlison, editor. The Journal of Biblical Counseling. A 60- page journal published quarterly with subscriptions starting at $23/year for new subscribers. Essential reading for pastors and fellowship group leaders. In our church every small group leader receives a subscription.
** Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp. How People Change (New Growth Press: 2006) 258 pp. The text font and layout for this book is simply awful but a very helpful book with excellent illustrations. Written on an easier level and more application-oriented than Instruments.
** David Powlison. Seeing with New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition Through the Lens of Scripture (P&R 2003) 274 pp. A conceptual book it “unfolds Scripture’s view of people and problems. It reinterprets common counseling phenomena through God’s eyes, as revealed in Scripture” (p. 7).
** David Powlison. Speaking the Truth in Love: Counsel in Community (Punch Press: 2005) 202 pp. The follow-up to Seeing with New Eyes, this book focuses on the act of counseling. “This second book describes living right. We will glimpse essential dynamics of relationship and sketch the shape of communities that pursue such relationships” (p. 2).
Here are two quotes from two famous reformed characters (one a theologian and the other a preacher).
(1) In 1905, this famous theologian wrote: “My idea of delight is a Princeton [Seminary dorm] room full of fellows smoking. When I think what a wonderful aid tobacco is to friendship and Christian patience I have sometimes regretted that I never began to smoke.” Who said it? Answer: J. Gresham Machen. Obviously this is not posted to recommend smoking but it’s a quote with great historical significance. Billy Sunday, Machen’s prohibitionist friend, was staunchly against drinking and smoking — neither of which views Machen agreed with. Both Machen and Sunday however are packaged together as “fundamentalists.” In Stephen J. Nichols’ recently published essay, he uses this quote to distinguish Machen and his mentor B.B. Warfield as not-exactly-fundamentalists and certainly not prohibitionists. Machen enjoyed sports, art, alcohol and obviously some secondary smoke to the glory of God. He was doctrinally acute, joyful and culturally aware. A great example for us today. For more on Machen, Warfield and Fundamentalism see Nichols’ excellent essay in B.B. Warfield: Essays on his life and thought (P&R: 2007) pp. 169-194.
(2) This famous preacher said in a sermon: “For myself, as long as I am charged by certain people with being nothing but a Pentecostalist and on the other hand charged by others with being an intellectual, a man who is always preaching doctrine, as long as the two criticisms come, I am very happy. But if one or the other of the two criticisms should ever cease, then, I say, is the time to be careful and to begin to examine the very foundations.” Who said it? Answer: Martyn Lloyd-Jones. It’s one of my favorite quotes. You can read it for yourself on page 403 of Life in The Spirit: Studies in 1 John (Crossway: 2002).
I’ll give the answers early this afternoon! Blessings, Tony. Congratulations to TimK! You win, well, nothing but the sheer joy of victory and my thanks for playing “Who said it?.” Blessings to you my friend!