Friday, November 7, 2014

Book Review – The Foundation of Communion with God: The Trinitarian Piety of John Owen. Edited and introduced by Ryan M. McGraw

Ryan McGraw has done readers of religious books a great service in making John Owen more accessible to modern readers. He joins the ranks of at least two others who have successfully done this: R. J. K. Law and Kris Lundgaard.

This book is part of Reformation Heritage Books’ Profiles in Reformed Spirituality series which aims to address the shallowness and trivialization of God characteristic of evangelicalism today. This series presents lives of notable Christian with select passages from their works.

“Owen”, says series editor Ryan McGraw, “can show us how to know by experience what it means to be Reformed.”  This is important, as Reformed theology is not always recognized as placing a high value and emphasis on the role of Doctrine in informing our practical lives.  Through the use of selected parts of eight of John Owen’s writings, editor Ryan McGraw shows how Owen “wonderfully teaches us the practical outworking of the Reformed doctrines of Scripture and of God through the themes of public worship and the Trinity.”

I found the book helpfully organized. It begins with an historical introduction sketching Owen’s life – particularly where it influenced his views of worship and piety. The readings that follow are organized around three themes: Knowing God as Triune, Heaven-Mindedness and Apostasy, and Covenant and Church. The book ends with three appendices: Reading Owen, Owen’s Works by Year, and Books About Owen.

There is much to commend the book. The editor has updated some of the language of Owen and most importantly, added some paragraph markers making the flow of thought a little easier. The selections do serve as a nice introduction to Owen’s writings, as they are usually less than three pages.

The one thing that would have made the book more useful, is to include in Appendix C a third category of books about Owen. Adding an “Abridged or Paraphrased” category to the “Popular” and “Scholarly” categories already present would give timid Owen readers some better choices and encouragements to tackle Owen.  R. J. K. Law has written at least four very good and quite readable abridged and made easy to read books by Owen, including some quoted in this book.  Kris Lundgaard has also written two excellent books that unashamedly draw heavily on Owen. I have read his “The Enemy Within” but I know he also has written “Through the Looking Glass: Reflections on Christ That Change Us” which draws on Owen’s “The Glory of Christ.”


Here is a suggested sequence for the reader who has never read John Owen.  Read Kris Lundgaard’s “The Enemy Within: Straight Talk About The Power and Defeat of Sin”, then read McGraw’s “The Foundation of Communion With God”. By then Owen will be a favorite food and you will have the motivation to tackle R. J. K. Law’ or perhaps Owen himself.

I received this resource for free from Reformation Heritage Books via Cross Focused Reviews for this review. I was not required to write a positive review.