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Book Review

John Owen: The Man And His Theology

By Byron Snapp
This volume provides a good introduction to Owen's writings and to the man himself.


PCANews - John Owen: The Man And His Theology, ed. by Robert W. Oliver. P & R Publishing, 190 pp. 2002.

This volume is composed of papers that were first delivered at a conference on the life and teaching of John Owen. These papers cover a broad range of topics that include some of Owen's theological contributions as well as his applications to the times in which he lived.

Robert Oliver provides us an overview of Owen's life and the historical setting in the opening chapter. He writes knowledgeably, clearly and concisely regarding Owen's work as pastor, prolific author, and Oxford administrator. In his calling he was seen as a leader. His counsel was sought by many, including Oliver Cromwell. In spite of his high profile positions, he never lost a desire to exalt Christ or to see him glorified in the lives of others.

"John Owen as a Theologian" is the subject of Carl Trueman's paper. He points out the influence of medieval theology on Owen, particularly as it was built on the writings of Augustine. Owen saw the importance of a biblical understanding of God's sovereignty and the depth of man's depravity as the basis for his opposition to Arminianism and Socinianism. This theology introduces the next two chapters authored by Sinclair Ferguson.

In his chapters, Ferguson develops Owen's doctrine of Christ's person and then the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Owen stressed the fact that Christ was God and man – two natures in one person. He continually focused on the necessity of this union and Christ the true Prophet, Priest and King as the only way by which the sins of the elect could be paid.

Owen saw a proper understanding of the Holy Spirit's work as vitally important. One reason for this was that the Roman Catholic Church saw itself, rather than the Holy Spirit, as the interpreter of Scripture. Ferguson expertly highlights Owen's writings on the Holy Spirit's relationship to Christ and then his relationship to the believer.

Michael Haykin provides a good explanation of the rise of the Quakers and Owen's biblical and intellectual answers to the Quaker challenge. Owen saw that the Quakers failed to understand the trinitarian nature of redemption and responded with a biblical critique.

In the final chapter, Graham Harrison's "John Owen's Doctrine of the Church" points out that Owen did not mind opposing current opinion when his study of Scripture convinced him of a truth. Although he had been born into an Episcopalian home, he was a convinced Presbyterian in the early years of his ministry. A study of Scripture resulted in his commitment to independency. He believed that individual churches were rightly governed by a plurality of elders who rule the church for God's glory as the members' elected representatives.

Although the contributors focus on a Puritan of great intellect, they develop their topics in a readable and understandable manner. Each writer makes fitting applications that call for the our reflection. Notes at the end of each chapter provide ample documentation for each author's research and point the reader, interested in further study, to appropriate materials.

Owen's works remain relevant to our day. This volume provides a good introduction to Owen's writings and to the man himself. Thankfully his works remain accessible.
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Reviewed by TE Byron Snapp, associate pastor of Calvary Reformed Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Hampton, Va.

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    God Substituting Himself for Man

    The concept of substitution may be said to lie at the heart of both sin and salvation. For the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting Himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God sacrifices Himself for man and puts Himself where only man deserves to be. Man claims prerogatives which belong to God alone; God accepts penalties which belong to man alone.

    John Stott in The Cross of Christ



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