Monday, July 20, 2015

Communing with the Trinity

Sinclair B. Ferguson, The Trinitarian Devotion of John Owen, A Long Line of Godly Men Profiles (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2014). 140pp. Hardcover.

Reviewed by Dr. Ryan McGraw

What would it be like to take an experienced pastor and expert theologian with you to look over your shoulder and to help you read John Owen? It would look something like this slender volume by Sinclair Ferguson. The fact that “Trinitarian devotion” will appear paradoxical to some and puzzling to others highlights the desperate need the church has of this book. The Trinity is the foundation of all doctrine, the heart of biblical worship, and it ought to be at the center of Christian experience. This volume will help believers restore one of the most difficult doctrines of our faith to its rightful place in the affections of God’s people.

After a biographical sketch of Owen’s life and influence, Ferguson allows Owen to outline the primary components of Trinitarian doctrine (chapter two). The next three chapters explain Owen’s teaching on how believers hold distinct communion with all three divine persons, followed by brief concluding material on how the Trinity should inform our worship. Most of the book draws upon Owen’s famous Communion with God, with scattered references to other works and significant references to his works on The Holy Spirit, Hebrews, and The Saint’s Perseverance. This is not a popular level introduction to Owen’s works and theology (there is at least one book that this author is aware of that does this … hint, hint). Instead, it is a guided tour of what is arguably the most significant and needed aspect of his thought for today’s church.

This work will not satisfy historians and Owen scholars, but it was not designed to do so. Ferguson does not spend much time developing the theological and international context that influenced and explains why Owen wrote what he did. The work consists almost as much of Ferguson’s own citations of Scripture, contemporary applications, and explanations of doctrine as it does primary source material from Owen’s Works. The primary value of his book is that Ferguson makes Owen speak with a contemporary voice. Apart from the great value in being introduced to and prompted to read John Owen, this is an ideal introduction of the contours of Trinitarian devotion to the average reader. It is doctrinally sound, scholastically precise (see Ferguson’s explanation of this term, 47), deceptively simple, and powerfully devotional. This is precisely what a present generation of Christians needs so desperately.

This review originally appeared in The Banner of Truth.