Communion with the Triune God (Foreword by Kevin J. Vanhoozer)

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When a believer grows comfortable with sin whether sins of commission or sins of omission this invariably affects the level of intimacy this person feels with God. It is not that God runs from us, but we run from him. Sin tends to isolate the believer, making him feel distant from God. In truth, however, saints stand not under wrath, but in the safe shadow of the cross.


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Temptations and neglect threaten the communion, but not the union [ Works , ]. And it is this union which encourages the believer to turn from sin to the God who is quick to forgive, abounding in compassion, and faithful in his unending love. Let there be no misunderstanding—for Owen, Christian obedience was of utmost importance, but it was always understood to flow out of this union, and never seen as the ground for it. Few things are more pleasurable to authors and editors than when they reach the end of an exhausting project and finally have the opportunity to write acknowledgments.

Sometimes people have the impression that editing books is less time consuming than writing them. While there is some truth to that, we have found that the amount of work that goes into preparing a volume like this is substantial, and consequently the help and encouragement of many people is just as vital. With that in mind, here are some of the people for whom we are so thankful, for without their partnership in this process, the present volume and our lives would have been impoverished. They worked hard, put in countless hours, and were willing to go beyond the call of duty on many occasions.

We also benefited from the Latin expertise of Casey Carmichael, Daniel Hill, and Jonathan Rockey, whose assistance certainly made this volume better. Packer, Joshua Sowin who helped Justin create www.

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We would like to acknowledge the generous support received from the Kaleo Center at Covenant College, which is funded through Lilly Endowment Inc. Kevin Vanhoozer is worthy of many thanks for his willingness to take time away from his many other projects to pen a foreword for this volume. We are thankful to Allan Fisher of Crossway Books for endlessly supporting and believing in this project and to Lydia Brownback for editing it and offering encouragement along the way. Our families have been incredibly gracious, and we wish to recognize our wives, Tabitha Kapic and Lea Taylor, for their tremendous support and love.

You two are truly amazing; thank you for filling our lives with color and perspective. Our children, Jonathan and Margot Kapic, and Claira and Malachi Taylor, have been a constant source of joy, reminding us of the important things in life: trucks, stickers, sand, and giggling. We are thankful for your consistent love and for the sacrifices you have made through the years.

May you know and ever increase in your love of the triune God in whom we find rest and communion. During this show the host asks a guest to select just eight must-have recordings they would take to the island. Similar programs turn the focus from music to books.

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If you had just eight books, what would they include? One need not agree with everything this Puritan wrote in order to greatly profit from wrestling with his thinking. His devotional reflection does not divorce spirituality from a robust theological infrastructure.

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It is our hope that through this new edition of an Owen classic, we can reintroduce a wider audience to John Owen and his approach to Trinitarian spirituality. John Owen — lived through an extraordinarily turbulent time in British history. He even suffered the anguish of the death of his first wife and all of his children. Such experiences shaped this Puritan divine as he fluidly moved among the spheres of academic, political, and pastoral life. When he was not serving in the academy, he was normally assisting in some kind of pastoral work, which continued until the very end of his life.

Through all of this, Owen was able to produce a massive amount of literature: ultimately his writings in the authoritative nineteenth-century edition include twenty-four tightly packed volumes. Communion with God was first published in , but the material in the book grew out of sermons preached some years earlier. While it is clear that he modified, revised, and added various details to this work before it was published, the heart of the material points back to the pulpit.

Convinced that believers need to know their God in order to be faithful worshipers, Owen framed his approach to Christian spirituality in a Trinitarian manner; for only in the divine persons did Owen believe we can rightly know God. We discover a work that is intentionally and consistently Trinitarian in structure and Christocentric in emphasis. Brief highlights of what will be covered in the work may prove helpful.


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  • From there we turn our attention to the Father, of whom Owen believes we often have a distorted view which makes us hesitant to commune with him. Special attention is paid to how, in this particular treatise, Owen encourages us to identify and worship the Spirit of God. Before turning to examine the relations among the divine persons, we will begin by considering our relationship with God.

    To experience communion there needs to be fellowship and communication—e. In other words, when Owen speaks of our communion with God, he really means active communion, and not merely a state of passivity. Communion consists in giving and receiving. But to appreciate how this informs his view of spirituality, it is important to note that Owen maintains an essential distinction between union and communion. Believers are united to Christ in God by the Spirit.

    This union is a unilateral action by God, in which those who were dead are made alive, those who lived in darkness begin to see the light, and those who were enslaved to sin are set free to be loved and to love. This is the state and condition of all true saints. Communion with God, however, is distinct from union. This is an important theological and experiential distinction, for it protects the biblical truth that we are saved by radical and free divine grace.

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    Furthermore, this distinction also protects the biblical truth that the children of God have a relationship with their Lord, and that there are things they can do that either help or hinder it. When a believer grows comfortable with sin whether sins of commission or sins of omission this invariably affects the level of intimacy this person feels with God. It is not that God turns from us, but that we run from him. Sin tends to isolate the believer, making him feel distant from God. In truth, however, saints stand not under wrath but in the safe shadow of the cross.

    Giving in to temptations and neglecting devotion to God threaten the communion but not the union. Let there be no misunderstanding—for Owen, Christian obedience was of utmost importance, but it was always understood to flow out of this union and never seen as the ground for it. This is a mere passive reception, as a vessel receives water.

    Christians need not be passive in the hope that the Spirit will bring comfort; rather, they should 1 seek his comfort by focusing on the promises of God realized in the Spirit, 2 call out to the Spirit of supplication to bring consolation, and 3 attend to his motions, which take us to the Father and Son.

    In all of this we rightly and actively receive him who freely comes to bring comfort and grace. Again, our union with God in Christ is never in jeopardy, but our sense of fellowship with God does necessitate appropriate human agency and response. The Comforter may always abide with us, though not always comfort us; he who is the Comforter may abide, though he do not always that work.

    Along these lines, sometimes the Spirit tenders [i. Christian living, for Owen, neither divides the labor between the divine and human nor neglects the activity of both: we work because God works in us. Any true relation requires what Owen elsewhere calls mutuality , and we should not shy away from the fact that we are invited, by the Spirit, to actively commune with God.

    But if we are to respond rightly, we must know to whom we are responding. Who is God? To whom do I pray, trust, and cry out in times of confusion and pain?

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    Can God really be known, or do we just have signposts to God that have little correspondence with who he really is? What does it mean for me to know God? Such questions should cut to the heart of Christian faith and experience. Drawing from Scripture, Owen shows us that the one true God is, from all eternity, Father, Son, and Spirit; and in light of his self-manifestation, we are to know, love, and respond to him as such. It is crucial here to recognize that God is and always has been triune: he does not become triune at some point in history.

    Without this eternal triune reality, we end up with God needing something outside himself before he can be loving. We can also end up misunderstanding the triune persons, whether pitting the persons against one another or creating an inappropriate hierarchy in God.

    Owen always views the eternal distinction within the Godhead in light of its unbreakable unity. Their distinction lies in their mutual relation one to another, and thus we are to understand that the distinct actings and operations of the persons grow out of this eternal mutual relation. Human communion with God presupposes the eternal communion of the divine persons in perfect unity and eternal distinction. First of all, Owen stresses the fact that God is free, and his freedom is framed in a Trinitarian manner:. And the reason of this is, because the will of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, is essentially the same; so that in the acting of one there is the counsel of all and each freely therein.

    Thus, in perfect oneness the three persons willed and desired the redemption of the elect. Hundreds of times throughout his writings Owen employs such language as the counsels of God, eternal counsels, the divine counsel, and counsels of his will.

    Such references often though not always point to the communion of the divine persons. Here is divine freedom, knowledge, and perfect unity—here is the One God upon whom our salvation rests. But I have every expectation of enjoying the rest, and it's a book I will definitely want to own eventually. What a tremendous work laying out the work of the Trinity in salvation. Owen plunges the depths of the love of the Godhead in helping us to understand their love. Kelly M. Kapic has written and edited over ten books, focusing on the areas of systematic, historical, and practical theology.

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