"Glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ": Divine authority, scripture, and the life of faith in the thought of John Owen (1616-1683)
Leslie, Andrew Michael
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This study examines the relationship between scriptural authority and the life of faith in the prominent English Reformed orthodox theologian, John Owen. While aspects of Owen’s argument have caught the attention of scholars across a relatively diverse range of fields, no full-length historical treatment of this theme has yet appeared, and many of its distinctive features remain unexplored. The thesis particularly seeks to show how Owen creatively drew upon an ‘ecumenical’ dogmatic and metaphysical heritage to restate and refine the traditional Reformed position on scriptural authority, sensitive to intellectual developments in his own late seventeenth-century context. The broader intention is to enrich the expanding scholarly interest in Owen’s thought, alongside Puritan, Reformed orthodox thought in general, and also, perhaps, to serve as a resource for those approaching this general subject from other disciplines. The thesis concentrates on Owen’s Reason of Faith (1677), in conversation with his wider mature corpus. After an introduction which presents the background and parameters for the study, chapter 2 introduces the central themes of Reason of Faith. It points to Owen’s engagement with contemporary apologists and their deleterious reliance on well-worn rational arguments or ‘evidences’ as the foundation for faith. Chapters 3, 4 and 5 examine Owen’s own constructive position. While recognising and incorporating the value of ‘objective evidence’ in faith, Owen offers his own critical reformulation that preserves the integrity of faith as something resting exclusively on divine testimony. Chapters 3 and 4 focus upon the role of subjective divine illumination in the perception of natural truths (chapter 3), and the gracious truths revealed in scripture (chapter 4), noting especially Owen’s use of habitual terminology derived from scholastic thought. Chapter 5 examines the critical function of scripture’s ‘light’ and ‘power’ as the divine ‘evidence’ or ‘objective testimony’ which appeals uniquely to the regenerated and elevated faculties, and secures faith. The chapter also aims to observe how Owen relates this authority to important christological and redemptive themes emerging elsewhere in his thought, not least the restored ‘image of God’. The final two chapters shift attention to related features of scripture. Honouring the essentially confessional nature of scripture’s authority, chapter 6 shows how Owen locates scripture within a covenantal frame, drawing upon a traditional account of inspiration. Chapter 7 explores the relationship Owen sees between scriptural authority and perspicuity, which enables an immediate, ongoing relationship between the rule of Christ and his church, and regulates the way it is read and understood by believers using the means of grace. The conclusion summarises Owen’s unique contribution to the Reformed consensus on scriptural authority in the face of an increasing fragmentation of confessional orthodoxy on this issue. Three compact appendices are added: Appendix A discusses Owen’s reliance on peripatetic cognitive metaphysics; Appendix B provides a survey of key historical developments in the Augustinian doctrine of natural illumination; Appendix C addresses some historiographical problems pertaining to inspiration in Reformed orthodoxy and Owen in particular.