Review: John Owen’s Trinitarian Spirituality (Kay)

Kay, Brian.  Paternoster Press.

Image result for brian kay john owen

How does one combine the gains of the so-called “Western” doctrine of God with the demands of spirituality and relating to the divine persons?  How do we avoid collapsing the unity into a pantheistic oneness (ala Meister Eckhardt)? It is John Owen’s genius, so argues Kay, that we maintain the gains of the Western doctrine while simultaneously relating to the three persons.

Kay hints at his conclusion but doesn’t fully develop it at this point: instead of “narrative theology,” which while helpful in capturing the dynamic movement of revelation, negates any need for space-time fulfillment.  Rather, we should follow the drama of the Covenant (Kay 38). Contra Nietzsche, a robust covenantal reading of Scripture means our “values” aren’t timelessly Platonic, but eschatologically appropriate (40).

For Owen there is an order of the divine communication: the Father’s love is the fountainhead, person and mediation of the Son is the substance, and the Holy Spirit infuses light et al (69).

And now Kay comes to the heart of the problem–given the West’s emphasis on the unity of the divine works ad extra, how do we account for issues like the Father’s speaking to the Son (John 12:23) and larger issues like the Covenant of Redemption? I think throughout the book Kay hints at an answer:  the drama of the divine covenants structures our language of the works ad extra, and so this isn’t a problem.

I think this is a tension but not an insurmountable problem.  In any case, it shouldn’t detract from Kay’s practical conclusions.  Our communion flows from our union. This contrasts with the medievals who reversed the order by placing “union” at the top of a ring of increasing levels of communion (118).

This book is very well-organized and argued.  I don’t think Kay solved all of the problems. I would have liked to see more discussion of Barth’s challenge to the Covenant of Redemption.  Nonetheless, while his thesis is quite good, it is the side issues that are extremely fascinating.

About J. B. Aitken

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism, Medievalism, Substance Metaphysics
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