John Owen, the Trinity, and the Atonement

The atonement is never far from this blog. It seems that misconceptions common in our day were, sadly, also common in John Owen’s day. We see in this quote something incredibly topical today. Perhaps sometimes the answers to today’s debates do indeed lie in studying the theological upsets of the past:

“Unfortunately, many Christians often have a distorted view of the heavenly Father. We tend to view him as angry and full of wrath toward us. While we imagine Jesus as the one who loves us, the Father is portrayed as full of hesitation toward us—distant at best, furious at worst. It is as if Jesus pleads with the Father to put up with us and to let us live, perhaps even against the Father’s desire. We often view Jesus as the “kind” person of the Trinity, with the Father only wanting us punished. Is the Father, in fact, really reluctant to show tenderness toward people?

According to Owen, the whole movement of the biblical drama of redemption points in a different direction. Jesus is not the one who convinces the Father to love us, but, rather, the Son of God becomes incarnate in light of the Father’s eternal and free love toward us. The Father is not at odds with the Son, but rather, God the Father is love, and out of his love he sent his Son to die for our sins—“this love [of the Father] . . . is antecedent to the purchase of Christ.” In other words, while the work of Christ is all-important for redemption, it does not make the Father love us, but is rather the outgrowth of God’s love.

Out of the Father’s love the Son is sent as the embodiment of love, and the Spirit pours this love into the hearts of his children. Here the distinct actions among the divine persons are united by the same love of God” (page 29)

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