Our next subject in the Puritan Files series is
John Owen, a prolific generalist writer who was apparently quite
comfortable in an age when writers felt free to say in 5000 words what
could have been said in 500. Not that this is a criticism, as it often
is when I say it: Such fecundity in exposition was quite the norm for
Owen's lifetime (1616-1683), and it would be for many years to come.
What it does mean for our purposes, though, is that I was sorely
limited by time in terms of how much of Owen's work I could read. I
ended up reading two shorter works (one on faith, one on the Trinity)
and half of a larger one (entitled Two Treatises) before my time for
this issue ran out. With the Puritan Files series, though, this may not
be too serious a shortcoming: We're not expecting a great many
theological flaws (for the Puritans were far from unorthodox), but we
are looking for anything which may be of interest to the current
situation of Western Christianity. And this indeed is what we found --
just a bit of it.
99.5% of Owen's work reads as uncontroversial. But here and there
we find spots which ring true to modern shortcomings. In his essay on
faith, Owen properly describes faith in terms of loyalty (although he
never uses the word "loyalty") and puts a stress closer to obedience
than many modern writers, even some who make obedience their watchword.
However, apparently concerned to finely tune faith, Owen says:
And this, as was said, is the greatest and the most difficult
work of faith; for we suppose, concerning the person who is to believe,
— [1.] That he is really and effectually convinced of the sin of [our]
nature, of our apostasy from God therein, the loss of his image, and the
direful effects that ensue thereon. [2.] That he has due apprehensions
of the holiness and severity of God, of the sanction and curse of the
law, with a right understanding of the nature of sin and its demerit.
[3.] That he have a full conviction of his own actual sins, with all
their aggravations, from their greatness, their number, and all sorts of
circumstances. [4.] That he has a sense of the guilt of secret or
sins, which have been multiplied by that continual proneness unto sin
finds working in him. [5.] That he seriously consider what it is to
appear before the judgment seat of God, to receive a sentence for
eternity, with all other things of the like nature, inseparable from him
as a sinner.
There are two things that incite uneasiness in this analysis. The
first is the way in which Owen finds it necessary to enumerate these
steps towards faith, such that takes on the appearance of a legalistic
process. Much of this reflects things that a first century Christian
would not have had to think about; it would have been taken for granted
as the way to be loyal to God. These are things that should flow
naturally from loyalty -- not have to be laid out as a grocery list.
Second, Owen here places undue emphasis on the emotional involvement
of the sinner in conversion. All 5 of these steps, to some extent,
emphasize depth contemplation and thus serious emotional investment.
This is seen to where Owen says:
The second way whereby true faith does evidence itself in the
souls and consciences of believers, unto their supportment and comfort
under all their conflicts with sin, in all their trials and temptations,
is by a constant approbation of the revelation of the will of God in
the Scripture concerning our holiness, and the obedience unto himself
which he requires of us.
This inward frame of trouble, mourning, and contriteness,
will express itself on all
just occasions by the outward signs of sighs, tears, and mournful
complaints, Ps. xxxi. 10. So David continually mentions his tears on the
like account; and Peter, on the review of his sin, wept bitterly; and
Mary washed the feet of Christ with her tears; — as we should all do. A
soul filled with sorrow will run over and express its inward frame by
these outward signs.
Owen here sets a rule that effectually says that if you do not
show the proper emotional response, you may rightly question your
loyalty (faith). But the problem here is twofold. The first is, as we
have said in other contexts, that in an agonistic society, emotional
displays are frequently artificial (yet honorable) responses; Owen would
need to argue that the displays of David, and Peter, and Mary, are
indeed coordinated inwardly and outwardly. Second, Owen takes as
prescriptive passages that are merely descriptive. There is
nothing which designates the reactions of David, Peter, and Mary as
solely and uniquely appropriate for all persons. In this, though, we can
perhaps see seeds of modern ideas that "worship" must involve the whole
person, and be an emotional, heartfelt experience, rather than simply a
practical outworking of agape love (which, in turn, can be invested with emotional involvement, but is hardly integral to it).
In terms of Owen's work on the Trinity -- which also goes into
the doctrine of the atonement -- there were (as expected) no problems
found, but some rather interesting points of note. For one, it is
interesting to see Owen taking on heresies that have long since been
consigned to the dustin (in particular, Socianism, though some say this
does live on in the Jehovah's Witnesses, as a subset of Arianism). On
the other hand, he also takes on more than a few objections we still see
thrown in the ring, such as denying the personhood of the Holy Spirit,
and objections that God could just forgive sin without needing Jesus'
death. Owen also connects Jesus to the figure of Wisdom in Proverbs 8,
as we do, but makes no use of Jewish Wisdom literature -- rather a
curiosity, since he makes extended use of secular (e.g., pagan) source
material to explain ancient ideas about sacrifice.
Finally, his "Two Treatises," in addition to containing some of
the same points noted above, contain other points of interest. Owen
wrestles with Catholic claims regarding Peter as the "rock" in Matthew;
we're still discussing that one today. There is also a brief
anti-intellectual sentiment expressed when he says:
The more sublime and glorious, the more inaccessible unto
sense and reason, are the things which we believe, the more we are
changed into the image of God, in the exercise of faith upon them.
Owen later refers to reason as "corrupted and depraved," although
like most who make this objection, he does not explain why his own
reason -- used to arrive at this conclusion -- is not so corrupt that
his conclusion cannot be trusted. However, to be fair, such sentiments
are mild and infrequent by Owen.
In addition, we find that:
Owen shows a degree more understanding of the relevance of honor to the Biblical text than most modern commentators.
The undercurrent of overintimacy with God continues: The Song
of Solomon is supposed to be a parable of the love of Jesus for the
church, which I take to be a rather questionable attempt to explain its
presence in the canon.
In sum, we find no unusual or serious problems in Owen, which is
what we expected. Nevertheless it is interesting to observe what are
perhaps the seeds of modern problems with overfamiliarity with God, in
Revelation 20:1-3 speaks of Satan being bound,
and as a preterist, I regard that binding as currently in force. An
interested reader recently requested an evaluation of an article arguing
against this position, wondering how it might affect my views.
The answer, as it turns out, is that it doesn't, although it does
provide for a certain teaching opportunity. As it turns out, the
article is directed towards a form of amillennialism which does not
apply to my own beliefs, one which sees Revelation as a whole as
describing the whole church age. And so we have then our chief teachable
principle: As I once told a reader, all preterists are amillennial, but
not all amillennialists are preterists. To that extent, the critique is
inapplicable to preterism inasmuch as it seems unaware that there is
more than one way to skin a millennium. a
The critique specifically addresses the idea that Rev. 20:1-3
describes a binding that took place in the first century, and began the
millennial kingdom. In my own view, this was prefaced by the binding of
lesser demonic powers (as reflected in Jesus' ministry, as well as
described in Paul's letters), with Satan himself bound sometime close to
70 AD. Some might place it earlier, around 33 AD (within Jesus'
ministry), but I consider that unjustified, especially in light of 1
Peter 5:8 and other references to Satan still being active. Those that
opt for a binding in 30 AD or so are compelled, as the article notes,
to limit Satan's binding to particular activities (deceiving the nations
in particular), a view I find rather insensible. So as we will see, the
article actually makes the same arguments I would for a 70 binding as
opposed to a 30 binding.
Four points are offered, but the first is delivered against the
broader reading of Revelation as descriptive of the broader history of
the church, and so does not apply to my views. I would note for the
record, however, that the critique again seems to think that there is no
other way to be amillennial than to hold to this historical-perspective
view of Revelation! In any event, the first point is centered on what
is perceived to be the arbitrary treatment of chronology in Revelation
by proponents of this historical-perspective view.
The second point grasps on to a weakness we have already noted --
namely, the historical-perspective view doesn't do real justice to the
language of binding. To limit Satan's binding to not deceiving the
nations fails to fulfill the metaphors used of a chain, an abyss, etc.
Mounce is justly quoted:
The elaborate measures taken to insure his [Satan's] custody
are most easily understood as implying the complete cessation of his
influence on earth (rather than a curbing of his activities). And so...that leaves us with the third point, which is that the
NT depicts Satan as still active and not bound -- as I would agree,
since I date all of the NT prior to 70 AD. We ought to note agreement
with one point:
What then of the amillennial argument that Matthew 12:29
teaches that Jesus bound Satan at His first coming? The answer is that
this verse does not teach that Satan was bound at that time. What Jesus
stated in Matthew 12:29 is that in order for kingdom conditions to exist
on the earth, Satan must first be bound. He did not say that Satan was
bound yet. And we would say, of course, that 70 AD, marking Jesus;
enthronement in heaven, also likewise signified the formal start of his
In the same way, the fourth point argues that Revelation depicts
Satan's activity as ongoing. But again, if Revelation is to be dated
prior to 70, this too is in accord with a preterist eschatology,
although again, the critique shows no awareness of this option.
And so, to answer the reader's query -- when the article closes by saying:
To answer the question posed in the title of this work, "Is
Satan bound today?" The answer from the biblical evidence is clearly,
The answer given, though, presupposes that the kingdom advent
must have either begun in 30 AD, as the critiqued view supposes, or else
has not yet begun as of today. And so, the critique remains without any
bearing on preterist eschatology.
For this week I'll just share a couple of interesting links I was passed by friends and associates.
Here we have a story from Indonesia about how public shame is being used to punish criminals. It gives you a good idea what the focus of punishment also would have been in Bible times.
Here we have a report on a study showing that people who use the Internet for research have an overinflated grasp of their own knowledge and understanding. Call the Net a virus that causes the Dunning Effect in humans.