What have you learned about our reformed evangelical heritage while studying for your PhD?

What are the main things you have learned about our reformed evangelical heritage while studying for your PhD ?

My PhD is on the Hebrews commentary written by John Owen (1616-1683).

People know Owen, if at all, as a great Puritan theologian. But like almost all the great theologians of his era, he wrote not just theology but biblical commentary. That aspect of his and their work has been hugely neglected in the scholarship and consequently in popular perception. So I spend my days reading his mammoth commentary, which at about two million words in length is nearly three times as long as the entire Bible!

What’s interesting is that Owen isn’t content with shallow interpretation, or with imposing a piety or a doctrinal framework onto the details of the Bible to smooth out difficulties. Some people assume that is what Reformed theology does. But Owen says he adores the fullness of the scriptures and he shows it by working at the text with the best tools at his disposal, and out-exegeting his unorthodox interlocutors along the way. That has been a joy, an encouragement, and a challenge every day.

I sometimes wonder if evangelicals in our day, for all our supposed hermeneutical advances, are too content with a “main point” superficiality in our handling of the Bible, and don’t truly reverence what the Articles call “God’s word written” as much as our evangelical forebears did.

We are often much more scholastic and driven by logic than they were; Owen would never reduce a whole chapter of the Bible to a seven word big idea, for example (as Thomas Aquinas did to whole books), and then just preach the theme sentence from different angles. There’s much more to say on all this, but perhaps I should write a book… !


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