Trinitarian Doxology: Reassessing John Owen’s Contribution To Reformed Orthodox Trinitarian Theology -- By: Ryan M. McGraw

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 77:2 (Fall 2015)
Article: Trinitarian Doxology: Reassessing John Owen’s Contribution To Reformed Orthodox Trinitarian Theology
Author: Ryan M. McGraw


Trinitarian Doxology:
Reassessing John Owen’s Contribution To Reformed Orthodox Trinitarian Theology

Ryan M. McGraw

Ryan M. McGraw is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Greenville, SC, and Research Fellow for the University of the Free State, South Africa. This article grew out of and expands upon the conclusions of his previous research in A Heavenly Directory: Trinitarian Piety, Public Worship, and a Reassessment of John Owen’s Theology, Reformed Historical Theology 29 (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2014), to which has been added new material and further conclusions.

I. Introduction

Reformed orthodox theologian Gisbertus Voetius (1589–1676) referred to the doctrine of the Trinity as “the foundation of fundamentals.”1 Although Richard Muller dissuades scholars from searching for a “central dogma” in historic Reformed theology,2 he notes that if any dogma comes close to achieving such status, it is the doctrine of the Trinity.3 In light of this fact, it is somewhat surprising that most modern treatments of Trinitarian theology assume that sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Reformed orthodoxy had virtually nothing to contribute to this vital doctrine.4

The recent Cambridge Companion to the Trinity and The Oxford Handbook of the Trinity both reflect this assumption. The Cambridge volume leaps four centuries from John Calvin (1509–1564) to Karl Barth (1886–1968), implying that little of consequence appeared in between.5 The Oxford Handbook devotes one out of forty-three chapters to the Reformed construction of the Trinity.

However, this chapter addresses how Reformed authors tried to harmonize the historical doctrine of the Trinity with their principle of sola scriptura.6 It does not treat positive developments or applications of the doctrine. Calvin has received significant scholarly attention, but predominantly in relation to his construction of the doctrine rather than to his use of it or its influence on his system of theology.7 The void left in the secondary literature has not adequately probed the bold claims of Voetius or the scholarly reflections of Muller.8

Recent studies of Joh...

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