Lately there has been a bit of a scuffle on the net regarding the covenant theology of John Owen. A certain Anglican blogger has taken it upon himself to refute a claim that no one is making and he seems quite proud of himself for causing the dust up with Reformed Baptists that has ensued. The provocateur I have in mind is Mr. Lee Gatiss, a contributing author for Reformation 21.
Mr. Gatiss argues repeatedly that John Owen was not a Baptist. The problem? No one claims that he was. Despite this fact, Mr. Gatiss remains obstinate. His posts can be found here, here, and here. Brandon Adams, writing for his blog “Contrast,” does an excellent job of setting the record straight. His posts can be found here and here.
As for my part in this controversy, I want to focus on a particular statement made by Mr. Gatiss in his post entitled John Owen Was Not A Presbyterian. That’s right. Mr. Gatiss is an equal opportunity provocateur. He’s picking on Presbyterians too. He claims that he will target Nonconformists next in that he is “still committed to that promised post on how John Owen was a good Anglican.” Charming, isn’t he?
The statement I have in mind is this:
But for now, let me rather just finish off this mini-series on the great John Owen. True, he was not a Baptist. And what’s more to the point, his covenant theology was so thoroughly not Baptistic that he himself always considered it to demand, support, and promote infant baptism.
My particular interest in that quote is the statement that John Owen’s covenant theology was “thoroughly not Baptistic.” Mr. Gatiss is simply wrong. Again, I recommend Brandon Adam’s posts on this topic. He demonstrates that assertion to be false by quoting Owen’s own words regarding his view of covenant theology. But there’s more. If John Owen’s covenant theology was so thoroughly not Baptistic, why does Nehemiah Coxe, a seventeenth century Particular Baptist theologian, and a probable editor of the 1689 LBC, direct his readers to the writings of John Owen for confirmation and further elaboration of his own stated view of covenant theology?
That notion (which is often supposed in this discourse) that the old covenant and the new differ in substance and not only in the manner of their administration, certainly requires a larger and more particular handling to free it from those prejudices and difficulties that have been cast on it by many worthy persons who are otherwise minded. Accordingly, I designed to give a further account of it in a discourse of the covenant made with Israel in the wilderness and the state of the church under the law. But when I had finished this and provided some materials also for what was to follow, I found my labor for the clearing and asserting of that point happily prevented by the coming out of Dr. Owen’s third volume on Hebrews. There it is discussed at length and the objections that seem to lie against it are fully answered, especially in the exposition of the eighth chapter. I now refer my readers there for satisfaction about it which he will find commensurate to what might be expected from so great a learned person.
Nehemiah Coxe – Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ, Preface to the reader, p. 30