International Conference on ‘John Owen: Between Orthodoxy and Modernity’, Theological University Apeldoorn, The Netherlands, August 31 – September 2, 2016

This international conference, co-organized by five universities from the Netherlands and Belgium, marks the 400th anniversary of the birth of the English Puritan John Owen (1616–1683). As a leading orthodox Reformed theologian he lived on the brink of a new age. Therefore his theology is important for understanding the developing mutual relationship between orthodoxy and the modern context.

The central focus of this conference is the important historical position of John Owen between orthodoxy and modernity. As a leading proponent of Protestant orthodoxy, working in the early modern context, Owen was sensitive to contemporary cultural and political developments and helped to refine the understanding of the relationship between church and state. The conference aims to sharpen the lens through which the relevance and significance of Owen’s work can be interpreted for today. Thus current evangelicalism, with its emphasis on individual faith, can only be properly understood from its roots in Puritanism within the context of early modernity. John Owen stood on the forefront of the evangelical vision of the local church as the predominant form of church governance, also known as congregationalism. The term ‘modernity’ in the title of the conference therefore refers not only to the early modern context of Owen’s work, but also to the movement rooted in the Renaissance and the Reformation which took further shape in several stages in the so-called turn to the subject and the new ideas about individual and community. Thus, modernity is characterized by concepts such as anthropocentrism, anti-traditionalism, rationalization, individualization, democratization and the fragmenting of life. This modernising had great effects on epistemology and views of God, community, self and world, since the relationship between Creator and creation was reinterpreted. As a leading church leader, theologian, academic administrator and politician, Owen stood at the heart of this development.

The central issue for our conference is: How did Owen as an orthodox theologian relate to modernity? Was he conscious of tendencies that we now label ‘modern’? If so, how did he respond to these? Can certain aspects of his work be interpreted as symptomatic of changes in the European culture of his time? Was Owen a modern theologian without being aware of that fact? Can modern tendencies be traced in his theology proper, his Christology, his ecclesiology, his anthropology, etc.? Did he foster the development of modernity, e.g. by unconsciously stimulating individualization, based on his spirituality of democratization as related to his view of the church? Our interest in these questions is not only from an historical perspective; we are also interested in what we can learn from his relationship to modernity today. Thus we are interested to explore to which extent the way how Owen dealt with the contextual shift from early or even pre-modernity to modernity might be relevant for the current cultural context as it shifts from modernity to postmodernity.

We would like to assess this central question from four different perspectives:

-        historical: Owen’s  theology in the context of early modernity;

-        systematic-theological: the relevance of Owen’s theology today;

-        theological-spiritual: the inspiration from his Puritan spirituality for many people today;

-        Owen’s reception: the use of his theology in the Dutch Further Reformation, in Neocalvinism, and in international movements such as Methodism and Pietism.

The keynote speakers are respectively:

-        Prof. Dr. Carl Trueman (Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia USA)

-        Prof. Dr. Ivor J. Davidson (University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland)

-        Prof. Dr. Kelly M. Kapic (Covenant College, Lookout Mountain Georgia, USA)

-        Prof. Dr. Joel R. Beeke (Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, USA)

We are also now opening up the call for papers, welcoming contributions related to our main theme ‘John Owen: Between Orthodoxy and Modernity’. We plan later to publish the keynote lectures and papers in a prestigious series with an academic publisher.

We will welcome any contribution that is related to our main theme ‘John Owen: Between Orthodoxy and Modernity’.  This theme will be discussed from four different perspectives, as the Announcement of the conference shows.

We invite theologians interested in the (sub)theme(s) to submit their proposal for a paper presentation at this Owen Conference in an abstract of about 250 words to:  Please, make sure that your contribution fits in one of the four research areas c.q. perspectives mentioned above and make this relation clear in the introduction of your paper.

We envisage papers of about 2,000 words, in order to allow enough time for discussion during the presentation of the papers.

Proposals should be sent before April 15th , 2016.

This three-day conference, to be held in the lovely setting of Apeldoorn, aims at inspiring research on John Owen and thus stimulating further theological work ultimately for the glory of God.

To quote Owen himself, an ‘end of all true theology is the cultivation of a most holy and sweet communion with God, wherein lies the true happiness of mankind.’ (Biblical theology, 618)

Prof. Dr. A.J. Beck (Evangelical Theological Faculty Leuven)
Prof. Dr. H. van den Belt (University of Groningen)
Dr. J.M. Burger (Theological University Kampen)
Dr. M.J. Kater (Theological University Apeldoorn)
Prof. Dr. W. van Vlastuin (VU University Amsterdam)

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  • Les

    Wow, this sounds good. I’m slowly working through Christologia right now. Sections of Doctrine of Justification by Faith and An Exposition on Psalm 130 helped me in the past. I have major depression and his works are very comforting to me as they point me beyond myself toward God. Many modern writers fail at this.

    As far as modernity I’ve always viewed him as someone who was caught up or trying to untangle the relationship between church and state in a time when the church was viewed as part of the state in state religion.