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Reading John Owen

February 2, 2007

It seems as if John Owen, the 17th century Puritan theologian, has gained some popularity in recent times, especially since the CT article on the resurgence of Calvinism among young people. However, as much as people would love to start reading Owen (especially since his influence is largely seen in the lives of Packer, Sinclair Ferguson, John Piper, and among many others) his writing style has frustrated many from actually benefiting from him. So, I thought I might offer some humble tips on how to read (or get started reading) John Owen:

  • Motivation – Owen’s books are not just written in academic language, they are written in awkward and archaic language that makes for difficult reading for any reader at any level. So, the motivation of knowing that you are working hard and not sweating over worthless stuff is important. You are trying to tap into writings that have influenced the greatest theological minds in the last 300 years.
  • Just jump in – Your best bet is to just jump into one of his books and read the first 50 pages, knowing that you may not grasp much. But the more you read him, the better you will grasp his language. Read one of his theological works, like The Death of Death in the Death of Jesus Christ (not to say Death of Death is not important). You can always re-read arguments that you didn’t fully grasp the first go around. That way, by the time you read the Meditations on the Glory of Christ, The Mortification of Sin or Communion with God, which are more devotional, you take in everything he offers on these subjects.
  • Look for outlines – Some of Owen’s works have outlines in them. The Death of Death has a very helpful outline in front that really helps since Owen’s arguments don’t always follow his headings. Also, in Kapic and Taylor’s new edition of Owen’s three works on sin and temptation, they put an outline of all three works in the back that is extremely helpful as well. And if you have enough patience, do some outlining yourself – Mortimer Adler is extremely helpful on this.
  • Read slowly – No one reads Owen quickly. Owen has a way of writing something that makes you look up from your book, squeeze the bridge of your nose, squint, and try to take in everything he has just presented (as if squeezing the bridge of your nose and squinting helps).
  • Read or listen to any biographies – It helps to read Owen in the context of his times. John Piper has a great biography you can listen to, Sinclair Ferguson has released some works on Owen, and Carl Trueman has written a biography being released Aug. ’07 – see also Toon’s God’s Statesman.
  • Beware of abridged versions – Abridged versions of Owen can be helpful. Puritan Paperbacks by Banner of Truth have abridged many of Owen’s works. However, abridged versions rarely transfer that Puritan/Nonconformist language that resulted because of the violent times they wrote in.

Hopefully, you may benefit from this list.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. February 3, 2007 8:21 pm

    thanks for the suggestions… i also thought the mdever blog was interesting. good posts!

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