Who I Read Part 1: John Owen
There are certain authors that I tend to go back to time and time again. They have written a small or large collection of books that either enlighten my mind, cut me deep, or cause me to look to Christ again and again – or they do all three. I wanted to spend a few posts, sporadically here and there, and talk about some of those authors. The first one is John Owen – the 17th century Puritan.
I start with John Owen because he has had the largest and most recent impact on my spirituality. I am by no means a John Owen scholar, for I have only read four of his books. And I have only read four books by him because reading Owen takes me longer than reading others. While Owen is hard and difficult, they are rewarding when reflecting back on them.
I started to gain an interest in John Owen by listening to John Piper’s biographical and pastoral sketch of his life. Piper’s talk wet my appetite for this deep pastor-theologian. If you have any interest in getting to know Owen and his writings, Piper’s message is, in my opinion, the best place to start – at least you will be encouraged and motivated to move through his difficult and demanding writing.
I actually started reading him when a very close friend of mine sent me a copy of The Glories of Christ. This Puritan Paperback gave me a taste of the heart of Owen. It gave me a holistic view of how Scripture presents the person, work, and exaltation of Christ. And most importantly, it emphatically showed my spiritual decay apart from a constant view of the glory of Christ in my meditation on Scripture and prayer.
The second book I read was The Death of Death in the Death of Jesus Christ. I have never battled through a book like I have through this particular one (no pun intended – only geeks will get that joke). Apart from archaic language – even for the Puritans – Owen explains beautifully the Trinitarian plan of redemption, the death and intercession by Christ in his work as High Priest, and the eternal plan of God to redeem his Church to eternal communion. The very least this book has forced me to do is to be extremely precise in my thought of redemption and its effective work.
I then moved to Communion With God. As far as I have read (and have learned of Owen) is that this is his most trinitarian work, and that is saying quite a bit since almost everything he writes is trinitarian. Communion With God works to display how God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit communicates with the saints. It is a work to see the economical communion of the Trinity. When describing it that way and when you look at the table of contents’ chapter titles, one would think that this is a very devotional book. I thought that very thing and, in one sense, I was wrong. It is a tough read, at least for me. Much of the second part – Communion with the Son – was hard and easily missed. However, looking back, I can firmly say with confidence that Communion with God transformed with way I thought about worship, prayer, and meditation more than any other book I have read – making it very much devotional.
Lastly, I read Temptation and Sin. I guess this could be labeled as three books, Of Mortification, Of Temptation, and Indwelling Sin. These works have developed for me a more robust view of the power of sin, the importance of killing it (or it will be killing you), and the Holy Spirit as the great sovereign cause of mortification. I can say and encourages other that fighting and killing sin should be “our daily business.”
Volume 7: Sin & Grace
Owen shines in this second volume dedicated to more “practical” subjects. (Volumes 6 through 9 are dedicated thus.) Includes The Nature and Causes of Apostasy, Spiritual-Mindedness, and The Dominion of Sin and Grace.
Owen’s classic work On Spiritual Mindedness should be read often…one of the greatest works of devotional literature ever penned. It is also a great place to start if you are new to reading Owen.
Here are some other resources that explain Owen’s life and thought:
John Owen on the Christian Life by Sinclair Ferguson
John Owen (Great Theologians) by Carl Trueman (forthcoming)
God’s Statesmen: Life and Work of John Owen by Peter Toon
Dr. Carl Trueman has a very helpful audio lecture series
- John Owen: the Man and His Times
- John Owen: The Practice of Theology
- John Owen: On God
- John Owen: On Christ
- John Owen: On the Holy Spirit