Theologians who just won't die
Further Reading: John Owen
- Mike Reeves was formerly UCCF's Head of Theology, and is now Theologian-at-Large at Wales Evangelical School of Theology. View all resources by Mike Reeves
Owen, it has to be said, was pretty merciless towards his readers. He expected them to be serious and committed. He once wrote in a preface, 'Reader...If thou art, as many in this pretending age, a sign or title gazer, and comest into books as Cato into the theatre, to go out again - thou hast had thy entertainment; farewell!' There are no gentle introductions, there is often little sense to the order of a book, and, bluntly, he does go on a bit. But all that is nothing to the way he writes. It feels as if Latin was his real native tongue, and so, when he tries to write in English, the result is uncomfortably constipated. Thus, trying to imbibe Owen in large doses can be a bit like drinking rather too much Horlicks. J. I. Packer's suggested medicine is to read Owen out loud, which can help a bit. But, to be honest, whether read, said, chanted, or rapped, Owen is tough meat.
For all that, there is simply no substitute for going straight to the horse's mouth. Probably the easiest and most rewarding place to start is Communion with God. For a nicely accessible, modernized version, I recommend Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor (eds.) Communion with the Triune God.
It is also available in vol. 2 of The Works of John Owen, ed. William G. Hood, 24 vols. After that, Christologia (Works, vol. 1) is well worth a read. Pneumatologia (Works, vol. 3) is best left to the more keen. These texts are all freely available on www.ccel.org, but really all Owen's works are too lengthy to be read on a computer screen. Last, the commentary on Hebrews: the seven volumes are obviously off-putting, but just a look at the short preceding articles in the first Hebrews volume (Works, vol. 17) is worth it. You could, of course, buy the 24 volume set, however, many of the volumes are available here for free download, or you can download the whole lot in pdf format for under £10 at www.ageslibrary.com.
After that, probably the best introduction to Owen's life is Peter Toon's now-classic biography God's Statesman: The Life and Work of John Owen: Pastor, Educator, Theologian.
As for his thought, try Sinclair Ferguson, John Owen on the Christian Life.