It was the skeptic H.L. Mencken that wrote, “Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy”. As much as I appreciate Mencken’s wit and intellect, he was wrong about puritans in general and even more wrong about John Owen in particular. Owen was, after all, obsessed with ‘happiness’, but of a variety that the atheist Mencken could never experience; namely, communion with God.
It is this John Owen, the Puritan of Puritans, and his work on communion with God that was the subject of a recent book edited and introduced by Pastor Ryan McGraw: “The Foundation of Communion with God, the Trinitarian Piety of John Owen.”
Owen was an intellectual giant in the land of intellectual giants. I have read a number of his works, all of them making a profound impression on me. This book, however is unique in that it contains an amalgamation of works by Owen, all focused on what it means to have communion with God. And not just any God, but the Trinitarian God of Scripture. From McGraw’s introduction we read, “Owen taught that worship cannot promote communion with God unless it is biblical, but he also taught that even biblical worship cannot promote communion with God unless the heart is engaged.” Say what you like about Owen and the puritans, but for them worship was a moving, dare I say enjoyable, experience. One that incorporated the senses along with the mind. It was not, as so many assume, a rigid, stoic, intellectual exercise.
This book is rather unique and, in my opinion, a great starter book for those interested in understanding the mind and mission of Owen. This is not a book “by” McGraw, as it mostly contains the original thoughts of Owen, just updated to accommodate the modern reader. The book then, introduced and contextualized by McGraw contains 41 “essays” or short excerpts directly from John Owen’s variety of works, all centered on communion with the Trinitarian God. Because of the depth of Owen’s pen, I would encourage the reader to tackle just one entry a day over a couple of months. Almost like a deep-end of the pool devotional reader.
The book is brilliant because Owen was brilliant. McGraw does a great job of setting the stage for the reader then leaving it so that the main actor can display his gifts. Make no mistake, this book gets to the heart of Owen’s mission-to see the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exalted and enjoyed; described and delighted in; acknowledged and adored. Because of that, this is an easy recommendation from me for those serious about taking their faith, and communion with God, to the next level. Also, this is a “must own” if you have an interest in the works of the puritans and/or John Owen.