Wednesday, December 13, 2006

How to Read John Owen – You Must Read Out Loud!

With Justin Taylor and Kelly Kapic’s recent release of Owen’s “volume 6” on Sin and Temptation, I thought it might be helpful to describe how I have used this work over the years.

About 10 years ago, someone (was it Geoff Thomas?) mentioned that they had spent many years reading Owen out loud with a small group of men. They would take turns reading and let anyone interrupt at any point to comment or seek clarification from the group. That sounded like one of the goofiest things I had ever heard at the time, but I am an “Outloud-Owen-Reading-Evangelist” now!

This technique for reading Owen addresses two of the main stumbling blocks most readers face.

1. “There is no denying that Owen is heavy and hard to read” understates J.I. Packer in his introductory essay to The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. But this heaviness is quickly lightened when the ears hear what the eyes see. Owen takes “two senses” reading, if he is to be read with understanding. And often there is someone in the group who knows the definition of the odd antiquated word or saying – if not, arm one of the men with a dictionary (and another with an English Bible to look up passages referenced).

2. The second stumbling block to easy reading is the sheer applicability of the material. Reading Owen is a little like watching your own open-heart surgery – it is tempting to squirm. But having other men there to hold your feet to the fire helps guard against the rationalization and self-justification that tempt the solo reader.

I am currently reading with two of my seminary students (both members of our church). We may make our way through 3-4 pages (about one chapter) of material per week, but there is so much to ponder and apply in that short space that one would not want to go much further. We meet for 1 hour 15 minutes – 15 minutes to fill our coffees and catch up a bit; 45 minutes to read out loud with discussion; and 15 minutes to pray.

I think every man ought to be required to do this at least once with brothers in the Lord. There has simply never been anything written other than the Scripture itself that so effectively teaches how to battle our flesh. Every page is a fresh revelation! And I think this marks my 4th time reading out loud and about the 10th time I have read the volume.