Motivation for Pastors to Embrace the Challenge of Reading “Communion with God,” by John Owen
There are many great books for pastors, and I benefit from the work of numerous contemporary authors and thinkers. But there is also much gold to be mined from works that have stood the test of time and helped Christians for centuries. For that reason, I would urge pastors to read Communion with God.
Some years ago, I was preparing a reading list for an upcoming sabbatical. I didn’t have any pressing projects that required study, so I was at liberty to choose whatever books seemed like they would be most helpful and enjoyable. As I scanned the volumes in my office, my eyes fell upon an as-yet unread copy of John Owen’s Communion with God on a shelf. Contemplating the title, I thought that this book probably had something I needed. After all, being a pastor meant spending a lot of time in God’s Word and talking to people about the Lord, but it wasn’t always conducive to communion with God. And when it boiled down to it, I wasn’t 100 percent sure that I actually knew what “communion with God” meant.
So I read Owen’s book that summer, or more accurately—I devoured it. Owen can be a tough read; he never says something in ten words that can be explained in a hundred. And he definitely could have benefitted from an editor wrangling some order into the chaos of his syntax and outline (though the 2007 edition edited by Justin Taylor and Kelly Kapic has gone a long way towards giving the reader a fighting chance). But the juice was more than worth the squeeze. I don’t know of any book (except the Bible, obviously) that has impacted my daily life and thinking about God more. As a result, I’ve probably re-read Communion with God three or four times in the past few years. I’ve even written a book trying to make Owen’s insights accessible and available to the wider Christian community.
While I think that Communion with God is a book that will benefit any believer that reads it, it strikes me that there are a few ways it can particularly benefit pastors. Let me suggest four:
1. Communion with God clarifies what it means to have a relationship with God.
Some evangelicals are fond of framing Christianity as “having a relationship with God,” and that is true (as far as it goes). But while we may have some idea how to carry on a relationship with a friend, a spouse, or a neighbor, it’s not always clear how we are supposed to relate to God. Owen’s book is a trusty field guide to the Bible’s practical teachings about having a relationship with God.
2. Communion with God reminds us that our relationship with God is carried out with all three persons of the Trinity.
One of the distinctive features of Owen’s book is that it encourages believers to carry on distinct communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is a fine line to be walked here, and Owen does it masterfully. He shows how we carry on a relationship with the Father in his love, the Son in his grace, and the Spirit in his comfort, while also insisting that to have a relationship with any one person is to have a relationship with the one God. As a preacher, I regularly find Owen’s thinking and vocabulary creeping into my sermon manuscripts.