Dr. Gribbean is an expert on the Puritans, specifically John Owen, John Nelson Darby, and John Milton and has written extensively on the Puritans. This podcast discusses his book, An Introduction to John Owen.
Originally, Gribbean was not excited about reading Owen. It was not until the mid to late 1990s, in PhD studies, that Gribbean first heard about the Puritans and their beliefs. Finally in 2010 Gribbean “bit the bullet” and read Owen. Gribbean realized that Owen was not as hard to understand as he thought, and he reaped the spiritual benefits of digesting Owen’s works. Because of this experience, Gribbean wanted to share Owen with others. According to Gribbean, Owen’s reputation for being difficult is not accurate.
Owen lived through a revolutionary century: the 1600s. He grew up under the reign of King James, which was 12 years after England and Scotland had united under a single monarch. This had a huge impact on the Church of England of which Owen's father was a pastor.
Own went to Oxford and had an unexpected conversion experience. He realized the doctrinal debates taking place in college have very real and spiritual consequences. At this point, he committed himself to the reformed theology that was under attack at Oxford. Eventually, Owen left Oxford and moved in with a family that happened to have religious and political beliefs that were different than his. This discouraged Owen, and he eventually had to leave this family and struggled to know what to do with his life.
Owen served as a minister in various churches in South East England. Still, in the Church of England, Owen preached to large crowds not because he was a wonderful preacher but because the people were commanded by law to attend. It was in this environment that he was able to make “friends in high places” which catapulted him to associate with top Republican leaders like Oliver Cromwell, whom he accompanied in his last few invasions. Eventually, Owen became the Vice Chancellor of Oxford University which was considered the highest academic position available at that time. This lasted for eleven years until the Republic collapsed when King Charles regained the throne.
Once again, Owen spiraled into a season much like after he left Oxford – aimless and wandering. By Owen’s death, the non-conformist church (Puritan churches) began to slip away from orthodoxy.
One book that Owen published titled, The Primer, was a collection of prayers for parents to teach their children how to pray in the morning, evening, during mealtimes, etc. A man with much theological knowledge and depth wrote prayers simple enough for children to understand. This was one of the earliest books published specifically for children.
What many do not know about Owen is that he buried every single one of his children and his first wife. He was familiar with children and death.
Owen and Suffering
Owen was a much more “human” person than many of us think. He was very intelligent but also very human. Perhaps we need to remember that our historical theological heroes all have their bad days, sorrowful seasons, losses, griefs, and shortcomings. All of Owen’s experiences, even his sorrows, shaped him as a person.
Amid his suffering, he was a man of faith. Faith is fashioned in the furnace of affliction (1 Peter 1). All his writings are influenced by a theology of suffering with hope in God. If anything, his sufferings made him long for Christ and for heaven.
“The Handbook of John Owen” by John Tweeddale addresses major topics that Owen wrote about from science to education to theology.
Owen’s “Communion with God.” This book shows the very heart of Owen’s theology. For Owen, theology is about knowing who God is – the Trinity - not just intellectually, but emotionally.
“An Introduction to John Owen” by Gribbean.
Brittany Proffitt lives in Dallas and is a writer and content manager for So We Speak.