There are three ways to read a good and growing number of the classics of the Christian faith. The first is to read the original work. This is usually the most rewarding option, but it can pose difficulties when the author’s language is either foreign or antiquated. The second is to read a modernized version in which a contemporary author has generally maintained the content and flow of the book, but rewritten it in modern English. The third is to read a modern adaptation of the work in which a contemporary author writes his own version or adaptation that conveys the same ideas as the original, but with fresh language, illustrations, and so on. As time goes on, many classic works are available in all three formats.
The most recent to receive this treatment is John Owen’s Communion with God. Already available in Communion with the Triune God, a slightly modernized version edited by Justin Taylor and Kelly Kapic, we now have a fully adapted version in Mike McKinley’s Friendship with God: A Path to Deeper Fellowship with the Father, Son, and Spirit.
There is little I need to say about the original text except that it is for good reason that it has stood the test of time. First printed in the 1650s, it continues to be the preeminent work on the subject of the Christian’s communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—realities that Owen understood to be not only crucial to the Christian life, but actually the heart and soul of it.
In this adaptation, McKinley chooses to speak of “friendship” rather than “communion.” “If you are a Christian,” he explains, “the Bible says that the eternal God—the one who made the universe and everything in it, the God who is more holy and glorious and powerful than we can even begin to understand—that God wants you to know him and be known by him. He has gone to great lengths to make it possible for you to be his friend. He delights in your company and loves to shower you with good gifts. In fact, he plans to spend eternity blessing you far beyond what you can imagine.” And, indeed, within the pages of Scripture we find the Lord referring to his people as friends, family, his body, his bride, and other terms of warmth, endearment, communion, and friendship. “That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? God intends to have a close and intimate connection with us.”
Yet we often have trouble believing this and living like it’s true—imagining that a being as great and holy and mighty as God might actually treasure a relationship with weak and broken people like us. And then even if we do believe it, we can struggle to know how to act out and foster that relationship. “I know both of those struggles in my own life and in the lives of the brothers and sisters in the church I pastor,” says McKinley. “I see it in the Christians who leave to find another church that makes them feel ‘more spiritual,’ in those who are always looking for the new conference or program that will unlock the key insight they need to feel closer to God, in those who have grown doubtful that God could really love someone like them, in those who feel like their walk with the Lord has simply stalled out, and in the people who have settled into going through the motions, hoping that something will change someday.”
And this is precisely where Owen’s book has proven so valuable to so many generations of Christians. Yet as time passes, it becomes increasingly inaccessible. “The problem (and the reason for this book) is that Owen can be difficult to read and understand. His language is outdated, the world that he was writing to is very different from ours, he never tires of listing out points and subpoints, and his writing style can seem overly complicated at times (he never seems to explain anything in ten words if he can explain it in fifty!). As a result, Communion with God just isn’t something that most twenty-first century Christians are going to pick up and read.”
Hence this modernization in which McKinley’s goal has been to “mine some of the most precious diamonds of Owen’s spiritual insights and make them available and applicable to you as you grow in your enjoyment of the friendship of the God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I’ve tried to provide some of Owen’s most accessible and helpful quotes from the book, and if this motivates you to go read Owen on your own, you will be richly rewarded for your time and effort. It is true that some wonderful things are inevitably lost when you take a masterpiece written by a genius and let a (definite) nongenius like me shorten, rephrase, and rework it. But while some of Owen’s brilliance has certainly been lost in the process of creating this book, I do have hope that much good remains to serve you in your friendship with God.”
McKinley carries out his task well and helpfully conveys the best of Owen’s work in a way that is much easier to read and digest. If you have wanted to read a classic but have been intimidated by the original, or perhaps even incapable of understanding it, Friendship with God is just the answer. I am glad to recommend it.