Book Review – “God’s Battle Plan for the Mind” by David W. Saxton

God’s Battle Plan for the Mind (Reformation Heritage Books, 2015) is a compelling call for believers to return to the lost art of biblical meditation, and to recognize this as the chief means of spiritual growth in each of our lives. In these 145 pages, Pastor David Saxton combs deeply through the writings of the Puritans, showing clearly and persuasively that meditation, though largely neglected among believers in our own day, has historically been  regarded as the most important of all the Christian disciplines, as well as one of the chief ways of discerning the spiritual health of a Christian.

In the foreword, Dr. Joel Beeke (the president of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary) likens a Christian who fails to meditate on Scripture with a person who is presented with a gourmet meal but is unable to have the joy and benefit of tasting even a single bite for themselves. A similar distinction is made throughout the book, reminding us that it’s not enough to only read or hear God’s Word in a passing manner (though both reading and hearing Scripture are important!), but that we must also be intentional about contemplating that Word for ourselves and applying it directly to our lives.

The author explains that, in many respects, modern Christianity has increasingly become superficial and weak. He adds that we can respond to this growing problem in either one of two ways – we can either “adapt and concede to the reality of anemic Christianity,” or we can “return to true biblical spirituality – a serious focus on putting God’s Word to practice in one’s own experience” (1). This latter response – which is the only God-honoring response for believers – is known as “biblical meditation, or, the doctrine of Christian thinking” (1-2). With this in mind, Saxton explains “The goal of this book is to convince God’s people of the absolute necessity of personal meditation. The book will motivate the believer to begin this work; teach practically how to meditate on divine truth; and guide in right patterns of thinking throughout the day” (2).

The book begins by expressing to readers the vital importance of biblical meditation, explaining, in the words of Thomas Watson, that “Without meditation the truth of God will not stay with us; the heart is hard, and the memory slippery, and without meditation all is lost; meditation imprints and fastens a truth in the mind…” A further plea comes to us from Richard Baxter, that “if you would but set yourselves to consider of what you hear or read, one line of a chapter, or one sentence of a sermon, would lay you into tears, or make you groan, or at least do more than is now done” (6).

In the Puritan days, biblical meditation was regarded as the “nucleus of the Puritan devotional life, ” the “supreme means of grace,” and “the most important aspect of private Christian devotion” (5). However, it’s even more convicting for us to consider that when the Lord spoke to Joshua before he led God’s people into the Promised Land (and into battle), “that his greatest need was to live by meditating upon God’s word” (7), and that very likely, “David was called a man after God’s own heart because he meditated” (11, emphasis added). With such remarkable God-honoring leaders being led by God into a deeper knowledge of his Word, who are we to regard it with less value in our own lives?

Equally convicting counsel comes on every page of this book! Here, we learn that true meditation is challenging work, requiring both time and effort on our part, though the reward makes it more than worth the effort.  William Bridge highlights this truth as follows: “As it is a soul-satisfying work, so this work of meditation to a gracious soul is a most delightful work. What greater delight than to think on that God in whom he doth most delight?….Though it be hard in regard of its practice, yet it may be sweet and delightful in regard to its profit…” (13).

We also discover that even those of us who’ve not been intentional about meditating on God’s Word have nonetheless practiced meditation. The author writes, “everyone meditates on something. We either learn to practice and benefit from biblical meditation, or we inevitably allow our minds to wander dangerously through sinful or depressing thoughts” (15). More directly, Edmund Calamy chastens his fellow believers for our poorly directed contemplation, first by declaring, “Let us mourn before the Lord that we have misplaced our meditation.” He then instructs, “Now mourn before your God heartily, and go into your closets and bemoan it….You have been meditating all your lives long upon vain things, and have not meditated upon the things of eternity” (16).

After considering further what makes for unbiblical meditation, Saxton looks closely at what God’s Word teaches us about genuine, Christ-glorifying meditation and then turns again to the Puritans, whose comments on these biblical truths continue to enrich our study of this important doctrine. Remaining chapters consider the different types of Christian meditation (occasional and deliberate, with both being important, but daily, deliberate meditation being deemed most crucial by the Puritans), specific counsel regarding how to meditate in a biblical way, the specific benefits of Christian meditation and the “enemies” (such as busy-ness and entertainment) which are most likely to prevent us from meditating on Scripture as Scripture itself (and, of course, Scripture’s divine Author!) instructs us to do.

In every portion of this book, we are lovingly and biblically exhorted to make God’s Word the supreme authority of not only our church lives, but our daily lives as well. We are likewise warned that to neglect to do this makes us (to quote R. Kent Hughes) “Christians without Christian minds, Christians who do not think Christianly” (134). Personally, I have been deeply challenged – by both Saxton and the Puritan authors whose works he quotes – to intentionally carve out more time not only for reading God’s Word, but for meditating on it as well, and I have no doubt that other readers will be similarly convicted and blessed as they read this material for themselves.

On the back cover of the book, an endorsement from John MacArthur encourages that believers should, “…get a copy, read it, put its principles into practice, and ‘be transformed by the renewal of your mind.'” I whole-heartedly agree, and further believe that the church of Jesus Christ will be greatly strengthened and made far less “superficial” as her members read and apply the soul-stirring contents of this book!

NOTE: I received this book for free from Reformation Heritage Books (through Cross-Focused Reviews) in exchange for my preparation of this honest review of the book.  However, I was not required to write a positive review of the book.

Book Review – “Romans 8-16 For You” by Timothy Keller

In this second volume of Pastor Timothy Keller’s study of Romans, he naturally maintains the same approach to the study which was employed in his writing of the first volume, clarifying at the outset that this book “….is not a commentary,” but rather that, “it is an expository guide, opening up the Scriptures and suggesting how they apply to us today” (9). It should come as no surprise to experienced readers of Keller’s work that the book achieves this goal admirably, while offering plenty of inspirational insight and theological “food for thought” to readers.

As in the previous volume, this book is divided into twelve chapters, with each chapter (except the last one) being further divided into two equal “parts” of just over six pages.  The six-page readings certainly help to present this rich material in more manageable portions, but it still strikes me as odd that this content wasn’t simply presented as twenty-three chapters, since that’s essentially what it is.

Keller explains that, while the first half of the book of Romans explains “…the wonderful truths of the gospel: of justification by faith, of union with Christ, of salvation through Christ alone and not through our works,” this second half of the book primarily aims to answer the question, “How does faith in the gospel of Christ actually lead to change in real life?” (7). Keller acknowledges a further division in the book of Romans, between chapters 8-11, explaining the ground of Christian assurance – which Keller defines as solely “the work of his Son on the cross and and work of his Spirit in our hearts” – and chapters 12-16, presenting a theological summary of the Christian life. Regarding this application of the gospel to our lives, the author rightly declares “The believer’s life is to be lived out of gratitude. We live to please our heavenly Father by obeying him, even at cost or inconvenience” (8).

As always, Keller serves as a most helpful guide in our study of the biblical text, not only because of the solid pastoral exposition and application which he offers, but also because he helps us to see the tremendous impact that this portion of Scripture has had on believers throughout history, and the similar impact which it should continue to have in our lives today. As he delves into the biblical text himself, he also provides interaction with past writers such as Augustine, Luther and Calvin, and more recent authors such as John Stott and Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Throughout this expository guide, Keller helps clarify many difficult subjects about which Christians often get confused, including…..

– Romans 8:28 NOT being intended for every person (45);

– God’s promises to Israel having NOT failed (63);

– Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart? (65 ff.);

– Who, precisely, is the “Israel” which will ultimately be saved? (95 ff.);

– How fully should believers submit to their governmental authorities? (129 ff.).

As an additional help for readers, the book also includes a glossary, and two helpful appendices – a summary of Romans 8-16 in outline form, and a thorough discussion of the doctrines of God’s sovereignty and election (two especially challenging subjects for many believers). This study is both concise and exciting, with Keller lovingly navigating his readers through the often frightening waters of this rather heavy theological book, raising nearly all of the same questions that we’re prone to ask as we read this material, and providing sound pastoral responses that are sure to help calm many of our anxieties about the book of Romans. Best of all, he draws attention to all of the major points which are made by the biblical text and gives us good motivation for considering it more fully and applying it more appropriately in our relationship with Christ.

NOTE: I received this book for free from The Good Book Company (through Cross-Focused Reviews) in exchange for my preparation of this honest review of the book.  I was not required to write a positive review of the book.