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 – “Bible Revival” by Kenneth Berding

Bible Revival book cover

To begin with, the publisher who has produced this recent work is new themselves, and – based on this work – I imagine that we’ll be hearing about many more exciting books from them in the days to come! Weaver Book Company (not to be confused with Weaver Press, which is based in Zimbabwe) was established in 2013 by Jim Weaver, an established veteran of the Christian academic publishing world, who formerly served such highly respected publishing houses as Baker, Kregel, and Thomas Nelson. His most admirable goal in this new publishing venture is “to take the riches of the academy and make them accessible to the church” (https://www.weaverbookcompany.com/about/history-and-staff) – a goal which I believe is successfully reached in this book.

Bible Revival, by Kenneth Berding, is a short (121 page) and extremely accessible book calling direct attention to the current famine of God’s Word among believers, and reminding us of the vital place that Scripture should have in the life of every believer. In keeping with the goals of both the publisher and the author, this is a practical rather than academic work, obviously written from the perspective of an author who personally loves God’s Word and desires for other believers to do so as well. He hopes to accomplish this by offering us these six chapters, each of which considers one of the major obstacles preventing believers from growing in their knowledge of God’s Word and then offers practical solutions for overcoming these obstacles in our own lives.

From the outset, the undeniable problem is acknowledged:

“Christians used to be known as ‘people of one book.’ Sure, they read, studied, and shared other books. But the book they cared about more than all others combined was the Bible. They memorized it, meditated on it, talked about it, and taught it to others. We don’t do that anymore, and in a very real sense we’re starving ourselves to death.” (16)

Just to make sure that we’re good and convicted about this, though, Berding compares our current situation to similar experiences in the time of the Old Testament writings:

“In the book of Amos, people who experienced a ‘famine of hearing the words of the Lord’ are portrayed as undergoing divine judgment. Amos paints a picture of people without access to God’s revelation searching for a message from God like desperate people – hungry and dehydrated – in search of food and water (Amos 8:11-12). In Amos they want it, but are not permitted it. In our case, although we have unlimited access, we often don’t want it. The irony is intense. Who would deliberately and knowingly put himself under God’s judgment?” (19)

Thankfully, this book is filled with convicting passages like these – which may be just what we need to shake us from our spiritual lethargy and drive us to once again make God’s Word the priority in our lives that it truly needs to be!  Better than merely convicting readers, though, the author also provides us with great wisdom regarding how we should move past all of our various excuses for neglecting God’s Word and restore God’s Word to its rightful place as the authoritative guide for our lives.

In these chapters, we are freshly challenged – and helped – to overcome all of the obstacles that keep us from engaging with God’s Word on a daily basis. These obstacles include distractions and busy-ness (chapter 1), concerns about the Bible’s sufficiency for our lives (chapter 2), the common struggles with understanding, applying, and obeying God’s Word as we should (chapters 3 – 5), and the far too frequent unwillingness to incorporate God’s Word into our daily conversations with others (chapter 6).

In all of these ways, countless believers have allowed God’s Word to become virtually non-existent in their daily lives – especially when they aren’t gathered with the saints for weekly worship. Yet, in these pages, the author reminds us of the Bible’s unswerving insistence that genuine Christ-followers spend significant time encountering God in his written Word, and by the end of the book we have been greatly inspired to do so!

Each chapter concludes with a prayer for God to help us increase our commitment to the Bible, as well as questions for review to help us reflect on what we’ve just read. At the end of the book, there is a helpful appendix to help us learn to better memorize portions of Scripture (a crucial aspect of overcoming biblical illiteracy!), as well as a brief description of a forthcoming program intended to help believers and churches grow in their overall knowledge of the Bible.

Though an easy read and not necessarily filled with vast amounts of “new information”, this book serves as a powerful and inspiring reminder that a significant portion of our lives should be devoted to the reading, studying, memorizing, and applying of God’s Word, and enables us to freshly commit ourselves to setting Scripture as the priority in our lives that it needs to be.  What better purpose could a modern book serve?

NOTE: I received this book for free from Weaver Book Company (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 1-7 For You” by Timothy Keller

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In this exciting new addition to the God’s Word For You series, published by The Good Book Company, pastor Timothy Keller offers what he explains is not a commentary, but rather an “expository guide” to the first seven chapters of Romans, intended to serve readers by “opening up the Scripture and suggesting how it applies to us today” (10).  To this opening, he adds, “My prayer is simply that it will help you to, in Luther’s words, ‘break through’: in your understanding of the gospel message; or your experience of the gospel life; or both.”  In my opinion, he achieves his goal well, and offers his readers a tremendous resource for delving more deeply into this (especially) theologically rich portion of Scripture.

Since the book is not a commentary, Keller makes no effort to offer the same level of details regarding contrasting opinions, grammatical analysis, historical background, and theological interpretation that full-length commentaries offer (which is just fine, since there is already a vast multitude of wonderful commentaries on Romans in print), though fortunately, he does offer a very small and manageable amount of all these things in this book.  Clearly, this book is intended for “thinking laypeople” who are ready to dig deeper into God’s Word.  Since there are numerous references to the text and not as many quoted passages, it also seems intended to accompany – rather than replace – the reading of the actual biblical text (a feature which I, as a minister, greatly appreciate!).

It struck me as a bit strange that the book is divided into twelve “chapters”, yet each chapter is further divided into two equal readings (of about six pages each).  Why was it not simply acknowledged that the book actually has twenty-four chapters?  Was it feared that readers would be less drawn to the book if more chapters were listed on the contents page?  Or, were they limited in how many catchy chapter titles they could come up with?  The short readings are nice, of course, but any class or group who is considering using the book to guide their study should know up front they would either need to allow for twenty-four weeks’ worth of conversations, or else double up on the readings each week.

I was also a bit curious about how exactly this book was “edited from the study of Timothy Keller”, as the cover claims (which is different from the “Galatians For You” volume in this same series).  I looked in vain for an “acknowledgments” page, or any other place which explained how Keller originally presented this material, or what process it went through to become published in book form.  The only clue of other people participating in the process at all is the series preface by Carl Laferton, who’s named as the “series editor”.  Still, this doesn’t indicate whether Laferton, or Keller, or some anonymous third person actually crafted the final version what is written for us here.

Still, the book is presented (I think) in a very engaging and readable way, with plenty of inspiring observations throughout the text.  In fact, I have yet to see a more exciting and accessible resource to help lay-level readers genuinely study (and not simply think about) God’s Word – even as challenging a portion of God’s Word as the epistle to the Romans!  Though not aimed at advanced readers, Keller does a wonderful job of concisely answering many of the most commonly raised questions on each passage of Scripture, without venturing so far in his answers as to present any obviously debatable or controversial views on anything.  On the contrary, the comments that are offered by Keller seem to be solidly biblical, and well within the realm of agreement among the vast majority of evangelical Christians.

The one potential “hot topic” that Keller does mention is the so-called “New Perspective on Paul”, which he only discusses for two-and-a-half pages in the final appendix to the book.  While this may be a subject that most readers of this book have never even heard of, and perhaps no interest in (in which case they can ignore the appendix), it is one that is significant since it is being discussed with increasing regularity among scholars and pastors, and which can potentially affect the way that readers understand the writings of Paul.  Fortunately, though, Keller agrees with most evangelical pastors (and myself), concluding that “ultimately, we must still read the book of Romans as Paul’s defense of the gospel of free grace….The new perspective can’t dislodge the classic understanding of Romans” (198).

Other helpful features of the book include a glossary of challenging words (including conversational terms, such as “analogy” and “licentious”, as well as theological terms), a detailed outline of Romans 1-7, a helpful appendix on the theme of “idolatry”, and a recommended bibliography (which includes a diverse list of twenty-three titles, only six of which are commentaries on Romans).  Also, while the text itself is focused on helping readers understand the text of Romans, each of the (twenty-four) sections of the book concludes with relevant and probing “questions for reflection” – questions which are sure to be helpful in understanding how the text directly applies to our lives today.

Though it might seem a bit disappointing that this volume (like other forthcoming volumes in the series) only covers half of a biblical book, I believe that this should be regarded as a strength, rather than a weakness.  Far too often, we try to rush ourselves through books of the Bible, simply so that we can say that we’ve read it, when there is so much benefit to reading the text in smaller and more “digestible” portions, considering more deeply what the text actually means, and reflecting more thoroughly on how our lives should change as a result of what we’ve read.  Perhaps more than any other book in the Bible, Romans is a book that requires some thoughtfulness and reflection from readers – and perhaps better than any previous work, this new book from Timothy Keller should serve as a very helpful guide for the less experienced readers hoping to do so!

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.

Crossing the Tracks – Book Review by Dr. David Murray

For those who haven’t seen this, here is a great review of the book that I co-authored with Dolphus Weary and William Hendricks (son of the late Dr. Howard Hendricks, from Dallas Theological Seminary), titled “Crossing the Tracks”.  This review was written by Dr. David Murray, from Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, and was originally posted on the “Gospel Coalition” website (http://thegospelcoalition.org/book-reviews/review/crossing_the_tracks.) .

crossing the tracks book cover 2

Crossing the Tracks

Dolphus Weary with Josh Dear and William Hendricks |

Review by: David P. Murray

Dolphus Weary with Josh Dear and William Hendricks. Crossing the Tracks: Hope for the Hopeless and Help for the Poor in Rural Mississippi and Your Community. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2012. 192 pp. $11.99.

What an inspiring story! As one blurb put it, “[Dolphus Weary’s] journey out of physical, emotional, and spiritual poverty will challenge you to cross the racial divides in your own community and discover what it really means to serve one another.” That’s for sure.

Dolphus’s first book, I Ain’t Comin’ Back, told the story of how God enabled him to escape the poverty and discrimination of 1940-50s Mississippi to become one of the first black students in Los Angeles Bible College and then a missionary in Asia.

Crossing the Tracks: Hope for the Hopeless and Help for the Poor in Rural Mississippi and Your Community is the rest of the story, the account of how God not only overcame Dolphus’s opposition to return to Mississippi but also equipped him to serve its people in gospel ministry.

Earlier in my life, I had fled Mississippi with the vow, “I ain’t never comin’ back.” But then God called me back, and I obeyed. Now to my utter amazement, I was declaring, “I can’t ever leave!” I’d never felt such freedom. (56)

Using the story of his own fascinating life, Dolphus guides us to four action items: (1) Gospel-centered racial reconciliation; (2) Repenting of sins of omission as well as commission; (3) Just affirmative action policies; and (4) Practical bridge-building for Christians and churches.

Gospel-Centered Racial Reconciliation

Racial reconciliation is ultimately a spiritual issue. “Yes, racism manifests itself in ways that are very ugly and obvious,” Dolphus admits. “But if we only work on the social aspects of racism and never introduce the gospel, then we’ll never see complete transformation” (32).

Although Dolphus argues persuasively for political and social action, he always keeps the gospel central. Indeed, God taught him that “proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ and working for racial reconciliation were two sides of the same coin” (53).

Sin of Silence

Racism can be a sin of omission as well as commission. Dolphus observes:

You don’t have to be a member of a racist group to practice racism. You don’t even have to feel prejudice against an entire race to practice racism. All you have to do is watch someone from another race being treated unjustly and remain silent. (70)

It’s not enough to not be racist, in other words. There has to be a resolve to oppose racism and promote racial reconciliation. Without that positive commitment, we can be guilty of passive racism.

Just Affirmative Action

I’ve never been a fan of affirmative action as commonly understood and practiced. However, the way Dolphus introduces it, defines it, and works it out in practice is both compelling and convincing. “In its purest form,” he explains, “affirmative action is a policy that considers race after all the other qualifications have been met” (125).

Dolphus insists it isn’t enough to say “Great idea!” Clear policies are essential to make sure the ideal becomes reality. “Policy is a discipline that ensures that we follow through on our good intentions,” he writes. “It’s an objective reminder of what we said we want to do and be” (128). For colleges and seminaries, that means not just having racially and ethnically diverse students, but faculty, management, and staff as well.

Affirmative action is controversial, and, as I mentioned, I initially read this section with deep skepticism. But Dolphus’s version is highly persuasive. Read it before you jump to conclusions. Even if you’re not persuaded, I’m sure you will be convinced of the need for some policies and actions to level the playing field in many spheres of everyday life.

Bridge-Building on the Ground

Apart from its gospel-centered focus, what I liked most about Crossing the Tracks was how it demonstrated that racial reconciliation doesn’t require grand public gestures but can begin right where we are.

“How many Christians do you know who don’t look like you?” Dolphus pointedly asks. He challenges churches to reach out to other congregations of different racial composition, and provides two pages of ideas for how racially different and divided churches can partner together in kingdom work. According to Dolphus, when Christians who don’t look like each other come together in the ways he proposes, three powerful things happen (165-166):

1. They actually address a real need in their community.

2. They show the world what racial reconciliation looks like by coming together as brothers and sisters in Christ and living out the unity Christ desires.

3. Because of that unity they offer a compelling witness to the world that Jesus is Lord of a united people, answering Jesus’ prayer in John 17.

Unique Man with a Unique Calling

I assure you Crossing the Tracks is not an anti-white polemic or a politically correct tract. Dolphus comes across as a kind, gentle, loving Christian man whom God has raised up to call his church to greater Christlikeness in its pursuit of racial reconciliation.

Writing a review of such a good book is easy. Now for the hard part—crossing the tracks.

David P. Murray is professor of Old Testament and practical theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Murray blogs regularly at Head, Heart, Hand: Leadership for Servants.

Copyright © 2014 by the author listed above. Used by permission.