Robert L. Saucy, Minding The Heart: The Way of Spiritual Transformation. Grand Rapids: Kregel, September 2013. 448 pp. Paperback, $21.99.
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Thanks to Kregel for the review copy!
Robert L. Saucy is Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. A former president of the Evangelical Theological Society, he has authored a number of works on biblical and theological subjects. Here, he is offering readers what amounts to a manual for applying Proverbs 4:23 to your daily life and Christian growth. In a superb work that blends theology and psychology in the best way, Saucy gives readers a glimpse into biblical anthropology to enrich their spiritual walk with God.
Another way to look at this book is that it is a biblical theology of the “heart” in Scripture. While chapter 1 lays some introductory groundwork on the nature of forgiveness and the importance of growth, chapter 2 launches into the core study. Here, readers are introduced to the biblical perspective on the “real” person, that is, the heart of a person. Chapter 3 then explores how our hearts have been corrupted, and this is further seen in chapter 4, which covers how our hearts function in our day to day lives. Chapter 5 presents the gospel for our hearts and how we must be changed there by God if we are to be changed at all. Then, in chapter 6, Saucy explains how our spiritual growth is connected to our cooperative activity with God in “minding our hearts.”
Chapter 7 appears to turn a corner and the focus of the discussion shifts to our minds and specifically the importance of their renewal. This then leads to two chapters on the important and correct use of meditation. Saucy sees this as one of the pathways toward using our minds to refresh and renew our hearts. To balance this, chapter 10 turns to the importance of tending to and changing your heart through appropriate external actions, while chapter 11 illustrates the importance of community for spiritual growth and transformation. Chapter 12 expands this focus and explains how this works to grow us in our sanctification. The final two chapters wrap up the book by unpacking a holistic picture of salvation as it relates to our change from the inside out.
About mid-way through my psychology major, I became fascinated with studying the heart. This was expanded in seminary, especially in the first half of my time there. One area of integration that particularly interested me was modern studies in neurocardiology and Old Testament anthropology. Often, what was coming out in neurological studies related to the heart was also referred to in a non-scientific way in books like Proverbs. So for instance, there is a frequent correlation between heart disease and depression (people with the former very often experience the latter). Proverbs 14:23 says that anxiety in the heart causes depression. When you factor in the negative physiological effects of prolonged anxiety, the result is often heart disease, and later depression. While the biblical writer is most likely referring to the immaterial aspect of a person’s mind (since in Hebrew “heart” is closer to what we think of as “mind” not “emotions”), there is a sense in which Hebrews anthropology is more holistic and so the heart can also (but doesn’t always have to) refer to the literal heart. After all, it was the organ that would have seemed most responsive to outside factors in a pre-scientific world (i.e. you get scared and notice your chest is pumping all of sudden, you draw a connection between your sense of fear and your body’s response).
I mention all this as an aside because Saucy’s book is ultimately the kind of book that unites these topics and treats them systematically. So, in the chapters on the heart, Saucy is very exhaustive in detailing the available biblical data and drawing relevant conclusions. He is conducting excellent systematic theology of the heart in this regard. But at the same time, this book is not just a systematic theology of the heart. Saucy is able to bridge his systematic reflections with relevant insights from medicine and psychology and then move on to practical application. The result is a single book that I think provides one of the best manuals for how to holistically understand spiritual growth.
This book then is ideal for small group leaders and pastors, but it is also perfect for anyone who wants to take their own spiritual growth seriously. Since it gets to the core of the issues and provides a way forward toward maturity, it well help most readers understand the path of sanctification better. For the most part, Saucy is painting in broad strokes when it comes to actual application, but this helps the book avoid being only theoretical. That being the case though, how to actual apply the principles in your daily life is something you’ll have to sit down and think through for yourself. Saucy is mainly concerned to help readers see from Scripture how central the heart it, and how mainly the mind (but also the hands) can help to nourish it and lead to spiritual change. That makes this book is a fine systematic treatment of the core of who we are as spiritual persons and how we can harness that understanding to grow into holiness in our daily lives. If that is something you are interested in, then you ought to add this book to your to-read shelf for 2014!