One thing that struck me after reading Tim Keller’s book on prayer was how much importance he placed on meditation. Not just meditation in the abstract, or even the secular benefits of it, but the practice of meditating specifically on Scripture as a prelude to prayer. He spent a good portion on the topic, but I could have used more, or at least a wider look at the subject.
Thankfully, David Saxton has supplied that study. In his God’s Battle Plan For The Mind, readers are offered one part historical theology and one practical theology. The goal, as Saxton explains, is
to convince God’s people of the absolute necessity of personal meditation. This 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)
He then clarifies that while he is unpacking the Purtian practice, they are but a secondary source to the biblical teaching on the subject. The rest of the opening chapter explains the importance of recovering this habit in our Christian lives. Without meditation, we are ultimately taking in truth like someone who eats without chewing. Unless we take the time to meditate on what we read and listen to from God’s word, we won’t properly digest and apply the truth to our hearts.
In chapter 2, Saxton tackles unbiblical forms of meditation. He is primarily seeking to distinguish the biblical practice from Roman Catholic contemplative forms on the one hand and mystical Eastern religious practices on the other. Having done that, we then offers a positive definition of biblical meditation in chapter 3. It is essentially a spiritual activity of heart and mind which centers on dwelling on and delighting in God’s word (26).
Chapter 3 transitions briefly into the Puritan practice, but it chapters 4 and 5 that do the primary unpacking. In the first, Saxton uses Puritan writings to explain “occasional meditation” which can occur any time and anywhere. This kind of sporadic practice is subordinate to the more important “deliberate meditation” which is the focus of chapter 5. This is more in line with what Keller discusses and takes place at a specific place and time that one deliberately plans out. Ideally, in Puritan thought, this is part of one’s morning ritual to start the day. Or, in evangelicalese, it would be part of one’s morning quiet time.
This is dealt with in more detail in chapter 6 which gets down to the brass tacks of practicing meditation. The steps for effectively beginning this are (59-64):
- Praying for the Spirit’s help for fervency
- Choosing a Scriptural thought by Bible reading
- Questioning, considering, and examining oneself
- Concluding with personal application, resolution, and prayer
In chapters 7 and 8, Saxton discusses importance times for meditation as well as subjects for meditation. The latter primarily includes the examples of sin (in order to overcome it) and God (in order to find grace and help). Chapters 9, 10, and 11 give reasons, benefits, and enemies of meditation respectively. Reasons for meditation include (95-103):
- The Christian’s work and duty is to think upon God with praise
- Meditation follows the example of Christ and other godly people
- Meditation is God’s own command given for a believer’s good
- Meditation is necessary for a believer to know God’s Word well
- Meditation assists believers in the duty of prayer and all other means of grace
- Meditation applies the Scripture to redeeming the time with one’s mind
- Without meditation, one cannot become a godly, stable Christian
- Christians meditate because God’s Word is a love letter to his people
Benefits of meditation include deepening of repentance, increased resolve to fight sin, and inflamed heart affections for God among other reasons. As for the enemies, Saxton does a fine job of detailing the typical excuses/reasons Christians might have for not pursuing meditation, as well as reasons working against us that we might not be consciously aware of. I’ll let you read for yourself to see what those are. The final formal chapter (12) offers further motivation to begin the habit of meditation and the conclusion explores briefly the connection between meditation and growth in godliness.
On the whole, I found this book very helpful. It filled out more of what Keller was saying in his book by focusing on the breadth of Puritan teaching on the subject, as well as just in general giving more detail about the practice of meditation. While some might complain that this book is overly fixated on the Puritans, I would say (a) it is keeping with the aims of the book, and (b) they seem to be the ones who both took the practice most seriously and gave the most detailed instruction and encouragement for actually implementing it into one’s daily life. I personally need to grow tremendously in this area and will look forward to integrating the insights from Saxton’s book in the coming weeks and months. If you’d like to do the same, I’d highly suggest picking up a copy for yourself!
David W. Saxton, God’s Battle Plan For The Mind: The Puritan Practice of Biblical Meditation. Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, January 2015. 160 pp. Paperback, $18.00.
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Thanks to Reformation Heritage Books for the review copy!
I’ve interacted briefly with several of Baker Books’ Teach The Text commentary series (Romans, Job, Luke). A couple of additional volumes have been added to the series since then and I’ve been able to get a hold of the one on 1 Corinthians by Preben Vang (NT prof at PBA). We are currently going through 1 Corinthians at our church and this volume has been marginally useful in preparing for that. I’m not currently leading a small group but am providing resources to the small group leaders to better understand the text and field questions that may come up in group discussion. This particular volume does not seem well-suited for that task, but given the title of the series, that’s probably to be expected.
As it stands, this volume is best suited for readers who want a overview of the text more in-depth than the ESV Study Bible notes, and with hints and directions for actually teaching the text in either a sermon or Sunday School form. Toward that end, the book is a success and would serve readers well who don’t have a lot of other resources at hand. In general, that is kind of where this series fits. It is a good homiletical commentary that helps flesh out the big picture of the text more than anything. I don’t consider it a primary resource for digging into 1 Corinthians, but it has come in useful here and there in preparing the material for our small group leaders.
Buy it: Amazon
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Thanks to Baker Books for the review copy!
Another commentary series that I am much more enthusiastic about is Zondervan’s Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. The most recent volume published is by Mark Strauss on the Gospel of Mark. At the Zondervan Academic blog, you can read several helpful posts on it:
- Mark’s Gospel is Jesus’s Story on Steroids
- Narrative Criticism and Mark: Approaching the Gospel as Story
- Mark’s Structure Isn’t What You Think It Is
As with the other volumes (James, Ephesians, Matthew, Galatians, Colossians/Philemon, Thessalonians, Luke, Acts, 1-3 John), this one excels in given the kind of detailed exegetical overview you’d be trained to do in higher level language classes at seminary (or at least at Dallas). I wish I’d had access to this when our church went through Mark several years ago. Even more so, I’d like to have had this available to consult in my second preaching class which had us preaching from Mark and Genesis
I think the particular strength of this book is Strauss’ understanding of the structure of the book (see above post) and how he applies that throughout the commentary proper. Mark’s Gospel presents a tightly structured story and readers and preachers would do well to understand how to follow the flow. Strauss’s work will provide the kind of exegetical and structural guidance to do just that.
Mark Strauss, Mark (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, October 2014. 784 pp. Hardcover, $42.99.
Buy it: Amazon
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Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!
There was a lot of buzz about Karen Swallow Prior’s Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More: Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist back in the fall and it is still continuing. After reading it for myself, it is a combination of a great writer authoring an engaging narrative about an little known yet pivotal figure in 18th century England. Prior wrote her dissertation on Hannah More and now several years later has produced a popular level biography.
Hannah More was a pivotal figure in social reform in 18th century England. That statement probably doesn’t seem as revolutionary in 21st century America, but at the time it would have been fairly radical for a single woman to accomplish some of what More did. She began as a writer and then eventually an educator and abolitionist connected with William Wilberforce. She was also influential in improving literacy, so much so that it would not be too much of an exaggeration to say she “helped teach her nation to read” (162, also the title of chapter 10). More stands as an example of how to participate in cultural reform that springs from deep Christian convictions and because of that, she is example for good cultural engagement today.
In many ways, this is a book outside of my usual stream of reading. I don’t read many biographies, but I definitely should change that. I’m also not particularly up on my 18-19th century English history and social context. Prior’s book is not only a window into More’s life and development, but this historical and social context as well. As such, I found it an interesting read, but wasn’t as blown away or intrigued as I think many other readers have been. I’ve been trying to figure out exactly why and still haven’t really settled on an answer. The book was definitely not boring, I just think because of the amount of hype attached to it, my expectations were too heightened. If I had just stumbled upon it on my own, I might have been more positive in my assessment.
Karen Swallow Prior, Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More: Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, October 2014. 320 pp. Hardcover, $24.99.
Visit the publisher’s page
Thanks to Thomas Nelson for the review copy!
One of my favorite theologians is Kevin Vanhoozer. Several years back I was able to read and review The Drama of Doctrine. Now, this past fall Vanhoozer released a sequel of sorts to that work. Though aimed at the more popular level, this book still has some substantial theological depth. Readers familiar with Vanhoozer should expect nothing less. Rather than simply boiling down The Drama of Doctrine to brass tacks, Vanhoozer has expanded and furthered ideas from that book in a fresh composition. If you’re familiar with The Drama of Doctrine, you’ll recognize similarities, but this isn’t simply an abridged version of that book.
Instead, Vanhoozer takes up the theatrical metaphor for understanding doctrine and digs deeper into how that affects our understanding of spiritual formation. The first part of the book relates theology and the theater. The second and more meaty part unpacks “how doctrine makes disciples and how disciples do doctrine.” Vanhoozer moves from an overview of contemporary culture to an overview of the drama of redemption. From there he discusses what it means to “put on Christ” within the larger metaphor and then how that impacts our understanding of the local church and ultimately our eschatological hope.
While there is much more to say, this is basically a preview review since I agreed to post a full review at The Biblical Counseling Coalition. It should be available later in the spring. In the meantime, I’d encourage you to simply pick up the book for yourself. If you find the ideas intriguing, you’ll find it well worth your time to explore Vanhoozer’s larger body of work, including the book that preceded this one.
Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing The Drama of Doctrine. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, September, 2014. 298 pp. Paperback, $30.00.
Buy it: Amazon
Read an excerpt
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Thanks to Westminster John Knox Press for the review copy!
When I was in high school, I not only played the drum set, but I learned how to play the marimba. I don’t think any videos survive. Also, YouTube didn’t exist anyway. But, if it had, and if I wasn’t homeschooled, I might have been involved in something like this:
For comparison, here’s the original of the first song they’re playing:
For more information, read the description of the video in YouTube.
Hopefully you saw this video of Jim Cantore freaking out about thundersnow:
Like all good things, it was “songified” by the Gregory Brothers and it’s a good jam for your winter weather blues:
I’ve recently been enjoying some videos from Rob Scallon. Here is his cover a couple of Slayer songs, first on a ukulele, and second on a banjo:
Then, here is his video noting how you can make a pretty decent metal song (at least djent style) using only one note on a 9-string guitar. It is appropriately called 00000:
He’s got some serious songs too, and you can support him here.
If you’re like me, you might have wondered what ancient music sounded like. Well, you can’t really know for sure, but this project uses ancient Sumerian poetry and instruments to try to recreate what it might have sounded like.
From Laughing Squid:
The Flood is the self-described “first-ever CD of new music sung entirely in Sumerian and Babylonian” by the Lyre Ensemble, a collaborative project by composer and singer Stef Conner, instrument builder and harpist Andy Lowings, and producer Mark Harmer.
Conner devoted research efforts to bridging the time gap between present day and ancient cultures by creating music inspired by studies of ancient languages and texts. She combined Babylonian poetry with music she and Lowings composed to be played on a lyre. Using a painstakingly accurate reproduction of the Gold Lyre of Ur—an ancient stringed instrument from Ur, an ancient city-state that is now part of Iraq—Lowings beautifully plucks out rich melodies as Conner’s deep, haunting voice sings a language used millenia ago.
It’s that time of again when I reassess my library and have to let some good books go. Actually in these cases, I now have the book in Logos and so don’t feel the need to also have a hard copy. Here’s what I’m trying to sell to you before I list it on Amazon:
- Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 31, Hosea-Jonah $25
- Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 30, Daniel $22
- Haggai, Zechariah (The NIV Application Commentary) $17
- Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah (The NIV Application Commentary) $15
- The NIV Application Commentary: Hosea, Amos, Micah $20
- Paul’s Letter to the Romans (The Pillar New Testament Commentary) $35
- The Epistle to the Romans (New International Commentary on the New Testament) $35
- Romans (Teach the Text Commentary Series) $20
- Luke (Teach the Text Commentary Series) $17
I can accept payment through Venmo which is easiest for both of us. Pay me for the book and then I’ll bill you for the shipping once I put it in the mail, that way you pay exactly what it costs to ship. Best deal is if you live here in Orlando and can just get the book from me. All these book are basically brand new with the exception of the Kruse volume on Romans. I made a few marks here and there, but nothing extensive.
I’ve got several other books I’ll be listing soon, so keep an eye out for that!
“Can Christians and churches be catholic and Reformed?”
That may well be your first question after reading the title of this book. Thankfully, it’s also the opening lines of the book.written by RTS Orlando theology profs Michael Allen and Scott Swain. Along with Puritan William Perkins, Allen and Swain suggest that “to be Reformed means to go deeper into true catholicity, not to move away from catholicity” (4). And to do this, one must engage in retrieval of “elements, practices, and texts from earlier Christian churches” (4).
Allen and Swain are not along in calling for this. In their introduction, they note several movements along the same lines:
- Nouvelle Theologie
- Karl Barth’s revival of dogmatic theology
- The reception history of the Bible movement
- Donald Bloesch and “Consensual Christianity”
- Thomas Oden’s “Paleo-Orthodoxy”
- Robert Webber’s Ancient-Future Christianity
- The Modern Hymns Movement
- Carl Braaten and Robert Jenson’s Evangelical Catholicism
- The Theological Interpretation of Scripture movement
- Radical Orthodoxy
- Evangelical Ressourcement
- The Emerging or Emergent Church(es)
- Ressourcement Thomism
And that’s probably not even a comprehensive list. As Allen and Swain go on to explain, “Reformed catholicity is a theological sensibility, not a system” (12). As such, the present book is a manifesto rather than a “full-blown theological methodology.” The ultimate thesis of the manifesto is that “there are Reformed theological and ecclesiological warrants for pursuing a program of retrieval” (13). Allen and Swain suggest that “we can and should pursue catholicity on Protestant principles, and that pursuing this path holds promise for theological and spiritual renewal” (13).
The chapters that follow present “exploratory excursions into some of the major theological places where we have found examples and principles of Reformed theology that might commend an embrace of Christian tradition (both catholic and Protestant)” (13). Chapter 1 explains how the church is the proper context for doing theology. The next two chapters explain what sola Scriptura really means. The former looks at classic formulations and the latter shows how sola Scriptura actually supports rather than excludes looking for wisdom in church tradition. Chapter 4 examines how authoritative texts (confessions, creeds, etc.) facilitate biblical interpretation by giving rise to “ruled readings” of Scripture. The final chapter, an earlier version of which was an article in JETS, offers a defense of the proper use of proof-texting. The afterword of the book, by J. Todd Billings, is also a revised version of a journal article (which is a revised version of a lecture) and is a fitting encapsulation of the book’s plea.
My favorite chapter was probably the last. I remember seeing the article in JETS, but didn’t take the time to read it when it first became available. Now I kind of wish I had. If you’re not familiar, “proof texting” is not exactly the cool thing to do when doing theology. Three charges are typically brought against the practice:
- Proof texting fails to honor the specific contexts of biblical texts (119)
- Proof texting too easily suggests that doctrinal language is the biblical language with no sensitivity for the horizon of the interpreter or the hermeneutical task involved in working with the biblical language (120)
- Proof texting interacts with ecclesiastical history rather than biblical history (122)
Before offering a model to aid in recovering the practice of using “parenthetical references or footnotes/endnote references to biblical passages that undergirded some doctrinal claim made” (118, i.e. proof texting), Allen and Swain note that “all of the charges brought against proof texting in Christian theology could be lodged against the Bible’s own use of the Bible” (128, italics in original). This is simply to point out that “the use of Scripture by Scripture cannot be understood on the basis of citation techniques alone” (129). Allen and Swain then conclude, “we must not confuse citation techniques (e.g., proof texting) with hermeneutical method, whether we are considering Scripture’s use of Scripture or theology’s use of Scripture” (129-130). Ultimately, we should “extend to theology’s use of Scripture the same patient and charitable attempt to understand that we extend to Scripture’s use of Scripture’s proofs” (130).
In practice, this means that “systematic theologians must be aware of the burden of proof upon them to show that they are using the Bible well in their theological construction” (137). Allen and Swain suggest this could be done through the writing of more theological commentary as well as dogmatic arguments that are enriched with more exegetical excurses. Likewise, “biblical scholars should expect rigorous exegesis to lie behind such proof texting and should engage it conversationally and not cynically” (139). Further, “biblical scholars will do well to familiarize themselves with the history of biblical interpretation” (141). With systematic theologians and biblical scholars working along both of these fronts, “proof texts could be a literary signal of a disciplinary symbiosis and of Reformed catholicity” (141).
This book is a short read, but is worth taking some time with if you’re like me. That is to say, you are someone who considers yourself in the Reformed tradition doctrinally and want to retrieve insights from earlier theological eras to better face the theological challenges of the day. It is also to say you are someone interested in theological interpretation of Scripture and reading Scripture in the church for the church. Also, if you’re like me, you would read this in a weekend, and then wish there were either a) more footnotes for the movements listed in the introduction, or b) that there was a section for suggested further reading. But, that wouldn’t spoil the book for you and you’d still heartily recommend the book on your blog or something like that.
Michael Allen and Scott R. Swain, Reformed Catholicity: The Promise of Retrieval for Theology and Biblical Interpretation. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic January 2015. 176 pp. Paperback, $19.99.
Visit the publisher’s page
Thanks to Baker Academic for the review copy!