Monday, February 23, 2015

Book Review – God’s Battle Plan for the Mind: The Puritan Practice of Biblical Meditation by David Saxton

In our day, Christians are much more apt to be familiar with Yoga and eastern meditative practices than with biblical meditation.  While some discerning Christians can utilize the positive benefits of Yoga without becoming involved in unbiblical forms of meditation, few really know how to engage in biblical meditation.

When I researched the subject of biblical meditation several years ago, the best I came up with is some good material by Edmund Clowney (Christian Meditation, Reagent College Publishing) , but I did not find anything that helped me overcome some of the hurdles in beginning a regular practice of biblical meditation.  Well, now I have it.  The Puritans give me exactly what I need and what you need to know and to engage profitably in the practice of biblical meditation.

The author’s goal in writing this book is “to convince God’s people of the absolute necessity of personal meditation.” His aim is to motivate and to teach people how to do this in a biblical way.  He draws heavily on the scriptures and on the “rich spiritual experience of Puritans who were committed to practicing spiritual meditation.”

Chapter 1 covers the importance of recovering the habit of biblical meditation. Drawing on the Puritans he says “Divine meditation has a multifaceted value. It provides us spiritual discernment; improves our Bible reading and prayer lives; applies the general truths of the Bible personally and specifically; strengthens our hearts by focusing on spiritual truths; and provides lasting benefit from dwelling on the truths we know.” In this and later chapters he adds much detail to these values.

Chapter 2 covers unbiblical forms of meditation. “Modern Christians have neglected the biblical practice of meditation to such an extent that many believe the entire practice is based in a pagan or Far Eastern religious concept. Certainly, when people speak about meditation today, they usually are not referencing the biblical practice. Thus, this chapter will identify and explain the common false notions of meditation.”

Chapter 3 defines and examines biblical meditation in the Old Testament, the New Testament and in the Puritans. I counted 42 Puritans in the Bibliography, so this chapter is well documented with a generous number of quotes to clarify the Puritan view.

Chapters 4 and 5 give definition to Occasional and Deliberate Meditation and spell out the benefits, dangers and proper use of each.

Chapter 6 is one of the most useful chapters in the book. As the Puritans were always quite detailed in their examination of things, so too are they in spelling out how to practice meditation. What follows is an outline of chapter 6.

The Best Time of Day for Meditation
The Best Place for Meditation
The Amount of Time Necessary for Meditation
The Importance of Consistency in Meditation
Steps in Beginning Effective Meditation
      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

Chapter 7 has extended discussions on important occasions for meditation.

Chapter 8 provides needed help in choosing subjects for meditation.

Chapter 9 is a very convincing chapter exploring the reasons why each believer should be regularly meditating upon God, His Word, and His works.

Chapter 10 considers eight benefits and blessings of cultivating a life of meditation.

Chapter 11 identifies the impediments and hindrances to meditation and gives suggestions for overcoming them.

Chapter 12 gets you started in developing the habit of meditation.
In the Conclusion author David Saxton takes a look at how the practice of meditation in the Christian life becomes a joy rather than a burden
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The Bibliography is a wonderful resource of primary and secondary Puritan Sources.

One of the strengths of this book is its fair and detailed handling of unbiblical forms of meditation, particularly Roman Catholic Spirituality, mysticism and contemplative prayer. While the following quote is rather long, it is worth reading.
“One further caution should be made regarding a more recent, popular movement within broad evangelical circles called contemplative worship or prayer. Similar to traditional Roman Catholic mysticism, contemplative prayer is an unbiblical form of meditation that seeks a spiritual experience through some kind of existential encounter with God apart from His written revelation. Though not a new danger, many evangelicals have begun to fall prey to the false idea of maintaining spiritual communion with the Lord apart from His ordained means of the Bible and prayer. The contemplative prayer movement seeks to experience God’s voice apart from His written Word. This movement is a product of a larger evangelical departure from an absolute conviction in the sufficiency of Scripture. It does not use Scripture alone to address the spiritual needs of the inner person. These various fads of spirituality that minimize Scripture have come and gone over the centuries, but truth remains the same: “O how love I thy law! It is my meditation all the day” (Ps. 119:97) and “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Ps. 119:105). We should heed the counsel of Thomas Manton: “Do not try to pry further than God hath revealed; your thoughts must be still bounded by the word. There is no duty that a fanatic brain is more apt to abuse than meditation…. Do not leave bread and wine and gnaw upon a stone.””

As the publisher says: “With the rich experiential theology of the Puritans, this book lays out a course for enjoying true meditation on God’s Word.”