Saturday, April 05, 2014

Minding The Heart: A Book Review

Minding the Heart: The Way of Spiritual Transformation

by Robert L. Saucy

Kregel Publications, 2013

One of the weaknesses of the current resurgence of the movement toward Christian spiritual formation is the lack of biblical moorings to ground and guide the enterprise. Too often the project is dominated by feelings or experience for experience sake, and God’s Word is only one among many voices of apparently equal authority. Many have noticed this need and are seeking to address it, unpacking the vast resources of the Bible for spiritual formation in Christ. Dr. Robert Saucy of Talbot School of Theology at Biola University is one of those persons seeking to address this need.

Dr. Saucy rightly centers his focus on the heart, the inner person in need of change. There is no behavior modification here, but a radical exploration of what inner capacities are changed by God as he forms us. Our primary access to the heart is through the mind, so he develops several wonderful chapters on Bible meditation.

The author repeatedly stresses that actions flow from thoughts & feelings, and if we want to change our actions, we must go with God to the areas of thinking and feeling. The two primary agents in transformation are God and ourselves, as we respond to him in faith and obedience.

There are many strengths in the book that deserve mention. First, the author successfully uses sidebars throughout the book as a “for further study” for the reader. Instead of footnotes, which can be distracting at times, the sidebars provide a nice visual invitation into taking things a few steps further. As I read I learned to appreciate these little sections a great deal.

Second, Saucy thoroughly grounds the formation of the person in Christ in a biblical psychology of mind and heart. Psychological categories can be informed by other sources of research, but for the Christian it is essential that the primary source of information be the Scriptures.

Third, Saucy bases the “abundant life” (Jn 10:10) that Christ gives on the grounds of forgiveness of sins in context with the rest of the speaking and acting of God. Christ purchased our salvation on the cross, but the cross also provides access to the transforming presence of God Himself. Too often the spiritual life is equated with forgiveness of sins, leaving this dimension largely undeveloped. Saucy’s work in this area is very helpful in addressing this.

Fourth, the biggest strength of Saucy’s book is his development of how God’s grace works with our effort in the process of spiritual transformation (see esp. pages 118-19; 261). Both elements are absolutely necessary if genuine transformation is to occur. We must act, but we never act alone, for God works with us.

The only weakness of the book is relatively minor. Too often spiritual formation “talk” doesn’t do justice to the brokenness that obstructs the project in the various realms of the human soul, those areas of psychological damage that we all carry into our relationship with God. Many people simply cannot do disciplines yet, their minds are too cluttered with rubble from the past to effectively engage with God. The human element that we bring to the grace of God to cooperate for transformation can be mitigated and muted to a great degree. In these situations, we need healing prayer and ministry from others in order to be brought to a place where we can actively participate with God’s grace in Christ. I felt the chapter on community was especially lacking in this regard. Saucy seemed completely oblivious to the fact that many people have been deeply wounded by their interactions with “church,” rather than helped and equipped. The book would have been even better if this had been acknowledged and developed in the context of his overall project.

Thanks for Kregel Academic for a review copy in exchange of an unbiased review.

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