Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
January 28th, 2014 by Joel Watts

Review of @kregelacademic’s Minding the Heart

Be sure to check out the Kregel Academic product page!

Lately, I’ve become aware of certain scientific studies related to what Christianity has usually called “the inner man.” I will update that and say “the inner person.” Several studies indicate meditation, prayer, and other forms of reflective exercises may actually alter the brain in such a way as to produce noticeable and positive results. Such a concept is found in Scripture regarding what it has called “the heart.” In reading Robert Saucy’s book, Minding the Heart, I have found a sincere scholar and theology who knows something of these studies attempting to draw the correlation. His goal is simple, to present a solid and scriptural method to spiritual formation of the “fallen heart.” (14)

The most surprising part of this book is the lack of expected evangelical cliches. Saucy is a distinguished professor at Biola University, a noted evangelical school, so I expected the usual round of condemnation and basest explanation of what a life in Christ is about. I admit I was wrong, and more, astonished when I read “(t)he message of Scripture is that our life in Christ is more than forgiveness of sins, more than escape from God’s condemnation, but a new way to live, a new source of zest that thirsts and hungers for more.” (18) Indeed, a life in Christ is more about experience than what many like to acknowledge, but the experience of Christianity is essential to being a Christian. Further, his continued reference to the journey (rather than a momentary event) of the Christian must make every Wesleyan-heart warmed. With such a solid foundation laid, and my mind open to Saucy’s goal, the rest of the book really begins to take hold.

The book is divided between fourteen chapters with an introduction and a conclusion as bookends. A nice addition to this work is an index of sidebars, something Saucy uses throughout the book to highlight biblical stories and other images related to the material he is discussing. For instance, in one he discusses the Lectio Divina while in another he discusses the fear of the Lord. His chapters cover topics such as defining the word “heart” in his, and scriptural, context (ch. 2), meditation and its worth (chapters 8 and 9), and the necessity of community (ch. 11). Each chapter concludes with several discussion questions aimed at helping the reader to digest the information just delivered.

As I said, Saucy is an Evangelical and we should not expect him to stray beyond that; however, his inclusion of scientific studies and habits not otherwise associated with that branch of Christianity must cause this book to appeal to a wider audience. For instance, his two chapters on meditation as a practice to aid in spiritual transformation is quite remarkable. He puts into a Scriptural perspective what meditation is and how it helps to rewire the brain. To safeguard unhealthy meditative practices found in New Age systems, Saucy has called upon the Great Tradition to render to us a more effective way of centering ourselves. His direction is to focus not on ourselves, but on God and his works. All of this, in my opinion, is well grounded in the better parts of Christianity. Because of this firm foundation, Saucy is able to take what we have found in Christianity and merge it with scientific studies to show the reader their value.

No book is perfect and I am more skeptical of certain authors than others. However, I would urge you, if you are encountering a heart that needs to be transformed, to choose this book and this author. In the end, while some may disapprove of Saucy’s direction, this book serves us well when we realize Christianity is more than a momentary point of enlightenment, but an ongoing journey towards perfection. We grow, we mature, and sometimes we have to almost start over. Understanding this is the first step to many, many more. As a Wesleyan, I find Saucy’s book a welcome addition to our conversation on what it means to grow in grace. 

Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Leave a Reply, Please!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: