Can We Trust the Gospels? - A Review

Are the gospel accounts of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ reliable?

That, perhaps, is the central question that every Christian must ask. The accounts in the Gospels are, after all, accounts of the most important events in the Christian faith. As Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 15, if Jesus was not raised from the dead, then we have no hope beyond this life. If that is true, he argues, then we are most to be pitied. The truthfulness of the Gospels is a question that every Christian must consider, which has implications for the validity of faith itself.

Peter Williams of Tyndale House in Cambridge asks this all-important question in his book, Can We Trust the Gospels? His answer is accessible, informative, and helpful to those that are willing to take up and read this concise book.

Given the number of apologetics books on the market that deal with the reliability of Scripture it might seem that Williams’ book would be simply another entry into a crowded field. However, Can We Trust the Gospels? is offers a fresh approach to an enduring question. It is one of those rare popular-level books that caused me not simply to nod along in agreement but to look up and wonder why I had never thought of that before. It is, in short, an important book that will remain useful for decades.

The reliability of Scripture is a well-worn topic, especially in evangelical circles, so many of the chapter topics will appear familiar to the experienced readers. Williams begins the book by asking what non-Christian sources from around the time the Gospels were set say. The basic concern is to see whether historical accounts corroborate the information in the Gospels. As many other writers have noted, there are a number of non-Christian writers whose work supports the historicity of the gospel accounts.

Williams also highlights an argument that is less common among defenders of Christianity: The historical accounts support the rapid spread and increasing popularity of Christianity (with all of its supernatural beliefs). Approximately 30 years after the death of Christ there was a reasonably large population of Christians in Rome, as well as throughout much of the Roman empire. All of them attest to believe similar supernatural ideas about Jesus Christ, which undermines the argument made by some critics of Scripture that ascribing miracles to Jesus and affirming his deity were late revisions of Christianity. That idea simply does not match the historical truths surrounding the spread of Christianity, as attested in hostile, non-Christian witnesses.

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In the second chapter, Williams provides evidence that the four Gospels were likely historical documents, written by people close to Jesus. These records were widely disseminated throughout the known world within a century or two of Christ’s death, which is record time for ancient manuscripts. Significantly, this mass distribution and frequent translation occurred before there was a central authority within Christendom to manipulate the message of Scripture, which undermines one of the most common attacks against the historicity of the Gospels.

Further attesting to the truthfulness of the Gospel accounts is the minor details embedded within the books. Williams illuminates many examples in his third chapter. Historical books, especially in the ancient world, that were written by people unfamiliar with the actual places, typical names, and unusual customs of that place and time. The Gospels validate each other by their particularity in geography, which often overlaps, but their differences also support their validity as independent witnesses. The pattern of knowledge and included details supports the authenticity of the Gospels.

In Chapter Four, the book discusses the undesigned coincidences in the Gospels. The books will include the same characters in different scenes, but with the same characteristics. This also includes overlap with non-Christian sources. Williams here provides evidence that either the Gospel authors were corroborating to write realistic fiction or they were telling stories they believed were true from different perspectives. They may have known of each other’s writings, but even if they did, the unity in the diversity is uncanny given the literary genres of the day.

The fifth chapter asks whether the Gospels record Jesus’ actual words. Williams argues that there is good reason to believe that what we have in Scripture is a faithful presentation of Jesus’ actual teaching, not ideas put into his mouth centuries after. They may not be the exact words, since direct quotation was not considered necessary for accuracy in ancient records. However, there are clear signs in the language recorded by the Gospel authors of the authenticity of their recorded speeches.

Chapter Six explores the question of the quality of the manuscripts. Here Williams documents the massive number of available manuscripts and, amazingly, their consistency across languages, regions, and time. Significantly, these factors make the hypothesis that there were major theological changes imposed on the texts highly unlikely.

The seventh chapter is very brief, arguing that there are formal contradictions within the work of Gospel writers. These were often designed, according to Williams, to cause readers to think more deeply about the potential meanings of the words involved. He writes, “These formal contradictions do show that the author is more interested in encouraging people to read deeply than in satisfying those who want to find a fault.”

Chapter Eight is a brief conclusion that sums up the broader arguments. Basically, Williams has been making the argument that it is much more likely that the Gospel accounts are trustworthy accounts of the events surrounding the life, death, and resurrection of a man named Jesus from Nazareth. The logical contortions one must go through to believe that all of the Gospel-stories are just made up to gain control is much more difficult that simply taking the four Gospels, with their miracles and all, at face value.

Williams sets out to show that there are good reasons to believe in the authenticity of the Gospels. He is careful not to claim a cast-iron case. Instead, he shows the credibility of the texts we have today, which is a strong argument for the day.

This book is a welcome addition to the large field of textual apologetics volumes on the market. Can We Trust the Gospels? stands out because it presents different, more nuanced arguments than many other similar texts make. The book is remarkably accessible, carefully nuanced, and well-researched. This should be a vital resource in the libraries of pastors, scholars, and lay-people for generations.

Can We Trust the Gospels?
By Peter J. Williams

The Bible is Not Just Another Book

Another year has come. In our culture, that means learning to write a different last two digits when you write checks, sign paperwork, and fill out forms. This is also a time when people set new goals for the year to come, often planning the accomplishments they hope to see complete before we have completed another trip around the sun. Other people, reject the notion and simply continue on as they go.

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What is both most encouraging and disheartening to me is the number of people who commit to reading the Bible through each year and fizzle out long before the end. It’s discouraging to me because often when I talk to the people who have missed their goal, they simply give up when they miss a few days here or there. It’s a hard thing to get into Scripture every day without fail, and even those who regularly finish all 66 books in a year often miss days. At the same time, it is encouraging because people are trying.

There is nothing magical about the New Year. January 1 has no more significance on a cosmic scale than August 15th. But it offers a cultural pattern for new beginnings, for the initiation of attempts at self-improvement or sanctification. Though there is nothing eternally unique about the date, using the culture’s momentum to get moving in the right direction.

This year, if you commit to nothing else, consider committing to reading all of Scripture through.

Why Scripture?

Is the Bible just another book like the Epic of Gilgamesh, Shakespeare’s plays, or a modern novel?

Some would answer yes, but those people are unlikely to be convinced by a blog. And yet, many will respond that the Bible is unlike all other books, but will perhaps be unable to explain why.

The Bible, a volume with 66 books written over thousands of years by dozens of different human authors is a book like no other book because it has one divine author behind every word of every page.

As the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 says,

The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.

Our only hope for salvation is discussed in its pages. It is God’s revelation of himself to us. It is all a testimony of Christ, our only hope. It is the standard by which all our thoughts, beliefs, and actions should and will be judged.

So many of us will confess something glorious about the Bible on Sunday and live like it is just a bunch of fairy tales when Monday comes. This year, make a commitment to treat Scripture like what it is: the very word of God, revealed through the ages, given to us by God’s divine grace, and intended to point us toward holiness in Christ.


From Early Posts at Ethics and Culture

“A Plea for Reading the Bible”
”Bible Reading Plans for This Year”

A Plea for Reading the Bible

One of the greatest tragedies in the Christian life would be to believe that the Bible is God’s word and not take steps to read and understand it.

In contrast to the many years prior to the Protestant Reformation when the Roman Church worked to keep reading the Bible in the vernacular language illegal, we now have more access to the Bible for less money than ever. The problem is that we simply are not reading it.

Consider this video from the United Bible Society, which shows a people group in Indonesia getting the New Testament in their language for the first time. Compare their excitement over access to God's Word with our apathy despite the overflowing availability of it.

Choosing a Translation

There are so many versions of the Bible available right now that it can becomes confusing to figure out what you need. Here are some tips for choosing a version:

1.         Find out which translation your local church uses in its regular worship services and Bible studies. If they are consistent, it may help to have the same translation as you worship.

2.         Consider your reading ability. One of gifts of having multiple translations is that you can find a version of the Bible that is easiest for you to comprehend. This guide from the publisher, Cokesbury, may be helpful for your decision. Even if you aren’t sure what your reading level is, the guide will give you a relative understanding of the differences in difficulty.

3.         Before you buy a Bible, go to www.Biblegateway.com and read the same passage in several versions. If you are familiar with a particular passage, you can compare between translations and get a feel for the language in it.

4.         Ask one of the leaders in your local church for a recommendation if you aren’t sure. A good Bible can cost a significant amount of money, so ask your pastor or a trusted ministry leader what they recommend.

After you’ve picked a Bible, or if you’ve already got one, then the most important thing you can do with it is read it and begin to learn it. If you’ve read this far in this post, I’ll assume that you have a desire to read your Bible and are looking for ways to break down this monumental task into smaller chunks.

An Argument for Bible Reading Plans

Many contemporary Christians set annual goals of reading through the Bible each year. This can be a great practice for a number of reasons.

a.          It exposes you to the whole counsel of God. It may take a year and you won’t remember all the details, but making it through Scripture will help shape your understanding of God if you work at it.

b.         The practice of reading all of Scripture in a year ensures that, if completed, most days you will have spent time in God’s Word.

c.          You will begin to see patterns, recurring themes, and connections in Scripture that you were not aware of. Reading the Bible helps you become a better Christian.

At the same time, simply going through the motions to move your bookmark 3 chapters each day or check of the day's box can become a form of legalism. It is important to find a reading plan that meets your commitment level, your ability, and the time resources you have available.

For example, a mother with several young children is going to find setting aside even 20 minutes a day for Bible reading exceedingly difficult on a consistent basis. Therefore, choose a Bible reading plan that keeps you moving, but doesn’t kill you.

It is also possible to skim through the Bible each day in a year and never latch on to anything. It is possible to read the Bible without getting anything from it. This is a danger with some of the 1 year plans. Find a reading plan that matches your reading ability and time commitment. 

But by all means, please read the Bible.

Some Basic Reading Plans

Here are a few different Bible reading plans that are available for free online. I’m linking to a few of them here:

1.         The simplest option is to read the Bible from cover to cover. In order to do this, you will need to read about three chapters each day every day.

2.         Another option is to read through the Bible in chronological order. Our Bible doesn’t necessarily flow in a straight timeline from the first page to the last, so someone has put together a reading plan that puts the minor prophets (for example) in order and shifted Paul’s letters to the order that we believe he wrote them. If you are trying to understand the flow of the Old Testament history (for example), doing this reading plan may help.

3.         For those looking some flexibility in their schedule, but who still want to get through the Bible in a year, a five day a week reading plan like this one will give you two catch up days in the week. This is an option that might appeal to busy professionals or parents.

4.         Some may want or need to use a slower pace. For those who read a bit slower, there are plans that will walk you through the Bible in two years.

If you have never read through the Bible, I recommend that you start with one of these plans and get a broad sense of Scripture. Do this for a couple of years, then consider a more in depth study method or selective reading plan.

One example of a focused study method is the plan suggested by Joe Carter, writing for The Gospel Coalition. He suggests reading each book of the Bible twenty times straight through. This, he argues, will begin to change your worldview through Scripture saturation. His method is pretty simple:

1.         Choose a book of the Bible.

2.         Read it in its entirety. 

3.         Repeat step #2 twenty times. 

4.         Repeat this process for all books of the Bible.

I have not tried Joe's method myself, but it stands to reason it would be beneficial if simply because it would help the reader be very comfortable with the content of the Bible. Moving through all sixty-six books of Scripture would take some time, but at the end, I imagine the reader would have developed a depth of familiarity that would serve well for the remainder of life.

A Call for Gracious Persistence

Photo Credit: Bible Reading by Cristeen Quezon. Used by CC License. http://ow.ly/CZMj307AJ0y

Photo Credit: Bible Reading by Cristeen Quezon. Used by CC License. http://ow.ly/CZMj307AJ0y

Whichever method you choose to increase your Bible intake is not nearly as important as simply reading the Bible more deeply. You will benefit more from reading a third of the Bible this year than in reading none. You will benefit from picking up after you have missed a few days and continuing on, even if it puts you “off schedule.” Falling short of your goal is no sin. Failing to take time to engage with God’s word can lead to sin, as you enter life's battle unarmed by the sword of the Spirit.

Therefore, don’t wait until the New Year to start a plan. If you decide to start in February, that is fine; there is nothing magical about the first of January.

If you miss a month, don’t sweat it. Just pick up where you left off and keep going.

If you don’t get it all, keep moving. Ask questions of your pastor or ministry leaders. Just keep moving.

The Amazing Word of God

Old Bibles by Ken Rowland. http://ow.ly/X6uHX  Used in original form by CC license.

Old Bibles by Ken Rowland. http://ow.ly/X6uHX  Used in original form by CC license.

The word of God--the Bible--is an amazing thing. God has spoken through prophets, through poets, and through the pens of the people who wrote the Old and New Testaments by divine inspiration.

This is often difficult to prove from deductive arguments. If someone assumes that Scripture is not the word of God and thus not authoritative, then citing passages within Scripture that affirm the reliability, authority, and inspiration of Scripture is likely to have no effect.

But, the word of God is infused with life through the Holy Spirit. As the author of Hebrews writes in Hebrews 4:12:

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

In Isaiah 55:10-11 we have been told that God's word will have an impact on this world, and that it will accomplish God's purpose on the earth:

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
    and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Of course, none of these verses mean much to someone who already doesn't believe, but for those of us who have, by God's grace, gained an understanding of his faithfulness they are encouraging. For those of us who have felt the light of God's love shining down on us like beams of sun through the clouds, we expect to see God's word do mighty works in us and around us.

The video below will take only a few minutes to watch, but it is worth your time.

The video is an account of how a seemingly chance interaction with Scripture led to salvation. The Holy Spirit works through his inspired word to bring about redemption even in the most unlikely circumstances.

How to Read the Bible - A Review

I often read books that I disagree with. It is necessary to read the intellectually challenging disagreement with scholars who oppose my view. This drives me to question whether my answer, their answer, or another might be right.

Recognizing that Harvey Cox is, at least from my conservative Evangelical position, a liberal scholar, I picked up his recent volume, How to Read the Bible with some interest and hope for a fruitful conversation.

This is a popular level book, written with few footnotes and more as a summary of Cox’s religious experience than as a means of engaging in serious debate. 

As such, Cox’s audience appears to be Christians who have not engaged with Scripture seriously and wonder what method the wise sage who has spent a long career proclaiming a version of progressive Christian theology from the respected halls of Harvard Divinity School might encourage them to use. It is, in reality, an apologetic for a liberal approach to Scripture from a post-modern liberal Christian. This statement is not meant in the pejorative (as the label liberal often is) but to clarify my understanding of the author’s actual intent, which is distinct from what he may have actually accomplished; according to his own hermeneutic, his accomplishment will be evaluated as something distinctly different based on the one who actually reads the volume.

Summary

How to Read the Bible is a layman’s book on hermeneutics. It has assumptions (often exposed, but seldom stated) and shows how to apply them to the text of the Bible.

After a personal introduction, which places the book in the context of Cox’s faith journey, there are ten chapters in the text. In them Cox walks through his method of reading of Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Job, the prophets, two chapters on the Gospels (though one ignores John entirely), the Pauline Epistles, and Revelation. The tenth chapter is a summary of Cox’s hermeneutic, which is focused on a contemporary reading of the text. The book has a conclusion in which Cox answers the logical question that arises from his deconstruction of Scripture, namely, “Why should we read the Bible at all?”

Qualification

For Cox, this book is no doubt a very personal book; in fact, the first person pronoun and his own anecdotes prevent reading it any other way. He is explaining how he reads the Bible and gains some spiritual value from it. As such, it would be easy to turn these critiques into accusations against Cox’s faithfulness. That is not my goal. Cox no doubt holds the faith commitments that he has, which have some ties to historic Christianity, sincerely. This book helps to reveal what shape they have and why, but the book does not lead me to question the fact that he believes something about God that approximates a form of historic Christianity and is very personal to him.

Despite this personal nature of the book, he did publish it publicly, which means that it is fair game for analysis and critique. This is not a private expression of faith that, like a discovered diary, should be left alone until the author is deceased.

Assumptions

The logical question that arises from this text on how to read the Bible is why it should be read at all. This is a serious accusation that Cox seems to recognize at the end of the volume and begin to address, but, to my mind he fails.

Cox begins with the assumption that the Bible is solely a human book. In fact, given the option, it seems fairly clear that Cox recommends discarding the notion that any biblical data is factual. He allows that Jesus and Paul did exist, but nearly every other apparent factual claim in Scripture is best rejected at first blush. If some things in the Bible actually happen to correspond to historical truth, this is coincidental to the spiritual truth of Scripture and largely irrelevant.

Additionally, biblical scholarship that rejects traditional understandings of the text or modifies what the text seems to say about history are to be preferred over other scholarships. Throughout the volume, Cox consistently refers to his preferred group of scholars as “the best scholars” or “most scholars.”

In fact, one of the prevailing assumptions that seems to drive Cox’s hermeneutic and general approach to biblical studies is that anyone who accepts the prima facie reading of the Bible is intellectually deficient or ignorant.

For example, the hypothesis that has recently been published that presents a late domestication of camels is valuable explicitly because it undermines the historicity of Scripture and because “it require[s] one to move beyond a literalistic view of the Bible to a more mature comprehension.” (pg. 44) In other words, if only those that believe the Bible to be factually accurate would read the New York Times, which popularized the recent archaeological theory, they wouldn’t be so immature as to believe that Scripture was true. The problem is that the archaeologists conclusions were drawn from a limited data sample and appears to have been interpreted by the New York Times to maximize circulation with a controversial headline rather than critically interact with the study.

Similarly, just a few pages later, Cox discards the notion of the miracle of manna in Exodus by arguing, “The meaning of the ‘miracles’ of Exodus is that these people [i.e., the Israelites of the 7th century B.C.E who he believes wrote the Pentateuch] believe that it was through God’s grace and justice that they were escaping from slavery, and they told their story in their own idiom. Mature and imaginative students of the Bible try to get inside that worldview. They do not simply reject it as superstitious or recast it in terms of modern, if often improbable, scientific rationalizations.” (pg.47)

In other words, speaking from the enlightened cultural perspective of the 21st century, we can know with certainty that these miracles did not happen. This solves two problems simultaneously: (1) It eliminates the weird pseudo-scientific theories about how pre-scientific people may have misinterpreted natural phenomena; (2) It eliminates the need for believing in a God who can do miracles.

While I am thankful for the first result, the second result seems unnecessary unless one has accepted the reigning paradigm of naturalism, which allows for only regularity in the natural world. In other words, it requires that God, whatever that being is, does not interfere in history.

From the Pen of Skeptic

At times, Cox seems to be reading the text as a scoffer. He describes the account of the spies of Israel and Rahab as a “dinner-theater fluff piece” (pg. 69) Thus we should read the accounts of the conquest of Canaan much like school boys read Virgil’s Aeneid (pg 76); they're interesting and have some literary value, but certainly aren't true because, after all, a recent book argues that the entire Israelite history may be incorrect, since the Israelites were likely just Canaanites who banded together against their neighbors and created an elaborate nation-myth to justify their actions (pg 76). Since the Pentateuch is just political propaganda, Cox writes, “I do not believe it is necessary for current readers of the Bible to slog through all these grisly verses [about the reasons given by God for destroying the Canaanites.]” (pg. 74)

This brings back that pertinent question that came to my mind while I was reading this volume, why would you read it anyway? I’ll get back to that in a moment.

Cox continues his way through various representative genre’s of Scripture. Job is “explicitly ‘fictional’" (pg. 79); the prophets have meaning according to how modern revolutionaries decide to use them (though not in an absolutely unconditional sense) (pg. 105); the canonical gospels are merely a result of the winning political faction; the synoptic Gospels are a composite of factually erroneous interpretations of history written too far after the events they depict to be remotely accurate; Paul likely didn’t write most of the letters attributed to him and things we find ethically objectionable are either his misunderstandings or later textual additions; and Revelation can be nothing more than an inspiring poem by a political revolutionary.

It is fair to note that few of these assertions are supported in the text; but it is also important to realize that this is not a scholarly volume. Cox merely assumes the validity of scholarship built on the so-called Higher Critical methods and ignores conservative scholarship as immature or poor. This is an evidence of his bias, but should not be counted as a criticism against his method in this volume.

Again, I wonder, why bother reading it if nearly everything that it reports is questionable?

Spiritual Benefit

Cox believes that there is spiritual benefit in reading Scripture. He intimates this throughout. It can inspire the contemporary reader to pursue justice. This he makes clear in the Introduction, where he recounts the inspiration that African American civil rights activists found in the Exodus stories. While he sat bored in his cell (having been arrested during the same demonstration), the segregated African American detainees preached to each other from the account of Moses.

This reading and contemporary application, he notes, is in accordance with the “full-orbed holistic way I have termed ‘spiritual.’” (pg. 8) But it isn’t clear that such a reading is possible once the reader has rejected the factual content of Scripture as mere political fiction.

In other words, if the Bible is just a human book, with a great percentage of it written for political purposes, then why should it be trustworthy for spiritual readings? Why would one trust Scripture more than a contemporary novel for spiritual information?

Cox wrestles with this in part toward the end of the volume, “Why should I spend any time writing yet another book about this strange old collection? One answer is that the Bible helps us to know who God is, and for many people, perhaps most, that is enough. But there is another reason. The Bible also helps us heed the counsel of Socrates to ‘know thyself,’ and the wisdom of all the religious traditions teaches that the knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves are inseparable.” (pg. 230)

Of these two reasons that Cox offers, it isn’t clear how the shreds of Scripture are helpful any longer in knowing God. He has taken pains to debunk the supernaturalness of God throughout the volume. Gone is the miracle-working God. Gone is the redemptive God that chose a people. Gone is the God that is holy and worthy of judging sin.

The second reason Cox presents is more true to what the tattered text of the Bible can do once it has been explained away by Cox’s “mature” hermeneutic. Once all of the parts of Scripture that conflict with the contemporary reader’s worldview are eliminate, what is left is a reflection of the individual from the ancient text. It isn’t clear why it would take over two hundred pages to explain this fact.

Conclusion

Cox’s book is an excellent example of the reader-response hermeneutic at work. He combines this post-modern approach that rejects a desire for objectivity with an acceptance of the validity of modernistic biblical scholarship to work his way through many genre’s of Scripture.

This is a helpful book because Cox explains what many Christians do on a regular basis. What is masked in the liberal pulpit is made clear in this volume.

In the end, the deconstruction of Scripture and rejection of the supernatural reminds me of C. S. Lewis’ description of creating “men without chests.” They are bidden to be moral, but the means for their morality has been removed. Though this is not Cox’s purpose in writing the book, his demonstration of the failure of the liberal theological method has explanatory power for the slow death of many liberal churches.

How to Read the Bible
$18.71
By Harvey Cox

NOTE: A complimentary copy of this volume was provided by the publisher for review with no expectation of a positive outcome.

The Puritan Practice of Biblical Meditation

In his 2014 book An Infinite Journey, Andy Davis notes, 

Meditation on Scripture is essential to gaining a deep understanding of the truth of its words. Without meditation, the words of our daily reading can flow through our minds like water in a pipe and make no impact. But by means of meditation, we give the word a chance to settle in our minds and do its work.

Similarly in the recently published Prayer, Tim Keller writes, 

Many have written about the hyperactivity of today’s contemporary society and our cultural attention deficit disorder that makes slow reflection and meditation a lost art. Nonetheless, if prayer is to be a true conversation with God, it must be regularly preceded by listening to God’s voice through meditation on the Scripture.

Both of these men are pointing in the same direction, a return to a spiritual discipline that often eludes believers in an age of constant connectivity. Both Keller and Davis spend a few pages on the topic with some basic instructions, but there is a room for a great deal more practical instruction in the practice of Christian meditation. David Saxton provides such instruction in his recent book, God’s Battle Plan for the Mind: The Puritan Practice of Biblical Meditation.

It may be that the focus on the Puritans will turn some readers off from the beginning. However, that is a thoroughly unfair bias. As Leland Ryken shows in his book, Worldy Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were, there is a lot more to the Puritans than Max Weber and Nathaniel Hawthorne allow. In fact, while we cannot adopt everything the Puritans espoused wholesale, the contemporary Christian can benefit greatly by exploring the deeply scriptural worldview they developed.

As such, Saxton’s book really is helpful. Saxton is, in essence, bringing the Puritans forward to a contemporary audience and summarizing their perspective on a neglected spiritual discipline. While extremely beneficial to read, the Puritans are often quite prolix at times. This makes books like this a welcome addition to an arsenal of texts on Puritan theology.

God’s Battle Plan for the Mind is a short book at 138 pages of text. It is divided into twelve short chapters and a conclusion. In a very practical manner, Saxton presents an apology for biblical meditation, differentiates it from unbiblical forms, and demonstrates some of the times that biblical meditation is most helpful and necessary. Thankfully, the book does not leave the reader at the theoretical, but pushes into practical methods for meditation on the Word.

The last six chapters deal with the practical aspects of mediation. Saxton presents some specific instructions on how to choose subjects for meditation, how to be motivated to meditate, what benefits to look for in meditation, and ways to recognize enemies of meditation. The final chapter is an even more basic primer of how to get started developing the habit of meditation.

If you love Puritan theology, you will thoroughly enjoy this volume, which is well stocked with Puritan quotes. If you want to deepen your walk with Christ, you will find this book very beneficial, because it points readers toward practices which are important for becoming more Christlike. If you need encouragement in your walk with Christ, this short text will provide ample exhortation. It is worth your time to read it.

The most significant weakness of this volume, in my mind, is a bias toward Christian separatism. Saxton rightly notes the distraction which our entertainment saturated society can find, but he goes on to cite ungodly friends, by which he means unspiritual ones not merely ruffian acquaintances, and a “failure to decisively separate from the world” as major obstacles to meditation. While these latter factors may negatively impact spiritual disciplines if we never separate from worldly amusements and spend all our time among non-Christians, Saxton seems to be proposing an intentional withdrawal from culture. This may be helpful for maintaining a focus on Christ, but it also removes opportunities for evangelization and influencing a culture which is need of both salt and light. This is not a major emphasis in the book, however, so the value of the volume is not diminished.

Buy the book, apply the technique. There is little doubt that meditating on the Word of God is both biblical and necessary for growing in the knowledge of Christ.

Note: A gratis copy of this book was provided by the publisher with no expectation of a positive review.

I have previously reviewed Andy Davis' book, An Infinite Journey for Themelios, the academic journal of The Gospel Coalition. Click here to read the review.