Knowing Christ - A Review

J. I. Packer’s volume, Knowing God, is a classic for the ages. It is clearly written, theologically deep, and profoundly inspiring. Reading Packer is an experience every Christian should have as soon as they are able.

In the introduction to his recent volume, Knowing Christ, Mark Jones references Packer’s book and pitches his own volume as another attempt in the same vein. He aspires to help his readers to know Christ better, which is a significant goal to say the least.

Jones describes his book in these words:

This book is not polemical (i.e., disputational), but it is still theological. It is also (I pray) devotional. This is a book for God’s people, not the academy. This is a book designed to give God’s people a glimpse of the person of Christ. In short, I write that people may know Christ better than they already do, and so love him more.

Summary

With that target in mind, Jones divides his book into twenty-seven chapters. He covers topics like “Christ’s Dignity,” “Christ’s Faith,” “Christ’s Resurrection,” and “Christ’s Names.” Each of the chapters is eight to ten pages long with multiple headings. It is structured as a book that can be read easily and in segments. The prose is lucid, which makes the book accessible even when the theology is deep. Jones offers many references to Scripture throughout that point the careful reader back to the text, which is the source of much of our knowledge of Christ. He also quotes from the Puritans frequently and quotes some of them at length.

As a theologian, this was a fun book to sit down with at night in my armchair. It did lead me into a deeper appreciation for Christ. It reminded me of much truth about the Savior and helped me think through aspects of Christ’s existence, such as the faith that he demonstrated throughout his life. At the same time, it encouraged me to want to know Christ better and brought to mind the center of the Christian faith, which is the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

This is the sort of book that an educated layperson could pick up and enjoy as well. The structure makes it suitable for a book study, with short chapters and study questions for each chapter in the back of the volume. In the end, whether someone agrees with everything Jones has written here, it is impossible to read this book as a Christian and walk away without having a deeper Christology in some way.

Critique

The weaknesses of the book fall along two fronts. First, Jones loves the Puritans and he draws from them very frequently. As someone who enjoys Puritan theology, I recognize that sometimes they said things so well and in prose that is just far enough removed from modern English to accentuate its theological profundity through shifting cadence. At the same time, those that lack the same love for the Puritans may wonder why some of the quotes are necessary and question the level of authority Jones grants them.

The second weakness of the volume is that at times Jones overstates his case on questionable points. For example, in his discussion of Jesus asking the beloved disciple to take care of his mother, Mary, Jones writes:

We might say that his death for sinners would have been completely ineffectual if he had not entrusted his mother to the care of John. That is to say, if Christ had not uttered these words from the cross, we would be in hell; but he kept God’s law in life and ‘in death’.

Clearly Jones is referring to Christ keeping the fifth commandment to honor his father and mother. However, Jones’ claim is overly strong for the evidence that we have in the text.

Since Christ did utter these words, and the result was the fulfillment of the fifth commandment, it is logically necessary for Christ to utter the words to perfectly fulfill the law. Yet, it does not seem to follow that if Christ had not uttered those words or if we had not received the words through divine revelation, that our salvation would be incomplete. In other words, there could have been other ways for Christ to fulfill the law that Jones has not considered; or it could have happened “off stage.”

This is a minor criticism, but there are a few places where overstatements by Jones made me scratch my head a bit. In the end, they led to some good discussions with my wife (who also read the book), and may prove to do the same if this is read in a group setting.

Conclusion

This is a good book and one that many Christians will find enlightening and inspiring. Pastors might consider recommending this for those that need stimulation to grow in their faith. Seminary students may read this to keep the fire of faith burning brightly. All Christians will find that reading this is well worth the time.

Knowing Christ
$14.25
By Mark Jones

Note: Banner of Truth provided a gratis copy of this volume with no expectation of a positive review.

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.