The focus of this paper will be to demonstrate that the spiritual discipline of meditation on Scripture is an essential practice needed for the formation of a Christian mind and the development of a Biblical worldview.
The concept of Christian meditation on Scripture will be defined as the prolonged thinking on a passage of Scripture so that the Scripture’s meaning may be more fully apprehended, and its transforming principles may be applied to one’s life.
A Christian mind then is one that thinks in terms of Biblical revelation. It is a mind that wants to view the world and reality in a way that is informed by the Word of God. It is a mind that seeks to think God’s thoughts after Him.
A Biblical worldview will be defined as a system of beliefs and behaviours that centre on the sovereignty of God as revealed by the pages of the Bible.
In the midst of the busy, technology-driven modern life it is extremely difficult for people to find time for focused concentration. Thus the question of how meditation on Scripture can be achieved in a modern context must be answered.
The ministry and practices of Richard Baxter and Jonathan Edwards will be examined to glean ideas of the importance of the practice. As well examples of how to apply meditation on Scripture in a modern context and overcome stumbling blocks to the practice will be sought.
Meditation, when viewed properly, can become an initial response to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30) because it requires the use of all these faculties. When viewed in this way the importance of the practice can be understood and applied. In the end, a meditation on Scripture is based on the belief that Christ is all in all, and Christians need eyes to see God’s beauty. Then lives can become saturated with the reality of God and His call for His people to live for His glory.
John Frame defines theology as the application of Scripture to all of life. The application of Scripture to life is part of the sanctification process that occurs by the coordinated effort of the Christian and the Holy Spirit. Gordon Smith states, “The whole of the New Testament assumes that a Christian is someone who grows toward spiritual maturity. In order to apply Scripture to all aspects of life, a person needs to be able to think about all of life in a Christian context. This process is a spiritual formation that results in a Christian set of presuppositions, or worldview.
A worldview defines a person’s basic beliefs about reality and will direct the actions and attitudes of that individual. It has been observed that many Evangelicals in America fail to live out the basic commands of Scripture. The Word of God is being preached but many worshipers are unable to process the sermons they hear on Sunday in such a way as to apply them during the week. The result is a great lack of spiritual growth and maturity. The Barna Group made the following conclusions based on research conducted in 2009:
Our studies this year among pastors showed that almost nine out of ten senior pastors of Protestant churches asserted that spiritual immaturity is one of the most serious problems facing the Church. Yet relatively few of those pastors believe that such immaturity is reflected in their church. Few pastors have gone so far as to give their congregants a specific, written statement of how they define spiritual maturity, how it might be measured, the strategy for facilitating such maturity, or what scriptural passages are most helpful in describing and fostering maturity. Those pastors who made any attempt to measure maturity were more likely to gauge depth on the basis of participation in programs than to evaluate people’s spiritual understanding or any type of transformational fruit in their lives. Overall, less than one out of every ten pastors said they were completely satisfied with how they assess the spiritual condition of their congregation.
In order for Christians to act in accordance with Scripture, they must do more than attending sermons. They must learn to think as Christians in order to grow as Christians. There must be definable steps or practices to help in the process of spiritual growth.
In the past several decades a number of books have been written to address the need for spiritual disciplines as tools for spiritual formation and Christian growth.5 Yet spiritual disciplines only have value as a means to an end. If people do not have a vision or goal for the practice of disciplines then the discipline will have little effect. People must recognize the need to view all of life through the lens of Scripture. It is only by the sanctifying process that worldviews will change and spiritual maturity realized.
One much-needed discipline is a meditation on Scripture. Christian thinking grows out of the spiritual discipline of Biblical meditation which is focused attention on the words of Scripture. Yet meditation as a term is seldom used because of its association with Eastern religions and the New Age Movement. Most authors of books on spiritual disciplines acknowledge the idea behind meditation but search for other terms to identify it. There is a need to return the term meditation to its Christian connotation and root as a spiritual discipline. And meditation must be practised with the goal of Christ-like obedience to the words that are reflected upon.
Forefathers to modern Evangelicals are the English Puritans. They represent much of what the modern Evangelical lacks. In fact, J.I. Packer, when addressing what modern Christians need to learn from the Puritans, writes:
The answer, in one word, is maturity. Maturity is a compound of wisdom, goodwill, resilience, and creativity. The Puritans exemplified maturity; we don’t. We are spiritual dwarfs. A much-travelled leader, a Native American (be it said), has declared that he finds North American Protestantism, man-centred, manipulative, success-oriented, self-indulgent and sentimental, as it blatantly is, to be 3,000 miles wide and half an inch deep.
A call to address this deficiency in spiritual maturity must go forth if a change of the current Christian environment is to occur.
In addition to Puritan maturity, there was also the quality of their spiritual experience in which communion with Jesus was central and the Scripture was supreme. According to J.I. Packer, the Puritans knew themselves to be creatures of thought, affection, and will. They understood that the way to the human heart (will) was through the human head (mind), thus the practice of meditation was widespread among them. The Puritan pastor Richard Baxter and the great American theologian Jonathan Edwards are examples of men who had a strong practise of meditation that was focused on Scripture and free from New Age and Eastern religious connotations of meditation. The lives and practices of these two men will be examined to help recapture the style of intensive meditation on Scripture necessary to promote spiritual maturity.
A final point of consideration is the fact that modern people seem to live a life of constant distraction. The reign of technology in Western culture is so pervasive that it often goes unnoticed. The drive for greater efficiency has led to an endless pursuit that seems to loop on itself. The reason for being more efficient is to be more efficient and not for improved quality of life. In the midst of the busy, technology-driven modern life it is extremely difficult for people to find time for focused concentration. Thus the question of how meditation on Scripture can be achieved in a modern context must be answered. The focus of this paper will be to demonstrate that the spiritual discipline of meditation on Scripture is an essential practice needed for a Christian to develop a Biblical worldview.
Defining Terms – Meditation
In order to more accurately address the focus of this paper a few key concepts need to be discussed and defined. Meditation as it will be described throughout this paper is a meditation on Scripture. It is a meditation that is full of content and conversational. Christianity celebrates the God who speaks. The account of creation involves words, and God’s revelation of himself to mankind is through the words found in the pages of Scripture. J.I. Packer describes meditation as, “the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God.” Thus meditation practised in a Christian context is the activity of the mind focused on words, namely the words of sacred Scripture.
Secondly, meditation is conversational. Again Christianity recognizes that God exists as Trinity; God is three persons in one essence. Such an understanding of God allows for the acknowledgement of the relational nature of God. The very existence of God is one of eternal relationship within the Godhead. God’s revelation of himself to mankind in the words of Scripture shows his relational nature not only within the Godhead but also his relational nature with his creation. The pages of Scripture reveal that God walked with man in the garden, which discloses the conversational nature of God’s initial relationship with humanity. The doctrine of the incarnation teaches that God took on human flesh in order to restore the relational bond that was lost as a result of the sin of man. Meditation in a Christian context will be conversational as well in order to be true to the nature of God’s relationship with a man. The conversational nature of meditation leads to the application of the teachings of Scripture to the living of one’s life.
Meditation on Scripture is not the practice associated with the Eastern religions of Hinduism or Buddhism. Nor is it the Westernized versions of these religions under the name New Age Movement. In these other forms of meditation, the participant is attempting to empty or still his mind by removing words, thoughts, and ideas. These versions of meditation are anti-conceptual: they seek to move beyond concept formation into an altered consciousness. There are groups that want to bring Eastern-style meditation under the umbrella of the Christian experience. In the course of this paper, some of those practices will be identified and dispelled.
For this paper, the concept of Christian meditation on Scripture will be the prolonged thinking on a passage of Scripture so that the Scripture’s meaning may be more fully apprehended, and its transforming principles may be applied to one’s life. God’s Word is the focus of meditation. Because God is a person to know, there is content to meditation. A person does not empty her mind as taught in Eastern forms of meditation instead, she fills her mind with the Holy Word.
is a form of prayer in which a structured attempt is made to become aware of and reflect upon the revelations of God. The word meditation comes from the Latin word meditārī, which has a range of meanings including to reflect on, to study, and to practice. Christian meditation is the process of deliberately focusing on specific thoughts (such as a Bible passage) and reflecting on their meaning in the context of the love of God.
Christian meditation aims to heighten the personal relationship based on the love of God that marks Christian communion. Both in Eastern and Western Christianity meditation is the middle level in a broad three-stage characterization of prayer: it involves more reflection than first level vocal prayer but is more structured than the multiple layers of contemplative prayer. Teachings in both the Eastern and Western Christian churches have emphasized the use of Christian meditation as an element in increasing one’s knowledge of Christ.
Context and structure
Christian meditation involves looking back on Jesus’ life, thanksgiving and adoration of God for his action in sending Jesus for human salvation. In her book The Interior Castle (Mansions 6, Chapter 7) Saint Teresa of Avila defined Christian meditation as follows:
By meditation, I mean prolonged reasoning with understanding, in this way. We begin by thinking of the favour which God bestowed upon us by giving us His only Son, and we do not stop there but proceed to consider the mysteries of His whole glorious life.
explained the context of Christian meditation as follows:
The dimensions of Christian meditation develop from God’s having completed his self-revelation in two directions: Speaking out of his own, and speaking as a man, through his Son, disclosing the depths of man… And this meditation can take place only where the revealing man, God’s Son, Jesus Christ, reveals God as his Father: in the Holy Spirit of God, so we may join in probing God’s depths, which only God’s Spirit probes.
Building on that theme, E. P. Clowney explained that three dimensions of Christian meditation are crucial, not merely for showing its distinctiveness, but for guiding its practice. The first is that Christian meditation is grounded in the Bible. Because the God of the Bible is a personal God who speaks in words of revelation, Christian meditation responds to this revelation and focuses on that aspect, in contrast to mystic meditations which use mantras. The second distinctive mark of Christian meditation is that it responds to the love of God, as in I John, “We love, for he first loved us”. The personal relationship based on the love of God that marks Christian communion is thus heightened in Christian meditation. The third dimension is that the revelations of the Bible and the love of God lead to the worship of God: making Christian meditation and exercise in praise.
Thomas Merton characterized the goal of Christian meditation as follows: “The true end of Christian meditation is practically the same as the end of liturgical prayer and the reception of the sacraments: a deeper union by grace and charity with the Incarnate Word, who is the only Mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ.” While Protestants view salvation in terms of faith and grace alone (i.e. sola fide and sola gratia) both Western and Eastern Christians see a role for meditation on the path to salvation and redemption. Apostle Paul stated in Epistle to the Romans that salvation only comes from “God that hath mercy”. The path to salvation in Christian meditation is not one of giving and taking, and the aim of meditation is to bring joy to the heart of God. The Word of God directs meditations to show the two aspects of love that please God: obedience and adoration. The initiative in Christian salvation is with God, and one does not meditate or love God to gain his favour.
Role of the Holy Spirit
In Western Christian teachings, meditation is usually believed to involve the inherent action of the Holy Spirit to help the meditating Christian understand the deeper meanings of the Word of God. In the 12th century, decades before Guigo II’s the Ladder of the Monk, one of his predecessors, Guigo I, emphasized this belief by stating that when earnest meditation begins, the Holy Spirit enters the soul of the meditator, “turns water into wine” and shows the path towards contemplation and a better understanding of God.
In the 19th century, Charles Spurgeon affirmed this belief within the Protestant tradition and wrote: “The Spirit has taught us in meditation to ponder its message, to put aside if we will, the responsibility of preparing the message we’ve got to give. Just trust God for that.” In the 20th century, Hans Urs von Balthasar paraphrased this teaching as follows:
The vistas of God’s Word unfold to the meditating Christian solely through the gift of the Divine Spirit. How could we understand what is within God and is disclosed to us except through the Spirit of God who is communicated to us?
As a biblical basis for this teaching, von Balthasar referred to 1 Corinthians 2:9-10: “these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God”
Distinction from non-Christian meditation
Christian meditation is generally held to be distinct from the styles of meditations performed in Eastern religions (such as Buddhism) or in the context of the New Age. While other types of meditation may suggest approaches to disengage the mind, Christian meditation aims to fill the mind with thoughts related to biblical passages or Christian devotions. Although some mystics in both the Western and Eastern churches have associated feelings of ecstasy with meditation (e.g. St. Teresa of Avila’s legendary meditative ecstasy), St. Gregory of Sinai, one of the originators of Hesychasm, stated that the goal of Christian meditation is “seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit, beyond the minor phenomenon of ecstasy”.
Modern Christian teachings on meditation at times include specific criticism of the transcendental styles of meditation, e.g. John Bertram Phillips stated that Christian meditation involves the action of the Holy Spirit on biblical passages and warned of approaches that “disengage the mind” from scripture. According to Edmund P. Clowney, Christian meditation contrasts with cosmic styles of oriental meditation as radically as the portrayal of God the Father in the Bible contrasts with discussions of Krishna or Brahman in Indian teachings. Unlike eastern meditations, most styles of Christian meditations are intended to stimulate thought and deepen meaning. Christian meditation aims to heighten the personal relationship based on the love of God that marks Christian communion. According to Clowney, it is the search for wisdom, not ecstasy, that marks the path of Christian meditation, wisdom sought in the “Christ of Scripture and the Scripture of Christ”.
A 1989 document generally known as Aspects of Christian meditation set forth the position of the Holy See with respect to the differences between Christian and eastern styles of meditation. The document, issued as a letter to all Catholic bishops, stresses the differences between Christian and eastern meditative approaches. It warns of the dangers of attempting to mix Christian meditation with eastern approaches since that could be both confusing and misleading and may result in the loss of the essential Christocentric nature of Christian meditation. The letter warned that euphoric states obtained through Eastern meditation should not be confused with prayer or assumed to be signs of the presence of God, a state that should always result in loving service to others. Without these truths, the letter said, meditation, which should be a flight from the self, can degenerate into a form of self-absorption.
Some authors, however, have emphasized similarities between Christian meditation and non-Christian meditation. Psychologist Daniel Goleman gives an overview of many styles of meditation in The Varieties of the Meditative Experience, and includes a section on what he believes are key commonalities (as well as differences); he argues that all share the goal of the cultivation of attention. Thomas Merton, an American Catholic monk, believed Christianity had forsaken its mystical tradition in favour of a Cartesian emphasis on rationality and concepts. Eastern traditions, for Merton, were mostly untainted by this type of thinking and thus had much to offer in terms of how to think of and understand oneself. Having studied the Desert Fathers and other Christian mystics, Merton found many parallels between the language of these Christian mystics and the language of Zen philosophy. This said Merton felt non-Christian religions had little or nothing to contribute in terms of doctrine.
Currently, there are a number of worldviews that people operate under which include naturalism, nihilism, existentialism, deism, and Christian theism (Biblical worldview) to name a few. The worldviews people most often hold are incoherent. Many times depending on education, family background, or cultural background a person may operate under a mixture of various worldviews. Barna Research Group reports:
Americans typically draw from a broad treasury of moral, spiritual and ethical sources of thought to concoct a uniquely personal brand of faith. Feeling freed from the boundaries established by the Christian faith, and immersed in a postmodern society that revels in participation, personal expression, satisfying relationships, and authentic experiences, we become our own unchallenged spiritual authorities, defining truth and reality as we see fit. Consequently, more and more people are engaged in hybrid faiths, mixing elements from different historical eras and divergent theological perspectives.
Over the course of time man has picked up options from natural, supernatural, pre-modern, modern, and post-modern schools of thought on how to process and interpret the sense data he is constantly collecting.
Worldviews also operate on a subconscious level. The person does not always recognize the worldview or mixture of worldviews he is using to interpret his world. It is like the old proverb that says, “If you want to know what water is don’t ask a fish.” It is difficult to recognize the ways that worldview shapes thinking without a deliberate and sustained effort on the part of an individual. It requires a disciplined evaluation of thoughts, ideas, theories, advertisements, and propaganda to wade through the worldview smorgasbord.
James Orr suggests that there is an assured Christian view of life, which has a character, coherence, and unity of its own. It stands in sharp contrast with counter theories and speculations. A Biblical worldview has been tested by history and experience. A Biblical worldview stands or falls on its integrity. It is not piecemeal. It is a holistic approach to interpreting reality that offers the stability of thought and unity of insight. A Biblical worldview is able to provide a reasonable and all-embracing view of all disciplines of study from religion to science, history, law, the humanities, the arts, etc. For the purpose of this paper, a Biblical worldview will be defined as a system of beliefs and behaviours that centre on the sovereignty of God as revealed by the pages of the Bible. Defining Terms – Christian Mind
A third concept that needs recognition for the discussion that follows is the idea of a Christian mind. Aristotle said that “all men by nature desire to know”. It is the rational side of human existence that is often said to separate man from beast. In creating mankind in His image God endowed humanity with reason, creativity, and relational skills that make humans unique. In Genesis 2 and 3, God communicates with man in a way that He does not communicate with animals. God gives man work to do; he is to till and keep the garden God has created. In this association, God is seen as cooperating with a man by making him steward of His creation. Additionally, God invites man to name the animals showing man’s governance over another aspect of creation as well. When God created woman from man, Adam demonstrated his ability to use language in the form of poetry as praise for what God had made. As a result of this creative process, it can be demonstrated that all minds have a spiritual basis.
Genesis 3 also records the disobedience of man as sin entered creation. Romans 5:12 states “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned.” All people have been affected by sin. The original innocent state in which mankind was created has been lost. Humans by nature are at enmity with God and seek autonomy from God. All aspects of humanity are affected by sin including the mind. Scripture describes the mind as being darkened (Eph. 4:18). Men now by nature “suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18). Their minds are “senseless” and “futile” in their thinking (Rom. 1:21).
A Christian mind is different because a Christian mind is regenerated. It no longer seeks to be autonomous. A Christian mind has come under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and therefore is humble. It places God and God’s Word as the defining factors for interpreting human existence. However, just because the Christian mind is regenerated does not mean it is completely free of its tendencies to be autonomous nor has it been totally freed from the influences of educational background, social status, family, culture, etc. As all Christians go through life in a process of sanctification so must the mind. The formation of a Christian mind requires persistent obedience to the Word of God. It takes time and effort to sort through all the ideas that sound reasonable only to discover later that these are inconsistent with Biblical beliefs. It is a lifelong struggle for a person to conform his thinking to the thinking of Christ. Yet it is a struggle that must occur in order for true discipleship to happen.
A Christian mind then is one that thinks in terms of Biblical revelation. It is a mind that wants to view the world and reality in a way that is informed by the Word of God. It is a mind that seeks to think God’s thoughts after Him. Harry Blamires describes the Christian mind as “a mind trained, informed, equipped to handle data of secular controversy within a framework of reference which is constructed of Christian presuppositions. The Christian mind is the prerequisite for Christian thinking. Christian thinking is the prerequisite for Christian action.”
Mark Noll in his work, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, plainly states the problem. “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” What Noll and others are noting is that despite a number of other virtues and accomplishments American Evangelicals are not worthy of imitation in their thinking. It is most often the result of one of two errors. Evangelicals have tended to go along with culture. By neglecting serious intellectual engagement with the issues of modern society Evangelicals have essentially allowed secular universities, Madison Avenue, and MTV to shape the way children of God view the world. Noll states, “It is very easy to adopt the herd instincts of popular culture and assume that life exists as a series of opportunities for pleasure, self-expression, and the increase of comfort.”
The second error Evangelicals fall into that truncates serious intellectual pursuits is the promotion of the idea that Heaven is home and this world does not matter. Evangelicals have in effect abandoned environmental and social issues because these are too difficult to solve. The Christian belief in eternity is one of the most important convictions held by believers. Yet the cultural mandate of Genesis 1:28 still stands which reads: God blessed them, and God said unto them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’
The call to stewardship is still part of the human experience. Neglecting to think about ways in which life can be improved to glorify God is to demean the whole realm of existence. Instead, life must be viewed and accepted as a gift from God. It must be lived with a deep understanding of what God requires and dictates. Dedicated and persistent thought will lead to a deeper understanding of the existence and meaning of life in this world as well as the next.
One of the key tents that typically mark people who claim Evangelical status is the conviction that the Bible is the revealed Word of God. In it, God is revealed as the creator and sustainer of life. He is the author of human institutions such as family, work, and government. He is the source of creativity, harmony, and beauty. Despite these beliefs, Evangelicals have for the most part neglected serious analysis of nature, human society, and the arts.
The reason for the lack of engagement in certain areas of discourse is a suspicion that too much thinking and learning are unnecessary for faith and can even be a detriment to that same faith. Many Christians have seen the trend of large numbers of high school youth who attend church too quickly dropping that attendance during their college years. Thus an assumption is made that the correlation between loss of devotion and higher education is direct. To be sure some students are exposed to professors who ridicule the Christian faith. Most biological science classes will teach evolutionary theories of life development. Books will be read by authors who have little awareness of Christian values. As a result of the heavy secular influence, many Christians distrust intellectual life.
The problem, however, does not rest solely on exposure to non-Christian ideas and philosophies. The lack of a Christian mind in the older generation who trains and teaches the young contributes to the inability of the next generation to withstand the cultural onslaught. J. Gresham Machen saw this problem in 1912 when he stated:
We may preach with all the fervour of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation or of the world to be controlled by ideas which, by the resistless force of logic, prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion. Under such circumstances, what God desires us to do is destroy the obstacle at its root. . . . What is today a matter of academic speculation begins tomorrow to move armies and pull down empires.
Much of the problem associated with the flight of young people from devotion to Christian practices is a lack of spiritual commitment and maturity. Often the faith of these young people is nominal at best. They have not been taught to think and process information in a Christian manner.
In today’s educational system and in society in general divergent thinking is often discouraged. Harry Blamires addresses the problem of why thinkers, in general, are frustrating and unattractive. He writes:
The thinker challenges current prejudices. He distrusts the complacent. He obstructs the busy pragmatists. He questions the very foundations of all about him, and in so doing throws doubt upon aims, motives, and purposes that those who are running affairs have neither time nor patience to investigate. The thinker is a nuisance. He is a luxury that modern society cannot afford. It will therefore naturally, and on its own terms justifiably, strive to keep him quiet, to restrict his influence, to ignore him. It will try to pretend that he does not exist.
If thinkers have so much difficulty in the secular world then it is not surprising that distinctly Christian thinkers are even rarer. Blamires began his work on the Christian mind with the statement that “there is no longer a Christian mind.” He made this statement by viewing the landscape of 1960’s Great Britain. What was true in that nation seems even more applicable to the United States in the twenty-first century. He writes:
There is still, of course, a Christian ethic, a Christian practice, and a Christian spirituality. As a moral being, the modern Christian subscribes to a code other than that of the non-Christian. As a member of the Church, he undertakes obligations and observations ignored by the non-Christians. As a spiritual being, in prayer and meditation, he strives to cultivate a dimension of life unexplored by the non-Christian. But as a thinking being, the modern Christian has succumbed to secularization. He accepts religion – its morality, its worship, its spiritual culture; but he rejects the religious view of life, the view which sets all earthly issues within the context of the eternal, the view which relates all human problems – social, political, cultural – to the doctrinal foundations of the Christian Faith, the view which sees all things here below in terms of God’s supremacy and earth’s transitoriness, in terms of Heaven and Hell.
Succumbing to secularization in thinking is what is meant by the loss of a Christian mind which results in the loss of a Christian worldview. All the topics Blamires quoted above need to be viewed through the lens of Scripture. However, many Christians are not advancing in their ability to view life in a Biblical manner.
The Barna Group conducted a study among a representative sample of adults to determine how many people held a Biblical worldview. The survey was conducted in 1995, 2000, 2005, and 20009. For purposes of the survey, a Biblical worldview was defined as believing absolute moral truth exists; the Bible is totally accurate in all the principles it teaches; Satan is considered a real being; a person cannot earn entrance into heaven via good works; Jesus lived a sinless life on earth; God is the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the world and is still rules creation today. If a person held all these beliefs he was deemed to have a Biblical worldview.
Overall, the latest survey showed only nine per cent of the population in the United States held a Biblical worldview. When the research was broken out into various subpopulations, a group was identified as born-again based on answers to questions concerning their beliefs and relationship with Jesus Christ. Among born-again believers, less than one out of five (19%) were identified as having a Biblical worldview. Such results seem to be surprising considering born-again believers typically are defined by the acknowledgement of the five statements used by Barna to conduct the research. Even with a high rate of respondents in this group acknowledging the accuracy of the Bible’s teachings (nearly 80%), there is an abysmal failure to apply the words of Scripture to the paradigm by which they gauge reality. When compared to the previous surveys the number of born-again believers with a Biblical worldview was flat: 18% in 1995, 22% in 2000, 21% in 2005, and 19% in 2009. This shows the great need for evangelical Christians to find more effective ways of gaining a Biblical worldview.
Again Noll has cut insight into the root of the problem with the evangelical mind. He writes:
American Evangelicals never doubted that Christianity was the truth. . . . What they did do, however . . . was to make most questions of truth into questions of practicality. What message would be most effective? What do people most want to hear? What can we say that will both convert people and draw them to our particular church?
The result is preaching that does not offend but neither does it call people to account. Noll again writes:
To put it simply, the evangelical ethos is activistic, populist, pragmatic, and utilitarian. It allows little space for broader or deeper intellectual effort because it is dominated by the urgencies of the moment.
The drive to realize results left little time for evangelical pastors to think about how God wanted his children to relate to nature, society, ascetics, or the mind.
The glaring problems from lack of engagement with social issues to the absence of a Christian mind point desperately to the need for an adjustment in approach to forming and training a Biblical mindset. It is clear that there is a need to love God with all the mind in order to answer many of the problems mentioned. The evidence points to the need for a more systematic and rigorous application of the Word of God to the lives of believers. Even with the revival of the awareness of spiritual disciplines within American Protestantism, the spiritual disciplines are not regarded as essential. The use of the spiritual discipline of meditation on Scripture is needed to help transform the minds of believers so that a more effective engagement of the world with the Gospel can be made.
REVIEW OF LITERATURE ASSOCIATED WITH THE NEED FOR MEDITATION ON SCRIPTURE
As mentioned in the introductory section of this paper a number of works have been published on spiritual disciplines. Richard Foster’s book, Celebration of the Disciplines, was a ground-breaking work that brought spiritual disciplines back into the contemporary Christian landscape. His book served as a catalyst to renew discussion and research of the ancient ascetic practices that had been lost by most Protestants due to the practices’ associations with Catholicism. People wonder how they can practice the disciplines without viewing them as a means to meriting forgiveness or at least meriting God’s favour. In general Protestants exhibit scorn for ascetic practices. Since Foster’s book, evangelical publishers are releasing several books a year on the importance and practice of spiritual disciplines. Dallas Willard points out two factors that contribute to the change in Protestant views that have allowed for a new interest in spiritual disciplines. One is the softening of denomination divides among Protestants. In the forties and fifties, marriage or even friendships were discouraged across denominational lines. In the sixties and seventies, these attitudes virtually disappeared resulting in what Willard calls the diffusion of Protestant sectarianism. The other is a desire for a faith that touches all of life. It must be noted that developing the habit of practising spiritual disciplines is not the goal. In order for the disciplines to be useful, the goal of Christian maturity must be kept in mind. Growth in Christ-likeness must shape all of life.
In acknowledging the need for Christian maturity as a goal, Dallas Willard wrote The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives in 1988. Willard provides a good introductory guide to spiritual disciplines and acknowledges the revival of interest in the spiritual disciplines sparked by Foster’s work. At the time of publication, Willard felt that the spiritual disciplines were still not regarded as essential to Christian growth by the Christian populace. His contribution was to provide a theology of the disciplines as a means for transforming lives. Often people know the need for change but are unable to articulate how to do it. Willard says, “Failure to act in definite ways will guarantee that transformation will not come to pass.” The life of discipleship that so many fail to achieve is found in an “intelligent, informed, unyielding resolve to live as Jesus lived in all aspects of life, not just in the moment of specific choice or action.”
Donald Whitney wrote Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life which provides a survey of spiritual disciplines as well. But Whitney’s work tends to have an increased emphasis on the actual implementation of the disciplines in the life of the Christian. He focuses on practices such as Bible intake, prayer, worship, evangelism, serving, stewardship, fasting, silence and solitude, journaling, and learning.
Kyle Strobel’s book, Formed for the Glory of God, addresses key issues about spiritual disciplines. “Too many people grab practices from the tradition (of spiritual disciplines) to fix their spiritual lives without ever investigating the purpose of these practices.” The spiritual disciplines are not a form of Christian self-help curriculum. Instead, Strobel reminds readers that the disciplines are a means of grace. The term “means of grace” links the practices to salvation. Thus the goal of the disciplines is the transformation of character, not just an ascetic practice. Strobel says, “The means of grace are actions that help us focus more fully on God, recognizing that God is the fountain from which all grace flows.”
Meditation on Scripture
In Celebration of the Disciplines, Foster surveyed various spiritual disciplines including meditation. He defines Christian meditation very simply as the ability to hear God’s voice and obey his word. He states, “It involves no hidden mysteries, no secret mantras, no mental gymnastics, no esoteric flights into the cosmic consciousness.” Due to the relational nature of God meditation on God’s written word is a vehicle for communication. By meditating on Scripture “a familiar friendship with Jesus” grows. It is a friendship filled with awe and reverence as well as intimacy.
When Willard enumerates various disciplines he divides them into disciplines of abstinence and disciplines of engagement. He does not mention meditation as a spiritual discipline directly; instead, he discusses the concept of meditation on Scripture under the title of study which is a discipline of engagement with God’s Word. As noted earlier a relational God wants a means to communicate with His people, and the Bible is one of those vehicles God has provided the Word but his children must, in turn, engage that Word with serious thought. Calvin Miller remarks: “Mystics without study are only spiritual romantics who want a relationship without effort.”
Donald Whitney, like Willard, does not devote a chapter to meditation as a discipline but covers the concept under the topics: Bible intake, prayer, and journaling. He defines meditation as deep thinking on the truths and spiritual realities revealed in Scripture for the purpose of understanding, application, and prayer. Whitney holds that meditation goes beyond hearing, reading, studying, and even memorizing as a way of taking in Scripture. He compares meditation on Scripture within the context of Bible intake to the process of brewing tea. He states:
A simple analogy would be a cup of tea. You are the cup of hot water and the intake of Scripture is represented by the teabag. Hearing God’s Word is like one dip of the tea bag into the cup. Some of the tea’s flavour is absorbed by the water, but not as much as would occur with a more thorough soaking of the bag.
Brief or intermittent encounters with the Word of God are like dips of the bag in the cup. The more often these occur the more effect it has. Whitney says, “Meditation, however, is like immersing the bag completely and letting it steep until the entire rich tea flavour has been extracted and the hot water is thoroughly tinctured reddish-brown.”
Meditation on the words of Scripture should be done in such a way that changes the manner the events of the world are viewed. It has been attributed to Karl Barth that the best way to interpret the events described in the newspaper is with the Bible. Willard writes: “In the study, we also strive to see the Word of God at work in the lives of others, in the church, in history, and in nature. We not only read and hear and inquire, be we meditate on what comes before us; that is, we withdraw into silence where we prayerfully and steadily focus upon it. In this way, its meaning for us can emerge and form us as God works in the depths of our heart, mind, and soul.”
A second book, Life with God: Reading the Bible for Spiritual Transformation, by Richard Foster examines in greater detail the concept of meditation on Scripture and how to do it more effectively. Two sections that are particularly germane to this topic are concerned with reading Scripture with your heart and with your mind. In the section on reading with the heart, Foster relates how one must read expectantly, or more exactly, how one must read anticipating the Spirit God to teach through the text. One must be reflective with each passage. Take time to read and reread certain passages. The passage must then be obeyed.
Obedience comes with a prayer to apply the passage or teaching to the appropriate areas of life. In the section on reading with the mind, Foster examines how Scripture reading must engage the mind in order to be transformative. One must read to gain understanding. One must read with the awareness of the type of literature the particular passage falls under and what that type of literature intends to communicate.
Michael Casey wrote, Sacred Reading: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina, which provides background information that is both historical and practical as a foundation for the practice. Written from a Catholic perspective the practice does have slightly mystical elements however the book offers good general suggestions for creating a regular, obedience oriented, and focused practice of Bible reading.
In the opening chapter Casey addresses several issues that limit or distract readers from the sacred text. He calls into question the reader’s devotion and fidelity to the practice of reading the Word in a way that does not jump from text to text. He states:
Needless to say, there are difficulties experienced in a method of reading that takes seriously the integrity of the text. Here our contemporary culture is no help. We are obsessed with getting to the bottom line that we are inclined to short-circuit necessary preliminaries. As a result, our understanding of the content is often approximate and superficial … Like children who need their food cut up for them, we prefer to deal with little pieces rather than chew over complex issues for ourselves. If we wish to be nourished directly by the Scriptures without seeking a predigested substitute, then we will probably need to develop new skills.
Recognizing the central importance of Bible intake and practising patience with reading will help individuals overcome distractions to form a consistent, planned reading habit.
Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God by John Piper contains important sections on reading as thinking. Though thinking can be defined very broadly Piper focuses on the idea of the activity of the mind as it is engaged with the Word of God. Part of gaining understanding from what one reads depends on the questions one asks of the text. Why did the author use that word? Why is this idea here and not there? How does he use that word in other places? How is that word different from this other word he could have used? How does the combination of these words affect the meaning of that word? Why did he connect these statements with because or therefore or although? Is it logical? How does it fit with what another author in the Bible says? How does it fit with my experience? When questions are asked of the text a deeper, richer meaning can be discovered. In addition, the active engagement of the mind allows for the text to penetrate the memory for later recall. Proper time spent with the Bible allows for careful observation, questioning, active minds, and integration of the text into understanding.
As mentioned previously, Whitney links prayer and Bible intake through the practice of meditation. Often a person reads Scripture, closes the book, and tries to shift gears into prayer. “Instead there should be a smooth, almost unnoticeable transition between Scripture input and prayer output so that we move even closer to God in those moments. This happens when there is the link of meditation in between.”
The process works like this: a passage of Scripture is read, then time is taken through meditation to allow what God has said to be digested and thought deeply about, and then the person is able to speak to God in meaningful prayer. The individual has confidence that the prayer is being spoken with God’s thoughts back to Him. A passion develops about the subject matter of the prayer since time has been taken to allow the Word to sink into the heart and soul. Thus the passage has now taken root and the transforming power of Scripture can be realized.
The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson is also an excellent source on the practice of meditation and on a contemplative lifestyle. Peterson points out that a life of meditation and contemplation is an active choice that must be guarded and defended in a world of constant busyness. A person must keep one’s mind free from the clutter of the urgent and focus instead on the necessary. Peterson writes:
In Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, there is a turbulent scene in which a whaleboat scuds across a frothing ocean in pursuit of the great whale, Moby Dick. The sailors are labouring fiercely, every muscle taut, all attention and energy concentrated on the task. The cosmic conflict between good and evil are joined; the chaotic sea and demonic sea monster versus the morally outraged man, Captain Ahab. In this boat, however, there is one man who does nothing. He is languid in the crash and the cursing. This man is the harpooner, quiet and poised, waiting. And then this sentence: ‘To ensure the greatest efficiency in the dart, the harpooners of this world must start to their feet out of idleness, and not out of toil.’
Melville’s sentence is a text to set alongside the psalmist’s ‘Be still, and know that I am God (Ps. 46:10), and alongside Isaiah’s ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength’ (Isa. 30:15).
It is true for pastors but it is also true for any follower of Christ who wants to walk in obedience to Scripture and practice what has been taught and learned. He must take time to still the mind and calm the heart in order to hear the voice of God speak and allow the transforming process of discipleship to take hold.
When examining the practical aspects of meditation Donald Whitney writes of journaling as a helpful technique in overcoming the fast-paced, media-distracted world of today. In the same way that a student taking notes from a lecture or a parishioner taking notes from a sermon keeps the person engaged with what is being said so journaling can help provide focus to meditation. He states:
Without a pen in hand, I can get so distracted in meditation that I begin tacking one unrelated thought to another until I’m shingling off into the fog of daydreams instead of thinking in the light of Scripture. The discipline of writing down my meditations in my journal helps me concentrate. When a person records meditations in a journal he can follow more closely the voice of God as He relates himself through the text.
While considering journaling as a help to meditation it should also be mentioned the role of posture has on memory. Causal reading, as opposed to focused reading or study, often occurs with changes in the body’s position. A study at Florida State University was conducted to test the effect of body posture on remembering events from the subjects’ lives. When the body was placed in a position similar to a position the body would be in during certain events the recall was significantly higher. An example would be asking someone to stand with his hand on the doorknob and recall a time he opened a door for a stranger. In such cases, memory recall would be much better. An opposite example would be to instruct someone to sit down with her elbows on the table and her head in her hands and have her tell about a time she went to a sporting event. Here, the recall would be significantly less. If body position affects the recall of events in a persons’ life then body position may also have an effect on the ability to concentrate, intake information, and recall it later. A relaxed or reclined position may be less conducive to learning than a forward upright position.
Improving concentration takes a little time and effort, as recent books on neuroplasticity such as Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain by Sharon Begley explains, the structure and function of the adult brain are not set in stone as scientists have always said. When a person learns a new skill, memorizes information, or develops a new habit, the connections in the brain change. It’s further evidence that the brain’s abilities, including the ability to concentrate effectively, can be changed for the better. Research shows that these changes do not occur overnight, however. A person has to work at it consistently and regularly to reshape the brain. Meditation on Scripture and Bible memorization can be one of the activities that work to reshape the brain. While other activities can have similar physical effects Biblical meditation adds the additional spiritual element and benefit.
Richard Foster has a brief section in Celebration of the Disciplines on misconceptions about meditation that is helpful in pulling the practice back from New Age and Eastern religions. He states, “Eastern forms of meditation stress the need to become detached from the world. There is an emphasis upon losing personhood and individuality and merging with the Cosmic Mind.” If detachment is the goal of Eastern forms of meditation then attachment is the goal of Christian meditation. Meditation’s goal is not to create Christians who are unhealthy with an otherworldly kind of aura. Instead, meditation produces believers who are living with a redirected life that deals successfully with the trials and difficulties of this life as well as being in communion with Christ so that the next life also has proper perspective.
Donald Whitney acknowledges that even among believers meditation is often more closely associated with yoga, transcendental meditation, relaxation therapy, or the New Age Movement than with the Biblical text. Because of this association, many Christians shy away from the practice and are suspicious of those who say they engage in meditation. It must be reiterated: “While some advocate a kind of meditation in which you do your best to empty your mind, Christian meditation involves filling your mind with God and truth.” Mental passivity is not the means but mental activity. Detachment is not the goal but a transforming knowledge of God and His Word that leads to a life of discipleship and obedience.
As defined earlier a Biblical worldview is a system of beliefs and behaviours that centre on the sovereignty of God and His character as revealed by the pages of the Bible as the basis for human living. James Sire’s book, The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog is a good introductory survey of basic worldviews. Sire poses seven questions that are helpful in identifying a person’s worldview. What is really real? What is the nature of the world around us? What is a human being? What happens to a person at death? Why is it possible to know anything at all? How do we know right from wrong? What is the meaning of human history? How a person answers these questions will reveal the basic tenants of the worldview the individual holds. The answers will also indicate the consistency and commitment to the worldview.
Theology falls into the category of habits of the mind. Helping develop the thinking patterns of the mind directs the way people live out their faith. McGrath writes:
We cannot love God without wanting to understand more about him. … We cannot allow Christ to reign in our hearts if he does not also guide our thinking.
Communities are unified by the objects of their affection. By helping provide clear and cohesive beliefs based on Biblical revelation churches can more readily help their membership live in every area of existence in obedience to Christ.
McGrath also addresses how to engage culture which is the application of a worldview to the world in which one lives. He addresses how some portray “warfare” between natural sciences and religion. It gives the impression that one cannot believe in the existence of God and be a scientifically viable researcher, scholar, or even scientifically educated. Yet as McGrath points out, “When properly and legitimately applied, the scientific method is religiously neutral – neither supportive nor critical of religious beliefs.” But in order to fit with a certain agenda science is often spun in a way that implies science disproves religion. However, Christian belief does not hold that God is a part of the created order. He is not discoverable or definable by scientific inquiry. Atheists seem to assume that Christians hold God as an extra and unnecessary item on a list of entities in the universe that atheists do not have. Yet a person with a Christian worldview knows he does not have to prove the existence of God within the created order, for God is outside and above the created order. McGrath touches on this and other basic themes that have characterized a Biblical worldview through the ages. He seeks to focus on the positive role of theology in moulding, nurturing, and sustaining the Christian vision of reality and how one can engage culture with a Christian mindset or worldview.
Sire covers Biblical theism by first focusing on the nature of God since it is the prime proposition. He states, “God is infinite and personal, transcendent and immanent, omniscient, sovereign and good.” God is prime reality. Sire goes on to define the universe as created by God, humankind, as made in God’s image, death, is a door to the next life which is lived in the presence of God or in a state of eternal separation from Him, humanity’s capacity to know is innately given by God, ethics is based on the character of God, and history is a linear, meaningful sequence of events leading to the fulfilment of God’s purpose for humanity. Each statement is derived from the Biblical revelation of God that this paper identifies as a Biblical worldview. Sire in subsequent chapters defines deism, naturalism, nihilism, existentialism, pantheism, New Age, and postmodern worldviews. He summarizes the basic tenets of each worldview. He often gives some historical information and contributions of historical figures in various categories. He also provides some examples of various worldviews in practice.
Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview by Albert Wolters looks at a reformational worldview as a subset of a Biblical worldview. He defines a worldview as a comprehensive framework of one’s basic beliefs about things. He deliberately uses the vague term things because a worldview affects every possible thing about which a person can have a belief. Beliefs are different from feelings and opinions. Beliefs make a cognitive claim to some kind of knowledge to which a person is committed. The beliefs are said to be basic because these are beliefs that involve matters of general principle. A worldview is not a belief about facts such as who was Super Bowl champion last year. Instead, a worldview is a belief about whether violence can ever be right. Do constant norms for human life exist? Is there a point to suffering? Does existence continue after death? Finally, a worldview is a framework or pattern that holds “things” together. It is the paradigm used to interpret the sense data of the world.
Wolters writes on the dangers of segregating or compartmentalizing areas of inquiry into religious and non-religious arenas. Scripture does not just teach about religious practice but the Word of God is a guide for living in a relationship with God in all areas of life. He addresses worldview as a matter of wisdom and common sense, whether Biblical or unbiblical. Wolters holds that worldviews are not gained by advanced degrees or seminars but through the shared everyday experience of mankind. Wolters examines a worldview that is shaped by the key concepts of the creation, fall, and redemption story found in the pages of Scripture.
An example of a lived-out Biblical worldview is recorded in Leland Ryken’s book Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were. The integrated life can be seen in the Puritan views of work and vocation. The goal of the Puritans was to combine their daily work with their devotion to God. The Puritan was driven by the insight that all of life is God’s. The call was to live an ordered life in the community as functioning, contributing members of society.
The integrated lives that the Puritans lived allowed them to combine personal piety with a comprehensive God-centred worldview. No building can stand unless it is on a strong foundation. The Puritan belief in the providence of God allowed them to face many hardships with the hope of a better life to come. But they did not use an other-worldly view to be escapists. They lived lives fully incorporated into this world. Every Puritan conviction was rooted in Scripture. Using the Bible as their guide they were able to relate their Christian faith to all aspects of life – to work, marriage, family, politics, social action, as well as church and worship. The words of Peter Bulkeley sum up the Puritan view, “If God is God over us, we must yield him universal obedience in all things. He must not be over us in one thing, and under us in another, but he must be over us in everything.”
The Christian Mind: How Should a Christian Think is a book written fifty years ago by Harry Blamires. The central concept of the book is that there has been a loss of the Christian mind. Scientific minds and modern minds exist as a collectively accepted set of notions and attitudes but not a Christian mind. His thesis is that Christians in the modern world accept, for the purpose of mental activity, a frame of reference constructed by the secular mind and a set of criteria reflecting secular evaluations. The result is the lack of a Christian mind. He establishes his thesis by explaining and exploring the deficiencies in Christian thinking. Blamires writes, “Christianity is emasculated of its intellectual relevance. It remains a vehicle of spirituality and moral guidance at the individual level perhaps; at the communal level it is little more than an expression of sentimentalized togetherness.” He sums up what has been lost due to Christianity’s intellectual irrelevance:
We twentieth-century Christians have chosen the way of compromise. We withdraw our Christian consciousness from the fields of public, commercial, and social life. When we enter these fields we are compelled to accept, for purposes of discussion, the secular frame of reference established there. We have no alternative—except silence. We have to use the only language spoken in these areas. Our own Christian language is no longer understanding of the people there. Moreover, we ourselves have so long ceased to use it except for discussion of the moral, the liturgical, or the spiritual, that it is rusty and out of date. We have no Christian vocabulary to match the complexities of contemporary political, social, and industrial life. How should we have? A language is nurtured on usage, not on silence, however high-principled. And we have long since ceased to bring Christian judgment to bear upon the secular public world. Due to the compromises and the lack of so many tools to engage in the sociopolitical debate Christianity is unable to make a noteworthy stand.
Mark Noll writes more specifically about the lack of intellectualism among American Evangelicals. As mentioned previously in this paper, he points out that one of two major errors occur in the thinking and actions of Evangelicals in America: going along with culture or ignoring cultural issues because this world is not important. No comments that to live life in this world one cannot get caught up in culture nor can one ignore culture but a person must accept life in this world as a gift from God. A Christian must maintain dedicated and persistent thought about reality and what occurs around him. For Evangelicals to regain a Christian mind they think more Biblically. When they think or learn about something they must not be just looking for knowledge of that object or subject only but for learning about the one who created the thing.
Noll identifies the prime source of anti-intellectualism in America as what he terms the “evangelical spirit.” It is defined by a charismatic, populist, pragmatic, and technological approach to life rather than an intellectual. People are in a hurry to get out of school to start earning money or serving the church or preaching the gospel. They do not know the infinite value of spending years of learning with the greatest minds and souls of the past. An example quoted by Noll is of two Kentucky revivalists who were met with a quote from John Calvin in an argument over a theological issue. They replied, “We are not personally acquainted with the writings of John Calvin, nor are we certain how nearly we agree with his views of divine truth; neither do we care” (emphasis added). They miss the chance to ripen and sharpen and enlarge their powers of thinking.
The search for a Christian perspective on life is not just an academic pursuit. To actively engage the mind with issues of families, economies, health, the arts, literature, church and culture is to take seriously the truth of the sovereignty of God over the world he created. The mind that truly thinks as a Christian recognizes the Lordship of Christ over all aspects of human existence. The search for the Christian mind is in the end a search for God.
John Piper also addresses the task of facing the challenges of anti-intellectualism. In a similar fashion to Noll’s work, Piper also briefly looks into the historical factors that contributed to the anti-intellectual attitude of many Evangelicals. D.L. Moody when asked about his theology once said, “My theology! I didn’t know I had any. I wish you would tell me what my theology is.” Moody was expressing a perceived antagonism between intellectual pursuits and concern for the souls of men. But not thinking is not the solution to thinking arrogantly. N. K. Clifford has stated:
The evangelical Protestant mind has never relished complexity. Indeed its crusading genius, whether in religion or politics, has always been tended toward an oversimplification of issues and the substitution of inspiration and zeal for critical analysis and serious reflection. The limitations of such a mindset were less apparent in the relative simplicity of a rural frontier society.
Piper does not feel there is a necessary correlation between extensive learning and the right use of the mind. He says that many PhDs think poorly, and many people with little formal education think with great clarity and depth. The plea is not for formal education per se but for a hearty engagement of the mind in the pursuit of God.
Having evaluated and discussed the fact that the Christian mind is woefully absent in so many instances it is time to establish what a Christian mind looks like. Blamires discusses what the Christian mind should be. He evaluates the supernatural orientation of the mind, the Christian mind’s awareness of evil, the concept of truth, view of authority, concern for others, and a sacramental cast.
The supernatural orientation of the mind in a Christian cultivates an eternal perspective. Blamires states, “The Christian mind sees human life and human history held in the hands of God.” The result is an acknowledgement of God’s power and love as sustaining the whole universe. The supernatural order determines the flow of the natural order. He continues, “It (the Christian mind) sees this life as an inconclusive experience, preparing us for another; this world as a temporary place of refuge, not our true and final home.”
A second aspect of the Christian mind is an awareness of evil. A Christian mind thinks in terms of heaven and hell. Blamires says, “The Church sums up, in the doctrine of Original Sin, the fact that men and women are drawn towards evil by weaknesses in their fallen nature.” Yet it was into this fallen world filled with all manners of vices that Christ came incarnate. He walked among the extreme social disparities. He saw the rampant debauchery and corruption. He dwelt in the world of slavery and injustice, drunkenness and perversion. He came at the humblest level where he could work, serve, and love. He came to show up the world’s evil but never pretended it was a world unfit for him. Blamires writes:
If Christians think carefully and prayerfully, they will come to understand what the Incarnation means for them in terms of their twentieth-century vocation. They will learn at what points they can enter into enterprises and social groupings eagerly and at what points they must, conversely, probe, question, and withdraw. They will learn what are the proper twentieth-century modes of judging the world, of identifying the self with its sins, of being in and yet being out of this world which our Lord inhabited and yet was not of. But these vital insights will be achieved only if there is among us a Christian mind sharp enough as an instrument of discrimination to cut cleanly through the befuddling mental jungle which constitutes the practical ethics of our secular society.
The Christian mind’s supernatural orientation also influences its conception of the truth. For the Christian, the mind understands that truths are supernaturally grounded and not developed within nature. Truth is objective, not subjective. Truth is a revelation, not a construction. Blamires writes:
To think Christianly is to think in terms of Revelation. For the secularist, God and theology are the playthings of the mind. For the Christian, God is real, and Christian theology describes his truth revealed to us. For the secular mind, religion is essentially a matter of theory: for the Christian mind, Christianity is a matter of acts and facts. Truth is discovered by inquiry and not constructed or decided by the consensus of the majority. Truth is authoritative and imposed upon humanity. It is not a matter of personal choice.
The Christian mind accepts authority. The difference between claiming the Christian God as a useful intellectual convenience and acquiring the Christian Faith as a satisfying intellectual possession that awakens to “the tremendousness of a God-given revelation in time” is found in the word authority. It is the binding authority of the Christian Faith that holds the Christian mind in its grip as opposed to the secular mind trying to hold the
Christian Faith is in its grip. It is under the acceptance of the authority of God that one learns of personal inadequacy and human dependence.
A fifth characteristic of the Christian mind is a concern for the person. The Christian’s conception of the human person is extremely high and grounded in revealed theological truth. Starting with the story of creation God decided to make man in His image and “formed” him from the dust of the ground and “breathed into” him the breath of life. Additionally, the incarnation demonstrates the value of the person through the fact that the second person of the Trinity dwelt in human flesh. The value placed on human life drives Christian action in evangelism, ministry to the poor and destitute, care for the sick and suffering, valuing human life at any stage of development, etc. There are many influences trying to hide and dissuade Christians from taking action in social arenas. A living Christian mind holding high concern for persons will resist those influences.
The Puritan’s view that all of life belongs to God allowed them to have a greater sense of human worth and equality than their medieval forefathers. They cared for the poor and unemployed. William Perkins, the influential Puritan cleric and Cambridge theologian, stated that any money earned above what was needed for the family provision should be used for the good of others, relief of the poor, and maintenance of the church.58 Their understanding of man’s dignity as a creature made in God’s image was strong.
Finally, a Christian mind has a sacramental cast. It thinks of life as richly derived from the supernatural. A sacramental cast teaches people to create beauty and experience beauty, to recognize truth and receive truth, to give love and receive love. “At a time when Christianity is so widely misrepresented as life-rejecting rather than life-affirming, it is urgently necessary to right the balance.”The sacramental cast of the Christian mind places all things in their proper place and perspective. Pleasures are not denied just experienced within the given bounds God has revealed.
Clifford Williams’ book, The Life of the Mind: A Christian Perspective covers the topic of a thinking Christian as others listed have done but has fresh insights on the tension between the life of the mind and the faith. He addresses the fact that asking questions of Scripture in some minds is equated with not having faith in the truth of the Word. Inquisitiveness can have its detriments for some have lost what they once thought was secure. Yet being inquisitive can also expand the faith. New ways of connecting faith and life experiences can be found. The nature of hope, forgiveness, work, leisure, worship, and relationships can all be explored and expanded. Faith and imaginativeness are not incompatible as long as they are kept in balance. As long as the one busy in the quest to understand Christianity does not forget that the point of Christianity is to be Christian then pursuits of the mind can be fruitful and liberating.
John Stott’s book Your Mind Matters presents a strong Biblical case for a balanced use of the mind in emotionally-oriented Christians. Stott is not pleading for an arid, sullen, academic Christianity but for a heartfelt devotion set ablaze by the truth of God’s Word. He calls on the pages of history to prove how the thoughts of men shape their actions and the same must be true of modern disciples of Christ. Mankind was created with a capacity to think and a purpose of thinking God’s thoughts after Him. Stott addresses how the active engagement of the mind affects worship, discipleship, evangelism, acts of benevolence, etc.
Stott also draws from Scripture the fundamental connection of knowledge and action as the key to avoiding a barren hyper-intellectualism. He writes, “God never intends knowledge to be an end in itself but always to be a means to some other end.”62 The mind plays an essential part in all fundamental spheres of Christian living. It is impossible to live as a Christian without the acquisition of certain knowledge but conversely, the gaining of knowledge carries with it the responsibility to act upon what is known and to translate knowledge into appropriate action and behaviour. Os Guinness writes, “What we do with what we know is what Christian knowing is all about.”
Habits of the Mind: Intellectual Life as a Christian Calling by James Sire adds a focus on the connection between knowing and doing. Sire suggests a person only truly knows something if he acts upon it. He only believes what he obeys. Biblical knowledge is not a collection of facts about the text or historical and cultural insight into the writers and cultures of the Bible. Biblical knowledge is the knowledge that impacts actions. It transforms the way people act and interact within the created order. Genuine Christian thought will result in obedience to God.
Dallas Willard laments that the Evangelical mantra that “Christians aren’t perfect just forgiven” is correct in letter but often nullifies any serious effort to change and grow. For most Protestants being a Christian is tied to believing proper things about Jesus not living a life of discipleship attempting to follow His teachings. Thus a great disconnect has occurred between belief and action. A great debate has raged within the Christian faith over the idea of salvation without Lordship as a result of this disconnect. Yet Dietrich Bonhoeffer affirmed, “Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.”
Williams also addresses the life of the mind as being at odds with the culture. He focuses on three values of popular culture getting ahead, speed, and entertainment. Climbing the ladder of success, “microwave” living, and spectator mentality do not allow for the development of the mind. To embrace thinking a person must tune out the cheering of the crowd. He must also realize it takes a lifetime to work on virtues including the pursuit of thinking projects. To pursue the life of the mind, the impulse to sit and watch must be overcome in order to adopt new ways of experiencing life.
Sire also includes a survey of intellectual virtues that are helpful in bringing application from meditation on Scripture. The four virtues of the mind include a passion for truth, passion for holiness, passion for consistency, and compassion for others. To possess these virtues requires a number of traits but one that is common to all the virtues is humility. Humility is not a product of direct effort but instead is a byproduct of fear of the Lord. A person who keeps her eyes on the Lord and not on self will discover humility is the key to the virtues of the mind.
Gregory the Great is quoted as saying, “Truth is not known unless it is loved.”68 When a person desires something or someone she wants more and more of that object of desire. Passion for truth is a virtue of acquisition, a desire for more. To gain knowledge a person must be inquisitive, teachable, persistent, and humble.
A passion for holiness is an application virtue that requires fortitude, integrity, and a will to do what one knows. This harkens back to the connection between knowing and doing. It is the application of the teachings of Scripture to all of life that brings about a life of freedom and fulfilment. Without putting the words of Jesus into practice men are building houses on the foundations of sand. In the time of trial, nothing will stand.
The passion for consistency is a virtue of maintenance. It requires the use of perseverance, courage, tenacity, patience, and constancy. In a culture that seeks pleasure and leisure, constancy, or the “gut it out” attitude, is required or application is often lost. It is no wonder that so few Christians actually live out a Biblical worldview. Patience takes over when constancy produces frustration. Perseverance takes over when patience runs out. Perseverance in the faith is needed for the sanctification process to work in the life and mind of a Christian. The passion for holiness allows a person to humbly work with the Spirit of God to transform the “old nature” into a life that lives to glorify God.
Compassion for others is a virtue of communication. It includes clarity of expression, orderliness in presentation, and aptness of illustration. In order to truly teach a person must have the best interest of others at heart. Sloppy and lazing presentation only confuses the learners. In order to lead people to understand and apply truth, some work must be done. The desire to impress or be praised must be pushed out of the mind of the presenter.
A brief review of literature has shown the renewed interest in spiritual disciplines over the past several decades. Yet as noted there is still much ground to be covered to raise awareness among Evangelicals of the benefits of these ancient spiritual practices. The life of the disciple of Christ must be a life of continuing sanctification—part of the salvation process that requires effort from the believer as well as the work of the Holy Spirit. Spiritual disciplines are tools to be used in the sanctification of the believer as each seeks to live a more Christ-like, more God-exalting, more God-glorifying life.
As the tools of spiritual disciplines are sharpened one must keep in mind that the disciplines are not the goal—salvation is. Spiritual disciplines, when misdirected, can lead to Pharisaical attitudes. The disciplines are a means of grace through which the Holy Spirit works to transform lives. They are not self-help tools that Christians use to pull themselves up by the bootstraps.
Meditation on Scripture is one of the many spiritual disciplines that an individual needs to practice. Unlike many Eastern Religions and New Age versions of meditation that promote the clearing or emptying of the mind, meditation is a focused filling of the mind with the Word of God. Effective practice of meditation on Scripture requires the use and overlap of several disciplines including Bible reading, prayer, journaling, silence and solitude. Ultimately a practice of meditation on Scripture is not just to learn facts about or memorize portions of Scripture, but it must lead to obedience to the Word. Putting into practice the things read and learned is what leads to transformed lives.
The use of meditation is one key way for Christians to begin forming a Biblical worldview. A worldview is how an individual interprets reality. Worldviews are learned from many sources over the course of time, and if an individual is not aware of the process of worldview formation he will end up with a worldview that is a conglomeration of various schools of thought. Recognizing that the lack of a Biblical worldview can be difficult since many culturally learned habits are hard to discern. Thus meditation on Scripture is so important to help break through the barriers that blind a person’s thinking. All of life must be viewed through the lens of Scripture; life cannot be compartmentalized. It must be viewed and lived as an integrated whole based on the truths found in the pages of the Bible.
Due to the lack of a Biblical worldview, many writers have chronicled the loss of the Christian mind. A distinctively Christian way of thinking is absent in a majority of key social concerns. The lack of a Christian mind or Biblical worldview is due in large part to the fact that Evangelicals have often fallen into the trap of going along with the culture instead of being a light to lead it. Another detriment to a strong mind among Evangelicals is the view that heaven is the true home and this world does not matter. Too many Evangelicals do not put forth the effort to think about many of the social issues. A Christian mind is one that is oriented toward spiritual reality as well as the physical world. There must be an awareness of the presence and effects of evil. Objective truth is believed in and valued. The Christian mind accepts concepts and lives under authority. It has a genuine concern for others, and the Christian mind views all of life as sacred. Nothing is mundane or unimportant.
The Christian mind sees the connection between knowledge and action; therefore the mind plays an essential part in all spheres of life. Two of the most influential movements of Christian history, the medieval monastic movement and the Protestant reformation, were both marked with one similarity—both cultivated the life of the mind.69 Since thoughts and actions are always related, the practice of mental virtues translates into virtuous living.
KEY CONCEPTS FROM BIBLICAL TEXTS FOR THE NEED FOR MEDITATION ON SCRIPTURE
The ideas of mind, worldview, and meditation are connected in various ways. In this chapter, these concepts and their connections will be viewed in three key Scriptural passages as well as in several supporting passages. Proverbs 4:23; Psalm 119:9-16; and Romans 12:2 will each be examined in relation to meditation on Scripture and its effects on worldview formation and transformation of the mind. The first concept that will be examined from Scripture is the connection between thinking and behaving or knowing and acting which has been defined earlier as the relationship of the mind and worldview as found in Proverbs 4:23. A second connection is the relationship of meditation on Scripture and obedience seen in Psalm 119:9-16. A third key Biblical concept is the transforming process of having the mind shaped by the Word as described in Romans 12:2.
The first key concept is found in Proverbs 4:23 which reads, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” The Hebrew text reads רָּ מְׁ שִ ל־מָּכִ מ) with all 97).lifeַ (חִיים (of sourcesּ (תֹוצְׁ אֹות (it from for (כִ י־מִ מֶּ ּנּו (heart your keep (נְׁצֹר לִבֶָּך (vigilance “Heart,” here as always, refers not to the physical organ but to the mind and even the whole personality of the individual. It is “the wellspring of life” in that the capacity to live with joy and vigour ultimately comes from within and not from circumstances. The corrupt heart draws one down to the grave, but Wisdom protects the heart from that corruption.
In some languages, this is expressed as “Watch your mind,” “Keep a hand on your head,” or “Take care of your thoughts.” According to Brown, Driver, and Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon, the phrase “with all vigilance” are literally “above all guarding,” or to state it another way, “more than anything else you may guard.” In his commentary on Proverbs 4:23-27, Charles Bridges references these verses as an invaluable safeguard for a Christian’s life against every possible place sin may gain a foothold. He writes, “First the heart, man’s citadel, the centre of his dearest treasure. It is frightening to think about its many assailants. Let it be guarded carefully.
Never let the guard sleep at his post (Deut. 4:9).” The New Jerusalem Bible translates the initial phrase of the verse, “More than all else, keep watch over your heart,” and the New Jewish Publication Society Version has “More than all that you guard, guard your mind.” W. D. Reyburn said, “The most important thing you can do is be careful what you think” or “The most important … is to think good thoughts.” The writer urges keeping or guarding the heart in the way that a prison guard keeps watching. According to John Peter Lange, the Hebrew lends itself to literally translating רָּ מְׁ שִ ל־מָּכִ מ as “more than every object of watching.” It can be argued that according to this verse the most important thing you can do is be careful what you think. In the phrase “for from it flow the springs of life” the thought expressed here is that what people think, what is in their minds, determines how they will act. וּנֶּ ּמִ י־מִ כ means “from the heart [mind].”
The Hebrew word ותֹאְׁ וצֹת) ּsprings of) usually refers to the extremity or border of a geographical territory but in association with ייםִח) ַlife) it seems to have the sense of a source or place of origin. The idea is that a person’s life is determined by the thoughts kept in the mind (heart). The Contemporary English Version reads “Carefully guard your thoughts because they are the source of true life.”
Several passages in the New Testament repeat the concept of Proverbs 4:23. In Matthew 12:33-35, Jesus speaks of the correlation of good fruit to a good tree and bad fruit to a bad tree. He connects the speech and actions of individuals to the condition of the person’s heart. The Pharisees have accused him of doing miracles via the power of Satan (Beelzebul). Jesus is rebutting this assertion of the Pharisees by saying they cannot have it both ways; either the tree and the fruit are bad, or the tree and the fruit are good. The source and the product are equivalent. Jesus is implying that if they deem his actions good it is because the actions are from a good source—the power of God.
If the source of the power is bad (Beelzebul) then the actions would also be bad. He addresses them in verses 34-35, “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good things, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person brings good things out of a good treasure, and the evil person brings evil things out of an evil treasure.” Lange says, “The expression, heart, implies the sum-total of all the thoughts, words, and works of a man; in short, his entire spiritual possessions.”
It must be noted again that in Jewish thought the heart is not just the seat of the emotions as is often the thought of modern English speakers. As in Proverbs 4:23, the heart again is thought of as the total being who thinks and wills. The notion of mind is what conveys this concept best in modern thought. In this exchange, Jesus is proclaiming the same principle already stated in Proverbs 4:23. Bridges notes, “Spiritually as well as naturally, the heart … is the wellspring of life. It is the great vital spring of the soul, the fountain of actions, the centre and the seat of both sin and holiness.”
The principle of Proverbs 4:23 is issued by Jesus again in another context found in Matthew 15.11 Here Jesus is rebuking the scribes and Pharisees concerning ceremonial washings. Jesus’s disciples are unclear on the implications of his teachings. Jesus says, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart comes evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:18-19). Jesus revealed that it is not the mouth of a person that is the source of defilement, but the heart. The heart represents the invisible, “inner person.” The inner person includes the mind and will—those components that determine moral character. The heart (not any external influence) is the source of all evil character, not the physical or spiritual “dirt” on a person’s hands. The natural heart is a fountain of poison representing the condition of his inner being.
The second connection to be examined is found in the relationship between meditation on Scripture and obedience. One representative passage is Psalm 119:9-16:
How can young people keep their way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you;
do not let me stray from your commandments. I treasure your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes. With my lips, I declare all the ordinances of your mouth. I delight in the way of your decrees as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts, and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.
The psalmist questions how a young man may keep his way pure. “Way” means conduct, behaviour, way of living.13 The answer is by taking heed or guarding his way according to the Word of God. Verses 11, 13, 15, and 16 all directly or indirectly refer to the act of meditation on Scripture as a means toward the purpose of acting according to the word. The emphasis in verse 11 which reads “I treasure your word in my heart, so that I may not sin against you” is the palmist’s determination not to sin against God. The act translated as ‘treasure’ in the NRSV can also be translated as ‘store up’ or ‘hide away’. The passage refers to memorizing the Law. It is by treasuring or storing God’s word that the psalmist believes he can better attain his goal of keeping his way pure. Meditation is a key aspect of memorization as one reflects on and turns over the words of Scripture in his mind again and again. Verse 13 calls for reciting all the laws of God which is an effective means of memorization.14 Lange writes of Psalm 119:14:
The Law is equalled in value to all possible riches; that is, to all blessings that can be conceived, and that are most highly prized by men. The rendering should not be: as it were more than all riches (וןֹה,(but: as above all riches.15
The Word has the ability to guard and protect a person’s way. It is of extreme value.
In Psalm 119:15 the verb ַיחִ ש is directly translated ‘meditate’ in NRSV. Here the Hebrew verb literally means ‘to be concerned with’ or ‘to be occupied with’.16 It is a deliberate act of filling the mind with the Word of God. The second line of verse 15 contains the verb הָּ יטִ בַ אְׁ ו translated ‘fix my eyes on’ or ‘pay attention to’ which renames the idea of meditation found in the first half of the verse.17 Meditation is engaging the mind with the words of Scripture. In the final stanza of the passage, the idea of not forgetting the Word of God is coupled with delighting in it. The verb חַכְׁ שֶּ א for ‘forget’ can also be translated as ‘neglect’ or ‘disregard’. One avoids the neglect or disregard of the Word by meditation on it. Thus the word is one’s delight.
Another passage that emphasizes the point of obedience and meditation on the Word of God is Joshua 1:7-8. Here God is giving instructions to Joshua concerning leading the Hebrews into the Promised Land. In these early verses, much space is devoted to the idea of keeping the law. It is not the military conquest that dominates these lines but instead God indicates that the keys to success are spiritual. Then he writes in verses seven and eight, “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful.”
The phrase translated ‘being careful to act’ is a word pairing that occurs forty times in the Old Testament and is almost always associated with keeping or obeying God’s words. The importance of obedience to the law as the key to Joshua’s success cannot be overestimated. Joshua was to be careful to do the law. It was all the law that was to be obeyed. He was not to deviate from the law to the right or to the left. He was to meditate on the law day and night. And he was to be careful to obey everything written in the law book.
The result of his obedience was that his way would prosper ( ַיחִ לְׁ צַ ת (ּand then find good success (ילִ כְׁ שַ ת ּזָּ אְׁ ו.(When these two words are used in the Old Testament they rarely refer to financial success. Instead, they denote succeeding in life’s proper endeavours. When people meditate on the Word of God it is not financial prosperity they seek but rather holiness and obedience. The idea implied here is the one found in Matthew 6:22, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” The priority is to seek God.
The second term in Joshua 1:8 that needs to be examined is ילִ כְׁ שַ ת ּזָּ אְׁ ו translated ‘to be successful’ here. It most commonly has the meaning of gaining insight, understanding or being wise. A heart or mind informed by meditation on Scripture results in a wise person. A healthy, well-developed moral intelligence is the end result of meditating on the Word day and night. D. M. Howard states:
The promise of both prosperity and success to Joshua underscore the importance of obedience and faithfulness to the Word of God. The context here in Joshua is very clear about what is to be the key to Joshua’s success (1:7–8): he is ‘to be careful to obey all the law’; he is not to turn from it to the right or the left; he is to have it constantly on his lips and to meditate on it at all times, and he is careful to do everything written in it. His focus is to be upon God’s word and will; then, as he leads Israel in taking the land of Canaan, success will come to him.
The necessity of meditation on Scripture to bring one to faithful obedience can is just as important for modern Christians to find success and prosperity today.
One final passage related to this connection of meditation and obedience is found in James 1:25: “But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.” Here the idea of being blessed by God is connected to doing the will of God according to his Word. In Luke 11:28 Jesus said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” As seen in James chapter two those who are blessed by God live in the union of truth and action, this is their joy. In the passage of James 1:25, the idea of ‘intently looking’ literally means “stoop down to take a close look into.” 23 One of the best illustrations of the force of παρακύψας is given by Coleridge:
It signifies the incurvation or bending of the body in the act of looking down; for instance, in the endeavour to see the reflected image of a star in the water at the bottom of a well. A more happy and forcible word could not have been chosen to express the nature and ultimate object of reflection and to enforce the necessity of it, in order to discover the living fountain and springhead of the evidence of the Christian faith in the believer himself, and at the same time to point out the seat and region where alone it is to be found.
It seems to have a stronger meaning than beholding or even contemplating. It is to be absorbed in its contemplation.25 Not only did this man look closely into the Word but he abides by it or remains in it as some translate the passage. The Word gripped and held him. Thus meditation leads to the effectual doing of the Word (obedience) not just the hearing of it. It is the same principle taught by Jesus at the end of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:24, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” It is in the action on the teaching that makes one wise, not just the hearing.
A third key Biblical concept that relates meditation, worldview and the mind is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans. He writes in Romans 12:1-2:
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
Romans 12:1-2 are pivotal verses in Paul’s letter to the Romans. These verses mark the transition from Paul’s theological teaching about God’s redemptive act through Christ Jesus to the ethical applications. The ‘therefore’ does not refer to the argument about God’s mercy in bringing salvation to the Jew and Gentile but it refers back to everything Paul had been teaching (the mercies of God) since the beginning of the book. In light of everything that has been expounded (chapters 1-11,) Paul urges the readers to offer their bodies as living sacrifices. This is an act of total dedication. The believer is encouraged to make a conclusive offering of self. The holiness of life seldom occurs apart from a deliberate act of the will. Sanctification is a gradual process in the sense that it continues throughout earthly existence but each advance depends on an act of the will. The dedication of Romans 12:1-2 leads to the transformed everyday living that follows in Romans 12:3 to 15:13.
If Romans 12:1 speaks of a specific activity in which a believer offers self to God then verse two refers to two ongoing activities of sanctification. First, the believer is no longer to conform to this world. Rather than allowing the world to “squeeze you into its own mould” (Phillips), Paul told believers to be “transformed by the renewing of your minds.” He is to set his mind on things above (Col. 3:2) as citizens of heaven (Phil. 3:20). The actions of the fallen nature must be put off. The believer must with other believers, stand apart from the world and be examples of God’s intention for humanity. As Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, the people of God are to be salt and light in this world (Matt. 5:13-14).
The second activity is to be transformed by the renewing of the mind. The transformation of which Paul spoke in Romans 12:2 is not a change effected from without but a radical reorientation that begins deep within the human heart.30 The verb transformed occurs in two other settings in the New Testament. The first is found in Mark 9:2 and Matthew 17:2 where Jesus is ‘transfigured’ before his disciples. The other is found in 2Corinthians 3:18 where Paul teaches that believers are ‘transformed into the likeness of Christ by beholding his glory. These transformations as well as the one in Romans 12:2 all occur via the Holy Spirit’s energizing activity. Yet it is argued that the Christian still plays an active role in this work along with the Holy Spirit.
The renewing of your mind is not just an outward disconformity to the ungodly world. Many of the outward actions in themselves may be virtuous and praiseworthy. However, it is an inward spiritual transformation that makes the whole life new. One gains new motives, even where the outward actions do not differ from those of the world. The newness that is gained, when considered as a whole, is unattainable except through the constraining power of the love of Christ.31 Lange writes:
The transformation and shaping of the life of the Christian are determined not by external worldly forms, but by this inward renewing, or renewing ascending to the whole of the external life (ἀνακαίνωσις) through the productive power of the Spirit.
Paul never uses the plural forms of mind in Greek. When he is writing in reference to groups he uses the word mind in a collective singular sense. Paul is not careless in his word choice nor is this distinction without significance.33 When Paul urges the readers to be renewed in mind he is addressing them not as individuals but in their solidarity; “mind” is in some sense something they share. He is not addressing the mind as the common rational faculty that is possessed by all men nor is he referring to a great “over-mind” that is somehow shared by all which is found in some ancient Greek philosophical systems such as Stoicism or Gnosticism.
In Romans 12:2 the word mind is used as a notion of external standards—ideas or principles which are the springs of action. In modern parlance, Paul is urging believers to be renewed in their mindset or worldview. The Christian confession demands that the entire bent of one’s mindset be changed. The entire clause may be rendered as “permit God to change you inside by giving you a completely new mind’ or “by making your mind and heart completely different.” The new worldview as it is shaped by the teachings of the apostle in particular and all of Scripture in general is ‘know what God desires and do those things.’ Being able to know what God desires and make the right moral judgments is predicated on the fact that a person has a mindset dictated by what one reads in the Word of God and has formed a Biblical worldview. Robert Mounce states:
The mind renewed enables us to discern the will of God. Released from the control of the world around us, we can come to know what God has in mind for us. We will find that his will is ‘good, pleasing and perfect.’ It is good because it brings about moral and spiritual growth. It is pleasing to God because it is an expression of his nature. It is perfect in that no one could possibly improve on what God desires to happen.
In 1 Corinthians 2:16 Paul uses the mind again in a collective singular sense: “For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.” The first use of mind refers to God’s mighty purpose of redemptive history. The premise is that no one could have guessed how God would bring about the redemption of man. He is not instructed, nor does anyone know His mind. The idea of a worldview can be seen as a way of viewing all that has been recorded in the Bible as occurring to bring about the predetermined goal of God.
The second use of the mind in this passage teaches that believers have the revelation of this plan of salvation from the teachings of Scripture. In the same way that Christ was submissive to the plan of God, so believers also must be humble in working to proclaim the gospel to others according to God’s revealed plan. Verse sixteen is a final thought on a discourse Paul has been presenting to the Corinthians and all subsequent readers on the relationship between the wisdom of this age and the wisdom that comes from the Spirit of God. In the second chapter, Paul is not putting down intelligence as some have thought nor In 1 Corinthians 2:6 Paul makes a distinction between wisdom from God and wisdom of this age. The wisdom of God is not learned by normal means of education but comes from the Spirit of God. Some have used these verses and others like them to undermine the value of higher learning. Yet the wisdom from God has to come by the Spirit no matter the educational level of the recipient. Other passages that have a similar message include Matthew 11:25-26 which reads, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth because you have hidden these things for the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.” “Think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things to shame is he saying that the presence of the Holy Spirit’s work will replace all special effort in learning. The chapter is expounding the idea that the foolishness of God, which is the foolishness of the cross, is wiser than the wisdom of the world. Christians are going to have this same mindset. The mind of Christ is not some mystical experience given to a select few super Christians instead, it is the attitude of humility toward oneself that leads to shouldering one’s own cross and bearing the burdens of others in service to God.
Because believers have in mind the plan of God to proclaim the gospel message they must take action to control and shape their thoughts. As mentioned previously sanctification is a process that continues throughout the believer’s life and in 2Corinthians 10:3-5, Paul gives instructions about the way a follower of Christ is to control his mind with the Spirit’s help. “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ…” the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are. . . .” (1 Cor. 1:26-28). The issue in these passages is not with educational status or with the use of the mind instead it is pride that is often associated with increased education. However, pride is not directly correlated with the pursuit of higher education for many who have not attained higher levels of learning can be just as prideful as those who have. Calvin says, “by being fools we do not mean being stupid; nor do we direct those who are learned in the liberal sciences to jettison their knowledge, and those who are gifted with the quickness of mind to become dull as if a man cannot be a Christian unless he is more like a beast than a man. The profession of Christianity requires us to be immature, not in thinking, but in malice (1 Cor. 14:20). But do not let anyone bring trust in his own mental resources or his learning into the school of Christ; do not let anyone be swollen with pride of full of distaste, and so be quick to reject what he is told, indeed even before he has sampled it.” John Calvin, Concerning Scandals, trans. John Fraser (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 18-19.
The argument that mental activity is essential for a valid Christian life has been made by many. Martin Luther when promising in 1529 to write a book against parents who neglect the education of their children said, “I shall really go after the shameful, despicable, damnable parents who are no parents at all but despicable hogs and venomous beasts, devouring their own young.” Martin Luther, “Sermon on Keeping Children in School,” in Luther’s Works, vol. 46, ed. Robert Schultz (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1967), 211.
Paul describes spiritual warfare in the previous passage. It is a battle against ideas, thoughts, philosophies, mindsets, i.e. worldviews. Because it is a battle of ideas, the fight is not waged with carnal weapons. Instead, it is waged with the truth which is the Word of God. Truth is used to replace error. Paul sees every competing worldview that tries to capture the hearts of men as threatening to the glory of God. Paul knows that every unbiblical presupposition is essentially a rival religion. These rivals must be pulled down and destroyed. For a follower of Christ to grow in grace, he must have his ideas and convictions (worldview) liberated by ever-increasing degrees from worldly wisdom by the teachings of Scripture.
The three primary texts examined (Prov. 4:23; Ps. 119:11; and Rom. 12:2) as well as supporting texts all demonstrate the connection between the mind and actions. In considering behaviour, obedience, and transformed living, all flow from a mind focused on Scripture with meditation playing a key role. Without the power of the Word of God to direct and redirect the mind the Christian life cannot be lived to the glory of God. The discipline or means of grace of meditation on Scripture is the link to shifting one’s worldview and forming a Christian mind. It is necessary to guard the heart against the outside influences of worldliness. The heart must also be transformed inwardly to the power of the Spirit to change the sinful disposition inherent in fallen humanity. Both outward guarding and inward transformation come through the reading, meditating, and memorizing of the Word of God which is then applied to life by active daily obedience to what has been learned.
NEED FOR MEDITATION ON SCRIPTURE AS LEARNED FROM CHURCH HISTORY
Lessons from Puritan Past
How has the practice of meditation on Scripture been used by Christians throughout the history of the Church? Meditation on Scripture has a long history. By viewing what those who have gone before practised many important lessons can be learned and valuable insights gained. As seen in the Biblical section of this paper the idea of meditating on the words of Scripture is as old as the Scriptures themselves. A review of the practice of meditation throughout the history of the church would be too vast for this paper. One particular group, the Puritans, had a very strong and pervasive practice of meditation on Scripture worth examining. In reviewing the strengths of the Puritan spirituality J.I. Packer writes:
Knowing themselves to be creatures of thought, affection, and will, and knowing that God’s way to the human heart (the will) is via the human head (the mind), the Puritans practised meditation, discursive and systematic, on the whole range of Biblical truth as they saw it applying to themselves. Puritan meditation on Scripture was modelled on the Puritan sermon; in meditation, the Puritan would seek to search and challenge his heart, stir his affections to hate sin and love righteousness, and encourage himself with God’s promises, just as Puritan preachers would do from the pulpit.
This chapter will examine two pastors who both preached and practised meditation on Scripture as a spiritual discipline: Richard Baxter and Jonathan Edwards.
As a whole, the Puritans demonstrated a particularly strong practice of meditation on Scripture that resulted in a Biblical worldview. Thomas Watson defined meditation as “a holy exercise of the mind whereby we bring the truths of God to remembrance and do seriously ponder upon them and apply them to ourselves.” One thing that the contemporary church could learn from the English Puritans is how to have an integrated Biblical worldview. An integrated Biblical worldview or holistic lifestyle is what informed so much of Puritan thinking and action. As discussed, today’s life is very compartmentalized. The modern mantra of separation of everything religious from everything secular has created generations of churchgoers whose daily lives are uninformed by Christian virtues. The holistic lifestyle allowed the Puritans to connect the various aspects of life with the common factor that everything belongs to the Lord giving them a solid Biblical worldview. The modern church would have a great tool for battling compartmentalized life if it recaptured the English Puritan vision of an integrated life.
The source of this Puritan view can be identified as their heavenly vision. They saw everything as belonging to the Lord. The Puritan’s strong belief in the Providence of God allowed them to accept all aspects of life as sacred. The heavenly vision invigorated their daily devotion and practice of personal piety. J. I. Packer pointed out that the Puritans believed that “Heaven ought to be in your eyes all the time.” The hope of heaven was seen as directing life on earth. The two-worldly view may seem to be paradoxical as a driving force for an integrated life. Often today a two-worldly view is the very thing that drives modern Evangelicals to give less attention to things of this world and focus only on future glory. As a whole Evangelicals are accused of being less concerned about the environment and social injustices than many non-Christian groups. The Puritans were much more comfortable with paradoxes than modern Christians are today. Even though the Puritans had a view that this was not their final home they did not let that idea hinder them from fully embracing the life that God had given them on this earth.
Introduction to Richard Baxter
Richard Baxter (1615 – 1691) was an English Puritan and pastor in the town of Kidderminster. Baxter grew up from humble means. He lived with his grandfather much of his early life because of his father’s gambling debts. During that time Baxter was subjected to several disappointing schoolmasters. Baxter would return to his parental home after the conversion of his father, and although his educational opportunities did not improve, he did begin to receive some spiritual guidance. Through his father’s example and by reading Christian books, Baxter recounts that at about age fifteen “it pleased God to awaken my soul.” The use of books as guides to spiritual growth and education, in general, would stay with Baxter his whole life. He would write numerous works on conversions to help others discover faith in Christ. He would make use of a library at Ludlow Castle to help himself through a lifetime of learning by independent study. George Eayrs argues that Baxter probably read more books than any human being before him.6 Baxter did use a very large number of citations in his own writings.
Baxter was ordained by the Church of England in 1638 and began preaching in vacant pulpits. In 1639 he became an associate pastor in Bridgnorth where he served for two years. During that time the parishioners of Kidderminster were attempting to have their vicar removed. The man eventually resigned instead of facing removal, and in March 1641 Richard Baxter was selected as their lecturer. Baxter served over a year at Kidderminster before he was forced to leave as a result of the English Civil War between Parliament and the monarchy. Baxter himself, loyal to the monarchy, had previously spoken of the attitudes of Parliament as championing religion and liberty. Royalists in Kidderminster denounced Baxter as a traitor so he withdrew from the parish.
During the conflict between the Parliamentary party lead by Oliver Cromwell and the Royalists loyal to King Charles, Baxter sought ways to continue preaching. He served by preaching to soldiers once a week at Coventry then later would serve as a chaplain in Cromwell’s army. Poor health forced his resignation. He was near death for a period of almost five months. During this period of sickness Baxter still was not idle. Instead, he began writing The Saints’ Everlasting Rest. Baxter recounts that period of his life:
The second book which I wrote…was called The Saints’ Everlasting Rest. Whilst I was in health I had not the least thought of writing books, or of serving God in any more public way than preaching. But when I was weakened with great bleeding…and was sentenced to death by the physicians, I began to contemplate more seriously on the everlasting rest which I apprehended myself to be just on the borders of. And that my thoughts might not too much scatter my meditation, I began to write something on that subject. . .
Eventually, the book would be published in 1649 and become an immediate bestseller. The book went through ten editions in ten years. Baxter’s fame spread throughout England and onto the continent. Baxter would develop the phrase “as a dying man to dying men” as the guide for his life and ministry. Baxter maintains, “Weakness and pain helped me to study how to die; that set me on studying how to live.”
The English Civil War resulted in the beheading of King Charles I and victory for the Parliamentary party. Oliver Cromwell would serve as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth till his death in 1658. Cromwell’s son, Richard, would serve in Oliver’s place but unrest would result in the return of the monarchy in May of 1660. Richard Baxter would serve as chaplain to King Charles II for a period of time. He was offered the bishopric of Hereford but refused the post rather than recant on his Nonconformist views. The time at Court proved to be the most peaceful time of Baxter’s life. The next twenty years would be filled with oppression and harassment.
Baxter would be imprisoned several times throughout his career. In May of 1662, the Act of Uniformity would be passed requiring all ministers to adhere to the prescribed doctrines and practices of the Church of England. All who refused to conform were removed from their ecclesiastical posts. Baxter immediately left the Church of England as a statement that he would not conform. Baxter would marry during this time and continue his writing ministry. He would also conduct worship meetings in his home even though it was forbidden by the Conventicle Act of 1664. In December of that same year, a plague broke out in London forcing many to flee the city including many ministers. With pulpits vacant, Baxter began preaching again as a fill-in. Initially, no action was taken against Baxter for his Nonconformist preaching but in 1669 a warrant for his arrest was issued. Baxter would spend six months in prison. In 1685 Baxter would be imprisoned again for eighteen months. The charge was that is book Paraphrase of the New Testament was an attack on the established church and state. Baxter continued his writing ministry. Upon his release, he assisted Matthew Sylvester in ministerial duties and preaching.
Even as Baxter approached death he continued to instruct others. In his last hours he shared with some who came to visit him:
You come hither to learn to die; I am not the only person that must go this way. I can assure you that your whole life, be it never so long, is little enough to prepare for death. Have care of this vain, deceitful world, and the lusts of the flesh. Be sure you choose God for your portion, heaven for your home, God’s glory for your end, His Word for your rule; and then you need never fear but that we shall meet with comfort. A few hours before Baxter’s death he was asked how he was. He replied, “Almost well.” On December 8, 1691, Baxter entered his everlasting rest.
Ministry of Richard Baxter
Baxter would return to Kidderminster, a town of over 3,000 people, in 1647 where he would serve as pastor for fourteen years. The dominant industry in the town was weaving, and most weavers worked from their homes. John Brown writes of Kidderminster, “… it was one of the most unpromising towns in England to which a young man could be sent, who was starting his career as a preacher and pastor…” He went on to say, “it had been, morally and spiritually, so grossly neglected as almost to have sunk into practical heathenism.”
In The Reformed, Pastor Baxter wrote of the necessity of four key elements that all successful ministers must practice: study, prayer, conference, and practice. The third of these elements will be examined here as a practice that contributed to Baxter’s ministerial success. The conference is a word seldom used today in reference to the duties of ministers. In
modern language, the term conference would be called ‘shared experience of God’s ways.’ Pastors confer in two ways. First, a pastor confers with a mentor who has greater experience with God than the pastor does. The mentor guides a less experienced pastor to deepen his spiritual life. Second, a pastor confers with his parishioners. He guides the people to share their own joys and struggles. He offers comfort for failings and challenges for future growth.
The practice of conference with the parishioners of Kidderminster was key to Baxter’s pastoral ministry. He spent many hours each week interacting with individuals in their daily routines. Since much of the industry of Kidderminster was home-based it afford Baxter the opportunity to catechize his parishioners during the week. He found that he could visit the nearly eight hundred homes under his care by instructing fifteen to sixteen per week. Thus over the course of a year, every family’s spiritual condition could be evaluated and bolstered. He developed basic material on Christian growth applicable to every stage of Christian maturity.
Baxter wanted the people under his spiritual guidance to have a Biblical family structure so that each person knew and performed the duties given to him or her. Families that are well-ordered promise benefits for the whole community. The growth and maturity that develops in individuals only have a slower impact due to its uneven nature. It was Baxter’s practice to facilitate conditions that allowed for community change. Baxter writes, “You are not like to see any general reformation, till you procure family reformation. Some little religion there may be, here and there; but while it is confined to single persons, and is not promoted in families, it will not prosper, nor promise much future increase.”
J.I. Packer writes that Baxter had “the most fruitful Puritan pastorate anywhere recorded,” and “wrote constantly, becoming the most voluminous of all British theologians.” Baxter gave his own assessment of the transformation that occurred in Kidderminster: “When I came thither first, there was about one Family in a Street that worshipped God and called on his name, and when I came away there were some streets where there was not past one family in the side of a street that did not so.” His achievements in Kidderminster as a pastor are incomparable. George Whitfield visited Kidderminster 83 years after the time Baxter was there, in 1743, and he wrote in his diary. ‘I was greatly refreshed to find what a sweet savour of good Mr Baxter’s doctrine; works and discipline remain to this day.
Richard Baxter’s Focus on Meditation
Meditation deepens the vertical relationship between God and man. To meditate on Scripture is to nurture knowledge of the self-revelation of the living God. Baxter wrote:
Say not now, how shall we get so high, or how can mortals ascend to heaven? For faith hath wings, and meditation is its chariot. In fact, Baxter’s approach to meditation can be viewed as having two key components as seen from two of his major works: The Reformed Pastor and The Saint’s Everlasting Rest. He wanted men to guard their own hearts and to keep their eyes on heaven.
Baxter opened The Reformed Pastor with the phrase from Acts 20:28, “Take heed to yourself.” And though the book was intended as a guide for ministers to be able to conduct their duties in a godly manner, the book’s principles of self-watch can be applied to all believers desiring a closer walk with God. Baxter writes, “Take heed to yourselves, lest you be void of that saving grace of God which you offer to others…” Growing a practical understanding of ‘life for God’ is the basis for living out the Christian faith. Reflecting on God’s self-revelation in Scripture leads to noticeable increases in godliness. Baxter writes, “Nothing can be rightly known if God is not known; nor is any study well managed, nor to any great purpose, if God is not studied.” Throughout the work, the idea of Jesus teaching from the Sermon on the Mount about self-evaluation before judging others is seen as a major task in guarding the heart.
When properly practising the discipline of meditation on Scripture, a person really preaches the truth to his own heart and life. Baxter reflects on taking some Biblical truth and preaching it to themself, as David did throughout the Psalms. For example, when he instructed his soul to praise the Lord’s holy name (Psalm 103:1) or when he asked himself why he was downcast and disturbed of soul (Psalm 42:5). In that same section Baxter discusses the importance of soliloquy (speaking to one’s own soul) when he writes:
As every good master and father of a family is a good preacher to his own family, so every good Christian is a good preacher to his own soul. Soliloquy is preaching to ones’ self; therefore the very same method that a minister should use in his preaching to others, should a Christian use in speaking to himself.
Finding a regular time to spend undistracted meditation on Scripture will facilitate the soliloquy Baxter proposes. Baxter used the evening before going to bed as the time that was least interrupted.
To be a person who impacts his circle of influence in a meaningful way he needs to guard his own heart as Baxter encouraged. It is the character or quality of character that a person possesses that gives him a platform to speak about issues and be heard in a meaningful way. Many voices are proclaiming their way of interpreting facts but it is the inner quality of spiritual life that will profoundly influence those listening. As Baxter said:
When your minds are in a holy, heavenly frame, your people are likely to partake of the fruits of it. Your prayers, praises, and doctrine will be sweet and heavenly to them. They will likely feel when you have been much with God: that which is most on your hearts is like to be most in their ears.
Baxter knew the importance of keeping the balance between heart and head. Baxter did not see a focus on theology as opposed to a warm heart. Doctrine and practice are both needed for an effective ministry. The other major focus of Baxter on the topic of meditation was keeping the heart in heaven. He wrote much on the topic of meditation in The Saint’s Everlasting Rest. He held that meditation was a necessary practice for motivating the heart toward forceful prayer and enthusiastic obedience. One of the key focuses of meditation for Baxter was on the hope of glory. Through meditation, Baxter found a way of energizing his spiritual life. He encouraged others to do the same.
Baxter instructed his parishioners to reflect on the greatness and goodness of God as revealed in Scripture. When they did so Baxter said, “The most covetous man will let go silver, if he might have gold instead of it.” Baxter was convinced that heavenly-mindedness needed to be the state of all those on earth who hoped to effect change in their lives and the lives of others. It was a meditation on the glory that sustained the spirit during suffering, bolstered patience and joy, and firmed the resolutions.
Baxter also attended to the details that would make the practice of meditation on Scripture an effective exercise. In preparing the heart for meditation he encouraged two major actions. First, “Get thy heart as clear from the world as thou canst; wholly lay by the thoughts of thy business, of thy troubles, of thy enjoyments, and of everything that may take up any room in thy soul.” Attention to God’s word must not be hindered by distractions of daily life. True meditation will depend on the capacity and disposition of the mind to focus on the Word.
The second emphasis Baxter proposed is to “be sure thou set upon this work with the greatest seriousness that possibly thou canst.” Recognition of the importance of meditation will play in transforming the mindset of a person toward heavenly things is needed to make this practice a regular part of daily practice. As well the seriousness of the practice will help facilitate the previous practice of clearing the mind of distractions.
When relating the true nature of salvation, Baxter states:
Faith entereth at the mind, but it hath not all its essential parts, and is not the gospel of faith indeed, till it hath possessed the will. The heart of faith is wanting, till faith hath taken possession of the heart. Baxter stressed the importance meditation played to complete this process of faith possessing the will. He writes:
It (meditation) is in word confessed to being a duty by all, but by the constant neglect denied by most; and, I know not by what fatal customary security, it comes to pass that man that is very tender-conscienced towards other duties, yet do as easily overslip this as if they knew it not to be a duty at all. They that are presently troubled in mind, if they omit but a sermon, a fast, or a prayer in public or private; yet were never troubled that they had omitted meditation perhaps all their life to this very day; though it is that duty by which all other duties are improved, and by which the soul digesteth truths, and draweth forth their strength for its nourishment and refreshing.
Baxter compares meditation on Scripture as doing for the soul what the digestive process of turning food into blood and emulsified fats (chyle) is for the vigorous health of the body. Meditation turns truth received and remembered into warm affections, raised resolution, and holy conversation. It is the work of taking what is known and understood with the head and absorbing it into one’s heart. For Baxter, meditation is not just the effort of understanding and memory. It is the work of a lived-out experience of truth.
Introduction to Jonathan Edwards
America’s greatest theologian
At age 13, Jonathan Edwards, already a student at Yale, read philosopher John Locke with more delight “than the most greedy miser finds when gathering up handfuls of silver and gold, from some newly discovered treasure.”
He also was a young man with profound spiritual sensitivities. At age 17, after a period of distress, he said holiness was revealed to him as a ravishing, divine beauty. His heart panted “to lie low before God, as in the dust; that I might be nothing, and that God might be all, that I might become as a little child.”
Jonathan Edwards is considered to be among the greatest spiritual thinkers in church history. Charles Colson wrote of Edwards as:
A man generally regarded as the greatest theologian of American history and described by some as the greatest intellect North America has produced. A classic preacher and writer who profoundly influenced the Great Awakening of the eighteenth century.
He was born October 5, 1703, in East Winsor, a town in colonial Connecticut as the only son among eight siblings to a Congregational pastor. Edwards was educated at home with a view toward ministry.
Edwards, at the age of 13, entered the Collegiate School of Connecticut (later Yale University) to obtain his Bachelor’s degree. He stayed at Yale to complete his master of Arts to prepare himself for ministry. After a brief pastorate in New York City, a few years tutoring at Yale, and another short pastorate in Bolton, Connecticut Edwards was called to serve as an assistant pastor to his maternal grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, at a church in Northampton, Massachusetts.
The time of service at Northampton is what Edwards is often most remembered. It was during these years that Edward’s work as a preacher was used by God as one of several catalysts to spark the Great Awakening, a period of widespread revival that impacted most of colonial North America. Joseph Tracy, the minister, historian, and preacher who gave this religious phenomenon its name in his influential 1842 book The Great Awakening, saw this time period as a precursor to the American Revolution. The evangelical movement of the 1740s played a key role in the development of democratic thought, as well as the belief in the free press and the belief that information should be shared and completely unbiased and uncontrolled. These concepts ushered in the period of the American Revolution, which created a demand for religious freedom.
Edwards’ ministry at Northampton was not without controversy; numerous factors contributed to unrest in the congregation under Edwards’ leadership. His pastoral troubles came to a boiling point in late 1749 over the issue of requirements for communion. His grandfather, Solomon Stoddard had opened communion to all who agreed with the doctrines of Christianity and led a moral life, with or without a profession of a saving work of the Holy Spirit. Stoddard believed the saving work of the Holy Spirit was not always discernable, yet Edwards disagreed with his grandfather’s position. He felt the saving work of the Holy Spirit could be known by the individual and seen by others. Due in part to Edwards’ reversal of his grandfather’s practice, in 1750 Edwards was removed from his position as pastor of the Northampton congregation. Oddly he would continue to be asked to pulpit supply for another year before God would move him to his next station.
Edwards would go on to minister at the far west outpost of Stockbridge, Massachusetts among the English speaking settlers and local Native Americans. During his seven years at Stockbridge, Edwards also oversaw a school for Native American children and wrote many of his most well-known treatises including A Careful and Strict Enquiry into the Modern Prevailing Notions of that Freedom of Will (1754), A Dissertation Concerning The end for Which God Created the World (1754), The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended (1758).
In 1757, Edwards accepted the presidency of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University). He travelled to New Jersey in the winter leaving the rest of his family until they could join him in the spring. He was inaugurated in 1758, but five weeks later, on March 22, 1758, he died as a result of inoculation against smallpox. Edwards asked that his wife be told that he loved her and looked upon their marriage as an “uncommon union.”
Jonathan Edwards on Meditation
Meditation on Scripture was an important aspect of Jonathan Edwards’s spiritual development. He spent much of his life reflecting and meditating on Scripture. Edwards writes:
My mind was greatly fixed on divine things; almost perpetually in the contemplation of them. I spent most of my time in thinking of divine things, year after year; often walking alone in the woods, and solitary places, for meditation, soliloquy, and prayer, and converse with God; and it was always my manner, at such times, to sing forth my contemplations. Such was Edwards’ practice. His meditation serves as an example to be learned from and emulated by believers today. Edwards’ view of spiritual practices as means of grace shall be examined, as will his view of meditation. Finally, some practical examples of Edwards’ practice of meditation shall also be surveyed.
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