God's Battle Plan For The Mindby David W. Saxtons
Length: Approximately 5 hours.
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Lack of biblical spirituality has created a superficial version of modern Christianity which was not known to previous generations. A major contributor, among many, to this superficiality is the missing discipline of biblical meditation.
Who should read this?
All Christians can benefit from this excellent resource. From the theologian to the new believer, all who desire to live a godly life with spiritual depth, fruit, and maturity will reap many benefits from this wonderful work. This work could be especially beneficial for pastors, counselors, and disciple-makers who are helping immature and struggling saints in their pursuit of God.
Saxton writes as one who is both passionate and well-versed in the inner life of the soul, particularly from two viewpoints: the scriptures and the Puritans. He makes this clear from the outset of the book and he is prolific in his use of both sources. He proves that he isn’t coming with a novel teaching and that he isn’t simply writing to present information about biblical meditation and its importance. Rather, he is persuasively striving to “convince God’s people of the absolute necessity of personal meditation” (p.2). To say in the postmodern world that biblical meditation is an “absolute necessity” is a bold and ought to make some ears to perk up—even among reformed, scripture-saturated readers.
Some will be turned off by the phrase “Puritan practice of meditation”, but his use of the Puritans is not to exalt or glorify them in an ungodly and idolatrous way. Rather, Saxton focuses on a group of Christians who produced an abundance of theological writings and sermons while also remaining profoundly pious in the way that they lived their lives outside of the corporate gathering, church office, and seminary classroom. Though the Puritan name carries negative connotations in the present day (due to unfortunate misrepresentation in New England), there is much to be gained from a generation of Christians who heard about and practiced biblical meditation so much that pastors took for granted that their congregants knew what meditation was.
This is the aim of God’s Battle Plan For The Mind and Paxton does this well. The pages of this book are filled with quotations and teachings from a generation of saints who didn’t shrink back from genuine biblical spirituality even in the wake of the Catholic mysticism prevalent in the Middle Ages a few hundred years before.
In this day and age, people either haven’t read much about biblical meditation or they’ve come across some strange mystical teachings. For most (in my experience), there is no concept of biblical meditation at all beyond quoting Psalm 1 or Joshua 1. Most have never heard a sermon on the subject, and even if they have, there was very little emphasis given on how to practice it. There are few biblical books written on the spiritual disciplines, and much of what is touted as “spiritual formation” falls short of being founded on the scripture rather than tradition or subjective spiritual experience. For these people, meditation is merely an optional practice that some super spiritual or super religious people do.
For others, biblical meditation is tied to Roman Catholic mysticism or New Age practices of people like Richard Foster, Henri Nouwen, or Thomas Merton. These authors often introduce readers to the “inward life” and frequently quote Catholic, Quaker, and even Buddhist mystics as guides and examples for how the Christian ought to get alone and find God.
Paxton, on the other hand, writes to present a biblical view of meditation which highlights the necessity of meditation on scripture and the things of God while also helping Christians avoid the folly of the unbiblical forms that are often embraced by Christians. Rather than present strange methods that often emphasize listening/contemplative prayer, Lectio Divina, etc. Paxton opts for meditation on the scripture as exemplified in the lives, sermons, and writings of the Puritans.
The main argument of God’s Battle Plan For The Mind is that biblical meditation, as embodied by the Puritans, is a joyful habit that must become a central part of Christianity today if we want to see believers flourishing as they did in times past—especially in the days of the Puritans and Reformers. He teases this argument out using both scripture, Puritan writings, and experience—with scripture and Puritan writings being closely tied together the due to the Puritans who quoted the scriptures copiously in their literature.
Paxton’s argument is supported by numerous examples of types of meditation, occasions for meditation, subjects for meditation, benefits of meditation, and enemies of meditation all steeped scripture and Puritan writing/practice. In his opening chapter he explains that meditation: heals the hearts of believers and settles their minds, provides enormous spiritual value, is a necessity for every healthy growing believer (Josh 1:6-8, Ps. 119:92), stresses what is practical, digests God’s Word into one’s own life and experience, and is delightful and joyful yet rare and difficult work.
I absolutely love God’s Battle Plan For The Mind. I purchased this book in August of 2015 and I have read through most of it three or more times! It’s a book I can keep coming back to because the pages are filled with informative, convicting, and encouraging quotes and teaching. The book is so practical that there are chapters which read almost like a Puritan manual on how to meditate biblically. When I am feeling dry or apathetic in my faith, I come back to this book as a reminder that I need to be deeply meditating on the rich truths of scripture; that I need to get the “fire” back, and that meditation is a way to stoke the fire of devotion.
I must admit that I am a huge fan of the Puritans and their writings. I found this book by doing a biblical search on Puritan meditation after hearing Joel Beeke teaching on the topic. Paxton, a student of Beeke’s, wrote this book as part of his studies at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. Therefore, my enjoyment of this book is heavily influenced by the Puritan flavor of Paxton’s writing. Beeke’s words in the foreword ring true of this book: “David does not write as an academic, but as a pastor” (p. viii). Touting a long bibliography, Paxton did a wonderful job of avoiding the trap of writing to please scholars or prove a point in academia.
God’s Battle Plan For The Mind challenges readers to move beyond the dry, feeble Christianity of our days to a rich, scripture-filled Christianity which exemplifies that call to let the word of God dwell richly within (Colossians 3:16).
The biggest strength of God’s Battle Plan For The Mind is that it is immensely practical. A quick perusal through the table of contents shows that readers will learn: the importance of biblical meditation, unbiblical forms of meditation, how to meditate on different occasions, how to actually practice meditation, how to choose subjects for meditation, and even a plan on how to get started meditating. As stated previously, this book can be used as a manual for how to meditate day and night in a biblical and God-glorifying way.
Another strength of this book is that it is steeped in quotes from the writings of the Puritans. The Puritans were some of the greatest preachers, writers, and divines in the history of the church, and that becomes readily apparent when reading the plethora of quotes Paxton provided. These quotes provide readers with arguments against the novelty of New Age spirituality as well the old Catholic mysticism which is beginning to resurface in mainline and evangelical churches (even in Reformed circles!). They also give readers a picture of why these writers could compose works so richly and deeply about the truths of scripture—their minds were so full of meditations on scriptures from both Testaments!
Finally, Paxton’s zeal for true biblical spirituality is seen throughout the book as he quotes scriptures and authors in their intended context. For example, instead of finding obscure passages and using them to suit his own purposes and practices, he shows how his arguments come from scripture on many occasions. He also doesn’t get caught up in the game of quoting Catholic, Quaker, or New Age mystics in such a way as to confuse readers or give the impression that he supports their teachings.
This is important because Christians must never seek to separate sanctification and spiritual practices from biblical teachings on the doctrines of God and Salvation—doctrines such as sola scriptura (scripture alone for God’s revelation) and sola fide (salvation by faith alone) which are rejected by Catholics, New Age, and Quaker mystics almost universally. Essentially, this book is orthodox and theologically sound enough to be given to believers in all stages of their spiritual walks. In other words, there is no chewing the meat and spitting out the bones here.
One glaring weakness of this book (for some readers) is its reliance upon Puritans as the source and example of biblical meditation. For many, the term Puritan is slightly less offensive than a swear word! For others, the Elizabethan (and sometimes heavily Latin-influenced) English will be a tough pill to swallow. Admittedly, I struggled with these aspects when I began building my collection of Puritan works, but mining for gold is always worth the elbow grease and back pain that comes from getting beneath the surface for the depth they offer! At times, the quotes can be wordy and difficult for modern readers, especially when words like, “wilt”, “thou”, “thee”, etc. are unaltered in longer block quotes. There seems to be an unspoken war amongst Puritan readers regarding whether the works should be unabridged or not.
Another potential weakness is that this book quotes the Puritans heavily. As a fan of the Puritans, this aspect isn’t bothersome to me as I enjoy getting great quotes from books that I will probably never have the time to read or the money to purchase. However, I could imagine readers saying to themselves, “What does Paxton think about this?” or “I thought this was Paxton’s book!” This is tough for me because I love the numerous Puritan quotations but also like to see what a modern synthesis of Puritan teaching would look like.
If Paxton were to revise this book, it would be great to gain a perspective of how his life and ministry were changed by his deep studies in Puritan meditation. I wouldn’t reduce the number of quotes, though. I would simply add a bit more synthesis of the teaching throughout the book for readers who don’t want to comb through the quotes but could definitely benefit from the teaching of the Puritans on this topic.
Some books on the topic of spiritual disciplines or means of grace seem like a rehashing of Don Whitney’s classic book Spiritual Disciplines For The Christian Life. This is not a bad thing at all (in fact, Paxton quotes Whitney in this books). However, breaking down the individual disciplines is something that will be beneficial for generations to come. This book is important for all readers, especially those in the realm of Reformed theology, as it brings an old voice into an important modern conversation. God’s Battle Plan For The Mind by David Paxton is an excellent starting point for any believer wanting to improve their devotional life!
- “What does it mean to meditate? It means to think personally, practically, seriously, and earnestly on how the truth of God’s Word should look in life.” (p. 2)
- “… the Puritans stressed the utmost importance of biblical meditation resulting in practical reform in one’s life.” (p.63)
- “Because believers have allowed television to push a close walk with Christ into the shadows, the message to the Church at Ephesus applies well: “I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love” (Rev. 2:4). Yet rather than forcing a believer against his will to leave this unhealthy love of amusements, biblical meditation woos our hearts to Christ with the offer of greater joy and sincere love.” (p. 134)