A Change of Heart: a book review

I am passionate about spiritual transformation. However many books on spirituality and spiritual disciplines suggest a variety of practices but do not communicate a sufficient theological basis for them. Robert Saucy addresses this lack by taking a systematic look at what the Bible says about transformation in Minding the Heart: the Way of Spiritual Transformation. Saucy is a systematic theologian at Talbot School of Theology. He is chiefly known for his writings on Progressive-Dispensationalism, Complementarianism, and Ecclesiology. I am in disagreement with his position in all of those areas; however I think that this book makes an important contribution to a robust Evangelical spirituality. Saucy’s understanding of spiritual transformation is biblically grounded and holistic.

There are fourteen chapters in this book. In chapter one, Saucy argues that as Christians we attain the abundant life that Christ promises through pursuit of our spiritual growth. But the way to grow in Christ is through spiritual transformation. This happens through a heart change. In chapters two through four, Saucy describes the inner dynamics of the heart. Saucy asserts that in the Bible, the heart represents the control center of the whole person (their thoughts, emotions and volition). In fact the heart is ‘the real person’ (chapter 2).  Because of human fallen-ness the heart is deceitful and does not behave as it should (chapter 3).  Real lasting change will take self-examination and self-understanding (chapter 4) However Saucy warns that self understanding is not enough, ‘unless we appropriate the cure, this effort is not only fruitless, but can easily lead to depression as we focus on the ugly distortions still residing in our heart’ (88).

The cure for our deviant hearts is the gospel of Jesus Christ and as we change the content of our hearts to reflect God’s truth (about Himself, the universe, the human condition, His atoning sacrifice, etc) we experience a total life change (chapter 5). Does this mean that spiritual transformation is something we do?  Not entirely. God is the true heart changer but we participate in the process (p 118). By apprehending and appropriating God’s truth, we undergo an emotional change and a behavioral change.  God is the initiator and primary actor but we are also a direct agent acting upon our own hearts by cultivating our inner life (chapter 6).

The above six chapters are conceptual. The next four chapters address what we can do personally to aid our transformation and growth: chapter seven exhorts us to renew our minds, chapters eight and nine describe the biblical concept of meditation and some guidelines for practice, chapter nine discusses how behavioral change effects our thoughts and emotions. Chapter eleven and twelve talk about the way community and our inter-relationship with others affects us.  Saucy demonstrates our connection to one another (in Christ) and how giving and receiving in community is both the fruit and a means of ‘heart change.’ The final two chapters put all the above together and urge us to a holistic understanding of salvation which involves the whole person (especially chapter 13). Saucy also underscores the importance of prayer to the entire process (chapter 14 and conclusion).

Saucy presents a biblically grounded understanding of the human heart and spiritual growth. He discusses the Biblical passages addressing the heart and draws on biblical scholarship to present an understanding of the human predicament and our hope for change. This is a Word-centered spirituality but Saucy is also psychologically astute. His approach to spiritual transformation privileges ‘thoughts,’  but Saucy does not have in mind mere cognition. Our minds interprets sense data and translates it into a meaningful emotion (140).  Thus both our mental and emotional centers play a part in our transformation and effect our actions. He does acknowledge that sometimes it works the other way–behaviors or ‘acting better than we believe’ can have a transformative effect on our heart and mind (see his discussion in chapter 10). However, fundamentally his understanding of transformation follows the familiar Pauline grammar of imperative-indicative (The good news first, and how we should live in light of it).  This means that hearing the gospel, making it a part of you through meditation and praxis (i.e whole-person-hearing) is what enables real, and lasting spiritual change.

So I am impressed with the substance of this book and how holistic Saucy’s approach is. I also love how generous he is. Saucy draws on the best of a a wide-range of scholars, theologians and saints and churchmen. This is a very Evangelical book, but not in the narrow sense. Any serious Christian will be able to appropriate Saucy’s insights. Saucy doesn’t spill ink describing what is wrong with some spiritual practices (i.e. centering-prayer, mysticism, etc). Even when we addresses a thorny topic like meditation, he stays focused on the biblical understanding of it, and draws conclusions from that for our practice. I recommend it for any one who wishes to deepen their understanding of Christian spirituality. My one proviso is that this book is more ‘academic’ than practical, which may frustrate some readers. However good thinking is needed in this area and I think Saucy does a great job of getting us to think biblically and theologically about our lives.  I give this book five stars: ★★★★★

Notice of material connection: I received this book from Kregel Academic in exchange for my honest review.

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