Robert Saucy, distinguished professor of systematic theology at Talbot, just released the new book, Minding the Heart: The Way of Spiritual Transformation. He kindly took some time to answer a few questions about the book.
How would you briefly summarize your new book, Minding the Heart?
The book is about how Christians can grow in the abundant life that Jesus offered. In the broad sense it seeks to unpack the truth of Proverbs 4:23: “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flows the springs of iife.”
After explaining that salvation in Christ is more than forgiveness and giving a picture of the abundant life which we can experience in spiritual growth, the book first considers the kind of heart that God desires for us compared to our natural sinful heart. It then goes on to explain the nature of the heart, how it functions, and how it changes. Next, what God does and what we must do for heart change is discussed along with how believing community is involved. The work concludes with a theological overview of the nature of genuine spiritual growth.
In sum, I think that the book is designed to answer a comment I once received from a young woman after speaking on the power of love and the fact that we are called to love as God loved us. In a very sincere tone, the young woman said, “We often hear sermons like this that tell us what we should do. But no one tells us how to do it.” Unfortunately, from my experience I had to agree. Thus, in the final sense, this book is designed to answer that concern, to tell people what Scripture says on how to do it—how to grow spiritually and experience more of God’s abundant life.
Who is your target audience and how will they benefit from reading the book?
I wanted to write the book for those who truly had a desire to grow in the Christian life, those who hungered for more than forgiveness of sins and waiting for heaven for change, those who believed that growth in the experience of God could begin even now in this life. I hope also that church leaders and others who seek to disciple and help others in their Christian walk would find this work useful. Although it is written with some depth, it is designed as a practical “how to” work which I believe any believer could understand and profit from.
What led you to write the book? How does this book relate to your previous scholarship? And how does it intersect with your classroom teaching at Talbot?
The instigation of this work involved the confluence of my studies and teaching at Talbot and my personal spiritual hunger. For many years I had the opportunity to team teach a class on human nature with a psychologist. The readings which the psychologist assigned stimulated me to see things in Scripture that I had not seen or read in systematic theology works on sanctification. And these things were essentially related to what Scripture said about the heart. This stimulated me to do biblical research in this area which I continued to use in my regular systematic theology classes when we came to the subject of spiritual growth. On the more personal level, I think that I was like many believers who thought there should and could be more in terms of living an “abundant life” and actually “knowing” or experiencing God. Thus, I thoroughly enjoyed the studying and learning of the material of this work and received great personal blessing from doing so.
Is the "spiritual transformation" you talk about in the book the same thing as "Spiritual Formation" (as in, Biola's Institute for Spiritual Formation)? How are they related and/or how are they different?
To me, the “spiritual formation” that I talk about is essentially the same as the “Spiritual Formation” in Biola’s Institute for Spiritual Formation in the sense that both are seeking to understand the nature of spiritual growth and how it takes place. (Of course, the program of spiritual formation in the Institute goes on to include the actual practice of the means of growth whereas my book can only encourage that necessary element of growth.) As an instructor in theology, I take this to be much like what has usually been called the present process of “sanctification.” I should note, however, that in some distinction from much contemporary spiritual formation which includes many elements from ancient church practice, my focus in this work is on what the Scripture teaches through instruction and example regarding Christian growth.
How does one "mind" the heart? What is the relationship between the habits of our mind and the habits of our hearts?
Briefly, “minding” the heart is another way of expressing the exhortation of the writer of Proverbs: “watch over your heart with all diligence.” How we do this is essentially the content of the book, so I can only sketch the key elements: (1) know your heart as the source of your life experiences—attitudes and actions, and recognize its need for change. (2) Live with an honest open heart to our self and above all to God. We don’t fully know the contents of our heart and even try to hide some things both from ourself and foolishly from God who fully knows our heart. (3) Continually receive God and his changing power into our hearts through the means that Scripture teaches. (4) Let God’s word, through which he communicates himself, touch all of our heart—intellect, emotion, and behavior. (5) Be aware of what we take into our heart and what we let slip out. Reject toxic materials; treasure the good. Our heart is who we are, so we become what are heart takes in and treasures.
It is sometimes difficult to explain the relation of the habits of the mind to the habits of the heart without being misunderstood. One reason for this difficulty is no doubt because according the Scripture our mind (intellect), emotions, and will or volition are all capacities of the heart and they are designed to be united so that there is a mutual relationship among them—each affect the others. However, Scripture clearly teaches that the primary entrance into this triad is through the mind or intellectual capacity of the heart, e.g. “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:2).
Perhaps the crucial issue in spiritual transformation is ridding the heart of the lies of Satan and the world system and incorporating the truth of God. Hence, the importance of the Word of God and its creative power in the Bible, and thus the capacity to hear the word (i.e., through the mind). In the final sense the condition of our heart is directly related to what we really believe in the depth of our heart—God’s truth or lies.
What are the biggest takeaways readers should expect from this book?
My hope for the readers of this work is that they would be encouraged to grow spiritually and experience more of the abundant life of love, joy, peace, etc. that is their possession in Christ. As the fountain of this encouragement, I believe the reader will more clearly understand what is going on in their daily attitudes and actions—i.e., why they feel and behave as they do, and that they will know the way that God has provided for life change through heart change. In short, the readers will know the basics of how spiritual life works and how to actually work it through a real relationship with the powerful living God.