Clowney, Edmund. Christian Meditation: What the Bible Teaches About Meditation and Spiritual Exercises. Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 2002. Purchase at Westminster Books.
Edmund Clowney (1917-2005) was a pastor and theologian. He once served as the President of Westminster Theological Seminary and was also the Emeritus Professor of practical theology at the same institution. He wrote numerous books on preaching, the emphasis of which was proclaiming Christ all of the Scriptures. This particular book was written as a response to the rise and acceptance of Transcendental Meditation (TM) in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The book was first published in 1979. His purpose was to offer a “reflection on what the Bible teaches about [meditation]” (v).
Clowney first sets out to explain why TM is a challenge, and not a help, to the Christian church. While proponents of TM claim that their method of meditation is not religious, Clowney argues to the contrary. He states, “the technique and goals … presuppose a particular view of reality … shaped by the monistic tradition of Hindu philosophy [and] the indispensable devotional ceremony of initiation” (8). He states immediately that “no Christian could participate in the initiation ceremony without breaking the second commandment” (8).
He proceeds to compare and contrast Christian meditation to that of TM. Christian meditation, he contends, is “grounded in the truth of God” (12) and is a response “to the love of God” (13) which results in praise of God. His argument is that Christian theology requires meditation, but that meditation must be centered on God who revealed himself in Christ and now has sent the Spirit to indwell his children.
The second chapter details how Christian meditation reveals the wisdom of God through the illumination of the Spirit of God. He points out that both the book of Psalms and Proverbs “are written meditations” (19). As the believer seeks to meditate on the truths of God, he or she understands that it is God who is the “fountain of all wisdom” (20). That truth enables the one meditating to do so in a posture of humility, knowing that it is only the Spirit of God who will reveal the deeper truths of God. After all, “only the Holy Spirit, who knows the deep things of God, can reveal the mystery of God’s wisdom to men” (21). But it is Jesus who is the “very wisdom of God incarnate” (25). That is the primary difference between an unbiblical and a biblical understanding of meditation. This understanding, therefore, offers directional and devotional insight for the Christian.
Moving deeper into the importance of meditation, Clowney looks at the delight of communion in the third chapter. Clowney drives home the point that, because God is personal, it is our duty to commune and engage this personal God. He writes, “Meditation reflects on the truth of God in the presence of God” (46). This personal interaction with God helps us to understand the love of God deeper and deeper. Thus, our love for God is responsive, committed, and jealous. Our love for God is seen by our obedience to God. There are many aspects of the Triune God that only begin to be comprehended through meditation.
The practice of meditation on the things and person of God leads to the practice of the praise of God. This is the subject of the fourth and final chapter of the book. If “meditation receives the truth of God’s revelation and applies it to the circumstances of our lives. . . . [and it] finds in God’s truth the revelation of himself. . . . [then] prayer and praise . . . are the heightening of Christian meditation” (75).
God’s works in the world should lead to praise. The model as revealed in the Psalms is to take a particular problem or situation in one’s life and compare it to the work of God in the universe. In light of God’s works in history, the current situation is shown to be temporary and used of God to drive the believer to communion with him that leads to praising God for his faithfulness and persevering Spirit.
Clowney’s conclusion is that a biblical understanding of meditation centered upon the person of Christ is the only meditation that is worthy of emulation by the Christian. Christian meditation is distinct from worldly meditation in that Christ is the focus instead of the mind of man. He states succinctly that “every mystical stairway constructed by man’s intuition leads up the tower of Babel and not Jacob’s ladder” (92). Further, he claims, “Christian meditation, then, cannot be reduced to a system of spiritual exercises, a kind of yoga for the sanctification of the Spirit” (93). He concludes with eight suggestions to help the beginner meditate according to biblical principles.
It is obvious to the reader that, while Clowney is writing on Christian Meditation, he is doing so rooted in his own meditations. To pen this academic work in such a devotional fashion can only be due to his practice of thinking deeply on the things of God as revealed in Scripture. Though his thesis is clear and polemical, that TM is an unbiblical method of meditation and therefore should be avoided, his approach is corrective and pastoral. He does not engage in name calling and is careful to faithfully represent the views of Hindu mystics.
Clowney’s love for Christ is found on every page as he seeks to push his reader closer to the lover of their soul by showing how TM takes away from devotion to Christ. Though his claims will upset some, they are stated in such a way that anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of Scripture will see that his passion is rooted in God’s revelation. Ultimately, the Christian argument for TM is confronted and dismantled with the clear teachings of Scripture and a right understanding of what meditation is and is not.
Furthermore, Clowney is so fastidious in his zeal to root meditation in the Word of God that the reader cannot help but be led to a deeper understanding of how God has revealed himself to us and what he wants us to do with that revelation. We are to seek the wisdom of God through the Spirit of God in order to commune with the personal God resulting in the praise and consequent glory of God.
Reading this work some forty plus years after it was written presents a difficulty for today’s reader, however. On one hand, TM as an explicit discipline has fallen out of favor in large part due to the secularization of the western world. On the other hand, one can see the influence of TM in many forms of the current trend of mental health awareness. In a culture longing for healing, there remains a shotgun approach to what one can do to find peace.
The mantra of the day is the same as it was in the day of the Judges: “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Jud 21:25b). The timelapse between the initial publishing of Christian Meditation and today begs for a revised edition that would serve a new audience and bring the importance of a Biblical view of meditation to a younger generation bombarded with the empty claims of mindless meditation seeking nirvana in nothingness.
One other criticism, admittedly a criticism that will not be shared by all, is his use of Jewish wisdom literature in his quoting of the deuterocanonical book of Ecclesiasticus to drive home the importance of Mat 11:28-30 and Christ’s yoke of discipleship. Those two paragraphs found on pages 25 and 26 in a book that is purposeful in asserting a biblical understanding of meditation potentially usurps his argument.
At issue is the use of a dispute text found in some Christian Bibles, primarily Roman Catholic, that is not recognized in Protestant Christian Bibles. In so doing, Clowney implicitly offers credibility to this apocryphal book as though it is stands unquestionably in line with the rest of the canon of Scripture. Regardless, the astute believer will understand how Clowney is using that particular passage. The concern remains however for the new believer seeking to better understand the differences between TM and Christian meditation.
Notwithstanding these quibbles, Edmund Clowney’s book, Christian Meditation, is a worthwhile read for all Christians. His devotion to a Christocentric understanding of Scripture is a wonderful corrective to the man-centered views espoused by so many authors today.
Though I am familiar with the discipline of meditation, I had never read this book. Clowney’s three-fold approach of meditation as centering “on the truth of God, moved by the love of God, and directed to the praise of God” (91) should become the foundation of the Christian life. This ought to be explicit in the Christian’s life. Sadly, even the redeemed child of God is prone to forget that all of life is lived for God’s glory.
In a time when the word “love” is a much maligned and misused word, knowing the biblical love of God at a deeper level will become the balm that so many need to heal their parched and hurting souls. This love of God can only be discovered when one approaches the truths of God as unchanging and discoverable in the Word of God. When the presupposition is rooted in God as the truth giver and revealer, the Christian cannot help but want to discover more with the result of each new discovery being the praise of God.
It is in that regard that I have found a renewed longing to spend qualitative time in meditation on the things and person of God. The freedom to ask questions of the text is exhilarating when one knows there are boundaries set by God that will result in a deeper understanding that leads to one’s sanctification in the Spirit.
The implications for ministry are endless. Christians are always in danger of making too little of Jesus. A proper understanding of Biblical meditation is an excellent corrective to this concern. As a pastor, it should be our goal to point others to the Savior such that they, too, make much of Christ in their lives.
In an age of the cult of personality, proper Christian meditation seeks to put man in his rightful position: a redeemed sinner in need of direction through the peaks and valleys of this world. Christian meditation helps orient the believer in the world with an ever-deepening understanding of the God who saves.
Intentional meditation is necessary if the Christian is to grow in the Word. Too many professed believers rely on a sermon to experience any genuine spiritual growth. The so-called super Christians might attend a Bible study once or twice a week, yet they never spend time in the Word on their own. Less likely is the setting aside of time in the busyness of one’s schedule to be still and seek the Lord. To understand the importance and necessity of Christian meditation is to understand that the Word of God is the lifeblood of the Christian life. Without it, one’s Christianity will shrivel and die from malnutrition.