An Invitation to Scriptural Contemplation
A Review of
Under the Wings of God: Twenty Biblical Reflections for a Deeper Faith
Paperback: Brazos Press, 2023
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Reviewed by Benjamin A. Simpson
In and through Jesus Christ, God calls us to a deeper, richer, and fuller faith. This invitation is evident in the Bible. For those with ears to hear and hearts open to respond, the Holy Spirit beckons us forward, urging us to enter the abundance of life offered to all disciples in the kingdom of God.
Those hearing this call are invited to walk a path. Along the path, there is provision. Friends of God are trained and taught, and as a result, they are strengthened and matured. In the school of Christ, we are instructed through spiritual disciplines, or practices. Many of these disciplines are well known: prayer, fasting, worship, service, study, and other established means of growth in grace.
There is another discipline, less often practiced: meditation. We do well to meditate. Psalm 1:1-2 says the righteous person meditates on God’s commands. In Colossians 3:1-2, Paul invites us to set our hearts and minds on “things above.” To meditate is to think. Dwell on. Slow down. Remain with. Savor and chew and turn over and anchor our spirit in the truths revealed to us as we walk with God. This is not an emptying of the mind. It is a filling of the mind, intended to penetrate the heart, transform the soul, and ultimately to bring good things into the world that are consistent with God’s character and eternal reign.
How do we meditate faithfully, effectively, and for profit? Often, it helps to have a guide. Cornelius Plantinga, in Under The Wings of God: Twenty Biblical Reflections for a Deeper Faith, helps the reader to survey the Scriptures, to think carefully on their meaning, insights, and calls to action. He then invites the reader to “grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:15, NIV).
Each reflection in this book is a meditation, a model for how to think on God’s Word, and an invitation to meditate, to continue contemplation. Plantinga does not give the final word, but the first word, or, if you are familiar with the passage, a next word. The response is then yours.
These reflections begin with a passage from Scripture, such as Psalm 91, Mark 5:1-20, Deuteronomy 6:4-9, Colossians 3:1-4, John 3:1-17, Job 9:1-14, Romans 12:9-13, and others; many are familiar, a few less so. He instructs the reader to review the full passage, or bring it to memory afresh. He then cites one verse from that passage that highlights his theme, and off we go, exploring the twists and turns and valleys and peaks of the Bible, and of life with God.
Plantinga travels where the text directs him, whether into theodicy and the low places filled with heartache, or to the high places where we find the provision, majesty, and mysterious sovereignty of God. He expounds on what is in the text. When the Scripture extols virtue, it is considered. We’re invited to put what is praiseworthy into practice. When the Scripture warns against vice, we ponder. We assess ourselves. We consider our own besetting sins and temptations, make note of the warning signs, and prepare ourselves for moments when we may be tested.
Every meditation concludes with a brief prayer, such as “O God, I know deep down that I am safe under your watchful eye, that you watch not to condemn but to bless,” or “O God of truth, I want honesty within. I want to be straight and true, for Jesus’s sake.” When we meditate on the Bible, we are invited to pray when we begin, as we read and reflect, and when we conclude our time dwelling on God’s Word. Prayer is one way to respond. We give thanks for what we have received. We ask God to change us, to sanctify us, to remake us in keeping with God’s Word (John 17:17).
God can and does reveal truths about the life of faith to us personally, in and through our experiences. But the Bible is a time-tested and trusted repository of truth offered to Christians. When it is available, it is to be learned, internalized, contemplated, and lived. In the Protestant tradition, these sixty-six books, the Old and New Testaments, The Hebrew Bible and the Christian Scriptures, relay to us wisdom, testimony, guidance, insight, examples to follow, examples to avoid, words to memorize, stories to tell, and and an abundance of fuel for the imagination of the faithful.
Plantinga models how to meditate and shows us the fruit of biblical meditation. He invites us to continue the practice and to profit from our habit of focusing the mind on the Scriptures and centering the heart on God and the things of God. This book is enriching on its own, while also being instructive. Read it for gain. Then return to the Bible itself. Meditate on the Scriptures. Grow in faith. And pass on what you learn.
Benjamin A. Simpson
Benjamin A. Simpson serves as the Associate Director of Spiritual Formation at Baylor University's George W. Truett Theological Seminary. You can read his work online: www.benjaminasimpson.com.
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