Most of us are familiar with Paul’s famous exhortation to begin Romans 12:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 12:1-2)
When it comes to defining what Paul is actually calling us to in this passage, however, there is a certain gray area surrounding “mind transformation” that could easily bring confusion. Craig Keener, New Testament scholar, and theologian, has argued that interpreters have missed “how Paul uses cognition to connect” the dots of transformation (xv). Keener’s newest book, The Mind of the Spirit, plumbs the depths of Paul’s psychology through his letters, giving everyone from counselors to preachers to disciple-makers a more robust understanding of mind-transformation discipleship. I will say from the outset that The Mind of the Spirit is not a book for the faint of heart, but is a rich and comprehensive overview of a widely-overlooked subject.
Keener begins his discourse by deconstructing the Christian mindset, looking firstly at “the corrupted mind” that Paul presents in his memorable discussion in Romans 1:18-32. Keener argues that Paul’s main point is that both the “pagan mind” and the “Jewish mind…can truly overcome passion” (28). The mind posits a distortion of the truth when it is held in bondage to the passions of the flesh. Using Romans 6:11 as a proof-text, Paul asserts that a discipline of the mind is what it takes to overcome these passions (46).
So, how do we put to death the mind of the flesh? Or more frankly, what does Paul in Romans 12:1-2 ask us to do? Keener reminds us first of all that the transformation of the mind is an act of God. “God…renews the minds of those devoted to him so that they can truly evaluate the good things that are his will” (143). The vehicles through which our mind becomes transformed is pursuing selflessness, sacrificial love, and suffering. Keener goes on to present deeper discussions on the mind of Christ, a Christlike mind, and the Heavenly mind (Chapters 6-8).
This book may seem intimidating, with the perceived potential of dry, scholarly, theory-heavy writing. But as I read The Mind of the Spirit, I was encouraged by the practicality of what I was reading through Keener’s work. No one is better qualified to help us discern Paul’s letters with better context, better application, and better exegesis than Dr. Keener, and I am fortunate to have this addition to my library for future Pauline studies and for ordinary discipleship opportunities. The amount to think about here is full, and I would argue, will help you transform your mind to Christ for the better.