With all Your Heart: Orienting Your Mind, Desires, and Will toward Christ

Troxel, Craig. With all Your Heart: Orienting Your Mind, Desires, and Will toward Christ.  Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020. 220 p. $17.99, paper.

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’” (Mark 12:28-30).

Here Jesus recalled the shema of Deut. 6:4-5 as a guide for the Christian life (adding in the word “mind” as well). Heart, soul, mind, strength – all words used to describe the inner life of what it means to be human. But defining each word is a challenge, especially when these words are used in such disparate ways by secular American culture. Are they mere synonyms? Or are they distinct and separate things? More importantly, how do we understand them Biblically?

This book is a distillation of years of study, reflection, teaching, and preaching on these themes by Troxel, a pastor in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and a member of the faculty of Westminster Seminary California. His study of the Puritans in particular comes through, for such discussions were part and parcel of the writings of the “physicians of the soul.” He chooses his quotations from the Puritans (and others) very effectively. But his study rests first and foremost on Scripture. As with the Puritans, his goal seems to be that we would allow Scripture to diagnose the state of our heart (and mind and will) before God. In this it succeeds admirably.

This volume does not take a “three steps to a better heart” tack like many ostensibly Christian self-help titles.  Rather it is a series of introspective studies (still logically ordered). Troxel will argue that the term ‘heart’ “is the most important word in the Bible to describe who you are within” (16-17). He does so because he claims it is the most used word in that regard, the most misunderstood word, and also the most appropriate word. He divides his treatment into four sections: Knowing, Loving, Choosing, and Keeping.

Anyone who seeks to clarify allied terms will run the risk of trying to define things too starkly. Troxel falls into that trap at times, not always allowing for when they overlap in meaning. However, the benefits of his distinctions outweigh that concern. He makes his case with thorough and helpful Scripture citations which at times are overwhelming to sift through. Some information could have been more helpfully placed in footnotes or charts so as not to impede the flow of his writing so much. He includes Greek biblical terms, but provides explanation for those not familiar with Greek.

Troxel’s book is neither a systematic theological discourse nor a mere devotional. It dwells in the space between. This is not the sort of book to read through once at a quick pace. It is far better to take a chapter at a time, reading slowly, backing up as needed, and re-reading carefully. Look up the Bible citations. Highlight and make notes in it. Ponder your own heart in regard to what is being said. It is very much a pastoral work. It is a book accessible to all Christians, except perhaps the newest believers. Yet the content is such that even the more mature believer will benefit from reading it.

A couple of examples show the poignancy of this book for believers. Much of Western thought, which even Christians imbibe far too uncritically, posits a fairly stark distinction between heart and mind, feeling and cognition – as if they can be compartmentalized from each other. Troxel reminds us of a more biblical view. “Such a false dichotomy is not just a form of anti-intellectualism; it is a misleading antithesis because it seems to create the impression that the mind is somehow less spiritual or less noble than the affective or volitional part of who we are” (34).  He points to the common call (especially in the Wisdom literature) for the heart to “acquire wisdom.” Troxel continues, “In the believer, sin is a retreating yet dangerous foe.… What the heart enjoys is what the heart will explore.… All our knowledge is ethical and has an agenda” (47).

Another example derives from the prevailing culture of victimhood. While the extreme forms of this may not plague the church, too often we make excuses for sin based on circumstance, family traits, or our Myers-Briggs results. Troxel is having none of that. “Your will is awakened by the first decision of the day, when that annoying sound tells you it is time to get up… whether we feel the lure of temptation or pray for strength to resist it, we will choose. This is where the battle for the control of our heart is won or lost… Your heart will either resist or submit to what you know and desire. It has to make a choice” (111-12). He goes on to depict the stubborn heart, the proud heart, the uncircumcised heart, and the weak heart before turning to the surrendered and strengthened heart. Even inaction is not excused. “There are times when our will refuses to commit and is determined to take no action.… Ironically, even the most passive people are exercising their will.… But God labels inaction ‘disobedience.’ It is a heart that has become too compliant, through non-choosing choices” (117).

Perhaps an unintended application of this book – though a happy one – is that it can be used in Biblical discipleship and counseling, particularly the latter. No, it does not speak to specific counseling issues such as addictions or relationships. But is not every counseling need at root a problem of the heart?  Troxel speaks to the rebellion of sin in our hearts, saying, “a rebellious heart can lead only to an increasingly hardened heart – one that becomes more and more calloused to God’s truth and less and less responsive to God’s voice” (129).  He also identifies a passive approach to sin. “The lack of discipline suggests a heart that is wayward, unregulated, errant, unstable, and blind.… It makes no difference if it is the result of repeated rebellion or continuous passiveness. The result is the same” (131). Whatever is wrong in the heart will manifest itself in our lives for good or ill. The Psalmist sums up our situation so well when he prays, “united my heart to fear your name” (Ps. 86:11b).

Language is imprecise. Not only is the curse of Babel still doing its work in our midst, but sin also clouds our understanding of what others say.  We don’t even understand our own thoughts much of the time. Gaining clarity, especially Biblical clarity, with such important terms is something worth our study and effort. For that reason, Troxel’s book is an important one. It will inform the mind. But more importantly it will encourage the heart in Christ.


Kenneth McMullen
Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte