Friday, June 24, 2011

Book Review: Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God by John Piper

If I were to make a list of the Christian teachers/writers/pastors who have been most helpful and influential in my walk as a Christian, John Piper would unquestionably be high on that list. From my first reading of Desiring God and The Pleasures of God many years ago to Let the Nations be Glad and The Passion of Christ more recently, plus countless sermons and articles on, I have been profoundly impacted by Piper’s work and ministry.

Piper states that “the aim of this book is to encourage serious, faithful, humble thinking that leads to the true knowledge of God, which leads to loving him, which overflows in loving others” (p. 20).  Fair enough. I’m on board with that aim. He later fleshes this out more by saying that “Thinking is indispensable on the path to passion for God. Thinking is not an end in itself. Nothing but God himself is finally an end in itself. Thinking is not the goal of life. Thinking, like non-thinking, can be the ground for boasting. Thinking, without prayer, without the Holy Spirit, without obedience, without love, will puff up and destroy (1 Cor. 8:1). But thinking under the mighty hand of God, thinking soaked in prayer, thinking carried by the Holy Spirit, thinking tethered to the Bible, thinking in pursuit of more reasons to praise and proclaim the glories of God, thinking in the service of love- such thinking is indispensable in a life of fullest praise to God” (p. 27). I couldn’t agree more!

It’s amazing to me how many times someone has said to me, “Wait, you’re intelligent… and you’re a Christian. How is that possible?” as if Christianity is a religion for the vast dull-minded masses. Certainly if you were actually SMART and INTELLIGENT you would realize that this Jesus silliness is a just a load of mythical absurdity! I could not disagree more, though I certainly understand that unfortunately there are plenty of Christians who miss the thinking train altogether. Intelligence is not an end in and of itself, but to come to faith in Christ (and to continue on the journey), we must read, think, weigh Christ’s claims, understand, and ponder why and how it could be that salvation can be by grace alone through faith alone. Our minds alone aren’t enough to grasp these deep and weighty issues, but we must in fact use our minds; Piper spends a few chapters presenting this idea.

He then writes of the challenges of relativism; he explains what it is and how Jesus dealt with it, as well as shows how relativism is an intellectually dishonest, prideful, and enslaving “belief”. Piper then turns to the issue of anti-intellectualism in church history (particularly in America), and spends several chapters showing that the two scriptures individuals point to when trying to defend as Biblical anti-intellectual tendencies are actually not saying that. I really appreciated this thoughtful and lengthy section, as in addition to those who tell me it’s strange that I’m smart and a Christian, I also have a fair amount of people telling me that I shouldn’t think so much, and just have faith (again, as if they’re mutually exclusive). Maybe well meaning, but alas, unhelpful.

I really appreciate this book, because I believe Piper has written a balanced and nuanced work on the topic of how to rightly use our minds to glorify God. He says that “loving God with the mind means that our thinking is wholly engaged to do all it can to awaken and express the heartfelt fullness of treasuring God above all things” (p.19). He encourages wholehearted study and reflection, but he also encourages humility and looking to God as the source of all wisdom and understanding. “It is a plea to reject either-or thinking when it comes to head and heart, thinking and feeling, reason and faith, theology and doxology, mental labor and the ministry of love” (p. 179). This resonates with me in a profound way, and I appreciate that he spent 184 pages expounding upon this topic. I would recommend this book to any who want to better understand how to rightly use their minds to love God and other people.

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