Book Review: Think-the Life of the Mind and the Love of God (John Piper)
November 13, 2010 § 3 Comments
Rigorous thinking fuels worship of God and service to our neighbor when offered in a spirit of humility. Or in the words of John Piper: “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” (20).
In all of John Piper’s preaching and writing he strives—with a contagious passion—to unfold and make known the glory of God in whatever context. In Think: the Life of the Mind and the Love of God Pastor Piper does not deviate from such a platform and does not disappoint in his exhortation and plea that we use our minds to glorify and love God, and love our fellow human beings in the process.
The salvation accomplished and delivered by Jesus Christ seeks to leave no area of creation untouched and unchanged—including our minds. To love God is to love Him with all our soul, strength, and mind. To use our minds in the service of God and others is no exercise in passivity. Rather, we use whatever intellectual ability that God has given us in service to Him and others. We think hard, we study, we learn from others, we posture ourselves before God and others in child-like humility knowing that whatever learning skills we have ultimately come as a gift from God: “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it” (I Cor 4:7). Piper also dispels the myth that the life of the mind equates to a sterile and passionless faith:
“Thinking is indispensable on the path to passion for God. Thinking is not an end to itself. Nothing but God 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 (I 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 the life of fullest praise to God” (27)
Piper lists two major challenges to the life of the mind (within and outside the church): relativism and anti-intellectualism. Chapter eight is devoted to the exposition of seven destructive traits of relativism, but the common thread that runs through all seven is the sin of pride and our desire to define and manipulate the truth, rather than submit to God’s revelation: “The only way pride can be conquered in us is for us to believe the Truth and be conquered by it so it rules us and we don’t rule it” (113). Anti-intellectualism has plagued Christianity off and on throughout its inception, and the twenty-first century is no different. There are still those who seek to exalt subjective experience above intellectual endeavor. It is certainly true that intellectual activity can become dry and lifeless if not approached with the proper posture, but the remedy to hardened intellectualism is not anti-intellectualism but instead “humble, faithful, prayerful, Spirit-dependent rigorous thinking” (123).
Pastor Piper concludes Think with a plea to both thinkers and non-thinkers. First, to the non-thinkers: 1) be thankful for those who think, 2) respect those who serve the Church with their minds, 3) pray for those who think so they do not become vulnerable to false ideas and go astray, 4) avoid wrongheaded thinking, and finally 5) read your bible with joy (179-181). Second, to the thinkers: 1) think purposefully for the glory of Jesus Christ, 2) be wise, but be humble like children, 3) enjoy the Word of God like gold and honey, and 4) think for the sake of love towards God and others (181-184).
Finally, several times throughout the book Piper stresses the point that unless we take initiative and seek God’s knowledge, we will not find it. We need to be intentional in how we use our mind, and it’s in the very activity of thinking that God meets us and grants understanding. We seek God through His Word and He enlightens our hearts and minds. A Christian should never think that passivity towards God is the way to intellectual understanding: “We think, and the Lord gives understanding. We seek it like silver; the Lord gives it. Not either-or. Both-and. Our thinking does not replace God’s grace. It is the gift of grace and the pathway to more and more” (184).
John Piper writes about the life of the mind with a gritty passion that is infectious. The call to love God with rigorous thinking is spot on and deeply needed if Christians are going to faithfully communicate the gospel and answer objections to the Christian faith in the 21st century. In so far as Pastor Piper inspires Christians of all backgrounds to use whatever intellectual horsepower God has given us to achieve such objectives, we should be thankful for such a book.
Criticisms of the book are relatively minor (as it relates to the theme of thinking and using our minds for God). Anyone familiar with John Piper’s writings will realize he is a staunch Calvinist and this theological bias shows throughout the book. (For example, Piper defines justification in narrow, Reformational terms: “The only kind of faith that matters in the end is saving faith—the faith that unites us to Christ so that his righteousness is counted as ours in justification” (68).) Also, Piper has a low view of ecclesiology which is illustrated when he says “the bible is our only reliable access to knowing Jesus truly” (80). Those of the Ancient Faith (i.e. Orthodox and Roman Catholics) would see this as a truncated understanding since access and knowledge of Jesus Christ comes not only through scripture, but also through our participation in the Church. It is the Church (and its sacraments) that connects us to the reality of the Holy Trinity. These minor criticisms, however, should not dampen one’s enthusiasm to read, think about, and internalize the message of Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God. Highly recommended.