One of my greatest frustrations has been the anti-intellectual culture within churches. It’s not just that some people have more of a tendency to be relational than thinkers. It’s that I have felt and experienced actual animosity towards “book learnin’”. I have felt numerous times that I have had to apologize for my propensity to read and learn. It has sometimes caused me to feel like more of a hindrance than an asset to a church.
For that reason I felt a great excitement in picking up John Piper’s book Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God . Piper is that rare blend of deep thinker and deep “feeler” (is that a word?). His brand of preaching is termed expository exultation, it’s aim is to think deeply to raise the affections greatly.
This book is Piper’s defense of that style. He firmly believes that in order to glorify God we must also love Him with our minds. To that end his argument throughout is 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. (19)”
Piper’s audience is not only the anti-intellectual. He is balanced in his rebukes. He freely admits that “over-intellectualism is a plague just like anti-intellectualism” (17). So his hope is to encourage thinking but also to promote humility in thinking.
The first couple of chapters are typical Piper. He tells his own journey and then he gives his props to Jonathan Edwards. In chapter 3 the book shifts gears a little an Piper attempts to clarify what he means by thinking. This may be one of the most beneficial chapters because Piper actually shows his readers how he goes about the God-honoring task of thinking. Chapters 4-6 serve as Piper’s defense of the necessity of thinking. Then he starts to tackle two great opponents to thinking: relativism (7-8) and anti-intellectualism (9-11). His final two chapters are a plea towards humility and thinking for the glory of God.
I honestly did not expect to be deeply convicted by this book. But I was. I was convicted about my lack of deep thinking when I read and study God’s Word. I don’t treasure the Word like I should. Piper’s love and belief in the sufficiency of God’s Word humbled and convicted me. I also realized that I need to think deeper and read a little less. I have a tendency to just check books off a list without really thinking too deeply about them. I think, but just not hard enough.
The most convicting chapter for me, though, was chapter 12. This statement in particular humbled me, “It’s as though God put surgical tools in our hands and taught us how to save the sick, but we turned them into a clever juggling act while the patients died” (160). Honestly, what was convicting about that is not so much that I tend to study, think, etc. to make myself look good or smart. But what I often do is study, think, etc. to help people. That sounds good. But I’m not wielding the tools correctly if my primary passion is something other causing people to feast on God and His glory.
This book was a great read and very helpful in reorienting my heart and mind in a God-ward direction. What else would you expect from a Piper book? There are a few things that I wish Piper would have done though. One is that I wish there would have been more practical tips for encouraging and sharpening our mind and less of a defense for the use of the mind. Hopefully there will be a second book that gets practical.
I also wonder how this book would be received by someone that is more “anti-intellectual”. Will it benefit them? Will they read it? This book really isn’t overly scholarly or anything like that. It is written on a popular level with a good amount of biblical defense. But still Piper is Piper and his method of thinking often puts off people that are not geared towards deeper thinking. But this book is truly written from a humble perspective and I think anyone (intellectual or less intellectual) will benefit from reading it.
The church needs this book because I am convinced that Piper is correct that glorifying God with our minds and hearts is not an either-or but a both-and. Because our mind often fuels our hearts perhaps the coldness of our worship is because many neglect the life of the mind. I hope Piper’s book plants seeds to change that, for the glory of God.
Rating 4.5 out of 5 stars