Shortly before the holidays I had the opportunity to read John Piper’s latest title, Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God. I have yet to read any of Piper’s books that haven’t affected me deeply, and Think was no exception, though it’s quite different in subject matter than any of his others that I’ve read. Despite being a fairly short, quick read, I found it just as meaty and profound as any of them. It clearly and logically lays out a case for the place of the intellect in faith. Dr. Piper insists that it’s crucial to realize that thinking is essential on the path to understanding, yet understanding is a gift of God.
This book is a plea to embrace serious thinking as a means of loving God and people. 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. It is a plea to see thinking as a necessary, God-ordained means of knowing God. Thinking is one of the important ways that we put the fuel of knowledge on the fires of worship and service to the world. (p. 15)
It’s not about going to school or getting degrees or having prestige. It’s not about the superiority of intellectuals. it’s about using the means God has given us to know him, love him, and serve people. Thinking is one of those means. I would like to encourage you to think, but not to be too impressed with yourself when you do. (p. 17)
Dr. Piper wrote this book to counter the prevalence of anti-intellectualism seen in evangelicalism today. He also addresses the issue of relativism. Using biblical exposition of such passages as Proverbs 2 and 2 Timothy 2, he argues quite effectively that neither is the correct approach.
In the first two chapters, he briefly shares his own journey and the influence Jonathan Edwards had on him. Next, he clarifies exactly what he means by “thinking”, defined here as mainly “the activity of the mind in reading and understanding what others have written, especially the Bible,” and briefly outlines principles for reading carefully and thoughtfully.
After outlining what he means by thinking, Dr. Piper shows us how thinking functions in the process of coming to faith in Jesus. How is the mind involved in becoming a Christian in the first place? Must we suspend our reason in order to put our faith in Christ? How does the work of the Holy Spirit fit in?
Using 2 Timothy 2:7, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything,” he contends that people go to one extreme or the other. Either they emphasize the role of reason and thinking (the first part of the verse) while minimizing the supernatural role of God (the second part of the verse), or they stress God’s illumining work to the exclusion of reason. However, says Piper:
Paul will not be divided that way. And I am writing this book to plead that we follow Paul in this-that we not swerve either to the right or to the left, but embrace both human thinking and divine illumination. For Paul it was not either-or, but both-and. (p. 64)
In Chapter 6, he gives his understanding of what is meant by “loving God” in the Great Commandment (see Matthew 22:36-39):
What does it mean to love God with all your mind? I take it to mean that we direct our thinking in a certain way; namely, our thinking should be wholly engaged to do all it can to awaken and express the heartfelt fullness of treasuring God above all things. (p. 83)
Having set the stage, Dr. Piper now tackles the issues of relativism and anti-intellectualism. After dismantling the “logic” of relativism, he masterfully refutes an anti-intellectual mindset with his clear exposition of the two verses that are most often referred to when defending it: Luke 10:21 and 1 Corinthians 1:20. For anyone who’s familiar with Piper’s preaching and/or writing, you’ll know that he excels at biblical exposition of this sort. In a nutshell, he concludes that the biblical call is for humility, not anti-intellectualism.
The book wraps up with a call to “find a humble way of knowing”.
All branches of learning exist ultimately for the purposes of knowing God, loving God, and loving man through Jesus. And since loving man means ultimately helping him see and savor God in Christ forever, it is profoundly right to say all thinking, all learning, all education, and all research is for the sake of knowing God, loving God, and showing God. “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36)
The book trailer is worth watching:
Both for myself and for my children, learning to think, to use our intellect and reason, to glorify God in every area of life is one of my main goals. I truly appreciate a book like this that lays out a clear biblical rationale for this. God created our minds to be used…for His glory! Dr. Piper emphasizes the crucial role our intellect plays without downplaying the supernatural nature of faith. All in all, an excellent book, and one I’m sure I’ll be referring back to many times! Think is a small book that packs a big punch.
Thanks so much to Angie Cheatham at Crossway for providing a copy to me for review purposes!