A good friend of mine made a very important statement a number of years ago: “We need to learn to worship God with the mind.” Unfortunately, his statement was met with harsh criticism. The complaint reflected an all too common anti-intellectual approach that has gripped the church for decades. R.C. Sproul has rightly stated, “We live in what may be the most anti-intellectual period in the history of Western civilization.”
Dr. John Piper’s newest book, Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God is a timely response to the rampant anti-intellectualism that lurks in the evangelical mind and has found lodging in many churches. His chief aim: “To encourage serious, faithful, humble thinking that leads to the true knowledge of God, which leads to loving him, which overflows in loving others.” Ultimately, Piper argues 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.”
Piper carefully forges a path between anti-intellectualism and over-intellectualism. Both are problematic. The path that the author encourages is bolstered by two key passages:
Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything (2 Tim. 2:7, ESV).
My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you,
making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding;
yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding,
if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures,
then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.
For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding (Prov. 2:1-6).
The author constructs a foundation for his argument that is anchored in the Trinitarian nature of God. He appeals to Jonathan Edwards’ insight into God’s “intra-Trinitarian” glory. Edwards writes, “God is glorified not only by His glory being seen, but by its being rejoiced in.” So image-bearers must glorify God with both mind and heart. Piper repeatedly reminds readers that this is not an either-or proposition. It is a “both-and plea” for “the mind is mainly the servant of the heart. That is, the mind serves to know the truth that fuels the fires of the heart.”
Piper challenges Christ-followers to see the correlation between reading and thinking. “Thinking” is described as “working hard with our minds to figure out meaning from texts.” He challenges readers to fire questions at a given passage.
The author shows how people come to faith via thinking. It is a tricky but biblical sell because the unregenerate heart is stony and hard. The unconverted heart is depraved and darkened. And Piper reminds readers that “the corruption of our hearts is the deepest root of our irrationality.”
Nevertheless, 2 Timothy 2:7 instructs us to “think.” So Piper beautifully demonstrates the important role of reason and the necessity of God’s role in “making the mind able to see and embrace truth.” Again, this is not an either-or proposition. We think – The Holy Spirit illuminates.
Chapter five continues to outline the tension by explaining the rational Gospel and spiritual light. Piper utilizes 2 Cor. 4:4-6 to drive home the biblical idea that we come to faith through thinking, yet the “decisive ground of saving faith is God’s gift of sight to the eyes of the heart.”
Jesus calls us to love him with our mind. Piper explains that “our thinking should be wholly engaged to do all it can to awaken and express the heartfelt fullness of treasuring God above all things.”
Chapters seven and eight prove to be the most helpful chapters in the book. Here Piper deals a deadly blow to the ever-popular philosophy of relativism. He carefully defines relativism and describes the motive behind the worldview: “People don’t embrace relativism because it is philosophically satisfying. They embrace it because it is physically and emotionally gratifying. It provides the cover they need at key moments in their lives to do what they want without intrusion from absolutes.”
The assault on relativism continues as Piper lays bare the fundamental flaws:
- Relativism commits treason
- Relativism cultivates duplicity
- Relativism often conceals doctrinal defection
- Relativism cloaks greed with flattery
- Relativism cloaks pride with the guise of humility
- Relativism enslaves people
- Relativism eventually leads to totalitarianism
The emperor’s filthy garment is systematically removed, leaving his relativistic worldview exposed and defeated.
The author encourages readers to face the uphill challenge of anti-intellectualism by thinking God’s thoughts after him and pursue knowledge as a treasure – all with the ultimate goal of loving God and loving people. This is a work that demands serious thought but the payoff is well worth it.
Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God is thoughtful, biblical and balanced. It is an invitation to a lifelong pursuit. It is a breath of fresh air. It cuts through the postmodern fog of uncertainty and leads the reader to a new and refreshing vista; a vista that promises fullness of joy and pleasures at God’s right hand (Ps. 16:11).