I just finished reading Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God, by John Piper. Actually, I read it twice since it’s small and the topic really grabs me.
I was drawn to this book because of my personal journey to discover what the Bible says about the Christian’s responsibility to study and understand our culture. I have always believed that a Christian is responsible to understand some things about the world around him so that he can compare it to the principles of God’s Word and then know how to live. It seems that a growing number of conservative Christian leaders are challenging this premise, so my personal mission is to thoroughly study this matter.
Overall impression of the book: Overall I was pleased with the book. It challenged my thinking in a few areas and helped me to develop my thinking in some areas. I didn’t agree with everything, but by and large I found it helpful. The sections defining relativism and explaining why many Christians have become “practical relativists” is particularly useful.
Recommendation of the book: I would recommend this book to anyone interested in serious study of the process of thinking as it relates to applying the Bible. It would be good for many lay people to read this book. Pastors and students should read it.
Overview o f the book:
Piper begins by stating that, “This book is a plea to embrace serious thinking as a means of loving God and people” (p.15).
I like this quote:
“I would like to encourage you to think, but not to be too impressed with yourself when you do.” (p.17)
And this summarizes his purpose:
“I will suggest 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)
In chapters 1-2 Piper describes his personal journey of learning to value thinking. He attributes a great deal of his philosophy of thinking to Jonathan Edwards.
Two scripture passages provide the main point of the book. The first is 2 Timothy 2:7 where Paul says to Timothy, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” The second is Proverbs 2:1-6 “If you… raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver… then you will… find the knowledge of God.(p.31)
He then argues for a “both-and” approach to thinking. By this he means that the Christian must both use his mind to think, and rely on the teaching and leading of the Holy Spirit. (p.31)
The meat of the book begins in chapter three. Here Piper defines what he means by thinking and tells us that what he really means is reading.
“Mainly I am referring to the activity of the mind in reading and understanding what others have written, especially the Bible….But my main concern is how thinking relates to our pursuit of knowing and loving God.” (p.41)
What follows is basically a study of proper exegesis. He says,
“That is mainly what I have in mind by thinking—working hard with our minds to figure out the meaning from texts. Then, of course, we go on from there to think how that meaning relates to other meanings from other texts and from experiences in life.” (p.45)
I’ll summarize part of Pipers argument from page 47 where he basically says that learning to understand and apply the Bible is hard work and takes practice. The heading for this section is “The Benefits of Deferred Gratification”. He says that over time and with much practice, the process of thinking — understanding and applying scripture–becomes natural to us.
“There comes a point when we choose to be intentional about our thinking, so that we grow in what we see and understand. If we don’t choose to think harder, we will settle for an adolescent level of understanding the rest of our lives.” (p. 48)
Chapter 4 is titled Mental Adultery is No Escape
This is an excellent and helpful chapter. He argues that the Bible is logical and that Jesus expects us to use our minds to make logical conclusions regarding the world around us and the text of the Bible. He draws on Matthew 16:1-4 where Jesus addresses the Pharisees with logic regarding the red sky meaning stormy weather. Piper demonstrates that Jesus intended to show that the Pharisees did have the ability to make rational conclusions but refused to do so in the spiritual realm.
“This is why the Pharisees are asking for a sign. They want to give the impression that there is not enough evidence that Jesus is the Messiah and so they are justified in not receiving him as their bridegroom. But, in fact the problem is that they don’t want him as their bridegroom. They are dominated by a spirit of adultery.” (p. 62).
To this statement I say, amen. Could it be that many leaders in Christianity today could see the spiritual facts regarding sinful practices in the world around us, but that they choose to pretend that it is impossible to know?
A little later Piper says,
“…your mind functions just fine when seeking out partners in adultery (like comfort and safety on the sea as more precious than Christ), but it cannot see the signs of Christ-exalting truth.” (p. 63)
In chapter 5 Piper deals with the use of the mind in coming to Christ for salvation. He argues that a work of the Spirit is needed along with the use of the mind to receive the truth. It is a fairly deep chapter but worth reading slowly.
In chapter 6 Piper gives his explanation of what it means to love God with your entire mind. He discusses the interaction between the mind, heart, soul, and body. I think his point is that the more you use your mind to understand God, His Word, and His world, the more you will be able to love Him, or treasure Him as Piper likes to say.
Chapter 7, Jesus Meets the Relativists is a meaty chapter.
Piper says we are dealing with relativism if a person says one of these four things:
- There is no objective, external standard for measuring the truth of falsehood of a statement.
- There may be an external standard, but we can’t know if there is.
- There is an objective standard; we know it is there, but no one can figure out what it means, so it can’t function as a universally valid standard.
- There may be an external, objective standard, but I don’t care what it is. I’m not going to submit to it. I’m not going to base my convictions on it. I will create my own standards. (p.98)
“This is the essence of relativism: no one standard of true and false, right and wrong, good and bad, or beautiful and ugly, can preempt any other standard. No standard is valid for everyone.”(p.98)
Piper seems to suggest that we don’t have too many full blown relativists in Christianity, but, “practical relativists – not self-conscious, full-blown relativists, just de facto relativists, which are the most common kind…” (p. 99)
Piper demonstrates this “practical relativist” through Jesus’ dealing with the Jews in the temple in Matthew 21:23-37. They asked Jesus about his authority and Jesus turned the question on them and asked them where they thought He got his authority from. They were in a bind so they basically lied and said, “we don’t know”. They lied to preserve their good lives. Regarding this, Piper states,
“Jesus abominates that kind of arrogant cowardly prostituting of the glorious gifts of human thinking and human language.” (101)
He goes on,
“…one seed of relativism is the deep, sinful human desire not to be ruled by God or by any standard claiming the authority of God.” (p. 101,102) Piper then explains that one way this relativistic rebellion is expressed is by saying, “Gods’ standards don’t exist” or “God’s standards can’t be know”. (p.102)
This sounds an awful lot like what I’ve been hearing Christian leaders say about various topics related to our culture.
“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.” (102)
He argues that the
“whole system of relativism is a morally corrupting impulse” and states “there is a profound sense in which being irrational is immoral (p.108), and quotes Edward John Carnell’s discussion of Aristotle, “Aristotle had to bow to the truth that only men of character can apprehend rational ultimates…Aristotle, like Kant, illuminates the fact that the rational life cannot get on with it unless the moral life is firm.” (p. 108)
This is a profound truth. The reason we can’t reason with many in the secular world regarding topics like evolution, abortion, sexual morality, or the existence of moral absolutes is because they don’t have the moral character to enter the discussion. What I fear is that some conservative Christians are becoming so immersed in our culture that they cannot enter the conversation either.
Beginning in chapter nine Piper deals with anti-intellectualism. Though some fundamentalist may be given this label, most of what he said could more easily be applied to other groups. The fundamentalists I know may not be top level scholars, but they do not embrace the anti-intellectual philosophy that Piper spends two chapters refuting.
In the later chapters Piper makes the case for using thinking to know, love, and treasure God in all areas of life. Christians who are scientists, doctors, engineers, etc, should unashamedly declare the creative glory of God in their work. Through their discovery of God’s creation, they and others can better know and treasure God.
“Therefore, the task of all Christian scholarship—not just biblical studies—is to study reality as a manifestation of God’s glory, to speak and write about it with accuracy, and to savor the beauty of God in it, and to make it serve the good of man.” (p.168)