R. C. Sproul once lamented that, “we live in what may be the most anti-intellectual period in the history of Western civilization.” Strong words, to be sure. But there’s something to them, isn’t there?
Consider, for a moment, how we determine our agreement with ideas and experiences. More often than not, it’s based on what we feel. If it feels good, we do it; and if it feels good, it must obviously be good for us, right?
This comes into play in how we develop (or don’t as the case may be) our doctrine as well; we chafe at the hard truths of the Christian faith—the exclusivity of Christ, the atonement, the authority of Scripture, and countless others—because they don’t feel good. So we don’t wrestle. We don’t engage. We don’t search the Scriptures.
We don’t think deeply.
And because we don’t think deeply, we rob ourselves of a deeper love for God.
In his latest book, Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God, John Piper seeks to help readers understand how the heart and mind glorify God together and that “thinking is indispensible on the path to passion for God” (p. 27).
Taking its inspiration from Proverbs 2:3-5 and 2 Timothy 2:7, Think has a very sermonic feel to it. It’s less an academic work than a practical and pastoral admonishment. As Piper examines the necessity of thinking to the Christian life, he makes it clear that thinking is not the end goal, love for God is.
“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 indispensible in a life of fullest praise to God,” he writes (p. 27).
Piper’s writing in this book has a certain comfortableness about it that allows him to communicate some fairly complex subject matter in great ease. He writes simply, without being simplistic. This is especially apparent as he deals with the issue of relativism. About this, he writes:
When objective truth vanishes in the fog of relativism, the role of language changes dramatically. It’s no longer a humble servant for carrying precious truth. Now it throws off the yoke of servanthood and takes on a power of its own. It doesn’t submit to objective, external reality; it creates its own reality. It no longer serves to display truth. Now it seeks to obtain the preferences of the speaker. . . . The goal of language is no longer the communication of reality, but the manipulation of reality . . . function[ing] in the devious capacity of concealing defection from the truth. (p. 109)
Particularly insightful was Piper’s examination of the two texts that some consider the pillars of anti-intellectualism. In Luke 10:21, Jesus thanks the Father that He has hidden His truth from the wise and revealed it to little children and in 1 Cor. 1:20-24, Paul writes that God has confounded the wisdom of the world in the Cross.
So do these texts encourage an anti-intellectual attitude? Not at all, says Piper. What they point to is the issue of pride. There are those who pursue wisdom arrogantly—to know for the sake of knowing. There are those who pursue a lack of knowledge with equal arrogance. “The warnings that Jesus and Paul have sounded . . . are not warnings against careful, faithful, rigorous, coherent, thinking in the pursuit of God,” he writes (p. 154). Instead, they are warnings against pride. “Pride is no respecter of persons—the serious thinkers may be humble. And the careless mystics may be arrogant” (ibid).
This insight is extraordinarily helpful, especially as one who errs on the side of pride in human intellect. The proper response for one such as me is not to give up intellectual pursuit, but instead pursue right thinking—thinking that is marked by a love for God and love for people.
All branches of learning exist ultimately for the purposes of knowing God, loving God and loving man through Jesus . . . 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. (p. 175)
This is what a biblical attitude toward intellectual pursuit looks like. Piper’s vision is captivating in its scope and application. Thinking and feeling aren’t opposed. Knowledge isn’t the enemy of experience. It’s not either-or. It’s both-and.
Read Think and be encouraged to love God with all your mind, and letting that fuel your passion for God in all your life.
Title: Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God
Author: John Piper
Publisher: Crossway (2010)