Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Thinking . . . . . about thinking

I've just finished reading John Piper's latest book: Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God (Leicester: IVP, 2010). As with all that Piper produces, this book pulsates with his characterstic passion for God and the same close and rigorous analysis and application of Scripture. Too often Christian's trot out the mantra that theology is just head knowledge and what's really needed is heart knowledge. Piper blows that kind of thinking out of the water:

This book . . . 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 labour and the ministry of love. It is a plea to see thinking as a necesary, God-ordained means of knowing God (p. 15).

The book is heartily recommended, of course, but would probably be of particular help to Christians embarking on university study, and especially, perhaps, to those engaged in advance study at postgraduate level.

There have been a number of books in recent years that have berated evangelicals for their anti-intellectualism and low view of the life of the mind. Mark Noll's, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (1994) and Os Guinness', Fit Bodies Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals don't think and what to do about it (1994) and Harry Blamires, The Post-Christian Mind (2001), each in their own way attempt to show, in Noll's now oft-quoted words, that the scandal of the evangelical mind is precisely that there is not much of an evangelical mind whatsoever. Piper's attempt to address this deficiency differs from the other books mentioned above in that its more obviously biblical and expositional in its approach.

After an interesting semi-autobiographical account and a paean of praise to Piper's hero, Jonathan Edwards, the book moves on to deal with a series of sub-themes. He firstly shows the place of thinking, the place of the mind, in conversion and faith - coming to faith through thinking - he calls it! He then looks at what it means to love God with all our minds, opening up Jesus' famous summary of the responsiblities of the law. Again Piper's definition is typical:

'our thinking should be wholly engaged to do all it can to awaken and express the heartfelt fullness of treasuring God above all things'.

There then follows two extensive discussions about two areas that prevent fully biblical thinking among evangelicals. The one being the challenge of the relativism that pervades the West in the twenty-first century, the other, a perennial pitfall for evangelicals - anti-intellectualism. Here he looks in detail at two biblical statements that seem on the surface to encourage an anti-intellectual attitude: 'I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children' (Luke 10: 17), and the Apostle Paul's assertion that gospel of Christ makes 'foolish the wisdom of the world' (1 Corinthians 1: 21). Both are explore in detail, and in Piper's hands shown to be to obstacle to serious intellectual effort.

Its a book full of insightful nuggets, reflections on Scripture, and illustrations from Church history. As with all Piper's books its well worth serious thought and prolonged meditation.

No comments: