John Piper’s excellent book Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God lays out the biblical justification for thinking deeply, not by taking a handful of verses out of context but by surveying all of scripture. Piper answers common arguments of anti-intellectualism and refutes them soundly (but kindly) with Scripture. Beyond a justification for the life of the mind, Piper also writes about the goals of thinking for the Christian and how we ought to use learning for God’s glory and in service of others.
He also addresses the temptation of relativism and gives good answers to those arguments as well. I found Piper’s diagnoses of the ways relativism has crept into our culture illuminating, particularly his discussion about the ways relativism impacts our use of language. When your perspective is geared toward relativism, Piper says, “This gives rise to every sort of spin. The goal of language is no longer the communication of reality but the manipulation of reality. It no longer functions in the glorious capacity of affirming the embrace of truth, but now it functions in the devious capacity of concealing defection from the truth.” This gave me pause, because I had not tied our modern preoccupation with spin to relativism, but it makes sense. Since my husband’s job is in media and communications, I forwarded this to him and we had an interesting conversation about how a Christian should operate in that environment.
Another interesting point in the section on relativism is that our culture believes that relativism is freedom – that you’re free to believe your truth and I’m free to believe mine and we all believe there is not really any universal truth – but really relativism is a form of slavery. Relativism “cultivates a view of truth that makes it unreachable or non-existent” so really under relativism you are not free to believe your truth, you are forbidden to believe it.
In answering the anti-intellectual faction in the church, Piper argues that thinking is central to reading, and “if we were to succeed in raising a generation of people who give up serious, faithful, coherent thinking, we will have raised a generation incapable of reading the Bible….if we abandon thinking, we abandon the Bible, and if we abandon the Bible we abandon God.” The problem, Piper says, is that the anti-intellectuals reject barren intellectualism without properly understanding the alternative. “The remedy for barren intellectualism,” Piper says, “is not anti-intellectualism, but humble, faithful, prayerful, Spirit-dependent, rigorous thinking.”
Scholarship for the Love of God and Man
Piper devotes significant space to contrasting prideful knowledge with godly knowledge. Christians should engage in good thinking across disciplines because Christ is Lord of all, and they should use their intellect for the glory of God and in service of others, not merely to build their own pride and get accolades. “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.”
I got a lot out of this book and would highly recommend it.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.