Author: John Piper
Publisher: Crossway, 2010; 222 pp. $19.99
There is no Christian mind.…As a thinking being, the modern Christian has succumbed to secularization. He accepts religion — its morality, its worship; but he rejects the religious view of life, the view which sets all earthly issues within the context of the eternal. [Harry Blamires; quoted in Blinded by Might]
It is the purpose of John Piper’s newest volume to address the Christian mind. His purpose is not just to create a biblical worldview or biblical framework for thinking, but to address how believers think and why they should think.
His subtitle is a clear reflection of his purpose: “the life of the mind and the love of God.” What is the relationship of the mind and thinking to love for God? Is it possible to think carefully and rigorously and speak and write articulately about God and the Scriptures and still have a deep and passionate view of and love for God?
In recent decades there has been a significant view that might be articulated as: “I don’t worry about theology, I just love Jesus.” The idea behind such as statement is that there is an ability to have a love of someone (Christ) without knowing that individual. Imagine a scenario where your teenage daughter comes home with an announcement:
“I’m in love…”
“Who is he?”
“A guy I met at school today.”
“What do you know about him? Where is he from? What is his family like? What are his desires and passions? What does he want to do with his life?”
“I don’t know — I just know I love him…”
Hopefully that might precipitate a conversation that defines love and distinguishes it from lust and infatuation, because under those conditions, it is impossible for her to love that young man. Similarly, it is impossible for a believer to love Christ without a knowledge (i.e., theology) of Christ.
Thinking is indispensable on the path to passion for God. Thinking is not an end in itself.…Thinking is not the goal of life.…But 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 indispensable in a life of fullest praise to God. [p. 27]
So Piper calls believers to think — and to think deeply — of Christ and His Word. He does that by reminding his readers that much of thinking is encompassed in reading:
…thinking [is] working hard with our minds to figure out 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. On and one the mind goes, until we build a coherent view of the world so that we can live a life that is rooted in a true understanding of God’s Word and its application to the world. [p. 45]
From there, he makes the connection between thinking and faith. There is no ability to come to faith in Christ or grow in faith in Christ apart from a thinking mind, and then makes the connection between that thinking and faith with a robust love for Christ. To accomplish this, Piper provides a fine expositional overview of Matthew 22:36-39:
Loving God is most essentially treasuring God — valuing him, cherishing him, admiring him, desiring him. And loving him with all our minds means that our thinking is wholly engaged to do all it can to awaken and express this heartfelt fullness of treasuring God above all things. [p. 88]
The fires of love for God need fuel. And the fires of love for God drive the engines of thought and deed. There is a circle. Thinking feeds the fire, and the fire fuels more thinking and doing. I love God because I know him. And I want to know him more because I love him. [p. 89]
There are obstacles to this kind of thinking, of course, and Piper addresses those well and at some length. He offers two chapters on relativism that are some of the most articulate and concise considerations of that topic that I have read. He demonstrates not only that relativism is wrong (no one is a relativist when he believes the bank owes him more money — all so-called relativists are really “selective realists”), but that relativism is also immoral.
Relativism is a revolt against the objective reality of God. [p. 105]
The formula is simple: when relativism holds sway long enough, everyone begins to do what is right in his own eyes without any regard for submission to truth. In this atmosphere, a society begins to break down. Virtually every structure in a free society depends on a measure of integrity — that is, submission to the truth. [p. 114]
Along with the obstacle of relativism is also the obstacle of anti-intellectualism (and pragmatism). To this topic Piper allocates three chapters, demonstrating the historical roots of anti-intellectualism, the fallacy of that “thinking,” and the biblical alternative (offering arguments from 1 Cor. 1 and 1 Cor. 8):
The problem with those who debunk the gift of thinking as a way of knowing God is that they do not spell out clearly what the alternative is. The reason is that there isn’t one. If we abandon thinking, we abandon the Bible, and if we abandon the Bible we abandon God. [p. 123]
The lesson from 1 Corinthians 8:1-3 and Romans 10:1-4 is that thinking is dangerous and indispensable. Without a profound work of grace in the heart, knowledge — the fruit of thinking — puffs up. But with that grace, thinking opens the door of humble knowledge. And that knowledge is the fuel of the fire of love for God and man. If we turn away from serious thinking in our pursuit of God, that fire will eventually go out. [p. 165]
His final plea is a call to think so as to love God and man:
All branches of learning exist ultimately for the purposes of knowing God, loving God, and loving man through Jesus. And since loving man means ultimately helping him see and savor God in Christ forever, 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]
The strength of this book is two-fold: it is (appropriately enough!) a well-thought out treatment of the topic of the mind. Piper has addressed this topic in numerous venues over the years (for instance, at his recent National Conference, as well as various messages, including “The Supremacy of God in the Life of the Mind,” which I first heard many years ago), but this is the culmination of 40 years of his thinking and loving Christ, and it is done very well. Additionally, Piper has insights into the biblical texts that resonate with clarity and precision. As is often the case when I have finished reading or hearing his explanation and application of a text, I wondered several times while reading this book, “How could I have missed this before?”
This might not be Piper’s magnum opus (that would likely still be reserved for Desiring God), but it is still a particularly fine and helpful work. Read it and think about it again and again.
Read this book to be stimulated to think more deeply about and love Christ.