Book Review: THINK: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God by John Piper

20131118-130735.jpg
In the introduction to John Piper’s Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God, Piper writes that his book is a plea not to be “either/or” regarding thinking and feeling, that we need them both. And he asserts: “thinking is one of the ways we put the fuel of knowledge … on the fires of worship.” The former is surely an appropriate admonition, and the latter is one of the salient points made in his book. Thinking is NOT intended to be fuel to “puff us up” (which in reality it too often does!) but fuel for us to appreciate God more specifically for Who He is and what He has done. I believe that although Piper was inconsistent (and sometimes frustrating to this reader) in places, that he achieved his main goal for the book, which was to encourage people to better love God through the discipline of thinking.

What Piper did best in Think was to encourage us to love God by thinking deeply about Him. Chapter 6, “Treasuring God With All Your Mind”, was one of the highlights of the book. In it Piper had a wonderful exposition of Matthew 22:37 on the meaning of the Great Commandment: Loving God with our “mind” means thinking. “All” our mind means that our minds are to be fully engaged. “Love” means “treasuring.” He references how Luke 10’s edition of the Great Commandment reads, in Greek, “ex” (or “out of”) your heart, and “en” (“in” or “through”) your soul, mind and might. So love is primarily “OUT OF” the heart, and expressed “through” the mind, soul & strength. This is helpful to us in understanding what the Great Commandment means, and how we can use our minds to fulfill it.

Why can’t we “just love God” without all this “thinking”? Piper asserts that what you KNOW about God causes you to love Him; the more you know, the more you love. So we need to exercise our minds to know more specific things about God so that we can love Him more: “with all our minds”!

There is also a good section here which expands on what he taught briefly earlier in the Introduction: “The fires of love for God need fuel. … 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.” He adds: “We cannot love God without knowing God. … So to love God with all your mind means engaging all your powers of thought to know God as fully as possible in order to treasure Him for all He is worth.”

While I have some disagreements with what we find in some of the other chapters, this section on the Great Commandment is worth the book. Thinking is important because as we learn more accurately about God, we appreciate and love Him more. We cannot fulfill The Great Commandment without thinking about God! Otherwise we have only subjective affection without knowledge, which is subject to radical change! Our love for God must be based on the objective truth we have learned and appreciate about Him.
To me, this chapter was Piper at his best.

However, there were other less glorious moments in Think. Chapter 7 begins a 2-chapter section (“Jesus Meets the Relativists”) in which Piper had some very good observations about relativism: “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.” Excellent insight!

But although Piper made some good points about relativism in this chapter, it was also one of the poorer sections in the book in that his “scriptural example” was totally off-base. Piper wrote of the Jewish priests and elders in Matthew 21: “They didn’t care about truth.” On the contrary, they did. They had a definite view of the truth; they did NOT believe that John was from God. They just didn’t want to admit what they believed the truth to be, before the crowd that day. That is far from relativism. To his credit, Piper even admitted that these men were not relativists, but that they had the “seeds of relativism.” However, it seemed that he really stretched the scripture to try fit his point in this chapter. It was not one of the best moments for one who purportedly esteems the word of God so highly.

There were several other examples of seemingly inconsistent thinking or logic in the book:

Chapter 5 was supposed to delineate the important role of thinking in salvation. However, the author gave a lot more convincing arguments in this chapter for the “decisive” enlightenment which must come from God, than for any necessity of exercising our minds, in order to receive salvation. He wrote: “grace is God’s free giving, and faith is our helpless receiving” — one of many Calvinist assertions sprinkled through the book. In another section of this chapter, entitled: “The Decisive Ground of Saving Faith is God’s Gift of Sight to the Eyes”, Piper writes: “the decisive change happens; God opens the eyes of our heart.” This just highlights that NO amount of thinking is going to bring a person to God; the role of thinking is very limited. There are certain facts one will believe when he is saved, but thinking itself is not going to get him there. It is not thinking which is decisive at all, in Piper’s view, but rather the unilateral and “decisive” action of God. One came away from the chapter questioning just how important a role thinking truly has regarding salvation — which is surely contrary to Piper’s intention.

In discussing I Corinthians 8 in Chapter 12, “The Knowledge That Loves”, Piper makes some logical “leaps” which did not do good service to the scriptural text. I Corinthians 8:1 reads: “Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.” Piper writes: “That implies that any knowledge that does not stand in the service of love is not real knowing.” That is NOT what that verse says. Paul doesn’t say it is “not real knowing”, but just that love is GREATER, which he makes abundantly clear in I Corinthians 13! He does a similar thing with :3, “But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.” Piper writes, “Paul virtually equates knowing as we ought to know with loving God.” But rather than “equating”, as Piper asserts, Paul is contrasting love and knowledge here. Piper referred to the logical fallacy of the “non sequitur” earlier in this chapter; it is ironic that he himself then proceeds to draw several conclusions which the facts and verses referenced do NOT specifically prove. There are other examples in the book of Piper seeming to try to imitate his hero, Jonathan Edwards, in his use of logic and thinking, but Piper fails to live up the standards of that great American pastor and philosopher.

Despite some of these logical leaps and stretches of scripture, there are numerous insights in Think which are valuable, including:
— Pointing out that in Acts, it tells us 10 times that it was Paul’s strategy to “reason” — highlighting the role of thinking in his ministry.
— That when He taught us to be like children, “Jesus did not mean that we are to think at the level of a 3rd grader”!
— He referenced I Cor. 14:20 “Do not be children in your thinking … but in your thinking be mature” as proof that being “childlike” was referring to humility and dependence, not in our level of intelligence and thought!
— At the end of Chapter 9 was one of the best moments in the book: a very useful illustration of the limits but usefulness of knowledge:

“A logical presentation of the gospel of Christ is like wire along which the electricity of spiritual power runs. Wires do not make lights go on; electricity does. But in the providence of God, electricity runs through wires. And in the design of God, the use of our minds in knowing, ordering, and presenting the truth of Christ is the normal way that the eyes of the blind are opened and belief in Jesus is awakened.”

One might assert that this is true not only for salvation, but in growth in knowledge and sanctification as well. God must give the power and insight, but we must use our minds in the process.

Something might be said, unfortunately, for some “attitudes” which seem to run through the book; attitudes of superiority regarding doctrine and intelligence. One might expect Piper, who is a leading proponent of Calvinism, to “plug” his beliefs, and that was certainly the case at several points. But it also unfortunately came across with an air of superiority which was also directed — surely inadvertently but just as surely present — towards those he labeled “non-thinkers.” In the concluding segment, “A Plea to Those Who Don’t Love To Think,” it was difficult not to see Piper as coming across in a very condescending fashion. To those poor non-thinkers: “you are a very normal part of the majority of human beings” — that is just absolutely condescending! Then under the heading: “Avoid Wrongheaded Thinking” — of course he uses a non-Calvinist example of “wrongheaded thinking”! These continual examples throughout the book connote that if a person is not a Calvinist, that they are not a “thinker” — inferring that if they were really intelligent, and had thought about these issues rightly, then of course they would all be Calvinists. The present author has read numerous books by Calvinists, and it is not because I have not read or thought deeply that I do not espouse Calvinism. I have considered the issue seriously — I just fail to come to the same conclusion! I must say that Piper might better convince his opponents if he actually practiced what he preached in the book about the humble attitude which must accompany godly learning!

Some of these drawbacks aside, the encouragement that Piper gives us in Think to “fuel the fires” of the worship of God through developing humble, scriptural thinking about Him made the book very much worth reading. There are many highlights and much which will lead to edification. Just make sure you don’t receive it all uncritically — be sure that you actually do THINK as you peruse it!

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, provides brief devotions from own personal daily Bible reading, as well as some of my sermons, book reviews, and family life experiences.
This entry was posted in Reviews and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Book Review: THINK: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God by John Piper

  1. Ben Coleman says:

    Just out of curiosity, when he’s discussing I Cor 8, what does he do with i Cor 8:2? You’ll probably recognize that as one of my own bugaboos. But it doesn’t sound like he’s listening to the actual text at that point. I Cor 8:1b I take as ‘Knowledge (by itself) puffs up, but Love takes that same knowledge and uses it constructively’. 8:3 I take as “if you’re going to focus on knowledge, focus on God’s knowledge of you, which means you focus on loving Him”. Better stop before I go off into a sermon of my own. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s