Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God by John Piper

Reposting my earlier review because the Kindle Edition is on sale for $0.99.
Think by John PiperSummary: An encouragement to the church from the heart of a pastor to properly value the role of thinking in our Christian faith.

“This book is a plea to embrace serious thinking as a means of loving God and people. It 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 labor and the ministry of love”

As I continue on my attempt to buy no more than one book a month for at least the first six months of this year, I am going back to a lot of old free books of the month that I picked up when they were free, but did not listen to at the time.

In the case of Think by John Piper, I am pretty sure that I picked up the audiobook because I respect John Piper.  And I chose not to listen to it, because I get frustrated every time I read John Piper.  I respect Piper because his heart for ministry, and because of his desire to encourage and edify the church. I get frustrated with Piper because it seems he has little imagination to see how anyone can believe something other than what he believes.

This books proved my previous experience yet again.  Piper is writing this book to encourage the church to think more deeply, so that we can love the Lord better and more thoroughly and also love others.  In many ways a book about why the reader should think more is like Tony Reinke’s book about why you should read more.  Anyone that is going to pick it up, probably already agrees with the premise.

But Piper is writing with a particular focus on what scripture has to say about thinking.  This is not a re-hash of Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind or any of the variety of other sociological or historical books about why the Evangelical church tends to be at least somewhat anti-intellectual in it approach.  And it is different.  I have read some of the other books about why we are in this place.  Piper is writing about why it is a mis-reading of scripture that we are in this place.

As such I think the sections on why we should be thinking are quite helpful, although I do not theologically agree with everything.  And unsurprisingly it is the sections on how to think rightly that I am frustrated.  As with many other books that Piper and other conservative Evangelicals write, the enemy is ‘relativism.’  If relativism existed broadly, as they write about it, it would be a problem.  The problem is that relativism as they write about it doesn’t seem to exist, or at least not in large numbers.  And correspondingly, the prescription for fighting against relativism includes fighting against things that if relativism was presented accurately would not be included.

Everyone pretty much agrees that questions about relativism do not exist around questions of math.  2 + 2 = 4, no matter what you feel like, or who you are, or if you are going faster than the speed of light.  But too often, it seems in the fight over absolute truth, the arguments are based around this type of a strawman.

Piper actually starts in a fairly good place.  He agrees that only God possesses absolute truth and fully understands all truth.  If he stopped there it would be great. But he goes on to dismiss differences in truth as being something that we should all be able to agree on, if we just see more deeply as God sees.  It is when discussions like this come up that I want to ask, so is Giordanos or Gino’s pizza better.  And if we can’t get to that truth, we just need to ask God and we should be able to get to the root of that particular truth.  The problem is that some things really are a matter of preference.  Not all things certainly, but many are.

Even in matters of sin, it is clear that some things are sin for one person but not for another.  Drinking alcohol for instance, is not inherently a sin for all people.  But to say it is not ever a sin, is problematic.  If you think it is a sin to drink alcohol, then it is a sin for you because the act of drinking is a rejection of what you believe to be God’s direction.  Another historical example is slavery.  Douglas Wilson and some others in their attempt to fight against relativism and to preserve their view of inerrancy believe that slavery is not inherently wrong or sinful.  I do not believe that Piper would agree with Wilson, but it shows some of the problem of Piper’s views about relativism.

Piper presents the world as if truth were easy, or at least possible, to discern for all things.  If all things, even all theological things, were as easy to discern as it seems from his discussions of relativism, then we would not have such deep and real theological differences.  That is unless the real reason for the differences is sin.  Piper does not expressly say that differences are the result of sin. But I don’t know how else to understand differences based on his presentation other than sin.

Piper points to the passage about the Pharisees questioning by who’s authority Jesus was speaking as an example of relativism and a clear teaching by Jesus of the sin of relativism.  But Pharisees were not relativists, even mild ‘de facto’ relativists as Piper suggests.  The believed in absolute truth and their offense was that Jesus was not citing where he was getting his truth, not that they were offended by Jesus proclaiming truth.  So the problem with the Pharisees according to Piper was that they were sinning in not acknowledging Jesus as God and his authority as coming from God.  Of course that is true as far as it goes.  But that does not seem to go as far as the passage intends.

I think that sin is a real problem with how and what we think.  And Piper presents the problems of sinning as we think well.  We sin when we do not acknowledge God as the founder of truth.  We sin when we are not humble in our knowledge or when we use knowledge to tear down instead building up, etc., etc.  These are all worth working through, but as presented, it is a bit repetitive.

Piper is good about concluding with the bottom line.  The end section with practical advice for those that do not like to think and those that do like to think is good.  The summary focus on all truth is God’s truth is good.  The reminder that we can sin just as much by relying on our intellect as ignoring our intellect is good.  But honestly, I am still not sure who I would recommend the book to.

Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God by John Piper Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audiobook, Free PDF from Desiring God Ministries most of John Piper’s books are available for free as PDF documents from Desiring God Ministries.

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