Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God

Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God


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

Piper demonstrates from Scripture that we don't need to choose between glorifying God with our heart and glorifying him with our mind. It's not heart or mind, but heart and mind.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781433523182
Publisher: Crossway
Publication date: 03/31/2011
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 633,885
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

John Piper (DTheol, University of Munich) is the founder and teacher of desiringGod.organd the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. He served for thirty-three years as the senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and is the author of more than fifty books, including Desiring God;Don’t Waste Your Life;This Momentary Marriage;A Peculiar Glory;andReading the Bible Supernaturally.

Mark A. Noll is Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author of several books, including The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.

Read an Excerpt


My Pilgrimage

All my life I have lived with the tension between thinking and feeling and doing.

The Move of '79

After twenty-two years of nonstop formal education and six years of college teaching, I left academia for the pastorate at age thirty-four. That was almost thirty years ago. I remember the night of October 14, 1979, when I wrote seven pages in my journal about the crisis in my soul concerning college teaching versus pastoral ministry. It was one of the most important days of my life — I can see that now.

It seemed to me then that these things — thinking and feeling and doing — would perhaps find a better balance in the church than in school. By "better" I mean a balance that would fit my gifts, and God's call, and people's needs, and the purposes of God for this world. I think I did the right thing. But I don't mean it would be right for everybody.

In fact, one of the purposes of this book is to celebrate the indispensable place of education in the cause of Christ. If every faculty member in the university or seminary did what I did, it would be tragic. I love what God did for me in academia for twenty-eight years, from ages six to thirty-four.

I am not among the number who looks back with dismay on what I was, or wasn't, taught. If I had it to do over again, I would take almost all the same classes with the same teachers and teach almost all the same classes. I didn't expect college and seminary and graduate school to teach me things that have to be learned on the job. If I have stumbled, it wasn't their fault.

The Painful Joy of Academia

Nor did I leave academia because it was spiritually stifling. On the contrary. All through college, and more so through seminary, and then even more in my six years of college teaching, my reading and thinking and writing made my heart burn with zeal for God. I have never been one of those who found the heart shrivel as God and his Word are known better. Putting more knowledge in my head about God and his ways was like throwing wood in the furnace of my worship. For me, seeing has meant savoring. And the clearer the seeing, the sweeter the savoring.

Not that there weren't tears. Some of my notions about God went up in the flames of biblical truth. It hurt. I would put my face in my hands some afternoons and weep with the pain of confusion. But, as the Native American proverb says, the soul would have no rainbow if the eye had no tears. Some joys are only possible on the other side of sorrow. It is true when the preacher says, "In much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow" (Eccles. 1:18). But it is worth it.

And I don't mean that the seeing which led to savoring was easy. The work involved in figuring out what the Bible means when it talks about God is often agonizingly difficult. I know something of Luther's agonizing statement, "I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted." I simply mean that when all is said and done, the work of thinking led me again and again to worship. Academia was life-giving for me.

Enflamed to Preach by Romans 9

I left in search of a new life of exultation over the truth. There is an irony in the fact that what led to my leaving was a sabbatical in which I wrote a book on Romans 9. The Justification of God is the most complicated, intellectually demanding book I have ever written. It deals with the most difficult theological issues and one of the hardest texts in the Bible. Yet, ironically, the research and writing of this book was what God used to enflame my heart for preaching and pastoral ministry. Writing this most difficult book about God's sovereignty was not dispiriting; it was incendiary. This was the God I wanted more than anything to proclaim — not just explain.

Yet it was the explaining that set fire to the proclaiming. I have not forgotten that. That is the main point of this book. I haven't forgotten because it is still true. "As I mused," says the psalmist, "the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue" (Ps. 39:3). Musing. Brooding. Pondering. Thinking. That has been for me the pathway to seeing and savoring and singing and speaking — and staying. Year after year, this has been my work — prayer-saturated, Spirit-dependent thinking about what God has revealed of himself to provide fuel for passion and preaching.

Thinking is indispensable on the path to passion for God. Thinking is not an end in itself. Nothing but God himself is finally an end in itself. Thinking is not the goal of life. Thinking, like non-thinking, can be the ground for boasting. Thinking, without prayer, without the Holy Spirit, without obedience, without love, will puff up and destroy (1 Cor. 8:1). 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.

The Tension

And yet the tension remains. Thinking and feeling and doing jostle each other in my life, jockeying for more room. There never seems to be a satisfactory proportion. Should I be doing more, thinking more, feeling more, expressing more feeling? No doubt this discomfort is owing partly to quirks in my personality, factors in my background, and the remaining corruption in my heart.

But this tension is also due to a history of over-intellectualism and anti-intellectualism in the church; and it is due partly to a complexity in the Bible itself. Too often, the church has been ambivalent about "the life of the mind." America, in particular, has a long history of evangelical suspicion of education and intellectual labor. The most notable narration of this story for evangelicals is Mark Noll's The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, whose first sentence is, "The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind."

The Lament of the Thinkers

Thirty years before Noll's indictment Harry Blamires wrote, "In contradistinction to the secular mind, no vital Christian mind plays fruitfully, as a coherent and recognizable influence, upon our social, political, or cultural life. ... There is no Christian mind." And since Noll, others have joined the lament. J. P. Moreland has a chapter called, "How We Lost the Christian Mind and Why We Must Recover It." And Os Guinness has written Fit Bodies Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don't Think and What to Do About It.

These friends are describing not just the world but the home I grew up in. As far as the world goes, R. C. Sproul has written that "we live in what may be the most anti-intellectual period in the history of Western civilization." As far as my fundamentalist upbringing goes, Noll says that for the kind of thinking that embraces society, the arts, the human person, and nature —"for that kind of thinking the habits of mind fundamentalism encouraged can only be called a disaster." It is not surprising perhaps then that I find myself pulled in different directions. For even Noll admits that there are amazing accomplishments for the good of the world brought about by the very impulses which, in part, undermined the deeper life of the mind.

Knowledge: Dangerous and Liberating

But whatever I inherited in the atmosphere of my world and my home, the more mature tension I experience between thinking and feeling and doing is due largely to the Bible itself. There are some sentences in God's Word that make knowledge sound dangerous and others that make it sound glorious. For example, on the one hand, it says, "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up" (1 Cor. 8:1 NET); and, on the other hand, it says, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32). Knowing is dangerous. Knowing is liberating. And that is not an isolated paradox.

So what I want to do in this book is take you with me into the Bible itself to see how God has ordered this act of thinking in relation to other crucial acts in life. How does it relate to our believing, and worshiping, and living in this world? Why are there so many warnings about "knowledge" (1 Tim. 6:20), and "the wisdom of this world" (1 Cor. 3:19), and "philosophy" (Col. 2:8), and the "debased mind" (Rom. 1:28), and "the wise and understanding" who can't see (Luke 10:21), and those whose understanding is darkened (Eph. 4:18)?

"Think Over What I Say"

In spite of all these warnings, the overwhelming message of the Bible is that knowing the truth is crucial. And thinking — eagerly and humbly using the mind God gave us, and using it well — is essential to knowing the truth.

Two passages of Scripture provide the main point of this book. The first is 2 Timothy 2:7, where Paul says to Timothy, "Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything." The command is that he think, consider, use his mind to try to understand what Paul means. And the reason Paul gives for this thinking is this: "For the Lord will give you understanding." Paul does not put these in tension: thinking on the one side and receiving the gift of understanding from God on the other side. They go together. Thinking is essential on the path to understanding. But understanding is a gift of God. That's the point of this book.

"Seek It like Silver"

The other passage is Proverbs 2:1–6. I'll boil it down to make it easier to see how similar it is to 2 Timothy 2:7. "If you ... raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver ... then you will ... find the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding." The point is that we should seek understanding as a miser seeks silver. We should use our minds with eagerness and skill. What is the reason given? The same one Paul gave: "For the LORD gives wisdom." They go together — our seeking understanding and God's giving it. Seeking it like silver is essential to finding. But finding is a gift of God. That is the point of this book.

A story about Benjamin Warfield may make the point clear. Warfield taught at Princeton Seminary for thirty-four years until his death in 1921. He reacted with dismay toward those who saw opposition between prayer for divine illumination and rigorous thinking about God's written Word. In 1911 he gave an address to students with this exhortation: "Sometimes we hear it said that ten minutes on your knees will give you a truer, deeper, more operative knowledge of God than ten hours over your books. 'What!' is the appropriate response, 'than ten hours over your books, on your knees?'" Both-and. Not either-or. That's the vision I am trying to encourage in this book.

Now, to Introduce a Friend and Lay a Foundation

In one sense the next chapter is an extension of this one because it tells the story of how one man made a huge impact on my experience of this both-and life. You could say it is a tribute to a friend I never knew personally. In fact, he's been dead over 250 years. He became for me an inspiration to be this kind of both-and person.

But in another sense, the next chapter is the basis for the rest of the book. What this friend provided for me was the deepest foundation for how thinking and feeling relate to each other. He did this through his vision of the Trinitarian nature of God. I hope you benefit from his vision as much as I have.


Deep Help from a Dead Friend

Few people have helped me with the interconnection of thinking and feeling more than the eighteenth-century New England pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards. I told my story of his influence in my life in the book God's Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards. Here I will pay another debt.

Edwards without a Successor

Edwards, as almost every historian says, was among the greatest thinkers that America has ever produced, if not the greatest. He embodied the both-and that this book is about. In fact, historian Mark Noll argues that no one since Edwards has embodied the union of mind and heart the way Edwards did.

Edwards's piety continued on in the revivalist tradition, his theology continued on in academic Calvinism, but there were no successors to his God-centered worldview or his profoundly theological philosophy. The disappearance of Edwards's perspective in American Christian history has been a tragedy. In other words, theology and piety found a union in Edwards that has disappeared or is very rare. I hope this book will encourage some to pursue that union.

Trinitarian Thinking and Feeling

One of the gifts Edwards gave to me, which I had not found anywhere else, was a foundation for human thinking and feeling in the Trinitarian nature of God. I don't mean that others haven't seen human nature rooted in God's nature. I simply mean that the way Edwards saw it was extraordinary. He showed me that human thinking and feeling do not exist arbitrarily; they exist because we are in the image of God, and God's "thinking" and "feeling" are more deeply part of his Trinitarian being than I had realized.

Prepare to be boggled. Here is Edwards's remarkable description of how the persons of the Trinity relate to each other. Notice that God the Son stands forth eternally as a work of God's thought. And God the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son as the act of their joy.

This I suppose to be the blessed Trinity that we read of in the Holy Scriptures. The Father is the deity subsisting in the prime, unoriginated and most absolute manner, or the deity in its direct existence. The Son is the deity generated by God's understanding, or having an idea of Himself and subsisting in that idea. The Holy Ghost is the deity subsisting in act, or the divine essence flowing out and breathed forth in God's infinite love to and delight in Himself. And I believe the whole Divine essence does truly and distinctly subsist both in the Divine idea and Divine love, and that each of them are properly distinct persons.

In other words, God the Father has had an eternal image and idea of himself that is so full it is another Person standing forth — distinct as the Father's idea, yet one in divine essence. And God the Father and the Son have had an eternal joy in each other's excellence that carries so fully what they are that another Person stands forth, the Holy Spirit — distinct as the Father and Son's delight in each other, yet one in divine essence. There never was a time when God did not experience himself this way. The three Persons of the Trinity are coeternal. They are equally divine.

Glorified by Being Known and Enjoyed

But the amazing reality for our purposes here is that God's existence as a Trinity of Persons is the foundation of human nature as head and heart, thinking and feeling, knowing and loving. We can see this even more remarkably when we watch Edwards draw out the connection between God's nature and how he designed us to glorify him. Notice how Edwards moves from God's intra-Trinitarian glory to the glory God aims to get in creation.

God is glorified within himself these two ways: (1) by appearing ... to himself in his own perfect idea [of himself], or in his Son, who is the brightness of his glory. (2) by enjoying and delighting in himself, by flowing forth in infinite ... delight towards himself, or in his Holy Spirit.

... So God glorifies himself towards the creatures also [in] two ways: (1) by appearing to ... their understanding; (2) in communicating himself to their hearts, and in their rejoicing and delighting in, and enjoying the manifestations which he makes of himself. ... God is glorified not only by his glory's being seen, but by its being rejoiced in ... [W]hen those that see it delight in it: God is more glorified than if they only see it; his glory is then received by the whole soul, both by the understanding and by the heart.

God made the world that he might communicate, and the creature receive, his glory; and that it might [be] received both by the mind and heart. He that testifies his idea of God's glory [doesn't] glorify God so much as he that testifies also his approbation of it and his delight in it.

The implications of this truth for this book are huge. It implies, for example, that if we are to live according to our nature as human beings in the image of God, and if we are to glorify God fully, we must engage our mind in knowing him truly and our hearts in loving him duly. The both-and plea of this book is not a mere personal preference of mine. It is rooted in the nature of God's Trinitarian existence and in how he has created us to glorify him with mind and heart.

Clear Truth for the Sake of Strong Affections

Edwards set the pattern for us in seeking to awaken the affections, not with entertainment or hype but with clear views of truth. In other words, he made the work of thinking serve the experience of worship and love.

I should think myself in the way of my duty to raise the affections of my hearers as high as possibly I can, provided that they are affected with nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with.


Excerpted from "Think"
by .
Copyright © 2010 Desiring God Foundation.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword Mark A. Noll 11

Introduction 15

Clarifying the Aim of the Book

1 My Pilgrimage 25

2 Deep Help from a Dead Friend 33

Clarifying the Meaning of Thinking

3 Reading as Thinking 41

Coming to Faith through Thinking

4 Mental Adultery Is No Escape 59

5 Rational Gospel, Spiritual Light 69

Clarifying the Meaning of Loving God

6 Love for God: Treasuring God with All Your Mind 83

Facing the Challenge of Relativism

7 Jesus Meets the Relativists 95

8 The Immorality of Relativism 105

Facing the Challenge of Anti-intellectualism

9 Unhelpful Anti-intellectual Impulses in Our History 119

10 You Have Hidden These Things from the Wise and Understanding 131

11 In the Wisdom of God, the World Did Not Know God through Wisdom 143

Finding a Humble Way of Knowing

12 The Knowledge That Loves 157

13 All Scholarship Is for the Love of God and Man 167

Encouraging Thinkers and Non-thinkers

Conclusion: A Final Plea 179

Appendix 1 "The Earth Is the Lord's": The Supremacy of Christ in Christian Learning (Biblical Foundations for Bethlehem College and Seminary) 185

Appendix 2 The Student, the Fish, and Agassiz 205

Acknowledgments 211

General Index 212

Scripture Index 219

Desiring God: Note on Resources 223

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"An essential dimension of Christian discipleship is the life of the mind, and this may well be the most neglected Christian responsibility of our times. God has made us intelligible creatures, and he has given us the stewardship of intellectual faculties that should drive us to think in ways that bring him greatest glory. In this new book, John Piper provides brilliant analysis, warm encouragement, and a faithful model of Christian thinking. This book is a primer for Christian thinking that is urgently needed in our time."
R. Albert Mohler Jr., President, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

"Do you ever wish you could feel more deeply about things you know are true? Has it been a while since you were moved to tears at the thought of Christ’s death for your sins? It’s not mysterious: those who feel deeply about the gospel are those who think deeply about the gospel. In these pages John Piper will convince you that thinking is the sturdy foundation for our easily misguided affections. If you want to feel profoundly, learn to think carefully. And start by reading this book!"
C.J. Mahaney, Senior Pastor, Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville

"Thinking—the alert, meticulous, probing, logical, critical use of the mind—will be a highway either to godliness or to its opposite, depending on how it is done. Taking leads from Jonathan Edwards, John Piper surefootedly plots the true path here. His book should be, and I hope will be, widely read."
J. I. Packer, Board of Governors' Professor of Theology, Regent College

"Piper has done it again. His outstanding book Think promises to shepherd a generation about the Christian commitment to the life of the mind. Deeply biblical and uniquely balanced, Think practices what it preaches: it is an accessible, intellectually rich study that calls the reader to renewed love for God and others."
J. P. Moreland,Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, Biola University; author,The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why It Matters

"John Piper offers much wise advice on the importance of Christian thinking as a way of loving God with our minds and as part of delighting in God above all things."
George M. Marsden, Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History Emeritus, University of Notre Dame; author, The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship

"The book provides an excellent, robust biblical foundation for thinking in service of the glory of Christ. It challenges human attitudes and provides sound responses to the temptations either to reject vigorous thinking as unspiritual, to pursue "neutral" scholarship, or to take pride in thinking and fall into autonomy."
Vern S. Poythress,Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Westminster Theological Seminary

"We cannot feel like Christians or act like Christians if we don’t think like Christians. As his writing and preaching attest, John Piper is convinced that the heart cannot embrace that which the mind does not recognize as good, true, and beautiful. This wise book not only makes that point well, but does so by exhibiting in its style and grace the beauty of holy thoughts. This is a timely missive from a seasoned pastor."
Michael Horton, J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics, Westminster Seminary California; Host, White Horse Inn; author, Core Christianity

"Those who are skittish when it comes to rigorous study, deep thinking, and theological precision have wanted us to believe that our problem is the mind, when in fact it’s the flesh. The problem isn’t knowledge, it’s pride. John Piper reminds us in this excellent book that what we need isn’t less thinking, but clearer, biblical, and more God-centered thinking. Reading and thinking about Think will set you on your way to the renewal of the mind that the Scriptures insist is the catalyst for heartfelt joy and growth in godliness. I highly recommend it!"
Sam Storms,Senior Pastor, Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

"John Piper has written a wise and passionate book about the importance of loving God with our minds. After all, we are commanded to do so! But as Piper explains, Christians have not always been very attentive to that commandment. With clarity and directness, he reveals the obstacles that prevent us from using our minds as God intended—but also shows the delights and benefits of doing so. Especially for those who fear intellectualism, this book will be a bracing tonic, and an encouragement besides."
Alan Jacobs, Distinguished Professor of Humanities, Honors College, Baylor University

"Some Christians don’t think nearly enough; others are prone to think in the wrong way. I warmly commend John Piper's appeal to all believers to be diligent in engaging our minds and to do so with God-honoring humility and Christ-loving passion."
Vaughan Roberts,Rector, St Ebbe’s, Oxford, England; Director, The Proclamation Trust; author, God's Big Picture

"No one—in speaking, writing, or living—combines mind, heart, and faith more passionately than John Piper. It is our great good fortune that these are the direct topics of exploration in this book. As always with John, the result is insight, encouragement, and a call to action."
Daniel Taylor, Professor of English, Bethel University

"Think is a bracing gust of fresh air in a stale and musty room that hasn’t been aired out in a generation or more. In this book, the love of God and the life of the mind are passionately connected in the way the Scriptures require, and the result is a direct challenge to the intellectual sloppiness and disobedience that is so characteristic of our time."
Douglas Wilson, Senior Fellow of Theology, New St. Andrews College; Pastor, Christ Church, Moscow, Idaho

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