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Could think harder

01 November 2011

Nick Mercer on a book that doesn’t fit its title


Think: The life of the mind and the love of God
John Piper

IVP £8.99
Church Times Bookshop £8.10

THIS is more an insight into the American Evangelical psyche than a book about thinking. There have been some notable other books addressing this topic over the past 50 years, and indeed John Piper helpfully lists some of the Evan­gelical ones in contradistinction to his own. So his book is “less his­torical than Mark Noll’s Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, less punchy than Os Guinness’s Fit Bodies Fat Minds, less philosophical than J. P. Moreland’s Love Your God with All Your Mind, less vocational than James Sire’s Habits of the Mind and less cultural than Gene Veith’s Loving God with All Your Mind”.

So what is Piper’s book “more of” than these or, say, Harry Blamires’s classic The Christian Mind? Well, much more of scripture. And much more of the 18th-century theo­logian Jonathan Edwards, with nothing of Hooker, Lewis, or Pinker.

Rehearsing old arguments that still seem to preoccupy much of North American Evangelicalism, it is a disappointing read. I liked Anna Moyle’s comment in her Amazon review: “Piper has a ten­dency throughout the book to get caught up in stale agendas and arguments . . . He thus devotes two entire chapters to the subject of relativism, which could have been better used to write positively about the rise of scholarship within the Christian community in the past few decades.”

There is a chapter on the mean­ing of “thinking”, where Piper ex­plains that his main understanding of it is “working hard with our minds to figure out meaning from texts”. There are chapters on ration­al­ity, and three combating anti-intellectualism. And he con­cludes by commending a humble attitude to Christian knowledge, which will result in love of God and Man.

It is a triumph of the cataphatic over the apophatic, of statements of faith and two-sentence positions on abortion, divorce, and homosexual­ity, with little of the struggle of faith seeking understanding, of acknow­ledging our limited rational powers before the Divine Mind. There is scant room for mystery or bewilder­ment, and consequently not much engagement with how to work alongside other Christians who also “think”, but who come to very dif­fer­ent conclusions about things.

Piper writes well, and although, I suppose, he does set out with an ad­mittedly limited agenda, this prob­ably made better sermon material than it did a book. My guess is that the people who will benefit most from reading this book are not reading this review.

Prebendary Mercer is Vicar General for the London College of Bishops.

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