John Piper: Reading as Thinking
Last month we asked all of you to join us in prioritizing the life of the mind through reading. Over the last few weeks over two hundred of you shared your favorite books of 2010 and to-read lists for 2011. If you didn’t, it’s not too late!
In this post, we want to share some excerpts of a book we’re reading — Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of Christ by John Piper. In the third chapter, “Reading as Thinking,” Piper defines thinking as “the activity of the mind in reading and understanding what others have written” — and especially, the Bible.
Of course, this is not a conventional (or comprehensive) definition of thinking, but it is a helpful one. In our experience, our best ideas have not come during long periods of reflection, but rather from engaging with the ideas of others (most often through reading). Not surprisingly, the books that do this best aren’t the easiest books to read — which means that deep thinking requires doing hard things.
Think Hard Things
As a rebelutionary, you are already committed to doing hard things — going outside your comfort zone, exceeding expectations, and doing what is right. But as rebelutionaries, we can’t do the right hard things if we aren’t willing to first think hard things — because what we think has a big effect on everything else we do.
Piper says that when we are confronted with a book with language, logic, or ideas that stretch our minds, we have two choices: “either we give up quickly or we think harder.” This is where reading and doing hard things come together:
That is mainly what I have in mind by thinking — 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 on 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.
Glorifying God, applying His truth, and being effective in His service, all of those things require deep and cultivated thinking — and reading helps get us there. Doing any old “hard” thing, isn’t our goal as rebelutionaries. We need true understanding to do the right hard things, and that requires being willing to read hard things.
Read Hard Things
We once met a youth pastor in his late twenties who told us that Do Hard Things was the first book he’d read since college. Fortunately, it inspired him to keep on reading! Unfortunately, his post-school reading habits are not that unusual.
The truth is, most young adults today don’t read much outside of school. And when they do, it’s not the kind that inspires deep thinking. Walk through the teen section at your local Barnes and Noble and you’ll find lots of “gossipy girls” and vampire romances — but hardly any non-fiction and no challenging ideas.
But just like in any other area of our lives, growth (and strength and skill) will only come with hard work. As Piper writes, “This is basic to all growing up. Part of maturity is the principle of deferred gratification. If you cannot embrace the pain of learning but must have instant gratification, you forfeit the greatest rewards in life.”
Piper is right, whether it is working out, exercising leadership, or thinking — the principle of “delayed gratification” is central to the Rebelution. We loved this:
There comes a point when we choose to be intentional about our thinking, so that we grow in what we see and understand. If we don’t choose to think harder, we settle for an adolescent level of understanding the rest of our lives.
That “intentionality” is exactly what rebelutionaries must be known for. In the same way that refusing to do hard things leaves us stuck at adolescent ability, so refusing to think hard things leaves us stuck at adolescent understanding.
Our commitment to doing hard things must extend to our intellectual life — it’s how we glorify God with our mind and make our “doing” more effective. Unfortunately, it’s an area that many Christians — and even rebelutionaries — can neglect.
So will we be intentional about reading, and reading deeper — thinking, and thinking harder? It goes against nearly everything our culture expects of our wired generation. But we’re rebelutionaries. We think hard things.