“I only date geeks.”

I read the 2-inch button pinned to the co-eds purse and smiled. In this, perhaps the most anti-intellectual age in Western civilization, she was trolling for a guy who liked to think. And in a Christian college. Christians don’t tend to be known as thinkers.

I read the 2-inch button pinned to the co-eds purse and smiled. In this, perhaps the most anti-intellectual age in Western civilization, she was trolling for a guy who liked to think. And in a Christian college. Christians don’t tend to be known as thinkers.

A Christian literary agent will tell you that the more intellectual a book is, the smaller its sales will be. There is, in many streams of the church, an anti-intellectual bias, the sense that knowledge is dangerous. Just look at all the college kids who walk away from the faith of their families. We don’t need to read more; we need to pray more. The Holy Spirit will give us what we need to know. The life of the heart is far more important than the life of the mind.

Given the way our modern, secular educational system has become increasingly hostile to faith I understand the suspicion of learning. And given my own church background where a very rational approach to faith undermined a real desire for and delight in God, I have come to understand the centrality of the life of the heart. But what wisdom does Scripture offer regarding the importance of the life of the mind?

Think for a moment of Moses, Daniel and Paul. John C. Rankin, president of the Theological Education Institute has written that, “Apart from Jesus as Son of God and Son of Man, the three most powerful men in the Bible are Moses, Daniel and Paul. In each case, they a) knew the Hebrew Scriptures inside out, b) they knew the pagan political cultures in which they lived inside out, c) they knew the pagan religions in those cultures inside out, and d) they were followed by signs and wonders. These were robust men, compromising nothing in the pursuit of wisdom and character, loving the Lord their God with heart, soul, mind and strength. And Jesus their Messiah fulfilled and transcended all they pursued.”

We may think, “Just give me Jesus,” and Jesus is a friend to sinners like me and a great comfort. Many of his teachings are easily understood and touch the heart deeply. But many of his sayings are intellectually challenging, difficult to comprehend. Is it not true that the more we understand something the more we can value and appreciate it?

In his new book “Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God,” pastor and theologian John Piper encourages us to stop preferring the life of the heart over the life of the mind. It’s not either/or for a disciple of Jesus, it’s both/and. “Thinking without prayer, without the Holy Spirit, without obedience, without love will puff up and destroy (1 Corinthians 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 glory of God, thinking in the service of love—such thinking is indispensible in a life of fullest praise to God.”

And why is that? Because the more we think deeply, the more we understand. As we seek wisdom and understanding like silver, God gives it as a gift. The more we understand of Jesus, the more we can savor him, wonder at his person and his works, worship and delight in him as the living Treasure.

Piper continues, “While it is true that the mind and the heart are mutually enlivening, it is also clear that the mind is mainly the servant to the heart. That is, the mind serves to know the truth that fuels the fires of the heart. The apex of glorifying God is enjoying him with the heart. But this is an empty emotionalism where that joy is not awakened and sustained by true views of God for who he really is. That is mainly what the mind is for.”

I hope that young college woman finds a young man who loves to think like she does. And that they build a life together where their love of books flows into a life of deeper worship and strength and joy. We could use a few more Daniels.

And I hope you find a challenging book, maybe Piper’s, and THINK.

Lael writes and speaks about faith and culture and how God renews our vision and desire for Him and his Kingdom. She earned a master's degree (MAT) in the history of ideas from the University of Texas at Dallas, and has taught Western culture and apologetics at secular and Christian schools and colleges. Her long-term experience with rheumatoid arthritis and being a pastor’s wife has deepened her desire to minister to the whole person—mind, heart, soul and spirit. Lael has co-hosted a talk radio program, The Things That Matter Most, on secular stations in Houston and Dallas about what we believe and why we believe it with guests as diverse as Dr. Deepak Chopra, atheist Sam Harris and VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer. (Programs are archived on the website.) Lael has authored four books, including a March 2011 soft paper edition of A Faith and Culture Devotional (now titled Faith and Culture: A Guide to a Culture Shaped by Faith), Godsight, and Worldproofing Your Kids. Lael’s writing has also been featured in Focus on the Family and World magazines, and she has appeared on many national radio and television programs. Lael and her husband, Jack, now make their home in South Carolina.


  • Stephen J. Drain

    Good Points


    I just read your article this morning after posting my "A Christian Conservative Goes to College" last night. We've touched on a few of the same points.

    Fellow blogger Al Rossi and I have just finished writing our first book… and it appears we will have to self publish it. One of the reasons why is that people want a book written "on an 8th grade level where the average reader is," and ours is written more at a college level. Do you know the level of frustration that brings to me? and it should bring a level of frustration to all of society and all of Christendom that this is where our culture is, inlcuding Christians…

    I often think of what life must have been like for people before the rise of television, even radio, and the constant entertainments. To be sure, life would have been busyer without all the technologies… Cooking would have taken up a lot of time, wash, etc.

    But I think of those Christian people who would be dedicating themselves to ministry… and all the time they had to THINK. They could read and study… but then when they had to travel somewhere by foot or by horse, they could be THINKING about what they'd studied and read, working through it (not that there wouldn't be other distractions). Today those of us who are readers might spend a few hours in a book, but then we might turn the TV on for an hour afterwards… and what does that do to all we learned from the book? We are distracted away.

    Jonathan Edwards used to sit out in nature and think, and write, and he became our nation's first and most prominent preacher and philosopher. Martin Luther and others had time to translate the Bible by themselves without large teams. Guys like Calvin, Spurgeon, and many, many others turned out volumes of work even though they were distracted with many cares and responsibilities. Yet, they did not have the entertainments drawing them away. All of life was simply a reflection of what the Bible said and all people were in need of what the Bible has to say. Very few were entertained into stupefication as has happened to us today.

    I appreciate what you had to say here. Thanks.

    • Lael Arrington

      Way to THINK

      Thanks, Steve for your comments. Interesting to note that piper does not watch TV. (We, on the other hand, have Get Smart on in the background. sigh) Good for you to actually DO something about it. My invitation to think is A Faith and Culture Devotional, daily readings in Theology, History, philosophy, Art, Science, Literature and Contemporary Culture. Written and edited along with Kelly Monroe Kullberg and featuring 2 and 3 pages on everything from Quantum Mechanics to U2 to Tolstoy from our favorite writers…Willard, Yancey, Matthewes Green, Schaeffer and 75 others.

  • Sue Bohlin

    “Thinking soaked in prayer”

    "Thinking soaked in prayer" is such a great turn of a phrase! I forgot  you were quoting Piper and thought you'd come up with another profound lightbulb moment wrapped in just-right words. You have a way of doing that!

    When we [Probe Ministries] begin our week-long immersion in worldview and apologetics to equip high school juniors and seniors for their post-high school life, one of our starting points is Jesus' call to love His Father with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength–but unfortunately, loving God with our minds is the weakest part for most Christians. When we wrestle with the hard questions that come from the fact that God is a mysterious God who invites us to use our minds to His glory and our delight, we love Him with our minds. It's heartbreaking how few people experience the joy of cooperating with the Holy Spirit to connect the dots between the thoughts we think and His scriptural principles. Or even to allow Him to guide and transform the thoughts we think according to His scriptural principles! But then, I suppose we'd have to pull the earbuds out and actually spend some unstructured time just thinking.

    Probe's short 3-minute radio program examines a single topic every day, Monday through Friday, from a biblical perspective. Dallas' flagship Christian station aired our program for years, and then decided to drop us because "people don't want to have to think."  Arrrggghhhhhhh!!

    Speaking of which, I'm glad your wonderful radio program, which established you as one of the most delightful "Christian women who think," lives on in podcast form on your website!

    P.S. to Stephen–LOVED your response to Lael's post! May your tribe increase!