Book Review: The Gospel and the Mind
Title: The Gospel and the Mind: Recovering and Shaping the Intellectual Life
Author: Bradley G. Green
Publisher: Crossway (2010)
What does the gospel have to do our intellectual life? While some would argue that it has nothing to do with it at all, it’s interesting to note that, “wherever the gospel goes, it seems to generate intellectual deliberation and inquiry” (p. 12).
Why? What is it about the gospel that it encourages deep thinking?
And why is it that, “when the gospel ceases to permeate and influence a given culture, we often see a confused understanding of the possibility of knowledge and the meaning of our thoughts”? (p. 19)
Is there a connection between the loss of the gospel’s hold on the modern world and the modern world’s increasing skepticism about the viability, purpose, meaning, and possibility of an intellectual life? (p. 21)
In The Gospel and the Mind: Recovering and Shaping the Intellectual Life, author Bradley G. Green proposes a two-part answer to this challenging question. He argues that:
The Christian vision of God, man, and the world provides the necessary precondition for the recovery of any meaningful intellectual life.
The Christian vision of God, man, and the world offers a particular, unique understanding of what the intellectual life looks like.
Green supports his argument by examining five themes:
That the doctrine of Creation provides the necessary basis for any intellectual pursuit at all. “Without a robust understanding of creation and history, we cannot—ultimately—account for the nature of the intellectual life,” writes Green. (p. 50)
That a compelling vision drives the intellectual life. For the Christian, the vision (or “telos” as Green puts it) is that we will one day see Christ face-to-face and know Him fully even as we are fully known (cf. 1 Cor. 13:12). “With the loss of this sense of a telos . . . there has been a corresponding confusion in thought [that] leads ultimately to nihilism.” (p. 176)
That the cross is central to the life of the mind. Sin affects all aspects of life, even the intellect. But through the atonement we can understand both God and the created order. “To become more heavenly creatures . . . is to be about the task of embracing the lordship of Christ over the life of the mind at every turn.” (p. 100)
That words and language have objective meaning. Words have meaning because they’re rooted in something outside themselves—that is in our communicative Trinitarian God. Language didn’t begin with the Fall, therefore “we should recognize language as a gift of God, given for his purposes, to be used on his terms.” (p. 146)
That all knowledge is inextricably moral. Quoting Colin Gunton, Green writes, “Modernism began and continues wherever civilisation began and continues to deny Christ.” (p. 151) If this is true (and as Calvin wrote that to know God is to honor Him), inherent in knowledge is a moral component.
Green presents his case with a great deal of care and strives for accessibility (and for the most part succeeds admirably). This is not a highbrow read, although it does have a more academic feel. There is some unavoidable technical jargon (such is the nature of these things, I’m afraid), but Green avoids becoming lost in techno-babble.
Of all his arguments, perhaps most intriguing to me was his assessment of the devolution of language as a culture becomes increasingly post- and anti-Christian. He writes:
In an era of skepticism about the possibility of meaning, we should therefore expect to see poor sentences. We should expect, in a post-Christian culture, to see poor grammar, poor composition. And this is of course exactly what we see. (p. 123)
A quick survey of our status updates, text messages and tweets bears witness to our increasing inability to communicate effectively.
Incoherent sentence structure.
It’s like we’re not even trying anymore.
And perhaps we’re not. If, as deconstructionism argues, that there is no inherent meaning or significance to words, then do we even need to try? If, however, the Christian understanding of the mind and of language is true, it changes everything. We should care about language because God cares about it. He designed words to communicate. Therefore, it is our duty (and hopefully our delight) to try to use words well.
While a number of authors are tackling this subject (including John Piper in Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God), Green’s work serves as a wonderful complement as he delves into the philosophy undergirding much of modern thought. His careful assessment shows how the gospel brings purpose and clarity to our intellectual pursuits in a way that modernism/postmodernism simply cannot. And for this reader, that makes The Gospel and the Mind a very compelling read.