An extended review of a 2021 book by Brett McCracken
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Book by Brett McCracken. Crossway, 2021. 192 pages. $22 (e-book $21, audio $13)
We live in a noisy world. Numerous voices clamour for our attention and involvement. Many of us cope by finding belonging in a tribe, which can also mean putting taste ahead of truth – with alarming ramifications for our mental health, relationships, productivity and spiritual maturity.
This book diagnoses this illness of our digital age and prescribes treatment. Author Brett McCracken is a senior editor and director of communications for The Gospel Coalition, and he holds a graduate degree in cinema and media studies. His previous books explore Christian community, the intersection of faith and culture, and the tension between legalism and liberty.
He starts this book arguing that our world is awash in information and opinion but increasingly short on clarity and wisdom. The relentless bombardment of news and social media feeds, combined with the limitlessness of the internet, have cultivated habits of “information gluttony.” We consume far more than we can process. Worse, our haste and our preference for novelty are eroding our ability to think critically.
Our diminishing capacity to distinguish fact from folly sends us each scurrying to cobble together our own conclusions about what’s true and wise. Live your truth! we’re told, which only compounds our confusion and alienation.
“How can one flourish in a world like this?” McCracken asks. “How can one fortify one’s immunity and be healthy amidst a contagion of foolishness?” And more importantly, “How can Christians become storehouses of wisdom in this era when more and more sickly people will be looking for a cure?”
In Part Two of the book, McCracken explores six sources of wisdom. He borrows from the food pyramid, a standardized set of guidelines for a balanced diet. At the base of the food pyramid we find those nutritious staples which should be consumed daily, then moving up, wholesome foods which can be eaten frequently, and at the very top, treats which can be enjoyed from time to time, and in moderation.
McCracken proposes a similar wisdom pyramid, an intentional regimen of knowledge intake. Foundational to this diet are Scriptures and the Church. The next level has non-essential sources that can further feed our souls – nature, books and beauty. The top level has elements for discretionary consumption such as the internet and social media.
Careful attention to our knowledge intake, he maintains, can shape us into people who are “sane and centered and virtuous . . . discerning in an age of distraction.”
We live in a time when this reminder of what should be foundational is needed. More and more young people view church as optional. Two pandemic years of screen-mediated online services have further weakened church attendance.
But McCracken argues convincingly that regular in-person worship and engagement with God’s people is second only to the Scriptures as a driver of our growth in wisdom.
He concludes by considering what wisdom looks like in the life of the believer. Wisdom is not feverishly driven by FOMO (fear of missing out). Wisdom humbly considers the counsel of experts. Wisdom delights in learning, yet is also selective – it does not need to apprehend it all.
Most importantly, the believer in pursuit of wisdom recognizes God as the ultimate source of wisdom. Accordingly, she builds her life on the foundation of Scripture – the very words of the all-wise God.
The Wisdom Pyramid is at once compact and meaty. It is useful for group study. Each chapter ends with a set of three discussion questions that guide readers toward personal reflection and application. Well-researched and anchored in Scripture, this book would be a timely addition to discipleship curricula as well as first-year programs of Christian colleges and universities. For Christ-followers weary of information bloat, The Wisdom Pyramid offers a much-needed roadmap for navigating the chaos and finding our way to wisdom’s table.
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