How to Think

Relatively few people want to think,” Alan Jacobs tells us in his new book How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds. I first learned of Jacobs through his fine book on C.S. Lewis. I eagerly pre-ordered this book thinking it would be an Inklings kind of worldview primer on thinking biblically. It’s not.

That’s not to say it’s not good. I found it interesting and helpful. Many of the stories Jacobs illustrates his content with, of people learning to think well and leaving harmful thought patterns and practices, are inspiring. And when he grounds the central problem of thinking, not in one’s bias, but deeper in the settled orientation of the will, he is leading us into worldview waters.

But for the most part this book reads like something you might pick up at an airport bookstore, skim on your flight, and never really discover or even think much about the particular worldview convictions of the author. Jacobs uses controversial topics to illustrate some of his key points without ever giving any indication of his own moral bearings on those issues. In a book about thinking well, written by a Christian author, marketed, at least from what I’ve seen, to a Christian audience, I found the looseness of such examples confusing at times.

All of this to say that it is pretty clear Jacobs is writing for a larger audience than the evangelical circles that have been the target for much of his earlier work. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. I also see the merits in teaching readers more of the how than the what of thinking critically. It might be helpful for readers to know that up front. This book will find a place on my bookshelf, not among the works of James Sire, Francis Schaeffer, or C.S. Lewis, but likely nestled in with works on education, debate, rhetoric, or even leadership.

The “thinking person’s checklist” in the afterword is worth the cost of the book, I should add. So, even though it’s not a “Narnian’s guide to worldview thinking” that I was initially hoping for, it is worth the read. In a culture that lives on sound bytes and gut reactions: we need a survival guide for thinking well more than ever.

For the thinking Christian, however, we need more: we need to think well but we recognize that begins and ends in thinking biblically.