Our world has more and more information, but less and less wisdom.

Brett McCracken

I love the idea that prompted this book – that we should pay attention to what we are feeding our minds and souls, just as we pay attention to what we are feeding our bodies. We have all kinds of guidance for healthy eating, which back when I was a kid was a food pyramid, and so why shouldn’t we have guidelines for healthy eating for our minds and souls?

It is more difficult to eat healthy now than it has ever been. There are so many fast food options, along with all kinds of tasty processed food that comes in packages that are easy to grab and eat on the go in our fast-paced world. But isn’t that also true for what we are feeding our minds and souls? In a blog article that Brett McCracken shared on August 13, 2017, he wrote:

“Do you remember the old food pyramid that shows how a healthy body depends on a balanced diet, with the right proportions of food groups and nutrition vs. junk foods?

In our current epistemological crisis, where we are bombarded by a glut of content and information but have so little wisdom, I think we need guidance on healthier habits of knowledge intake. We need a wisdom pyramid. We need to think about what sorts of “knowledge groups,” and in what proportion, feed a healthy life of true wisdom and true joy.”

In this article, McCracken goes on to share the details of his wisdom pyramid. In his book, published January 15, 2021, he goes into much more depth, exploring in the first half of the book the sources of our sickness before turning to the sources of our wisdom in the second half of the book. I received a complimentary copy of this book through the Crossway Blog Review Program, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. 

McCracken begins his book by identifying three sources of sickness when it comes to what we feed our minds and souls:

  1. Eating Too Much – We have access to so much information, making it difficult to discern what is truly important.
  2. Eating Too Fast – We read a novel’s worth of words every day on our devices and screens, but this way of reading encourages us to skim through the content without really reading in a way that leads to reflective thinking.
  3. Eating Only What Tastes Good to Me – The information we receive on our devices and screens is so personalized that we no longer have to read anything that challenges our thinking or helps us to have productive conversations with those who differ from us. 

These sources of sickness offer an unhealthy diet that does not nourish our minds and consequently does not lead to wisdom. Wisdom, McCracken reminds us, is more than just knowledge – it is knowing what to do with that knowledge. “Wisdom is knowing what to do with knowledge gained through various means of education: how to apply knowledge and information in everyday life; how to discern if something is true or not; how to live well in light of truth gained.”

How do we attain such wisdom? By making sure that the information we “eat” forms a healthy diet. Here is McCracken’s wisdom pyramid, a visual aid to this healthy diet:

Here are a few key quotes from each of these sections:

The Bible – “If we are to become wise, our information diet must begin with the Bible. It must be our solid foundation, as well as the grid through which all other sources are tested … Tragically, our Wisdom Pyramids are often upside down. What should be the base level—God’s eternal word—is often relegated to the ‘use sparingly’ top. Meanwhile, what should really be at the ‘use sparingly’ top—man’s ephemeral words (i.e., social media)—often occupies our foundation. And we wonder why we are going crazy.”

The Church – “The church, the people of God, is second only to the Bible, the word of God, as a source of reliable and transformative wisdom … Rather than running away from the church in these confusing and chaotic times, people should be running to the church … In a lonely, disembodied world, the church offers a beautiful alternative: an enfleshed community where the manipulative filters of life online fall away and you can be known in a truer sense.”

Nature – “Nature reminds us there is a world bigger than the one we’ve made … It’s true that Scripture is our supreme and only infallible source of knowledge of God. But here’s the thing: Scripture itself tells us that wisdom can be found in God’s creation … The ‘two books’—the special revelation of Scripture and the general revelation of nature—need not be in competition.”

Books – “Books are vital in cultivating wisdom—not only for the truths they contain, but also for the way they help us think … When we read books, we are stepping into another’s shoes. We are entering the author’s world, giving our attention to the author’s perspective for an extended time. This last part is key. It’s hard to develop empathy when you only read a tweet by someone; but a book-length immersion in someone’s world creates the opportunity for understanding.”

Beauty – “In its very nature—superfluous, unnecessary, abundant—beauty teaches us about our abundant God, whose love and grace are bountiful in ways that a Mozart piano concerto or a Monet water lily can uniquely convey … As I’ve noted in various ways throughout this book, wisdom is not just knowing the right things. It’s also (and largely) about having the right posture; having our loves rightly ordered. It’s about recognizing that God doesn’t want to just be known about. He wants to be loved. He wants us to experience his presence not just cerebrally but tangibly: in our bodies, our senses, our emotions. This is why beauty has always been central in the worship practices of the church.

Internet / Social Media – “Many people today don’t have the luxury of living offline. ‘Digital detoxes’ are largely an activity of the privileged … Like the leper colonies, Ebola-stricken nations, or plague-infested medieval cities where Christians risked their own health to bring healing to others, the Internet and social media desperately need people of light to stay rather than leave.”

We might quibble with the specifics of his wisdom pyramid, which McCracken invites. For example, I might argue that books have been important to my wisdom diet than nature. But if all that his wisdom pyramid does is start a conversation about how to “eat healthier,” then his book has already done important work.

In his conclusion, McCracken writes: “Perhaps the most important lesson of this book is that in order to understand what wisdom looks like, we have to understand who wisdom looks to, and listens to, and loves: ‘the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God‘” (1 Tim. 1:17 KJV).

This wise and helpful book has served as a valuable and timely reminder to me to eat healthy and to always look to our “only wise God” for the bread that truly satisfies. All in all, this book offered me a timely and helpful to guide to creating a healthier diet of knowledge in order to attain wisdom. I am thankful to have read it, and highly recommend it.

The Wisdom Pyramid: Feeding Your Soul in a Post-Truth World is written by Brett McCracken, a senior editor for the Gospel Coalition. I received a complimentary copy of this book through the Crossway Blog Review Program to facilitate my honest review of this book. You can find more information about his book here: https://www.crossway.org/books/the-wisdom-pyramid-tpb/.

5 thoughts on “Book Review: The Wisdom Pyramid by Brett McCracken

  1. In Bloom’s Taxonomy, the ultimate learning is the small thing at the top. Having that in my head, the wisdom pyramid looks backwards, but I understand and agree with the concept. Thank you for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

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