The Wisdom Pyramid: A Book Review

10 March 2021

“Easy” – That is the word I would describe our age today. More specifically, our information age is easy. We have the easiest access to information than ever before. It is literally at our fingertips. And though having easy access to information can be helpful, it can also have negative effects for living wisely in this age. 

In his new book The Wisdom Pyramid: Feeding Your Soul in a Post-Truth World, Brett McCracken has given us a helpful visual take, based on the 1992 Food Pyramid, of a Spiritual Pyramid on wisdom. Just like the Food Pyramid gave categories of different food groups that promoted a healthy diet, this Wisdom Pyramid shines a light on, according to McCracken, “a non-exhaustive spotlight on a few vital, trustworthy, life-giving sources of truth to help you wisely navigate the chaos of the information age” (p. 69).

Unlike the Food Pyramid where each category is essential to a healthy balanced diet, McCracken’s Wisdom Pyramid categories are scaled from bottom to top as most enduring (the bottom two: Bible and Church) to most fleeting (a social media post). Or, as McCracken puts it, “It goes from clearer and more reliable communication of truth at the bottom to less clear, less reliable sources at the top, where truth is possible but requires more discernment to find (p.68).”

What is Wisdom? McCracken gives a well developed answer in his introduction. To summarize – wisdom is living rightly in God’s world. Wisdom isn’t merely knowledge or experience, but it’s knowing what to do with the knowledge and information you have received (pp.66-67). The Christian worldview affirms that God has ordered this world to function in a certain way. Wisdom comes from God. Seek and you shall find! However, as Job’s hymn of wisdom describes, we’re not digging deep in the recess of the earth to find the precious stones, but are more like the animals that roam on top of the earth, not knowing there’s something valuable beneath them (Job 28). Our information age has limited our ability to dig deep into God’s ordained ways to receive wisdom. We have inverted the Pyramid and have feasted upon that which is easy, and ever fleeting, for our wisdom diet.

The first part of the book diagnosis our diet problem. We are malnourished in the wisdom category. Three reasons are given for our sickness. First, we are eating too much. The amount of information we soak in each day can be nauseating. We live in a world of 24 hour news cycles, 24 hour social media availability, and 24 hour search engines at our disposal. With this over-saturation, the good “food” can quickly turn into “junk food.” Second, we eat too fast. Fast is not fast enough in our day. Headlines and #trends come and go, and we’re left with a feeling of never being caught up. Lastly, we eat what only tastes good to us. Though we know we should not eat junk food every meal of every day, we tend to ignore this concern when it comes to choosing what kind of information we receive. We all like to hear what we want to hear and be confirmed in the views we already hold. The ability to take in information from diverse sources and analyze accordingly is a lost (and needed) art in our day. 

One vital aspect that McCracken drew out in both sections was not only the spiritual implications of this kind of information diet, but also a physical and physiological implications as well. Take for example the effects on the brain and body. The rapid and constant information we receive make us multitask to a greater extent and makes our brains burn through fuel so quickly that we feel exhausted and disoriented (p.28). Or when it comes to “eating too fast” one Pulitzer Prize winner describes how “thanks to plasticity of our neural pathways, our brains are literally being rewired by digital distraction” (p.41).

These implications demonstrate how the way we’re currently living is not how God designed us to function. As a result, we live unwisely. How do we get back on track? The second part of this book brings to light better sources of wisdom for us to seek: Bible, Church, Nature, Books, Beauty (and then Media).

Much like the first section, the author connects the spiritual with the physical. On the chapter about nature, a study is cited about “forest therapy.” (Yes, you read that correctly). Doctors are prescribing patients who are over-mediated digital ghosts “nature prescriptions” to go explore the outdoors. They have found that this has lowered cortisol levels and they reported being less anxious and feeling happier (p.108). Though scientist are trying to figure this out by using empirical methods, McCracken notes the obvious: “we feel more at peace when we are in God’s creation because that is what we are too: God’s creation. When we feel our createdness more directly (as we do in nature, whether huffing and puffing in altitude or sweating in a humid field), we naturally feel closer to our Creator and thus happier. We are in our place” (p. 108-109).

The strongest sections of the book are the chapters on Nature, Books, and Beauty. This is not to downplay the most important sources of Bible and Church, which McCracken does a wonderful job of reminding us they are our primary sources for wisdom.  But many are less inclined to seek the middle three. Many people get the bottom two and then jump to the very top (or start with the top and then jump to the bottom two). Nature, Books and Beauty get passed by in our minds more frequently. McCracken, in these three middle sections, presents these sources in such a way that easily make the reader want to go for a walk or hike, read a good book, or examine more throughly the beauty in everyday life. In his section on beauty, the imagery he uses to communicate the contrastive nature of beauty is mesmerizing. McCracken defines this as “…the juxtaposition, interplay, or coming together of different (often opposite) things. When daylight meets night, for example, we have sunsets or sunrises: the most beautiful and oft photographed times of the day. When salt water meets fresh water, we have estuaries: some of the most vibrant natural habitats in the world. When two different things come together, their seeming contrast often strangely coherent, creating beauty and life” (p.136). He goes on to write about the contrast we see in the Bible like man and woman in the “one flesh union” and ultimately Christ and His bride. These types of beautiful connections are made all throughout the book. 

The reader will feel how well McCracken has thought about this topic and will feel convicted and encouraged after reading this book. If you feel the weight and discouragement that the age of information overload brings, this book is a great guide to reorient yourself back to God-given sources of wisdom to help you live well in His world. This would also be a great book study to do with a small group of people since it has good discussion questions after each chapter. As C.S. Lewis famously said, we are far too easily pleased. We are prone to find enjoyment in fleeting sources rather than sources that give greater joy and pleasure in God. Let’s get back to a healthier wisdom diet for the sake of our souls.

Editors Note: You can purchase the book here.

 

 

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