The Wisdom Pyramid, Feeding Your Soul in a Post-Truth World by Brett McCracken
The Wisdom Pyramid is modeled after the well-known food pyramid. While the food pyramid was developed as a guide for nutritional eating, the wisdom pyramid offers a plan for a “better diet of knowledge and better habits of information intake” (p. 12, cf. p. 17). The food pyramid suggests a balanced diet by dividing all types of food into five classes based on nutritional contributions, organizes them in a pyramid with the more wholesome food groups at the bottom of the pyramid and those of limited or little value at the top. The wisdom pyramid uses the same structure to identify six contributions to our level of thinking, with the most valuable at the base and those of lesser importance toward the top.
Before Brett McCracken, a senior editor for the Gospel Coalition, unveils his pyramid, he spends about a third of the book demonstrating the need for a wisdom plan in our current culture. Among his concerns are:
- A postmodern society (p. 14)
- Mental-health challenges (p. 15)
- Rewiring of our brains due to online intake (p. 70)
- Explosion of information that erodes our ability to distinguish between the trivial and the important (pp. 27-33)
- Silence deficit (pp. 40-44)
The Wisdom Pyramid, therefore “is a plan for stabilizing a sick society by making Christians wiser” (p. 23). With this purpose in mind, McCracken launches into Part Two, detailing six sources of truth. Each source is discussed in a short chapter, beginning with the most important and working up to the most trivial. The bottom two sections of the wisdom pyramid, the Bible and the church, are the only two that are deemed essential (p. 68). Only a hunger for the “honey” of Scripture will keep us from our indulgence on addictive, intellectual junk food, the author maintains (p. 84). But much like food nutrition, we tend to flip the priority and over-consume on intellectual candy. Feeding on the Word and involvement in a church which proclaims a “message that is radically God-centered, not me-centered” (p. 91) is essential to spiritual health.
McCracken places nature third on the wisdom pyramid, pointing out that nature, being God’s creation, reflects God’s truth and ignores postmodern worldviews. Nature does not form to the whims of the post-truth era (p. 101). The author writes, “If I love the Lover, I love what the Lover has made” (p. 114). He believes most people today have a nature deficit disorder (p. 100), and would do well to carve out more time for the outdoors.
Books take the fourth spot in the pyramid. McCracken is obviously a lover of books, which connect readers to other people and ideas (p. 118). Recent research suggests that reading books (not merely tweets, articles and blogs) strengthens our brains (pp. 121-123). The author, however, encourages his audience not to read in an echo chamber but rather to read broadly, read old books, read books that challenge and books that one enjoys (pp. 124-127). McCracken goes too far when he offers the trite, unqualified “all truth is God’s truth” maxim (p. 126), but he correctly encourages the reading of books for insight and wisdom.
Beauty, as found in art, music, scenery, food, poetry and more, is next. McCracken delightfully states, “Mankind’s pleasure in poetry and pecan pie cannot be explained by the Darwinian account of human existence” (p. 140). Beauty turns our gaze toward the Creator of beauty.
At the top of the Wisdom Pyramid, and of least value, is the internet and social media (pp. 145-155). Used sparingly these sources are valuable for access to information and as platforms to listen to worthy voices and the consensus of collective wisdom, yet much danger awaits the indiscriminate surfer of the web or the one entrenched in social media. Toward this end, McCracken offers five habits for cultivation wisdom online (pp. 150-154). He suggests that we not abandon these platforms but rather redeem them (p. 154).
The Wisdom Pyramid concludes with a chapter on what wisdom looks like. Two quotes summarize well, not only the final chapter but the thesis of the book: “Our age is unwise in large part because we are going deaf from the cacophony, losing our ability to listen well, if we listen at all” (p. 165). And, “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” (p. 163).
The Wisdom Pyramid offers much insight for any reader. As an additional bonus, each chapter concludes with three discussion questions which would aid in group study. Highly recommended.
The Wisdom Pyramid, Feeding Your Soul in a Post-Truth World, by Brett McCracken (Wheaton: Crossway, 2021), 188 pp., paper $17.99.
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher at Southern View Chapel