iAt Book Club: “How to Think” Round Table

February 22, 2018
Two weeks ago iAt began a book club series featuring the book, “How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds,” by Alan Jacobs. Return to iAt throughout this week as various voices are added to the series, interact with one another and respond to the book. Series contributors are Myles Werntz, Justin Bailey, Erin Olson, and Mary Nickel. Last week Myles Werntz shared more of his thoughts. In this final week Justin Bailey and Myles Werntz add their final thoughts.


Title: How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds
Author: Alan Jacobs
Publisher: Currency (October 17, 2017)
Paperback: 160pages
Price: $15.00 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 978-0451499608

I’ll just ask the payoff question in light of Justin’s last line1 : in what ways does this directive change how we will think?

For me, it’s encouraged detachment from online engagements, and grounded cultivation of relationships with people with whom I’m not immediately kindred spirits. We all have limited time and energy; between kids and jobs and outside commitments, the cultivation of a friendship with someone with whom you don’t have much in common seems both imprudent and, frankly, a waste of precious time. But, two things come to mind for me when I find myself shrinking from that possibility.

First, I’m reminded over and over again of what Bonhoeffer writes in the opening chapter of Life Together, that the worst danger to the church is that of creating a church in our own image, assembled of those with whom we would like to affiliate. Though directed toward a plural audience, Jacobs’ work reaffirms this theological counsel, and encourages me to take the time to befriend and partner with those who don’t share my tastes, interests, or points of view. It encourages me, in those friendships, to be prudent with how I share my thoughts, watching for insider/outsider signals which would foreclose talking about important topics.

Secondly, I’m reminded that this active engagement of thought is not only good for me, but is in fact the way I become me. As Jacobs notes, if thought is a social activity, then for me to be a good thinker is not achieved in isolation, but by these active, time-consuming, difficult engagements, which grow the muscles of virtuous speech and forbearance. I can’t be a good scholar by simply regurgitating that which I’m familiar with, but by being stretched by that which I disagree with; I can’t be a good parent by going with my instincts, but by picking up the parenting book that I think at the onset is probably going to be a waste of time, and being willing to be surprised. Ultimately, thinking here is a metaphor for how we live, with the applications as wide-ranging as life itself.

About the Author
  • Myles Werntz is Director of Baptist Studies and Associate Professor of Theology at Abilene Christian University, where he directs the Baptist Studies Center in the Graduate School of Theology. He is the author and editor of five books in theology and ethics, and writes broadly on Christian ethics of war and peace, immigration, ecclesiology, and discipleship.

  1. “If we are going to change the way we think together, it will require not just the aspiration to virtue but new practices, technologies, and mediating structures to break us of destructive habits.”