Part-Time Recommendation: The Wisdom Pyramid

You can purchase the book HERE *I don't get referral money :)

I've had McCracken's The Wisdom Pyramid on my radar since he first announced it. As a Christian and a fan of film, I've known McCracken for some time since he essentially makes a living commenting on both Christianity and film. You can find his excellent BLOG that gave life to this book. 

I love this book. It's a concise, relevant, and accessible guide to wisdom in our challenging digital age. The Christian educator in me loves the metaphor of the "Wisdom Pyramid" as it provides an incredibly accessible heuristic for the concept of wisdom that I have found to be notoriously difficult to convey. Selfishly, I love this book because it feels like it has put into words thoughts and concepts that I have long harbored but lacked the polish and ambition to craft them so simply and articulately. In particular, McCracken's chapter on "Beauty" is worth the price of the book alone. I've read entire books on beauty that are not as informative, direct, or concise as this short chapter. I recommend this book to all Christians higher than middle school. 

Part of my reading process is to synthesize and paraphrase major quotes/ideas from the book to make a book summary. I enjoy the process of taking the best and most substantive quotes and mashing them together into something more concise, without losing the punch of the book. I thought you might get something out of the summary I created so I've shared it with you below. Keep in mind that this is my synthesis of McCracken's key quotes (meaning it's almost entirely composed of his words) with a bit of light paraphrasing of my own. You can purchase the book HERE.


McCracken, Brett. The Wisdom Pyramid: Feeding Your Soul in a Post-truth World. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2021.

Our world has more and more information, but less and less wisdom. Our eyes are strained, brains overstimulated, and souls weary. As we walk down the buffet line of social media snacks and online junk we have eaten too much, too fast, and only what tastes good to us. We live in an age of “too much” where the convenience of all the information in the world on our phones a few clicks away has overwhelmed us, produced angry tribalism, addictive triviality, and an environment where chaos and sin can reign. We live in an age of “too fast” where we go scan media without purpose, focus, and intention. As we scroll aimlessly through our information feeds we lose the ability to think critically, synthesize, and filter media through generational wisdom. We live in an age of “too focused on me” where we create “my truth” and shun facts and expert advice. We need to be educated and apprenticed by others if we are to become truly knowledgeable or skillful in any area but following the path of “my truth” puts an incredible, self-justifying burden on the individual that becomes a rat race of performative individuality resulting in depression and loneliness. In other words, our information age has made us all sick - destroying our self-control, patience, and humility.

The world needs wisdom desperately, truth that is unshakable and foundations that are solid. How can Christians become flourishing storehouses of wisdom in this era? To bring the light of Christian wisdom to the darkness of our unwise age Christians must recover habits of wisdom in their own lives. We need for our mental and spiritual health what the ‘Food Pyramid’ was for our physical health. We need a Wisdom Pyramid. Like our health, a life flourishes when built on the right foundation and collapses when built on the wrong one.

The book of Proverbs tells us that Wisdom is the God-created, God-given, God-fearing, God-oriented ability to synthesize, filter, evaluate, and apply information in ways that lead to right judgments and overall flourishing. Put simply, to gain wisdom is to learn to live well in light of truth gained. Our sources of information intake are vitally important in our quest for wisdom as they can make us healthy, or they can make us sick. This is where the Wisdom Pyramid comes in; it is a guide for our information intake. The bottom sections of the pyramid are more crucial priorities in our everyday knowledge habits than the top sections: Looking at the pyramid from the bottom up it goes from: the most enduring sources to the most fleeting ones, the sources mostly directly mediated by God to the least, and the clearer and more reliable communication of truth to less clear.

The foundation of the Wisdom Pyramid is the Bible. If we are to become wise, our information diet must begin with this ancient collection of Jewish literature and two-thousand-year-old Mediterranean letters and use it as the grid though which all other sources are tested. It is our most important source of wisdom because it is the eternal God revealing himself to us. God’s word is our most important and indisputable authority. To properly handle the Bible is to acknowledge that it should inform everything in our lives, no matter who we are, what we do, or how we feel. The Bible, God’s self-revelation, as our foundation in the pyramid does not make what stands above it irrelevant; it makes everything above it structurally sound.

The second level of the Wisdom Pyramid is the church, the people of God. Attaching oneself to the church – the global, growing, two-thousand-plus-years-old body of Jesus Christ on earth – can be like finding a lighthouse when you are lost in a raging sea. The church grounds us in a bigger story – one that transcends us, precedes us, and outlives us. The church provides us an interpretive community where collective wisdom across church history and in various denominations provides guardrails against interpreting the Bible poorly. The church offers a physical haven for the lonely digital ghosts of our age by providing an enfleshed community that plants us in tangible geographic reality and reminds us that we are embodied people made for physical connection with people in real places. It can be a place where healing – emotional, spiritual, physical – happens and where you can do physical things together: sing, stand, sit, kneel, hug, and even eat and drink the communion elements. Yes, all sorts of communities can help us: our family, our friends, our professional and civic groups; however, a church community – a faithful, God-glorifying, Christ-centered community, with its wisdom-infusing patterns and rhythms of worship – offers irreplaceable nutrition for a healthy wisdom diet.

The third level of the Wisdom Pyramid is nature. Just as you can know things about Vincent Van Gogh by examining his paintings, we can know more about God by observing his creation. Nature is there to sustain our lives, to be enjoyed, but also to challenge us, to put us in our place, and to impart to us wisdom – if we are willing to listen. In listening to nature for wisdom we must avoid deifying, destroying, or denying it. We must remember that nature as a communicator of wisdom is always imperfect and indirect. We must recognize that human beings are not only part of nature, but the ‘crown’ of it, and are tasked with being the steward and caretaker of it. We must accept that we are creatures and not the Creator. Our bodies, and the natural world, are not just playthings, they are gifts to accept, respect, and carefully steward. May we demonstrate our love for God by loving his creation, cherishing it, and learning from it – becoming wise as we accept with gratitude that every created thing gives glory to the Creator.

The fourth level of the Wisdom Pyramid is books. Books are a vital source for cultivating wisdom – not only for the truths they contain, but also for the way they help us think. Reading a variety of books (from different eras and places and worldviews) educates us, are important sources of both empathy and synthesis, helps us make connections across disciplines, gives us perspective, space to reflect, focus, and helps to keep our and self-centeredness in check. However, it would be folly to build one’s wisdom diet around great books but not also the greatest book, the Bible. Without the reference point of God, the ‘truth’ of books is relative. Books are great to the extent that they confirm and clarify the truth of the greatest book.

The fifth level of the Wisdom Pyramid is beauty. It is impossible to create theorems and testable hypotheses about what beauty is, how it works, and why humans, throughout time, gravitate to it. But we all know beauty exists even though it is mysterious. We know it when we see it, hear it, smell it, taste it, touch it. It reveals truth to us on the affective, often subconscious level which is why movies, TV, and other narrative arts are so powerful. Beauty gives truth a feeling, tone, and resonance. Truth without beauty often falls on deaf ears, just as beauty without truth rings hollow.God uses beauty to communicate in Scripture: story, metaphor, poetry, song, heroes and villains, and all manner of literary devices. Beauty stirs our souls, wakes us up, and tunes our hearts to something harmonious and pleasant about the world. What is that something? I believe it is God. I believe all that is beautiful bears witness to God because God is the source and standard of beauty. Beauty does not have to exist. The fact that humans delight in sunsets, symphonies, and well-proportioned faces has no bearing on our survival as a species. The only explanation that makes sense of beauty is that we are created in the image of God who relishes it. Beauty shapes our hearts, orients our lives, quiets our minds, and stills our souls in a noisy and weary world.

The sixth level of the Wisdom Pyramid is the Internet and social media. In folly we gorge on this portion of the wisdom diet like a Las Vegas all-you-can-eat buffet. The Internet and Social Media can benefit wisdom by providing access to knowledge for a wider range of people than ever before and it can give a platform to more potential voices of truth (and lies) who might otherwise never be heard. At its best, the Internet and social media can be a village green where people can interact, debate, and learn from one another. With self-control and the right intentions, one can get the best out of this source. We should go online with a purpose and stay on only as long as we need to. We should carefully select what we read, watch, listen to, and experience, giving priority to a diversity of sources and those that have stood the test of time.

The life of wisdom is glorious because it is the way we were created to be. As our lives are rightly ordered and oriented around God (Looking to God, Listening to God, and Loving God) they naturally become more fully alive. And as they do, they bring glory to their Creator. When we are unwise – feeding on a toxic diet that warps our minds and suffocates our souls – we become like a sickly, emaciated tree whose leaves are brown and whose fruit is rotten. We don’t bring beauty and oxygen to the world; only blight and bitter fruit. Our roots are shriveled, our branches snap off easily, and the slightest wind could knock us down. We are like chaff. But when we are wise – feeding on the bread of life (John 6:35), abiding in the vine (John 15:4-5), and drawing upon God-given sources of truth – we become like a robust tree planted near water (Ps. 1:3), with green leaves and vibrant fruit even when drought comes (Jer. 17:8). Our roots deepen securely into the ground, drawing life from vibrant streams. And our branches keep growing upward – like hands lifted in praise to their Creator. When the winds come – as they inevitably will, sometimes with furious force – these branches of wisdom won’t break off. They will simply sway, as if clapping or dancing with joy, turning every storm in an opportunity to sing. Soli Deo gloria. Wisdom is worship.

You can purchase the book HERE *I don't get referral money :)