Mindscape: What to Think About Instead of Worrying

Written by Timothy Z. Witmer Reviewed By Joseph T. Cochran

Whether a scholar, student or pastor — you encounter worry and so do the people you teach or lead. Without proper treatment, worry is a weed that will take over the landscape of your mind. According to Timothy Witmer, Professor of Practical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, the landscape of your mind—your “mindscape”—should be made up of healthy vistas that defend against worry and anxiety.

In Mindscape, Witmer consults Philippians 4:8 to help us cultivate healthier vistas, transformative vistas, that weed out worry and produce fruitfulness for godly living and ministry. Mindscape introduces the infestation of worry (ch. 1), sets the context of Philippians 4:8 in prayer (ch. 2), and then looks in turn at each key, transformative vista of this verse: true (ch. 3), noble (ch. 4), right (ch. 5), pure (ch. 6), lovely (ch. 7), admirable (ch. 8), excellent and praiseworthy (ch. 9)—concluding with the imperative to think upon these things (ch. 10). So, fundamentally, Mindscape is a reflective exposition of Philippians 4:8, especially fitting for biblical and pastoral counseling.

From the onset, Witmer’s approach provides a practical resource rather than an academic tome on cognitive behavior. He interacts accessibly with the Greek text of Philippians 4:8, conveying the verse’s diction, set within the context of Greek philosophy and ethics. As he does so, Witmer points to where Paul nuances Greek thought on these vistas and sometimes turns that thought upside down.

For instance, when discussing the word προσφιλής (“lovely”)—a common term in Greek philosophy used only once in the NT—he writes: “The Greek philosophers could not separate the beautiful from the good, the true, and the real, which they saw as all unified in the One. While Plato spoke of this he couldn’t put a name on the One—but the Bible does!” (p. 105).

Following this, Witmer sheds light on who this One is. “God’s beauty consists of the perfection of his attributes. . . . The One who is the perfection and source of beauty must be surrounded by that which is lovely as well” (pp. 106–7). Witmer’s knack for pointing to the person of God as the exemplar par excellence for true virtue recurs in each chapter in Mindscape.

Witmer confesses in the Acknowledgments that this content is adapted from a sermon series. Yet, this is done so deftly that one does not notice. Still, Mindscape profits from everything a nourishing Christ-centered sermon might offer. Witmer doesn’t decode terms to train you out of worry; he ushers you to the feet of a person, namely Jesus, who is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. Witmer refers to one’s union with Christ again and again, which facilitates the landscaping of your mind. Each chapter I found myself celebrating these connecting points to Christ and the gospel, seeing as Witmer sees, that only Christ can defeat my worry and the gospel extinguish my anxiety.

This is the beauty of Witmer’s contribution. Whereas many books offer a check that’s sure to bounce—“seven steps to defeat worry” or “a sure-fire method to end anxiety”—Witmer contends that we’re stuck with worry until we’re detached from this life, and our minds are not just set on eternity, but our persons find themselves in the setting of eternity. “Paul’s words are so urgent because these weeds and ruts are not removed once and done. . . . There are always going to be things to worry about; therefore, you always need to remind yourself of God’s faithfulness” (p. 164). Until that time, you cleave to Christ; you set your mind on anything and everything that encapsulates his person and beauty, whether it be creation, creature, or Creator. You function with an ongoing heart of repentance—turning away from the idol of worry and turning in faith to the God of wonder.

Witmer could have strengthened the content of Mindscape by providing more background on how Paul adapted this laundry list of terms in Philippians 4:8 from Greek philosophers and ethicists. Not too far into the book Witmer claims, “The words Paul uses would have been familiar to his readers. They are the vocabulary of the Greek philosophers and ethicists—ethical standards to which his readers should aspire” (p. 5). He goes on without validating this claim. Witmer does show and tell here and there throughout Mindscape, as exhibited above in this review, but a section in each chapter on how the Greeks understood each virtue might have gone a long way in understanding how Paul appropriates and improves upon these ideas. This exercise might have led to a more robust harvest for our mindscape.

Mindscape is a leisurely read that evokes reflection. The real life anecdotes of those who exemplify these virtues and of those who have learned to manage worry brings the content home. If worry eats you up or is consuming someone you know, I suggest taking a first step towards change by learning from the approach Timothy Witmer offers in Mindscape.

Joseph T. Cochran

Joseph T. Cochran
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
Deerfield, Illinois, USA

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