Letters to a Young Mathematician

I am currently reading a book called “Letters to a Young Mathematician.” It is part of a series of books called “The Art of Mentoring.” The series is intended to influence people of certain trades through engaging in an “apprenticeship” underfoot of certain authors – the authors, of course, being accomplished “masters” in their respective fields.

I LOVE this book and what it offers. First, I love math. Second, and more importantly, I love the “way” this book teaches math. It assumes the reader needs a mentor, a guru, a sage, or a rabbi in order to succeed in the world of math. Someone for encouragement on the way. Someone for help when the going gets hard. Someone to illuminate where there is lack of understanding. Someone to challenge when the student settles for the status quo. Someone to discipline us when we stray off subject. Someone to warn us of dangerous pitfalls – or worse – useless arenas of thought.

I love this approach to mathematics. I love this approach to life! We all need a mentor a guide on “The Way.” Jesus is the ultimate guide. He has ascended, but has not left us alone. He sent an advocate on His behalf to journey with us through life (John 14).

But this journey is not meant to be travelled alone. We need a community. A classroom of fellow learners, if you will. And we don’t need the honors students to flaunt their supreme spirituality. We need them to be humble and remember their beginnings as “weak mathematicians.” We need encouragment from our classmates. We need to study together and practice our trade together.

We also need healthy mentors. We need our teachers to be mirror images of The Teacher. We need them to be learned, practiced, and time-worn. We need them to be fully transformed into what they claim. We don’t need Algebra 2 teachers coaching us in Calculus 3. We need holistic “mathematicians”, who intimately know the nuances of the practice. We need people further down the road to take us by the hand and show us the “Way.”

And we also need open minds. This comes from a humble worldview. If we possess “the knowledge of our own unknowing” then we will have open minds – ears with which to hear and hearts with which to listen.

And we need discipline. We cannot seek after glory for tommorrow because it doesn’t exist. And if it does – it is false glory (Matt. 16:26). We need to accept our role as methodical practicioners of the Way. We need to dare to be disciplined in our art. We need to forget our fanciful hopes of the worlds overnight successes, and walk in the footsteps of our Master Teacher and Rabbi. For His Way is a Way unlike that of our diconnected, disengaged, disembodied, and impersonal culture. It is a way of the patient, longsuffering, and enduring disciple who daily takes up her cross and follows Him. It is personal and nuanced.

This is the Art of Mathematics. It is the Art of the Way too. It is the art of life. In it, yours is true freedom. For we must all be slaves to something but only one Master sets us free.

I have come that {you} may have life and have it to the full.
– Jesus Christ (John 10:10)

{I suggest reading “The Jesus Way” by Eugene Peterson for more conversation about the “Ways that Jesus is the Way” – Also you do NOT have to like mathematics to enjoy reading “Letters to a Young Mathematician”}


  1. What you are suggesting is very “UnAmerican,” but beautiful. You are suggesting that we not look out for “number one” but look around us. Look for those who need help or better yet – actually look for those that can successfully help us in life. This is something so simple, yet so hard to do. If I admit that I need help – am I admitting that I am a weak individual? We are taught since the time we are small children to do everything you can on your own. If you cant find a way to succeed – look harder! The word “help” is not in our vocabulary. Then there are those of us who do look for help. Who do need that Alegebra 2 teacher to help us with even the simple things in life. We look right past that teacher and find someone who is on a different journey. How do we find the discipline to look toward the Way?


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