Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

A Mind Is a Terrible Thing To Waste

Written by: on February 3, 2015

As I read “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” I could not stop thinking of the following sentence: “If we want critical societies we must create them.”[1]  Do you remember this sentence? It is the last sentence found in our first reading assignment, “The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools.” This short but rich booklet continues to remind me that I have the responsibility to teach people the importance of critical thinking and the value and richness it can bring to their spiritual, intellectual and personal lives. I/We have the responsibility of empowering people by fostering a community that can question, challenge and wrestle with various cultural, theological, economical and global perspectives.   So as I read “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” it disturbed me and at the same time challenged me.

The first sentence in Noll’s book is quite disturbing, “the scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”[2]  Although this statement is not surprising, it is indeed sad. Evangelicals have had the stigma of being a movement or religion for the weak and non-intellectual. Yet cultivating the mind is essential because people need to understand both the word of Scripture and the nature of the world in which the word would take root.[3] Noll states that the priesthood of believers demanded more education, not less.

One of the historical influences that Noll describes in his book as leading to anti-intellectualism is dispensationalism.  As I was growing up, I can remember the impact of this particular influence in my faith community. Whenever there were current events the tendency was to focus on the things to come and disregard what was happening around us. There was no movement towards getting involved or learning how we can be and bring the light of Christ in that specific event. Basically, current events generally reminded people of the biblical prophecies instead of becoming involved or dealing with the political situation.  Noll states that if evangelicals continue to be influenced by historicist dispensationalism (the dispensationalism that goes in for identifying specific current events as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy), there is little intellectual hope for the future.[4]  Noll asserts that dispensationalism was the most intellectual form of fundamentalism thereby making it responsible for being the most disastrous effects on the mind.[5]

Perhaps dispensationalism may be one of the historical influences that have led to the scandal of the evangelical mind or perhaps it was the way it was misapplied that led to it. However it is certainly not the end of the story. There is always hope! Personal faith in Christ is a necessary condition for Christian intellectual life. According to Noll, so long as evangelicalism keeps Christian faith alive, it contributes in no small way, often despite itself, to the possibility of Christian thinking.[6]  Whatever may be the actual intellectual practice of Christian believers, Noll writes that the Christian faith contains the resources required for full-scale intellectual engagement.[7]  He emphasizes that for serious intellectual efforts, those who look to Christ as their prophet, priest, and king act most faithfully when they carry out those efforts with norms defined by Christ.[8]

So what are those norms? Perhaps the place to begin is with the response Jesus gave to the experts of the law when asked “Teacher which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” “Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment…”[9] We put great effort in nurturing our heart and soul. Yet, what about our mind? What efforts are we making for the profound intellectual pursuits of the mind?  The effort to think like a Christian is rather an effort to take seriously the sovereignty of God over the world he created, the lordship of Christ over the world he died to redeem, and the power of the Holy Spirit over the world he sustains each and every moment…the search for a Christian mind is not, in the end, a search for mind but a search for God.[10]








[1] Richard Paul and Linda Elder, “The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools,” (Foundation for Critical Thinking, 2009), pg. 23.

[2] Mark A.Noll, “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind,” (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994), pg. 3.

[3] Ibid., 37.

[4] Ibid., 173.

[5] Ibid., 132.

[6] Ibid., 250.

[7] Mark A. Noll, “Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind,” (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2011), pg. 153.

[8] Ibid., 125.

[9] New International Version, The Bible (Matthew 22:36-38)

[10] Mark A. Noll, “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind,” (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994), pg. 253.

About the Author

Miriam Mendez

One response to “A Mind Is a Terrible Thing To Waste”

  1. Hey Miriam, I had you marked as one that I need to make a reply to that I have been neglectful in reading and then I couldn’t find your post. But glad that you eventually got to post on this books by Noll. And a wonderful post you have done here. You have taken the understanding and the breath of this topic, the scandal of the Evangelical mine, and critically and intellectually understood the dilemma that this scandal possesses for us. I really like your last thoughts as that of being: the pursuit of intellect within the Christian realm is equivalent to the pursuit of God. Indeed, it is the desire to seek God with all of our heart, soul, strength, and our mind that both brings glorification to God and peace of mind in ourselves. Thank you for returning us back to a relationship with Christ that encompasses all who we are including our intellectual mind.

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