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

Embrace the Questions

Written by: on February 6, 2014

In the opening pages of Mark Noll’s, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, he writes, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind” (3). Noll traces what happened to the evangelical mind through Luther to Calvin, to the Puritans, to C.S. Lewis and through the fundamentalist movement.  What was once a tradition that founded and supported universities and deep thinking is now, according to Noll, a movement that lacks depth in the mind, and influence in the wider culture. Reading Noll was much like reading my autobiography. Growing up a fundamentalist I remember discipleship weekends that taught me how to defend a 7-day literal creation (I would have loved the recent Billy Nye/Kim Ham debate). I remember feeling the disgust as I realized that my friends were being duped into believing in evolution and down a path of losing their faith. I remember being at a youth retreat on the end times and having the speaker explain to us, verse by verse, what’s going to happen in the end times. I remember references to Russia and the Middle East. I remember speculation on who the Anti-Christ would be. I remember being so excited by the Left Behind series and the possibility that the world would go to hell-in-a hand basket, and that I wouldn’t be here. I can still feel the self-righteousness and the desire to be ‘separate’ from the pagan culture. It’s some 20 years later, and I’m now the Mission Minister of a progressive Baptist Church. It’s the kind I would have thought was anathema to the Gospel, if I even knew they existed (we are few and far between). It’s my job to help our church connect to folks who are disconnected from a life of faith. Since we’re still in the US south, many folks my age have a historical connection to evangelicalism though many of them have walked away from their faith. As I engage them in conversation, issues relating to the ‘life of the mind’ often come up. They tell stories of leaving the church because a “simplistic faith” didn’t work for them as they grew older, and unfortunately,  that was the only expression they knew. As I enter into their questions and doubts, break their stereotypes about who and what a Baptist minister is, I’m finding that they are drawn to the ‘life of the mind,’ something that our church values greatly.  We recently baptized a young adult who shared many of the themes above.  Faith, as it was presented to her as a child was too difficult too believe in as she grew old. Disbelief became easier and more authentic to who she was. But in the back of her mind, she wanted to believe. Our church is now asking how we can create and foster the ‘life of the mind’ not only among our parishioners but also as a sign-post to young professionals who have left because they can’t believe in a simplistic, dumb-downed, anti-intellectual version of the Christian faith and evangelicalism in particular.  Fortunately, deep thoughts, questions and mystery are very much part of who we are. The struggle is figuring out how to communicate that deep questions are welcomed without being off-putting. Nothing sounds elitist and unchristian like ‘we’re smarter than them’ and ‘we ask better questions then others.’ So, how do you communicate that the life of the mind matters in a way that’s faithful, to the message we carry?

About the Author

Chris Ellis

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