If it’s worth doing, it’s worth thinking about too.
Noll’s 1994 Scandal of the Evangelical Mind and his subsequent 2011 Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind are a bit akin to a longitudinal qualitative study or two peas in a pod. Personally, I prefer folksier image (that’s the second one, in case you weren’t sure).
Noll, now famously, starts off his earlier text with the statement, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” Noll continues on to discuss needing to strengthen the “life of the mind.” But what does this mean? He explains,
By an evangelical “life of the mind” I mean more the effort to think like a Christian – to think within a specifically Christian framework – across the whole spectrum of modern learning, including economics and political science, literary criticism and imaginative writing, historical inquiry and philosophical studies, linguistics and the history of science, social theory and the arts. Academic disciplines provide modern categories for the life of the mind, but the point is not simply whether evangelicals can learn how to succeed in the modern academy. The much more important matter is what it means to think like a Christian about the nature and workings of the physical world, the character of human social structures like government and the economy, the meaning of the past, the nature of artistic creation, and the circumstances attending our perception of the world outside ourselves? Failure to exercise the mind for Christ in these areas has become acute in the twentieth century. That failure is the scandal of the evangelical mind.
Noll relates throughout the text various historical methods, movements, people who have pursued the life of the mind in just the ways he is suggesting ought to be done. He also thoughtfully considers criticisms against his proposal for intellectual vitality. As you might imagine, he manages fairly substantive rebuttals against such criticisms.
If one was to not read Noll’s text and simply comment upon it according to the title, one might well think it was rather gnostic. However, I am pleased to offer that this is not the case at all. Noll takes seriously the call to engaged faith, but is deeply concerned about consequences of uninformed actions. “The path to hell is paved with good intentions” as the saying goes.
So, Noll bemoans in his Scandal what we could perhaps offer as an addition to the Scripture noting that, “faith without works is dead.” Noll might suggest that works with faith is indeed alive, but also exceptionally dangerous without also having substantive training of the mind (education).
Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind is about the training that Noll found lacking and longs for in Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. In Life of the Mind, Noll utilizes historic creeds of the church to argue a solid Christocentric and Christological rationale for studying and for thinking well about human life and interaction with the surrounding world. This is hailed as groundbreaking.
I agree that this is important. However, I have seen this argument flourish within Judaism as well as see it present within Evangelicalism. From an initial, “In the beginning God created,” to “God saw that it was good,” we have an immediate affirmation of the deep importance of embodiment and embodied contextualization – that is, recognition that personal existence is constituted in space. Leaping forward, we have the reminder that, “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” and so many emphases on practiced spirituality, not the least of which is ‘love of neighbor.’
What I have taken away from both of Noll’s texts is that to love God and others well we must live into the core principles of the Gospels — love God with all of our heart, soul and mind and love our neighbor as we love ourself.
At the end of Noll’s new text, he leaves the door wide open for further engagement on this topic and at this point in history sees evangelicals on an upward trend of figuring out how to healthily connect humanity and divinity together without losing the farm – so to speak (I suppose with Noll’s emphasis on the mind, it might actually be the firm rather than the farm 😉 ) – in the process.
 Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1994), 3.
 Ibid., 7.
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