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

Mark Noll and Peter Enns walk into a bar . . .

Written by: on January 23, 2020

Mark Noll keeps the Canadian connection alive, as all of our authors so far this semester have strong ties to Jenn’s motherland.  Mark Noll, former Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame, is current Professor of History at Regent College in Vancouver.  A prolific author, and high achieving academic, perhaps his most impressive claim to fame (though I am sure this goes highly unnoticed) is the fact that he earned a master’s degree from the University of Iowa in English.  Iowa’s English Department is world renown, and I wonder if his time there helped catalyze his career in writing.

Most famously known for his work, The Scandal of the American Mind, in which Noll writes about anti-intellectual tendencies within the American evangelical movement,[1] our reading this week pairs Scandal with an “update” to this formidable text.  In what some have referred to as a “sequel” to Scandal, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind “seeks to offer something of an update on the current status of the evangelical mind and to suggest how the evangelical faith might inform the life of the mind.”[2] A reader can see this shift as Noll quotes Os Guiness in Scandal, “Evangelicals need to repent of their refusal to think Christianly and develop the mind of Christ’[3].  Fifteen years later, Noll follows this up in Life of the Mind with, “My contention in this book is that coming to know Christ provides the most basic possible motive for pursuing the tasks of human learning.”[4]  From lamenting the lack of Universities, periodicals, and public discourse, to charting a new way to think about learning, Noll strives to move the conversation into a different plane.

My favorite part of these two books is when Noll references Peter Enns work Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament. This is mainly because Peter Enns is speaking to Westminster Presbyterian Church, the church I currently serve in March.  We are doing a collective book read, where large parts of the congregation will read his book How the Bible Actually Works: In Which I Explain How An Ancient, Ambiguous, and Diverse Book Leads Us to Wisdom Rather Than Answers―and Why That’s Great News, then have small group discussions about the book, and then Enns himself will come for a brief lecture and “Q & A” MC’d by yours truly.  I look forward to asking Enns his thoughts on Mark Noll’s work in a very public setting.

All of this reminds me that I come from a denominational background in which some have argued that far too much of our faith journey comes from “the mind.”  I have made the joke during our Zoom chats that Presbyterians are the “Frozen Chosen.” Yes, this moniker comes from our unique concept of double predestination, but also the fact that Presbyterians in general are more “head” and less “heart.”  Most Presbyterians would argue that there is nothing wrong with this.   Scot-Presbyterians have historically been at the forefront of Public Education movements (even offering free public lectures at the University of Glasgow according to Arthur Herman in How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe’s Poorest Nation Created Our World & Everything in It) and the “Sunday School Movement” teaching Bible basics to both children and adults.

And yet there is a clear, public, bold, vocal, naming of one’s Presbyterian faith that falls short of that demonstrated by many of my non-Presbyterian cohort peers.  I shared some of this with everyone following our first Advance in Hong Kong.  Not only was I not as used to praying during class in seminary (yes, I went to one!) but that your fervent and personal prayer life was richer than any I had experienced in the Presbyterian realm.  It took me aback, honestly it still takes me aback, in ways that have improved the way I pray publicly and privately.  In ways that I lead worship.  In ways that I pray with my family.

I am grateful to Noll for lifting up the importance of education.  But I too am grateful for the evangelical world from which he comes, for the passionate, Spirit filled proclamation of the power of Christ.


[1] Alan Wolfe, “The Opening of the Evangelical Mind: Of all America’s religious traditions, the author writes, evangelical Protestantism, at least in the twentieth-century conservative forms, has long ranked “dead last in intellectual stature.” Now evangelical thinkers are trying to revitalize their tradition. Can they turn an intellectual backwater into an intellectual beacon?” The Atlantic, October 2000, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2000/10/the-opening-of-the-evangelical-mind/378388/.

[2] Bradley G. Green, “Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind,” Themelios, Vol 37-Issue 2, https://themelios.thegospelcoalition.org/review/jesus-christ-and-the-life-of-the-mind/.

[3] Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1994), 23.

[4] Mark Noll, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2011), ix.

About the Author

Rev Jacob Bolton

8 responses to “Mark Noll and Peter Enns walk into a bar . . .”

  1. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Jacob, you remind us what the whole Church is needed. We each bring a necessary part. Never apologize for your roots and tradition. Everyone comes from a less than complete tribe and yet each contributes an essential part. I’m glad some have inspired fervency in prayer, and you have inspired the life of the mind. We need each other!

  2. Rhonda Davis says:

    I love this, Jacob. I echo Tammy’s call to recognize the gaps in every tradition. We all have flaws we must actively work to overcome. You, my friend, along with your faith tradition, inspire me to be better!

  3. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    You are probably the best Presby I know (no pressure). I guess that means we open (or perhaps close)ourselves to other parts of the church often as we are influenced and engaged by living, breathing, “family” from that part of the church. I love your mind and your wit. Most of all I love your friendship and your passion for others. Because of you, I love Presbys! So there you go.

  4. Mary Mims says:

    Jacob, I love the “Frozen Chosen”! Thank you for unthawing it a bit and keeping it 100!

  5. Jacob, there is strength in diversity and so much to learn from each other. I so appreciate the diversity in our cohort across denominations and cultures which, has afforded me great exposure. I appreciate your Presbyterian heritage and look forward to learn more from our interaction, its a great opportunity that the process of intellectualism gives us!

  6. Jenn Burnett says:

    Jacob how much do you think a theological position that holds some element of predestination (either single or double) releases that tradition to embrace study more than a strictly evangelical position? The reformed movement has long found value in academia and I can’t help but wonder if that isn’t in part because there is less sense that ‘people are being eternally lost every second’? It was Noll’s directing us to the evangelical notion of urgency that leads me to suspect this. I would perhaps compare it to a burning building—one would see only those needing to be saved immediately and another would see it as an indication that we need to work towards building codes that prevent future fires. I wholeheartedly agree that denominational cross pollination increases the strength of the Church, what would you see as the best practices to nurture this outside academia? That is for the average parishioners? Also, how do I get an invite to here Peter Enns speak? 🙂 P.S. Come to Canada to see Mark Noll….it could be a good family vacation and our kids could entertain each other!

  7. John says:

    I love this, Jacob. I echo Tammy’s call to recognize the gaps in every tradition. We all have flaws we must actively work to overcome. You, my friend, along with your faith tradition, inspire me to be better!

  8. I love this, Jacob. I echo Tammy’s call to recognize the gaps in every tradition. We all have flaws we must actively work to overcome. You, my friend, along with your faith tradition, inspire me to be better!

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