Can an intellectual be evangelical?
According to Mark Noll, in his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, “it is simply impossible to be, with integrity, both evangelical and intellectual.” (preface) According to the author, evangelicals have not focused in on four specific things: science, the arts, politics and culture/society in general. The reason these things have not been affected is because there is no attention paid by evangelicals to be intellectual in these areas. There is not a singular evangelical periodical within the US that pursues any of these four disciplines. There is no scholarly work done at the research university level because none exist. These are the short comings of evangelicalism. There is no interest in developing the mind to the level that our secular counterparts have over the years.
So, what is the scandal?
“What does it mean 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 is these areas has become acute in the twentieth century. That failure (to exercise the mind) is the scandal of the evangelical mind.
The author does a masterful job of undertaking a valuable social-historical survey of evangelicalism in the United States. From Jonathon Edwards to Charles Colson, Mark Noll carefully traces the history of American evangelicalism for the past 300 years. This snapshot gives a clear picture of how inept and lifeless evangelicals have become in the light of affecting society in any powerful way. Except for the spread of the Gospel. They seemed to have done that masterfully.
The author pursues the history of the major universities that started as Christian (Harvard, Princeton, Yale and others) and because of their elevation of intellect they became Darwinian in thought and moved away from anything evangelical. While the author intended to make a strong argument for intellectual mind use, I believe he counter proved his point about just pursuing the mind. 111 These institutions became non-Christian, non-evangelical or “secular” quickly. The heart and the appeal of the gospel was quickly overtaken by science, society, arts and pursuit of significant social influence. So, the mind or depth of the mind gravitated toward the secular.
The author displays a disdain for the Biblical view of Creation. He does not embrace it and traces it back to the Ellen G White and the Seventh Day Adventist instead of tracing it back to the book of Genesis. This is where the mind gravitates toward an explanation instead of toward a belief. The acceptance of the intellectual or scientific viewpoint instead of taking any attempt at verifying scripture. This is usually where the breakdown of theological intelligence causes me to pause.
When I studied at Oral Roberts University (a presumptuously developed institution, which makes my thinking appear, naïve, inept, or tendentious), I was confronted with the thought that some things are simply beyond my thoughts. They would continue to be mysteries, no matter how much thought I put into it. You know mysteries that I believe but I can’t explain.
The Mystery like the Trinity.
The Mystery like the Incarnate Christ
The Mystery like the Resurrection
The Mystery like Creation
At Portland Seminary (an evangelical seminary at George Fox University (which I believe is on the naughty list as well) I have studied and have been told that I am a practitioner of theology. I am not attempting to be a social, arts, political or scientific expert with my mind. Instead I am still pursuing an education to continue to fulfill the great commission of making disciples.
That is still a mystery for me. How can I represent Christ? I am an uneducated man who may look like a fool but I do believe. So maybe the author is correct. I can’t be both intellectual and evangelical so maybe I will just be that one other mystery: a Christian.
In an biographic piece, on the National Endowment for the Humanities website, concerning the author, his self description is interesting
“I am a historian who happens to be an evangelical Christian,” says Mark Noll, the Francis A. McAney Professor of History at Notre Dame. “The two are important to me but it is possible to distinguish these identities. In my work, I’m not an advocate for Christianity but because I’m an evangelical I am drawn to study religion and the history of religion.” Guess that explains some of this mystery.
Mark A Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company)
National Endowment for the Humanities website (www.neh.com)
12 responses to “Mysteries”
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Hi Kevin. When I was studying for my Masters in Theology I met a guy who told me he was abandoning being an evangelical and transitioning to Catholicism because, “Why should Catholics be the only ones with great artists?” I was reminded of this when I was reading Noll this week. Do you agree with Noll that evangelicals are lacking in intellectuals?
In terms of Creationism, I read Noll as not disagreeing with the biblical view of creation, but with certain interpretations of what the Bible says about creation. Did I miss it?
For me I really like Noll’s challenge to read and interpret the Bible based on Jesus. This frees me to read Genesis in light of Jesus as a story written for me to help me with my friendship with Him not necessarily debate if the world was put together in a certain amount of time. I just don’t think the writers of the various versions and stories in Genesis set out to write a science book.
Thanks for the response. I believe some of the sharpest minds of this past century have been consumed with reaching the lost instead of worrying about who is getting credit or recognition in the scholastic world. There are incredibly intelligent men in our organization who have figured out a way to print the Bible in countries where that is not legal and to do it in the native language. They can’t be recognized except by maybe being taken to jail.
The world recognition of deep thought is just not any thing I have ever given consideration to.
On creation, can God do miracles? Can God do what is stated in the Bible. Can God speak and create? If he can’t, then it is a nice story. If this is a myth then is heaven a myth? Just a nice story or allegory? Did Jesus really raise again or is that just another story? Why does it have to be proved by science? Maybe it was meant to be a mystery that men couldn’t explain.
Maybe that is the point on all of this. I know that when my students start to get lost is when people, that they respect of faith, start to back peddle on the Bible, to make it a watered down book that only warrants an opinion.
Do you run into this with your students? When Christian present creation and then hum ha around about it being true or not? Literal or not? A myth or a story?
Just my ramblings.
Thanks Kevin for on an excellent blog,
As stated, “Can an evangelical be intellectual?”. This is the question that I am pondering upon on, but what should evangelicals be doing ?
We are grateful and appreciate your blog which shows you have put in extra work. Well done, cohort! I can’t express how much I appreciate your efforts. Great covering of the book… concise reading!
Thanks! Rose Maria
I really struggle with this reading because I haven’t had these thoughts, ever. This is a completely different viewpoint than the dynamic of how I was raised.
Getting the world’ recognition or validation was not on my radar. It didn’t make my successful to be read in a journal. Being successful or being significant is a huge difference. I want to be significant in people’s lives who do not know Jesus.
I guess the great commission of going into the world and making disciples, which this author pointed out, has been the consuming role of pentecostals but is not the commission for evangelicalism. I am not sure what they means but I do know that when intellectualism got introduce to the Christian universities or colleges of higher education, they soon became places of secular higher education. They embraced man’s thinking instead of God’s thinking.
I really struggle with this part of higher education. Maybe some things are supposed to be a mystery to men and only explainable by it being God.
What are your thoughts? Is this your way of thinking?
Do you have a strategy to help youth develop their intellect while also developing their minds? What challenges do you find in the lives of high school student
s regarding intellectual challenges to the faith?
We do want students to be intellectual in their pursuit of Christ. We have introduced them to some apologetics but I don’t spend all of my time on their defence of their position. I do depend on the power of the Holy Spirit to give them the right things to say at the right time, like Christ promised his disciples. We teach them that God will help them in those moments to know what to say and do.
One of the greatest issues that our students face is being vocal about their faith. How can they be a voice among so many voices with so many opinions? If they are vocal, will it just cause an argument or will they be heard? I challenge them to establish themselves from day one as a Christian so that every comment they make through out the year will be viewed from their perspective. It is okay to have an opinion and a faith. Silence is not the only way to express your faith.
Having a one minute testimony of what Christ is doing in your life currently is one of our strategies. What has God spoken to you? How have your responded to him? What are you actively doing right now that Jesus wants you to be doing?
That is our thought process.
I like what you’re saying – especially because the life of the mind is about more than apologetics. You are teaching them to think and to depend on the Lord.
Good thoughts. I do believe that many things which we believe in are a mystery. I think many people try to give reasonable defenses to things that cannot be explained. Paul does tell us that the foolish things will confound the wise. How can we strike a balance between glorifying God with our minds and also discerning the mysteries that cannot be explained?
How do we strike a balance between glorifying God with our minds? I believe, is how I would respond to that question. Do I believe in God more or more in man and their opinion. The author wrote that to be significant we need to be recognized for our great wisdom and thought by the world. (Nobel Prize or works being printed in journals) I take it that we actually believe what God says through his word. My mind power to believe things that are unbelievable to men is what I believe would be recognized by God. His ways are higher than our ways. ( I know I sound all spiritual and Pentecostal)
The issues between Pentecostalism and this way of believing is that everything is dependent on men instead of God.
Didn’t Jesus have this same conflict?
Paul used his great intellect to be able to adapt to whatever setting he was in but his belief in God superseded his education.
I struggle with this dynamic. I can’t explain how the country of Russia opened up in 1994 and in 1995 I was in the country sharing the gospel. I will never receive any recognition for speaking from a stage that was built to recognize and elevate man and to deny God. It cost me to go there and be that ministry. Did people hear about God for the first time? Yes. Did people commit to love God in a country where that thinking (intelligence) was banned? Yes. So what is more important my believing or their intelligence?
I hope that answers some of your question.
Way to mess up the pie!!! The quote from the NEH was quite enlightening to Noll’s motive and understanding.
You took on an author and was willing to challenge his work with an “intellect” that caused me to question Noll’s motive.
Loaded question: Do you think that Noll is more concerned with his intellect than his Christianity?
I wonder if there is a “backstory” for his thirst for intellect and his disdain for simplicity and emotion?
Your blog was very well said! I really enjoyed the sarcastic wit that you used to confront the differences or inconsistencies that you found with the author. I also liked how you upheld you educational journey at GFU or Portland Seminary in light of the authors’ lack of use for such institutions. One thought that I did have as the author trashed Oral Roberts and ORU is the fact that the universities mission is to go into every man’s world. This is exactly what the author saw as a failure of evangelicalism, yet that was the mission of ORU. Do you think the author might have a bit of intellectual snobbery? At least Oral tried, instead of criticized.
You wrote a nice blog. I liked your sarcasm but also your academic voice. I agree with you about coming to terms with the mysteries of the faith. The Apostle Peter mentioned how some of Paul’s writings were complex and hard to understand. Yet, he also warned that some people would distort his teaching. I believe that this warning is important. Even though there are mysteries that we will never be able to understand completely, it does not mean that we should not put thought into it. It is here that I see a balance between having a child-like faith while at the same time having an informed faith. This is perhaps one of the areas in which Noll challenges us not to minimize the importance of investing our minds into these matters.