Nurturing a spiritual mind
In the opening of Noll book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, the author writes, “the scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” This can seem offensive, if a person decides to be fixated on that sentence, the book would appear to be a negative critique of evangelicalism. Noll’s argument is directed to evangelical scholarship and it’s lack of depth in the areas of politics, social theory, economics, science et cetera. In particular, Noll insists that “American evangelicals are not exemplary for their thinking, and they have not been so for several generations” Yet he is also quick to acknowledges that evangelicals indeed have “… extraordinary ranges of virtue … including great sacrifice in spreading the message of salvation in Jesus, open-hearted generosity to the needy, heroic personal exertion of behalf of troubled individuals”. The author repeatedly relays a major concern for the need for a robust and Christocentric intellectual presentation from the evangelical sphere. As though good intentions are not enough, Noll laments:
Despite dynamic success at a popular level, modern American evangelicals have failed notably in sustaining serious intellectual life. They have nourished millions of believers in the simple verities of the gospel but have largely abandoned the universities; the arts, and culturally upscale subgroups, evangelicalism has little intellectual muscle.
In his other book titled “Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind”, the author introduces the reader to a rather well formed argument for the centrality of Jesus Christ and His impact on the evangelical’s ability to learn. Noll notes “coming to know Christ provides the most basic possible motive for pursuing the tasks of human learning” I was encouraged to know that a believer in Christ can seek to glory Jesus Christ through learning that is beyond the need to think in a “Christian” manner.
Noll points his readers to John 1, Colossians 1 and Hebrews 1 as the scripture basis for Jesus’ initial dominion in and over learning. He also focuses on the historical creeds in the Christianity as potent pillars in the search for intellectual vitality. Jesus Christ and His lordship in and over learning as important in the academy, was an intriguing aspect of Noll’s book. Christ’s powerful impact in the learning process can bring a believer to the realization of four key elements, namely: “duality or doubleness, contingency, particularity, and self-denial.”
Noll’s book propelled me to think about how I might practice some of the ways he suggests in order to totally open myself to centrality of Jesus Christ in my mind and heart life on daily basis. I was gripped by the section on “Self-denial” Noll writes:
Before the mysteries of the incarnation, intellectuals who realize how much their own work depends on Christ’s work simply accept that all intellectual endeavors are limited…. scholars are justified by faith and not by their scholarship can also have a tremendously liberating consequence for learning itself.
Noll’, counsel reminds me of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ afresh. For the term “disciple” means to be a learner and I now I appreciate the added element of a learner who is not selfless, but thinks of one ‘self, less and less each moment and day that goes by. That would be a practical prayer posture in line with the scriptural wisdom of “He must become greater; I must become less” With instructions from educators like Noll, believers are encouraged to trust that the evangelical intellect, “can arise as a natural extension of Christian belief”
 Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994), 3
 Ibid., 3.
 Mark A. Noll, Jesus Christ And The Life of the Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2011) Ix-x
 Ibid., 61-62.
 John 3:30
 Mark A. Noll, Jesus Christ And The Life of the Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2011) 45
12 responses to “Nurturing a spiritual mind”
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Michael, you captured the spirit and essence of both books so well. As I read, my mind wandered… Could you imagine being in a classroom learning with Jesus? I imagine it would be tough after a while…with Him knowing all the answers before the teacher even spoke and asking questions that tongue-tied the leaders. Hearing His interpretation of Scripture, current events, and history would have been mind-boggling yet liberating. Perhaps His classtime is where He first formulated the use of parables for teaching?! Ah, to have been a student at His feet and to be His disciple as He walked the earth…what an amazing time that must have been.
Oh, it sent before I was finished. ….
In wandering through my imagination like this, it makes the Scripture come alive, as I can picture myself sitting at His feet or following Him around, and transforming into the disciple you described. Oh, to have a mind awakened!
Minds are such a powerful creation and how much more the creator of the mind? I believe Noll’s message is critical for the realization of we can apply the mind the a holistic worship of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
Indeed I agree! Learning from the greatest source is the best and Jesus was the greatest at doing the well of God.
I appreciate the call to recapture the essence of a “disciple”, Michael. I agree with Ashley’s comments above as well. There is a tendency to become satisfied with what we think we know already. Or perhaps to rest our faith on a past experience of God’s work in our lives. However, to be a disciple, means we must be continually learning, continually following Our Teacher, Jesus. This really challenges me to be more attentive to what He is telling me and showing me as I go through each day. And then it further challenges how His Words help me reconcile what I see and hear and feel…this call to discipleship is no easy task…but He told us that too, didn’t He? Thanks for stirring my thoughts on this.
Thank you Deve. Noll’s work can serve a group of believer by posing the necessary challenges about how to worship God with all our minds.
As Ashley and Deve have mentioned, you have synthesized Noll’s work. But it is your reflection and reminder drawn from the readings that to be a disciple is to be a learner. I was recently talking with a colleague relating a recent experience of hearing someone state “we know what the Bible says.” End of point, end of learning. Perhaps that is part of our tension, what we know, is not the end of what we know. You revealed that so well in your post.
But as I scanned your words again I was drawn to your photo (your post photos are always brilliant by the way!). Do we only draw to the “center” holistically – spirit, body, mind or do we think that we draw to the center in body and spirit and distrust the mind?
Thanks Michael for your insights!
P.S. where do you find such compelling images? 🙂
Thanks Carol for your kind comments. I love imagery and using the imagination through the arts and photos to communicate life’s simple and deep truths. Perhaps that’s why I keep finding particular images that speak to my soul and feels alive about a particular conversation.
Have a great week!
I love your reminder that to be a disciple is to be a learner. That was very refreshing to me, since although I might not be that spiritual of a person, I definitely consider myself to be a lifelong learner. I am constantly learning about many things, especially about myself.
Many years ago, there was a Campus Crusade for Christ program called “I Found It.” “I Found It” was a bumper stickers started being seen on lots of cars. But then there were other bumper stickers that followed. One of them said, “I Never Lost It!” Another asked, “What did You Find?” This campaign created quite a stir, not all positive to the Gospel.
If I have “found it,” does that mean that I have nothing left to find? If I am supposed to be a disciple, a learner, then what am I supposed to learn if I already know everything? If there is no mystery left in our understanding of God, how are we we spend our time? My father hasn’t grown spiritually in probably 30 years because he “found it” so many years ago. He is constantly preaching to me, but there is never anything new; it’s the same old message, the same old condemnation. I feel sorry for my dad. I wouldn’t call him a learner since he already has all the answers. God help us to realize that we all have much to learn, especially if we would call ourselves disciples.
Bill, well said. I do not know where I would be if it were not for being able to learn from others. I feel like everything I know, I have been taught. Like you, I believe that I am a life learner and never want to stop learning.
I continue to learn a lot from you my friend.
Have a great week.
Great summary of Noll’s works! I appreciate what you said towards the end: “Noll’s, counsel reminds me of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ afresh.” Indeed, you’re so right! After all, the word ‘disciple’ implies someone who learns from another. So it’s only right that we apply ourselves to learning more about God and the universe He has created. Great point.
Yes Liz, my view of a disciple was refreshed indeed by Noll. I want to keep learning about God, His voice and creation.
Have a great week!