Stand in the Gap
The scandal of the Evangelical mind, regrettably, is all around us. It is in popular media, social media, the public square, politics, universities and in other accessible spaces. Embarrassingly, we just cannot avoid it. To check my claim, I decided just now as I’m writing this, to turn on the radio and tune in to KKLA (99.5 FM, Los Angeles), “one of America’s most listened to Christian Talk stations.” It says so on their tagline. The mega church pastor who was speaking on the air said in one breath that “…everything you need to know is found in the Bible…” and then followed it up with the verse in Romans 12:1 “…but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” He implied that in order to change one’s life, a person must first be transformed by a renewed mind.
I can give him a pass because I already know what he was trying to communicate to his radio listeners. I have no doubt that he means well and aims to glorify God in all areas of life. However, to an unbeliever’s ear, this message is strange. It might even sound downright silly. Does the Bible really tell us everything there is to know? Will it tell me how much soap to put in the washer; balance my checkbook or prepare an apple cranberry walnut salad? Of course not. But it’s a category mistake to expect the Bible to be something it was not meant to be. Believers who carelessly think this way might be in the grips of biblicism,1 which holds to the claim that the Bible is the only source of knowledge. The key word here, of course, is “only.” It is so easy today for a well meaning believers to be exposed as a poor witness simply because they lack the discipline of study.
But how did this happen when according to Mark Noll, Christians are heirs to a rich intellectual heritage found in Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Calvin, Pascal and Edwards?2 Mark Noll in Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind responds to this conundrum and says:
“If what we claim about Jesus Christ is true, then evangelicals should be among the most active, most serious, and most openminded advocates of general human learning. Evangelical hesitation about scholarship in general or about pursuing learning wholeheartedly is, in other words, antithetical to the Christ-centered basis of evangelical faith.”3
How did Christianity move from having the mind of Christ4 to a descent in intellectual laziness? Noll thinks the problem started when evangelicals started adopting Enlightenment ideas, specifically the didactic form imported by Scottish thinkers such as Francis Hutcheson, Thomas Reid and Adam Smith to name a few.5 In a spate of historic irony, the project failed. The very same Enlightenment concepts evangelical thinkers adopted to harmonize the Bible and nature simply could not hold up against the scrutiny of their interlocuters. This is not to say that Christians did not have any good rejoinders. But instead of doing homework, evangelicals retreated to the “fundamentals” of the faith. Regrettably, this was a euphemism for “we walk by faith, not by sight.” This eventually gave rise to new developments in theology such as the Keswick movement, Holiness, pentecostalism and the like which sought a second work of the Holy Spirit after conversion. By this time, experience and feelings became the exclusive new sources of knowledge at the expense of sound reason, the effects of which are still felt today.
Noll was asked if had to write The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind all over again, what would change? He said that his assessment would remain unchanged but that he would change his tone. He would write with more hope and that is exactly what we find in Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind. He lists no less than ten positive signs of Evangelical advances in philosophy, science, publications, universities (e.g., Biola and George Fox) and other areas of scholarship.
It is high time to answer the clarion call to stand in the gap. Who knows how long the Lord will tarry? Perhaps we are, by God’s grace, given this rare opportunity to help elevate the life of the mind to newer heights in our time. As C.S. Lewis so famously said:
“To be ignorant and simple now–not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground–would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defence but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.”6
1 Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), 8.
2 It is sobering to note that Jonathan Edwards had no intellectual successors according to Mark Noll.
3 Mark Noll, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011), Loc. 27, Kindle.
4 Philippians 2:5
5 Noll, Scandal, 84.
6 C.S. Lewis, “Learning in War-Time,” in The Weight of Glory, ed. Walter Hooper (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001), 58.
7 responses to “Stand in the Gap”
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Yes, Harry, bad philosophy needs to be answered as does bad theology. Every stream of the Church has its share. Thank you for your own pursuit and continually reminding all of us to be people centered in Truth and to speak it in love.
Yes Tammy — truth in love. It’s that “doubleness” Noll reminds us to pay attention.
I am glad to know you and your amazing scholarship is standing in the gap. I find Noll’s work hopeful and inspiring, therefore I am quite excited to stand in the gap with you. Blessings.
Harry, I loved your post, but I did have a question. you wrote, “Regrettably, this was a euphemism for “we walk by faith, not by sight.” This eventually gave rise to new developments in theology such as the Keswick movement, Holiness, pentecostalism and the like which sought a second work of the Holy Spirit after conversion.” It seems like you are saying that these additional movements were man driven, not moves of the Holy Spirit. Do you think that these movements were also moves of God; i.e. God changing the direction of what we think about how He moves? I wonder if sometimes books like Noll in setting out how we got to where we forget that God is in all these moves and is now moving us in a more balanced direction.
Hi Mary. Yes, I am agreeing with Noll on this. Could God have been in these movements? No doubt he can. But in Noll’s project he’s saying that an anti-intellectual movement would give rise to our current intellectual malaise.
I remember, one of the LGP 8 students in his pecha kucha last year said that his particular denomination does not think that seminary education was not important as a requirement to serve in their churches. He showed some statistics to support this. I had no idea that any organization would see this as a value. Nevertheless, it appears true and I don’t think it is right. However, we need to be careful and Noll seems to be cautious about swinging in either direction. I appreciate him switching categories to imagine how believers can balance the experience and the intellect in their lives. We need to do that and help others do the same.
Thank you Harry for your great post as usual. It is important to answer the bad philosophy and bad theology which can only be done through intellectualism. I personally appreciate this truth just by seeing what education has done for our ministry. Our education has so much increased our influence and impact locally but, also opened cross-cultural opportunities of ministry.
Hi Wallace. Thanks for this. Yes, in the not so distant future I’ll be hearing/reading about so and so from LPG9 is doing this, someone from our cohort is making a positive impact somewhere in the world and I’ll be praising God and I can say “I know so and so. Of course he/she would be doing that.”