In Noll’s book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (1994), he insisted Christians should pursue their beliefs on the biblical affirmation of creation. In other words, we should stand on our theological convictions, then explore and understand how creation should function under God. Such exploration would undoubtedly motivate Christians to pursue the role of science in the theology of creation. However, affirming a theology of science in creation is viewed as an atheistic approach, which ultimately leads to a functional deism (rejects the belief in the supernaturality of religion and that God created the universe but remains separate from it).
“Understanding more about Christ and his work not only opens a wide doorway to learning, but also checks tendencies toward idolatry that are as potent among scholars as in the rest of humankind” (14, Kindle). This statement gives us a clear direction of Noll’s approach to his new book, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind. He intends to define Christianity by the “person and work of Jesus Christ” (14, Kindle).
This book has two distinct parts. In the first three chapters, Noll made an attempt to develop a Christ-centered framework for learning. We could also argue that chapter 4 should be included in this first segment because Noll seeks a correlation between the atonement and the intellectual life. In his mind, Christians and New Atheists or young earth creationists and evolutionary creationists have already accepted a metaphysical paradigm, although they might diametrically oppose each other. Noll attributes some of this to a shift in western thinking, citing that it changed how Christians talk about ‘nature’ and God’s relationship to creation. Some of the highlights of the first segment include:
- Chapter 2 tells us that Christ is the creator of all things and if we believe that Christ is sovereign over all things, we should never isolate God and creation. Noll reveals seven motives for learning
- Christ is Creator (p. 25)
- All things cohere in Christ, so reality harmonizes with His Lordship (p. 26-30)
- Christ’s sovereignty creates the attachment with all things (p. 30-33)
- Since the Word became flesh, we cannot ignore the reality of materialism (p. 33-35)
- The incarnation and ‘this’ world (p. 35-37)
- We study human personality because Jesus was fully human (p. 37-38)
- The attention to beauty because of the beauty of God (p. 38-39)
- Chapter 3 talks about the four fundamental principles that inform and encourage Christian scholarship
- Doubleness (or duality): “The doubleness of Christ as divine and human, which undergirds the whole edifice of Christian life and thought, is a model for studying the spheres of existence” and thus a Christian scholar “should be predisposed to seek knowledge about particular matters from more than one angle” (p. 46).
- Contingency: Noll argues that we must “seek out as much evidence as possible about whatever we are studying” (p. 50). We have the incarnate God that facilitated our salvation through such incarnation, but our studies as scholars will reveal the evidence that will guide our thinking.
- Particularity: Christianity offers mediation between “the perspectival and the universal” (p. 55). However, “God used the particular means of the incarnation to accomplish a universal redemption” (p. 58). This allows Christian scholars in their debates, to endorse either universal truth or perspectivalism.
- Self-denial: The intellectual life often becomes “sickening” with two symptoms, namely self-reliance, and self-praise (or self-adoration) so Noll has a simple antidote. “Knowing Christ,” says Noll, “means learning humility” (p. 62). Christian scholars must show total dependence on God because modern scholarship has the tendency to lead us towards the path of self-advancement.
One of the challenges of feeling the need to respond to every critic is that it slowly minimizes your effectiveness by shifting your work from scholarly to fictional. When I watch The Fast and The Furious, I expect the writers to have me wanting more, but when I leave the theater, I’ll only believe I looked at a good movie and nothing else. In Noll’s case, he wrote this book as a response to critics of his first book, which he wrote because of people’s opinion on creation. After writing this book, I realized he missed something again. Noll provided his Christological framework but never actually showed us how to apply to the task of learning. How does Christ’s mission inform the Christian scholarly task? Christ is “Christ of the Academic Road” (p. 22), where is the road headed? Will we see these answers in another book? Surely, as Christian scholars, we can find these answers, but I believe this becomes our challenge as we study Christian theology. We often find ourselves on the defense because we feel the need to respond to every critic. Overall, this is a great read, and I loved the comprehensive approach in each chapter.