In his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind Mark Noll is quick to admit that the scandal is in fact the lack of an Evangelical mind.i Tracing much of the issue back to Evangelicalism’s fundamentalist roots he mourns the lack of desire to explore how the many facets of God relate to the world. Several years later he wrote the sort-of follow up Jesus Christ and the Mind where he explores or, better yet, he provides an example for how the sort of thinking he mourns in the previous book could be done. Focusing in on how Jesus Christ can be seen at the center of multiple academic disciplines. At the end of the first book he is optimistic that Evangelicals could develop the intellectual curiosity necessary to have a fully realized mental experience. And the second book gives a delightful example of how Evangelicals could achieve his hopes. Alas in the United States, where Noll does the majority of his work, it seems that Evangelicalism has seemingly shrugged of his call to study.
This summer our dog Smokey passed on. It was soul crushing for all of us, he was indeed part of our family. For months I would spontaneously burst into tears because I missed him so much. Grief is indeed an odd beast and it stayed firmly on my shoulders for months. As a family we agreed that we would wait six months before finding another dog for our family to allow ourselves to fully grieve. So we waited and grieved and hugged each other and felt really embarrassed that all of this was over a dog. Then as the six month marker approached I started looking for Smokey’s successor. Through a quirky set of events I ended up talking to a really great breeder who just so happened to have a great dog he needed to part with. Within weeks our family was once again complete, dog and all. I still miss Smokey, but the dark cloud of sadness that had hung over me for those six months has cleared. Did the new dog fix things, possibly, but we also needed that time to let Smokey go. It was hard, but necessary.
Noll makes the argument that Evangelicals must be fluent in the words of scripture and be able to translate those words into the public sphere.ii There is a trap in this idea in that if the translation is wrong it will prove to be deeply damaging to Evangelicalism. I believe this is what we have seen happening to Evangelicalism in the United States. The passion for Christ is real and the desire to see Christ lifted high is the same as always, but the translation of those tenets of faith within the public sphere has been inaccurate. The tragedy of it all is that the translation could have been fixed if Evangelicals had heeded Noll’s call to recovering our history and understanding the historic faith – not through the fundamentalism of the early twentieth century, but through the Evangelical voices that came before them.
The question that now lies before so many of us is whether to stick with Evangelicalism and see if it can be revived or cut our losses and allow American Evangelicalism to go the way of the dinosaurs before us. Many people have made their choice and have decided to allow Evangelicalism to die in order to wait for something new. Those of us who have made that choice continue to grieve the church that we grew up in, where the very seeds of faith were first planted. We cry and remember, but we have to acknowledge that the thing we once hoped for will not be. So we wait, the cloud of what could have been sits on one shoulder while we wait to see what is next. Some are finding what’s next in a place they never expected, the mainline historical churches we were told were dead while we were growing up. Finding a living faith that is tied to the past and steeped in study is allowing many former evangelicals to see the future they hoped for as they graduated their Evangelical youth groups.iii
As compelling as Noll’s call to study is, there is little evidence that the call is being heeded. Perhaps it is time to allow Evangelicalism to pass, grieve its loss, and hope for what is next. Whatever is next will not replace what we knew and it will not take away the pain of its passing, but by the grace of God it will be good.
i Mark A. Noll, The Scandal Of The Evangelical Mind. (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1995), 3.
ii ibid 251-252.
iii ibid 246.