To Be Known By God is to Know God
Mark A. Noll, professor of History at Notre Dame, enraptures his readers and beckons them to understand the reasoning behind their lack of reason. He delves into the facets of evangelicalism from the lens of history and challenges his readers to question the validity of their faith, not the voracity of their pursuit. For years, the evangelical church has created a chasm between the secular and the sacred, the sanctuary and skeptic, and the Christian and the culture. Knoll asserts, “The problem for Christian thinking does not rise from the academic quality of seminary faculties, which has been steadily rising since the Second World War. The problem concerns rather the connections between theology and other forms of learning.” The problem with segregated seminal learning is that it leads one to understand the world without conflict or opposing voice.
According to Noll, if evangelicals are separating themselves from varied learning perspectives, then they’re creating a utopian religion based upon one-dimensional assumption. The author reveals, “What is lost, however, is an ideal of Christian intellectual life in which theologians, biblical scholars, and scholars from other disciplines work in constant connection with each other.” This is why Christian thought should include the mind. Without dissension or varied viewpoint, evangelicalism can easily take on the characteristics of cultish behavior and conformist expectation. However, if one is able to see God through the intellectual dissection of scholarship, then one is able to understand the vastness of God through His creation alongside His Word.
For years, evangelicalism intersected with the varied sciences, including theology, anthropology, philosophy and sociology; however, due to the influx of Gnosticism, Manichaeism, Docetism, and Piety, evangelical belief became a hub of insolation, instead of intellectual influence. This dichotomous shift created problematic consequences and introduced Christianity as a haven for the holy, instead of a hub for humanity.
The author recounts, “In our past we have much more eagerly leaped to defend the faith than to explore its implications for the intellectual life. We have tended to define piety as an inward state opposed to careful thought, rather than as an attitude that might include attention to the mind.” Therefore, according to Noll, evangelicalism became a system of defense; not discussion. This is why Judith E. Glasser, author of Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results warns against this authoritarian stance. She asserts, “When we are trapped in our need to be right, we want to win, we fight to win, and we go into overdrive trying to persuade others to our point of view.” Without a proper implementation of intellectual dialogue, one runs the risk of creating an organization based upon indoctrination; not education.
Noll takes his readers through each moment in history and gives them a glimpse at the bastardization of intellectualism that befell evangelicalism all in the name of Christ. He also reveales how the perspetive of the church shifted to an eternal mindset and colored the way that evangelicals engaged with intellectualism. According to the author, Fundamentalism and Pentecostalism paved the way for Dispensationalism, which “…soon developed a large following alongside other forms of evangelical biblical theology…” These three forms of evangelical expression were not always parallel in their belief, “yet together these movements shared a stress on the dangers of the world, the comforts of separated piety, the centrality of evangelism, and an expectation of the End.” Separation ensued and Christ became dissected. Therefore, if one continues to separate intellectualism from evangelical belief, then one runs the risk of perpetuating a gnostic stance and removing the humanity of Christ.
Mark A. Noll charges us to create an intersection of influence – a hub that challenges our perception of God because of our interaction with humanity. He reveals:
The Jesus Christ who saves sinners is the same Christ who beckons his followers to serious use of their minds for serious explorations of the world. It is part of the deepest foundation of Christian reality – to study the world, the human structures found in the world, the human experiences of the world, and the humans who experience the world. Nothing intrinsic in that study should drive a person away from Jesus Christ. Much that is intrinsic in Jesus Christ should drive a person to that study.
No one can understand the struggles within culture if they refuse to step outside the church. Likewise, no one can understand the voice or the will of God if they refuse to invite contributions from those within secular studies. Noll reveals that there is a great danger in removing the mind from the purpose of worship. He warns, “The path to danger is not always the same, but the results of neglecting the mind are uniform: Christian faith degenerates, lapses into gross error, or simply passes out of existence.” Hence, if one is to take seriously the critiques of Noll, then one would surmise that the death of the church is not due to the influx of diversified thought within the pews, but the refusal of diversified dialogue within the pulpit. It’s time to reopen our doors, unhinge our theological ideologies and understand Christ through intellectual pursuit.
Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014), 19.
 Judith E. Glasser, Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results. (New York: Bibliomotion, Inc., 2014), 7.
Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014), 117.
 Mark A. Noll, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind. (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2011), 41.
Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014), 44.
6 responses to “To Be Known By God is to Know God”
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.
Hi again and thanks for the opening summary. I like your attention to the problem of learning without “conflict or opposing voice” that Noll points to in his Scandal and Life books. I’m sorry but I do not quite understand your sentence on varied viewpoints. Whose viewpoints please? You or Noll’s? I for one, no matter how much dissection I might do, doubt I can do more than scratch the surface of the unfathomable greatness of God. I think we can get glimpses, but in these decaying earth suits of ours I believe we are limited, for our own good, on how much we can really grasp.
I found his second book, Life of the Mind much more measured, mature, and hopeful for the future of evangelicalism than the first Scandal book. I agree with the pursuit of intellectual advancement, within the wisdom, discernment, and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Like Noll says, “the Christian faith contains all the resources, and more, required for full-scale intellectual engagement.” (Noll, Life of Mind, Location 1676).
Great post Colleen. Thanks for your thoughts on the intellectual pursuit of Christ. Question for the day: What do you think your vocation will be in Heaven?
Thanks so much, Mike!
I found it interesting how a lot of the books culminated in this week’s text. Noll discussed the need for varied viewpoints, much like Tourish and his stance on dissension. He also looked at evangelicalism in light of Pentecostalism and Fundamentalism, much like Luhrmann.
I mentioned varied viewpoints because Noll talked about the importance of “cross-fertilization” when it comes to understanding who God is through His creation. He suggests, that if we remove all other facets of learning, i.e. sciences and art, then “the price is a loss of first-level cross-fertilization between theological reflection and reflection in the arts and sciences” (The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, 20). According to the author, the lack of varied viewpoints within Christian thought can leave us only seeing God one-dimensionally. However, when we surround ourselves with those from difference crafts, then God is seen through his creation more visibly from different angles.
In response to your question, I go back to Matthew 25:23, which says, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.” I also cling onto the verse in Luke 12:48, which says, “…From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” I’m more concerned with living out the calling that God has placed on my life on earth. It’s my responsibility to be faithful in the time that I’ve been given and to live to the fullest of what God has required of me. My worship to Christ doesn’t start once I see Him face-to-face in glory, but it starts the moment that I understood Him as my Savior – it causes me to live differently and not wait for eternity.
One thing that kept popping in my mind while reading this book was, secular universities seem so anti God that it has exasperated the situation. If we, as believers, are not welcomed into the conversation unless we presuppose no God then where do we go from there. I agree that we need to do better, directing our students to pursue intellect but to hold onto our faith in the midst of that and marry the two. One thing I have heard over and over from so many of my students when I was in youth ministry was how much their professors hated any mention of Christ and that broke my heart. I would continue to encourage them to look at what they were being taught and then see it through the lens of Christ.
Thanks for your post!
Yes, I think you have captured the true essence of Noll’s works in your blog. He is challenging the church to maintain the intellectual rigor in order to avoid being dismissed as ignorant. We need not fear discussion and debate with academics from other disciplines if we genuinely believe that those intellectual pursuits are also an attempt to understand the world God created, though God is frequently unacknowledged in academia. If we shut ourselves off we fail to engage and will continue to be dismissed.
Hey Colleen thanks for your reflection on the texts this week! Could you remind me of your dissertation topic? I wonder if you have found this week’s book relevant for what you’re working on. Not so much for me, but it was kind of interesting.
“This dichotomous shift created problematic consequences and introduced Christianity as a haven for the holy, instead of a hub for humanity.”
We do love the “set apart” section of the definition of holy. I was talking recently to an US church goes about finding those that do not believe and she commented that all her friends were in the church. We have isolated and separated ourselves thinking we have done ourselves a great service, but have we?
You have a good mind and your challenges would rock the foundations (in a good way) of many churches.