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Noll’s Christology: Jesus Christ and the Mind

Written by: on February 9, 2017

Most famous theologians have a book that they have written concerning Christology.  What is Christology?  Christology is Christian reflection, teaching, and doctrine concerning Jesus of Nazareth. Christology is the part of theology that is concerned with the nature and work of Jesus, including such matters as the Incarnation, the Resurrection, and his human and divine natures and their relationship.[1] Mark A Noll’s Christology is on fine display in this book.  His approach is to look at the creeds, specifically the Apostle’s Creed, Nicene Creed and the Chalcedonian Creed, to give a foundation that is both intellectual and comprehensive.  His research is very in-depth and his scholastic knowledge is very broad.  His interpretation reflects his intense desire to be authoritative as well as thoroughly, profoundly, comprehensively and passionately rooted in Scripture.  This book reflects his genius by taking an intellectual tone instead of critical one.

 

Noll’s Christology is throughout the book but he gives his specific and razor focused view in chapter seven. In his own words: “the main point is for serious intellectual efforts, those who look to Christ as their prophet, priest, and king act most faithfully when they carry out those efforts with norms defined by Christ.   The circularity of this reasoning when applied to Scripture is obvious, since the Bible tells us of Christ from whom we are to take our bearings when approaching Scripture.” [2]  Noll’s Christology is founded in Scripture but is also explored through the creeds, which do not always reference scripture, but are an intellectual processing of what scripture means.  He even goes so far as to indicate that the Bible provides a comprehensively true perspective on all things and that the Bible does not explain everything in the world directly. “With the Scriptures’ own statements about themselves in view, attitudes toward studying the world—eagerness to exploit secondary ways of knowing—should be opened up rather than shut down.  This openness to experiencing the world, in turn, is exactly what a biblical vision of divine creation, with Christ as the active agent, encourages.”[3] This process of truly a world view on his Christology makes it a very broad look.  He explores other authors who have pushed up to the line and may have even gone across some of them.  His intention is to explore thought to the greatest extent.  This is a much better framework to explore who Christ is for those who are intellectually inclined.

Unlike his land mark book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, this book has an ease and readability to it that is engaging and makes you think.  His reasoning in a sequential order with a firm foundation and multiple references.  It is very much about Scripture and not his own absolutes. This read is much more engaging.

Reflections

When Noll starts to examine incarnation, it was very clear and concise.  A couple of things stood out to me.

One was the quote by Richard Jenkyns, “Christianity presents a similar paradox:  this world may be of less account than the one to come, but that doesn’t not make it unimportant; it is, indeed, the theater in which the great drama of salvation and damnation is to be played out.”[4]   This insight into the importance of Christ and what was at stake in his coming to earth put into such powerful language.   It does give a descriptive insight for me.

Second, is this brilliant intellectual picture of the humanity of Christ. “as the incarnate Son, “He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart.  Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin.”[5]  These descriptions and word pictures of who Christ is brings great clarity to this part of Christology.

Conclusion

There is always a hope to progress as a scholar and as an author.  This quote summarizes what I have found to be true about this author in this book: “Were I to attempt another full scale historical assessment like “the Scandal of the Evangelical Mind,” it would have a different tone—more hopeful than despairing, more attuned to possibilities than to problems, more concerned with theological resources than the theological deficiencies.”[6]   It is great to see that sometimes age does bring a certain wisdom to you.   Changing your tone doesn’t mean that you change your opinion but it does lend to a conversation instead of a pointed condemnation.   Noll has in my opinion come full circle.

[1] Encyclopedia Britannica

[2] Mark A Noll, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, (Grand Rapids, MI:  Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011), 125.

[3] Ibid., 129.

[4] Ibid., 36.

[5] Ibid., 37.

[6] Ibid., 153.N

About the Author

mm

Kevin Norwood

My name is Kevin Norwood and I have been in youth ministry for the past 28 years. On February 14th, 1994, 23 years ago, we moved to Owasso OK and wow what a ride. My wife, Ann, is an RN and specializes in Clinical Documentation working from home. Maci is a my 17 year old daughter and she loves and shows horses. Her horse's name is Charlie. She is a straight A student and is excelling in her work. She just got her drivers license!! London is my 6 year old son and he keeps me young. He absolutely loves life!! Off roading in Sedona Arizona is one of his latest adventure. I have started a coaching business for pastors at www.kevinnorwood.com and it is exciting the doors that God is opening.

6 responses to “Noll’s Christology: Jesus Christ and the Mind”

  1. I think your pastor’s heart for youth comes out in this blog. 🙂 Have you considered ways you could incorporate some of Noll’s Christology into youth ministry?

  2. mm Phil Goldsberry says:

    Kevin:

    You came to the same conclusion that I sensed in this book. Noll did “change his tone” and in his writing and reasoning became more Christ centered and biblically oriented. His first “tone” was leaning to arrogant intellectualism. Would you agree?

    The second book seemed to turn more to a Biblical thought process that is in alignment with pursuit that you and I are on? Would you agree or disagree?

    Phil

  3. Phil,

    I would agree that his tone changed. He acknowledges this in everything but the end of the book. He goes back and doesn’t change his tone about his first book. He still supports it.

    I believe he writes from the same alignment we are on but I am pretty convinced he is an author.

    Interesting that we made it all the way through ORU and no one brought this foundational pivotal author up. We did look at Christology but not his.

    So, I am believing the best and see a transformation from book one to book two. I hope that I have the same transformation in my approach.

    Kevin

  4. mm Marc Andresen says:

    Kevin,

    You cited Noll: “With the Scriptures’ own statements about themselves in view, attitudes toward studying the world—eagerness to exploit secondary ways of knowing—should be opened up rather than shut down. This openness to experiencing the world, in turn, is exactly what a biblical vision of divine creation, with Christ as the active agent, encourages.”

    For you, is there a specific area of life or learning that most benefits from what Noll says about Scripture’s and Christ’s place in creation? In other words, as Noll places Christ in the center of all of life, what aspect of academic pursuit most benefits, or opens up, for you?

  5. Jason KENNEDY says:

    Kevin,
    How do you make incarnational “cool” with students? Do they understand the necessity of it? Great blog.
    Jason

  6. mm Garfield Harvey says:

    Kevin,
    Loved your perspective in this blog. You stated that “This book reflects his genius by taking an intellectual tone instead of critical one.” In Noll’s first book, he seemed to just write for the critics but in this one you can tell that he was thinking, “if you’re going to critique me, have your facts.” His first book, looked at his intellectual side but this book addresses his evangelical conviction, which is why it was so Christocentric. I definitely love how his writing is consistent with his conviction and is able to challenge our intellectual engagement about Christ.

    Garfield

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