Some of my cohort mates may have missed it but I slipped in a confession in our discussion last week. I had quickly said that I have times when I feel slightly embarrassed by my faith tradition. This occasionally occurs when discussing doctrinal matters. subjects more intellectual in nature or when thinking of charismatic charicatures. That is somehow connected to what makes Taylor’s A Secular Age followed by Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind wonderfully disruptive. It has surfaced some important, albeit partly subconscious, issues for me.
Upon further reflection, one thing I did not articulate in our Zoom chat was that I saw a place of strength and contribution from charismatic Christians in what Taylor was deftly, dizzyingly exploring. While I wonder at times what more sophisticated (less emotive?) Christian streams may think of Pentecostals, I had a small epiphany of opportunity. In a world that is dying from the immanent, brass box we have created, experiential-laden Christianity has something to offer. This is especially true if it is offered to the world from a strong Christology and does not obsess over particular manifestations, but points people to a God they can know and experience.
Notre Dame and Wheaton College’s Mark Noll begs us to not get carried away with emotion, experience, missions, and the like, and forget the mind. His assessment is that evangelicals are “dominated by the urgencies of the moment”. The mind and its development does matter and can easily get bypassed by the urgent. Byers believes Noll wrote his earlier Scandal book about why there has been evangelical aversion to scholarship, then his later book Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind was about how to develop intellectually in light of all we know about the historical Jesus. He is convinced that Jesus is enough for a lifetime of searching and “if what we claim about Jesus Christ is true, then evangelicals should be among the most active, most serious, and most open-minded advocates of general human learning”.
My research this semester is focused on charismatics and how their praxis and beliefs may make unique contribution to the exhaustion epidemic. I am no subject matter expert (except, of course, in the way we all are, which is our own life experience) but I know that charismatics are known for an affective, emotive approach to spirituality. The dictionary definition of affective is “relating to moods, feelings, and attitudes”. But Robert Baker makes an important distinction that as Christians, it is less about subjective moods and feelings and more about the fostering of virtues. Virtues are steadier than feelings and can be developed over time. To exclude emotions and affections from our faith would not honor how God made us. It would not honor the example of the biblical authors themselves. “Pentecostal scholars are in a unique position to deconstruct the Enlightenment myth and ideal of critical and passionless objectivity. As Pentecostals, we focus not only on orthodoxy, but also on orthopraxy, and orthopathy.”
James K. A. Smith adds another voice to the balance act. A large part of his work and writings are leveled at our infatuation with rationality. Smith is concerned about a conception of the Christian faith that focuses only on the life of the mind. He writes that such a model is both “dualistic and reductionist” because it “reduces Christian faith primarily to a set of ideas, principles, claims, and propositions”. He calls for a middle way forward together.
I am sobered by Noll’s accusations aimed at evangelicals but am encouraged as well. We need to heed him and bring our whole selves to bear upon our faith – including our mind and affections.
Mark Noll, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2011), 243.
Philip D. Byers, “Jesus Christ is the Life of the Mind: A Review of Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind(1994) AndJesus Christ and the Life of the Mind(2011),” Christian Higher Education 12, no. 3 (2013): pp. 229-238, https://doi.org/10.1080/15363759.2012.741463.
Mark Noll, Jesus Christ, x.
 Robert O. Baker, “7. Pentecostal Bible Reading: Toward a Model of Reading for the Formation of the Affections,” Pentecostal Hermeneutics, January 2013, https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004258259_008, 96.
 James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 32.