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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Are Evangelicals Intellectual?

Written by: on February 19, 2019

I’m not quite sure what to think about Mark Noll’s books, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind and Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind. I feel like they hit me the wrong way because it seems that he comes across as saying that Christians are not intellectual when he says…“Evangelicals do not, characteristically, look to the intellectual life as an arena in which to glorify God because, at least in America, our history has been pragmatic, populist, charismatic, and technological more than intellectual.”[1] Also, coming off of last week’s book about the Vineyard movement made me even more skeptical when he appears to be critical of the Pentecostal movement in his statement…“Fundamentalism, dispensational premillennialism, the Higher Life movement, and Pentecostalism were all evangelical strategies of survival in response to the religious crises of the late nineteenth century. In different ways each preserved something essential of the Christian faith. But together they were a disaster for the life of the mind.”[2] I am not going to disagree that some of these “isms” may not have helped further evangelical intellectualism, but I get offended when he says they were all “a disaster for the life of the mind”. Many charismatics and Pentecostals have contributed a great deal to help Evangelicals and the church connect with the heart of God. The author uses strong language throughout both books to further emphasize and bolster his premise, which he has the right to do, but like I said, it rubbed me the wrong way.

 

For example, he takes quite a bit of space to bash Creationists and their views of the creation of life and nature and the world-wide flood. He implies that all Creationists are not truly intellectuals and have no basis in science when he states, “Creationists regularly reaffirm the principles of Baconian science: no speculation without direct empirical proof, no deductions from speculative principles, no science without extensive empirical evidence. The tragedy is that creationists preserve a misguided Baconianism for the Bible and abandon a healthy Baconianism for science.”[3] He has no problem calling them misguided and that they are abandoning science. The folks at Creation Ministries International take issue with Noll by saying, “He spends much more time attacking creationism than he does on his other chief bogeyman, the ‘prophecy movement’ (for want of a better term). He presents the idea of global Flood and recent Creation in six days as being some sort of quasi-heretical invention this century, traceable to the Adventist writer Ellen White, but is substantially misleading in this. The modern movement is not an invention of creationism, but its revival.”[4] Also, The Institute for Creation Research takes offense when they write, “they go on to patronizingly deplore the supposed anti-intellectualism of what they call “young-earth creationism” (this is their term; we prefer “Biblical creationism” or “literal creationism”). They think this position is an embarrassment (one has even called it a “scandal”) to evangelicalism. However, we who believe in a recent literal creation of all things do not consider ourselves anti-scientific or anti-intellectual! Many of us are fully credentialed scientists, and we are quite as familiar with the scientific and Biblical evidences as they are. Indeed there are now thousands of scientists who believe in recent six-day creation. There are also organizations of scientists who are young-earth creationists in at least ten different countries, as well as in many states in this country.”[5]

 

On a more positive note, I did agree with Noll when he says, “that coming to know Christ provides the most basic possible motive for pursuing the tasks of human learning.”[6] The fact that He created the human mind in such a magnificent way it is a shame to not use it to its full capacity to the glory of God. I also loved the quote by the Irish poet, Evangeline Patterson, when she says, “I was brought up in a Christian movement where, because God had to be given pre-eminence, nothing else was allowed to be important. I have broken through to the position that because God exists, everything else has significance. In sum, to confess Christ is to make an extraordinarily strong statement about the value of studying the things Christ has made.”[7] Examining in detail the created world around us is an honor and a privilege especially since we have a personal relationship with the Creator. A friend of mine brought to my attention the fact that Christians should be the most active environmentalist and recyclers since God created this planet and commanded us to take care of it. He went so far to say that it can be a powerful act of worship to actively protect and preserve the planet and reclaim Earth Day as a day to honor our Creator and His Creation. Ever since he brought this to my attention, I have been more diligent in my recycling and active in protecting animals and their natural habitat. I guess if the image of God is found in His creation, then I might be considered a tree hugger.

 

I will close with one last quote from Charles Malik, a Lebanese diplomat, scholar, and Eastern Orthodox Christian. He states, “The problem is not only to win souls but to save minds. If you win the whole world and lose the mind of the world, you will soon discover you have not won the world. Indeed it may turn out that you have actually lost the world.”[8] This was a thought-provoking statement that I had to really chew on. In some ways I disagree with the fact that our calling is to save minds as well as win souls, but then again Christ did call us to “go and make disciples”. And if making disciples means to educate and train them to know God and all He created so they can turn around and make disciples themselves, then I can kind of see how we might lose in saving the world if we don’t have Christians who know how to duplicate themselves. The author makes some interesting points about the need for Christians to significantly contribute to the intellectual arenas and not check our minds at the door, but I still didn’t care much for his approach.

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            [1] Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, (Eerdmans Publishing Co) Kindle Edition, 55.

            [2] Ibid., 24.

            [3] Ibid., 197.

            [4] https://creation.com/book-review-the-scandal-of-the-evangelical-mind

            [5] https://www.icr.org/article/old-earth-creationism

            [6] Mark A. Noll, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, Kindle Edition, Locations 22-24.

            [7] Ibid., 349-351.

            [8] Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, (Eerdmans Publishing Co) Kindle Edition, 26.

About the Author

mm

Jake Dean-Hill

Currently a Marriage & Family Therapist in private practice. Ordained minister with 10 years of prior full-time church ministry experience and currently volunteering with a local church plant. Also working with companies as a Corporate Leadership Coach.

11 responses to “Are Evangelicals Intellectual?”

  1. mm M Webb says:

    Jake,
    Hi Jake! I agree with your opening and found that the first book Scandal was more critical of Evangelicals than his 2nd book some 15 years later the Life of the Mind. His viewpoint evolved, and I think matured as the Holy Spirit worked on him. Noll softened his earlier harsh position towards evangelicals and his negative assessment that the church was failing due to a dunce like pursuit of serious learning by evangelicals.
    Well, there is one thing for sure, on our last Advance you did not check your mind at the door. Nor did you check your sense of humor!
    Thanks for the multiplication theme for discipling others. I believe that is a key life-on-life principle of the Gospel. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit, who wrote the book on intellectualism, does most of the work for us in human terms, and all the work in spiritual terms. Great Post my friend.
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

    • Thanks Mike, I appreciate your encouragement and wise perspective. I also agree with you that the author did soften a bit with his second book and I did appreciate that. I also am a firm believer in relational evangelism and being a disciple who makes disciples.
      Standing Firm, Jake

  2. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Jake!

    Great honesty about your feelings for this week’s books. I was going to give you a bad time that your dissertation topic was not served up on a platter again this week, but instead I decided to give you a bad time in my Blog for once again stealing my thunder (grin). I was trying to be the first one to post this week, but you beat me to the punch. (Not sure how you did that in the midst of your trip to the Air Force).

    Man, I love your last paragraph. “Making Disciples” is key, as we teach also to the mind. But I too, think he cops out by bashing the church. We are way too easy of targets. His tone kinda shot the wounded…

    • Thanks Jay, and yes not so much on my topic this week, but I did get fired up about his bashing of Creationists and I’m jealous that you got to go to Kentucky to see the life-sized replica of the ark. And sorry for stealing your thunder (grinning back at ya, but your pic of the ark was way better than mine). By the way, the whole reason I posted super early was because I knew I was headed to the USAFA and would not have time to do it (as you can see, Jean ran into that 🙂 ) Yes, him bashing the church and Christians in general gave me a bad taste in my mouth and seemed a little out of balance. Thanks again for your thoughts my friend.

  3. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    Jake, that is a very provocative quote you ended up. Yes I tihnk you’re right. I disagree with it too. If our primary goal is not the soul, but we minsitry too heavily on the body or mind, then we risk only making people more comfortable before they enter eternity without God.

    • Thanks Kyle for your perspective. It was a thought-provoking quote at the end of my post and I do think we need to err on the side of saving souls over saving minds. Your comment about creating comfortable people in hell was very provocative as well 🙂

  4. Greg says:

    There is truly a balance that needs to take place between study and action, preparation and ministry. I think we as scholars have a duty to be able to understand the why and also realize there are things we may never be able to grasp. I do agree that we have become lazy as evangelicals and think Noll is just poking the bear and trying to get a reaction. Thanks Jake.

    • Thanks Greg, I agree, I think the author was poking the bear to get a reaction and it seemed to work with me. I do think being inquisitive is important and finding the balance between scholarship and ministry is important but I think the topic could be approached with a little less judgment and harshness. I also agree that God has created a world in which some things will never truly be understood. Blessings to you my friend.

  5. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Jake,

    Thanks for your post. I love your concluding quote from Charles Malik. It demonstrates the need to consider both as we share the Gospel. Fortunately the redemption of Jesus is all encompassing including the spirit and the mind. I think this is the message Noll was trying to communicate.

    • Thanks Dan for your comments. Good reminder about the fact that the redeeming power of Jesus Christ is inclusive of both the spirit and the mind, which can take the pressure off of us to have to find the perfect balance. Blessings to you my friend.

  6. mm Jean Ollis says:

    Jake,
    Good for you taking on Noll and calling him out! I think the majority of bloggers felt fairly good about the text so I appreciated your perspective. Thank you for always using your intellectual mind and duplicating disciples in this world! In what context can you personally apply this book? 🙂

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