Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind and sequel Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind are books that evaluate, critique, provoke, and promote evangelicals toward a more intellectual relationship with Christianity. This post will read in and around both books and look for ideas, themes, and connections that can help my investigation into the phenomenon of spiritual warfare.
Book 1, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind from 1994, is a critical “historical meditation” where the author examines the tension between being evangelical and intellectual. Noll says the scandal results from the failure of Christians to use their Christ-like minds to better understand “the nature and workings of the physical world. Noll offers a comprehensive historical review on how he sees knowledge change over time between science and evangelicalism. He describes and applauds the rise of creationism and then rebukes it as an intellectual tragedy because evangelicals who simply defend the literal Bible have lost their “ability to look at nature as it is.” He goes on to offer a glimmer of hope by saying that despite their intellectual gap he believes that the ideas from “mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics, or perhaps even the Eastern Orthodox” will help inspire traces of intellectual depth that evangelicals can leverage to improve their worship with God “through their mind.”
Fea, who serves as a professor of American history, believes Noll’s fear that Christian universities cannot change the “deep structures of modern intellectual life” may be fundamentally correct, but that is no excuse for not still trying to overcome the “scandal.” Fea, inspired by Noll’s work, was convinced that “the life of the mind was a legitimate calling” despite the advice of his mentors and spiritual advisors. I agree with Fea and Noll who believe that in order for the evangelical mind to flourish is needs certain academic disciplines “across the whole spectrum of modern learning.” I think George Fox University offers an excellent Leadership and Global Perspectives program with an array of theologically challenging courses, personal reflection exercises, cohort interactions, and mentor intersections that helps advance my evangelical mind to fulfill my hallmark goals of knowing God and reflecting Christ. So, I respect Noll’s fundamental challenge for Christians to extend their intellectual reach in appropriate evangelical ministry contexts.
Book 2, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind is an encouraging continuation, over 15 years later, on his theme to challenge and inspire evangelicals to move toward some “serious learning.” Watts points to Noll’s “doubleness, contingency, particularity, and self-denial” as four intellectual discovery portals that evangelicals can open to find the mind of Christ. Noll’s work on self-denial most closely resembles the challenges of spiritual warfare that I see in my dissertation research. He calls it the “sins of scholars” and lists some of Satan’s most common schemes that intellectuals may fall prey to unless they are girded for defense. He says that formal learning can create temptations of pride over the number of degrees earned, books and articles publishes, and positions held, just to name a few. So, LGP8 cohort members, please continue to gird yourself daily and wear Christ as your spiritual armor so that you can defend against the tricks, traps, and temptations of our own intellectual pursuits.
I see a lot of theological leadership maturity from Noll in the second book. For example, he warns against scholars “trying to race ahead of their Savior” and points to Christ given verses on nothingness, servanthood, gentleness, humbleness, and duty as the attributes of a rightly minded Christian intellectual. Veenaman gives Noll a thumbs up on how well he advances Evangelicalism with Christian “motivation and guidance” toward intellectual pursuits. Noll gives readers an accessible book that appeals to Christian’s interested in adding liberal arts and sciences to their theological ministry toolkit.
In summary, Noll’s work to promote the intellectual advancement of the Christian mind with the goal of finding a deeper form of personal worship with God is both academically and theologically brilliant! Byers commends Noll and affirms that his Life of the Mind book is “evolved,” moderated, and hopeful to more intellectual possibilities than in The Scandal. Noll’s work both inspires and advances my research into spiritual warfare. He has encouraged me to reach further, dig deeper, and keep crawling forward in search of safe, practical, and non-threatening Biblically centric forms of written and verbal expression that help challenge and communicate the principles and doctrines of spiritual warfare. This is a cruciform driven passion of mine to help others defend and overcome the debilitating and destructive strategies and schemes of the evil one against the body of Christ. Some evangelicals get it, some don’t. But like Noll suggests, we must never stop trying to advance God’s call on our lives to help others in need, which is for our good and His glory. In closing, consider Noll’s life’s work summary, “Whatever may be the actual intellectual practice of Christian believers, the Christian faith contains all the resources, and more, required for full-scale intellectual engagement.”