DMINLGP

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

Come Let Us Reason Together

Written by: on February 2, 2017

Thinking is not terminal, although one might get the impression that Evangelicals think it is. Mark Noll opens his book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind with a scandalous statement. “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” He states,
“Notwithstanding all their other virtues, however, American evangelicals are not exemplary for their thinking, and they have not been so for several generations.” [1] Noll offers three arenas of the Scandal of the Evangelical Mind: Cultural, Institutional, and Theological. [2]

Noll helps the reader to understand his thesis by defining important terms. “By an evangelical ‘life of the mind’ I mean more the effort to think like a Christian – to think within a specifically Christian framework – across the whole spectrum of modern learning, including economics and political science, literary criticism and imaginative writing, historical inquiry and philosophical studies, linguistics and the history of science, social theory and the arts.” [3]

As in Global Evangelicalism, [4] which shows the multi-discipline nature of globalization, Noll’s words, give a functional constitution of the Leadership and Global Perspectives Doctor of Ministry program. We in LGP D Min are being given the gift of learning to think “Christianly” about many of these academic disciplines. It is truly intriguing to think about what it means to “think like a Christian about the nature and workings of the physical world.” [5]

When asking why the scandal matters, in Chapter Two, Noll outlines the rich life of the mind in the reformation movement. Not to engage the mind fully is to abandon our own heritage. “The condition of the evangelical mind in contemporary America could not be described as a scandal unless an earlier history existed to show that serious intellectual labor had been the norm for at least many Protestants in the evangelical tradition.” [6]

As a Presbyterian pastor I am happy to read, “Perhaps the most significant of the Protestant efforts to encourage Christian thinking took place in the Geneva of John Calvin.” (For twenty five years I pastored Calvin Presbyterian Church.) Our heritage is, “From his earliest days in that city, Calvin worked to instruct the mind and inspire the heart together.” [7]

Tracing history in the United States Noll says, “Evangelicals were successful in the early United States because they successfully adapted their Christian convictions to American ideals… But at the same time, the formal thought of evangelicals…weakened throughout the early history of the United States because evangelicals adapted their Christian convictions uncritically to American ideas.” [8]

This draws me into why I am so troubled by how Christians seemingly engage, uncritically, in American politics. My deep concern is that Americans don’t distinguish Kingdom-of-God values from American values. In fact it seems at times like these two sets of values are conflated.

Dr. Noll spends a number of pages showing the thinking and value of William Jennings Bryan. His life as a Presbyterian layman finds expression in his work and speeches. A helpful insight, reflected in current politics is, “Although evangelicals favored prohibition, and so gave tacit support ot increasing the authority of the federal government, they have tended more generally to argue against the growth of centralized power.” [9] We hear this today in political rhetoric calling for “less government.”

Of Bryan’s era Noll says, “Although the political party of choice for restoring Christian morality was now the GOP, evangelicals beyond doubt had returned to the fray… An intriguing variant to this main story was the rise of a ‘New Christian Left,’ which, with nearly the same stock of evangelical phrases and emotions, promoted a public agenda almost completely opposed to the platforms of the Christian Right.” [10]

In modern-day American politics I hear most people articulate that they make voting decisions primarily from a base of either “policy focus” or “character focus.” Placing policy over character radically affects how Christians vote. What I never heard in any public forum was an honest analysis of how to critique and think about the balancing of loyalty to policy and/or individual character.

According to Pew research 81% of white, born-again/evangelical Christians supported Donald Trump who is arguably the most immoral person ever to be elected U. S. President. [11] I must think that this is the result of placing policy over leadership character.

Today I hear from most Evangelical Christian Republicans an assumption that the Republican party is intrinsically more Christian (and conversely that the Democratic party is un-Christian). I never hear Christian Republicans critique their own party for underestimating the corrupting influence of selfish human nature, when it comes to philosophies and practices of free enterprise. In other words, I would like to see more critical thinking about what seems to be a neglect of the poor (which is close to the heart of Jesus and the Old Testament prophets). I hear a dominant theme in the Republican’s head-long commitment to lowering taxes and the goal of removing all constraints as to how money and businesses are regulated, or not regulated. On the other hand, I wish I heard more Democratic Christians critique their party for wanting to remove constraints regarding sexuality and its expressions.

Love of money and sexual liberality are both morally corrupting. But I never hear that discussed in any calm and objective manner. Where is the hard thinking within the Christian community in America regarding political practices?

A danger I see with the Scandal of the Evangelical Mind in America is that without thorough theological thinking it is too easy for us to make our voting decisions based on our politics and not on our theology. Theology should overrule politics (and sociology) but the practices seem to be the opposite. I would hope for a more thoughtful Christianity that demonstrates seeing sociology and politics through a Biblical Theological lens.

[1] Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994) 3.     [2] Ibid., 12.
[3] Ibid., 7.
[4] Donald M. Lewis and Richard V. Pierard, eds. Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History and Culture in Regional Perspective ( Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2014)
[5] Noll, 7.Ibid.
[6] Ibid., 35.
[7] Ibid., 37.
[8] Ibid., 67.
[9] Ibid., 161
[10]Ibid., 171
[11] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/09/how-the-faithful-voted-a-preliminary-2016-analysis/] Accessed February 2, 2017

About the Author

mm

Marc Andresen

I have a B. A. in Music from San Diego State University and received an M. Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary in 1977. July 1 2015 I retired after 38 years in pastoral ministry. The passion and calling that developed in the last 20 years is leadership training in cross-cultural contexts, as my wife and I have had many opportunities to teach in Eastern Europe and Africa. I have been married for 38 years and have two adult children, one daughter-in-law and a beautiful granddaughter. My hobbies are photography and British sports cars.

12 responses to “Come Let Us Reason Together”

  1. As a Presbyterian you must have loved all the props Noll gives to Calvin! 🙂 My grandfather was a Lutheran pastor so I claimed Luther and Bach as I read the book!
    I hear what you are saying about politics and I have a hunch you and I agree on many issues.
    For me, I conclude that it’s more about power. We evangelicals seem to have an addiction to power and we like to rub elbows with political leaders who throw us bones here and there. Makes it easier to justify/ignore character. Well, unless the prez is a democrat, then we need to play the character card. But I digress.
    Jesus says that we can gain the world but lose our soul. I think Noll is saying evangelicals in large part have gained the world, but we’ve lost our mind. You?

    • mm Marc Andresen says:

      Aaron,

      Yes, I was glad to see J. C. (the 2nd) through the book. Perhaps part of the scandal of my evangelical mind is unfounded pride. In the Presbyterian world we have the mixed bag of a high value for scholarship, but lack of zeal for the Gospel and letting all that fine education lead us off course, doctrinally.

      Power. Yes, even evangelicals are prone to power corrupting. The heart-break of D. C. is what I perceive over the last 50 years of ever-escalating grabbing and holding of power. Cynically I don’t see any behaviors in D. C. that are for the good of the nation: it’s all for grabbing and keeping power.

      I fear that we evangelicals snuggle up with power because we aspire to Calvin’s Geneva – thinking we can make life better for Christians through friendly government, forgetting that the Church is sometimes more effective for the Kingdom when we’re marginalized.

      Yes, I agree with you that evangelicals are in danger of losing our souls to the gods of political influence. Years ago John White wrote a book about lust for money and said that the Church has “gone a whoring after the god of mammon.” I fear today we may be whoring after the god of political power. Without critical thinking we can sell-out on issue of character for the sake of perceived political advantage.

  2. Claire Appiah says:

    Marc,
    In your blog you cite Noll’s statement, “But, at the same time, the formal thought of evangelicals—that is the consideration of nature, society, history, and the arts—weakened throughout the early history of the United States because evangelicals adapted their Christian convictions uncritically to American ideals.” Do you think Americans in general, not just evangelicals, are adapting their belief systems and values uncritically to prevailing American cultural norms in all arenas of life? And is so, has this resulted in some of the major ethical and moral problems our contemporary society is being challenged with?

  3. mm Marc Andresen says:

    Claire,

    I think American cultural norms are changing at a significant rate because Americans in general tend to follow fads. Evangelicals are not the only ones who do not think deeply or critically, so they/we will follow any new trend that “feels good.” American values and norms change precisely because of uncritical thinking.

    Americans do adapt their belief systems – to what is currently in vogue. For example, it was unimaginable fifty years ago that a large portion of Americans would vigorously advocate for same-sex marriage.

    Because Americans change and adapt to current values so easily, we are in difficulty.

  4. mm Phil Goldsberry says:

    Marc:

    Great job. Help me understand Noll’s thought of “thinking like a Christian”. What did he mean by that statement in lieu of the rest of the book?

    Is there an equating with one’s intellectual quotient and his/hers Christianity or lack thereof? One step further, does either the prowess or the effectiveness of the Republican or Democratic party equal it’s intellectual scandal that Noll describes? Are you inferring that both parties are intellectually robbed of reason?

    Phil

    • mm Marc Andresen says:

      Phil,

      I think one way of understanding “thinking Christianly is found in the word “Perspective.” Because we have resources (Holy Spirit and Scripture) to see reality from God’s perspective, we have the opportunity to THINK about things from God’s angle. As we think, we judge and critique what we see from the perspective of eternity. We can analyze theology’s engagement with the rest of life with this in mind.

      I don’t think IQ has anything to do with faith, or vise versa. I’ve known brilliant people who seek to think God’s thoughts and ones who reject the idea of God totally. So also less gifted people.

      “Come let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18) is a wonderful invitation from God to think through how it is we are effectively saved.

      Finally, I think loyalists to both parties have damaged their ability to think thoroughly about their party’s policies and practices because of their bias. Philosophical presuppositions compromise our ability to objectively think through what we do. Frankly I am disgusted with Democrats and Republicans being so locked into their positions that they won’t think creatively and outside party policy to think about what’s best for the people.

      John Kennedy wrote “Profiles in Courage” about political leaders who risked their careers by going against party-grain to do what was best for the country. Where are those people today?

  5. Jason Kennedy says:

    Marc,
    Great post. I actually talked a little “politics” today. In discussing the compassion of God, I told my congregation that as the church, we should embrace his model instead of the American model. I also had a missionary to the Arab World speak who stated that many times those overseas thinks that converting to Christianity is converting to “American Christianity.”
    We are in a complex situation as pastors. I honestly believe that the church has one mission while politics has another. We should not mix the two as much as possible. For instance, as Christians we are to love our neighbor which includes those in the country legally or not. The last I checked, the scripture did not say, “love your neighbor if he is a legal resident.” However, politics determines the laws. When we go over our Christian ideal and side with politics we bring murkiness to our message. Do you agree or disagree? Thanks…..very thoughtful post.

  6. mm Marc Andresen says:

    Jason,

    I’m proud of you for having this missionary speak. His/her perspective could really challenge some of our current thinking about how to treat the foreigner and sojourner.

    Yes – we need to keep the mission of the church and the mission of America distinct and separate. I totally agree that our call as Christians is to love the illegal alien.

    I totally agree that when we side too much with politics it does muddy the waters of our witness.

    One story: One of the men in our church is a very conservative Republican and a lawyer. When he finished law school, he took seriously the call of Scripture to care for the foreigner, so specialized in immigration law. He has gone totally against what he used to think and has lost friends over this decision. I have profound respect for his theology overruling his politics.

  7. Pablo Morales says:

    Marc,
    your blog summarizes well some of my own perceptions about politics in the U.S. Since I was already an adult when I became an American Citizen, I am new to the political arena of the nation. I have been surprised to see how Christians tend to confuse their Christian and political identities.

    You said, “My deep concern is that Americans don’t distinguish Kingdom-of-God values from American values. In fact it seems at times like these two sets of values are conflated.” I agree. This lack of self-reflection seems to affect other areas of life as well. At the end, lack of self reflection results in lack of depth in any area of life, including the areas listed by Noll.

    Thank you for writing an insightful blog.
    Pablo

  8. mm Marc Andresen says:

    Pablo,

    “…lack of self-reflection seems to affect other areas of life as well…lace of self reflection results in lack of depth.”

    Yes!

    Your comment renews my gratitude for this D Min program where we are being trained in reflective practices. I am so thankful for this.

    I am led to believe that Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Doesn’t that seem to agree with what we’re learning? I am absolutely in love with reflection and contemplation.

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