DMINLGP

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

I want a new drug

Written by: on February 22, 2019

(Thanks to Huey Louis for the title.) Those of a certain age might remember the anti-drug campaign of the early 80s. The public service announcement begins with a frying pan on a stove top, hot and ready. An egg is cracked and plopped onto the pan resulting in an instant sound of sizzling and popping. As the site and sound of the egg cooking fills the screen a narrator comments in the background; “This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?” This was all followed by the words, “Don’t do drugs” appearing on the screen.

Mark Noll in his historical perspective on evangelicalism might consider adopting this same campaign. His greatest concern seems to be the idea that the evangelical mind has been wasted for generations with the drugs of individualism, revivalism, fundamentalism and the like. His seminal work begins with the quote; “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”[1]No, please tell us what you really think. Would that Jason Clarke was not such a slave driver and we all had sufficient time to fully digest these works but alas, he is and we don’t.

In short, Noll suggests that what has become the mainstream of US Christianity, evangelicalism, has been negatively impacted by historical theological biases that have led to many of the issues addressed so eruditely by Charles Taylor which we attempted to digest a few weeks ago. He specifically takes aim at the eschewing of traditionalism and the move toward anti-creedalism demonstrated in the holiness and pentacostal movements – ala Juhrmann. These communities are fully immersed in experiential faith at the expense of more doctrinally based communities. But Noll recognizes that; “the creeds about Christ are foundational to Christian scholarship.”[2]The holiness and Pentecostal movements reinforced the idea that growth in Christ requires the rejection of the world and its learning.”[3]Frighteningly, this includes various aspects of traditional Christian thought. The Christian populism ultimately “scorned tradition and traditional learning.”[4]Noll strongly argues that both are necessary and in fact are not mutually exclusive.

This is one of the challenges in maintaining connection with emerging generations. A faith disconnected from dynamic thinking and processing is juxtaposed to their everyday experience and appears to require an anti-intellectualism that is anathema to them. Noll suggests that evangelical thinking is “bereft of self-criticism, intellectual subtlety, or an awareness of complexity.”[5]It seems like I am writing the same things week to week. Maybe this is what JC (Jason Clarke not THEJC) wants, or maybe I’m stuck in a cynical rut. (This is highly likely – it’s the Kiwi in me.)  However, daily I see the jaded eyes of hundreds of young people as I valiantly attempt to encourage them that affirming the Christian faith does not require them to check their brains at the door. In fact, it requires greater rigor than the alternative.

We need to change the focus from a faith that is “not interested in truth that simply informs, but in truth that transforms.”[6]This can only happen if evangelicals remain in serious intellectual dialogue with other academies in an effort to bring the Gospel to their understanding. Instead “Evangelicals substituted apocalyptic speculation for serious political analysis and creationism for serious geological and biological science.”[7](Bolt It is possible to “accept many conclusions of science regarding evolutionary development while still affirming the trustworthiness of Holy Scripture.”[8]

Those of us in this DMin program will have greater responsibility in regard to pushing evangelicalism toward re-engaging with more secular academies. Not simply in terms of apologetics but also with disciplines ranging from astronomy to zoology and anthropology to world politics. (I couldn’t think of another academic discipline that begins with a ‘Z’ – I tried.) “Christian scholars should be predisposed to seek knowledge about particular matters from more than one angle.”[9]Sadly, many in the evangelical movement have held “the conviction that a specific formula could capture for all times and places the essence of any biblical truth for any specific issue.”[10]“The Christian faith contains all the resources, and more, required for full-scale intellectual engagement.”[11]As Christian scholars, we ought to engage in research with one eye toward transforming our academic discipline (where it needs transformation) and one eye toward the (spiritual and physical) needs of the word.”[12]

No one is suggesting that a full return to rationalism and intellectualism is the answer. The early church recognized the need for both orthodoxy and orthopraxis, engaging the mind in coming to terms with incredibly complex beliefs and living faith out in action through the daily application of these beliefs to life. This is what I believe the evangelical church has been missing and why emerging generations have struggled to come to terms with the intellectual challenges they face in the age of rationalism. We would do well to fully engage their minds, filtered through the scriptures and traditional orthodoxy, in those areas that have been ignored by evangelicalism over the past 50 years. Maybe this will be the catalyst for another great awakening. It’s about time.

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[1]Noll, Mark A. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995. P. 3

[2]Gould, Paul M. 2011. “Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 54 (4): 874–77.

[3]Knight, Henry H, III. 1996. “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.” Wesleyan Theological Journal 31 (1): 224–28.

[4]Knight, Henry H, III. 1996. “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.” Wesleyan Theological Journal 31 (1): 224–28.

[5]Noll, Mark A. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995. P. 14

[6]Knight, Henry H, III. 1996. “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.” Wesleyan Theological Journal 31 (1): 224–28.

[7]Bolt, John. 1996. “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.” Calvin Theological Journal 31 (1): 264–67.

[8]Burfiend, Daniel. 2015. “Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind.” Logia 24 (2): 53–54.

[9]Noll, Mark A. Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2013. P. 46

[10]Knight, Henry H, III. 1996. “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.” Wesleyan Theological Journal 31 (1): 224–28.

[11]Noll, Mark A. Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2013. P. 153

[12]Gould, Paul M. 2011. “Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 54 (4): 874–77.

 

About the Author

mm

Dan Kreiss

Former director of the Youth Ministry program at King University in Bristol, TN and Dean of the School of Missions. I have worked in youth ministry my entire life most of that time in New Zealand before becoming faculty at King. I love helping young people recognize themselves as children of God and helping them engage with the world in all its diversity. I am a husband, father of 4, graduate of Emmanuel Christian Seminary, an avid cyclist and fly-fisherman still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

8 responses to “I want a new drug”

  1. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Dan!

    There it is! You scratched where I was itching. TRANSFORMATION! As you put it, “living out our faith.” Well said!

    I am all for intellectualism if it leads to transformation. I am NOT for endless “talking and talking” until the sun goes down and the cows come home.

    I am so glad those 12 un-learned disciples were transformed and became more intellectual in the process.

  2. Great example, Dan!

    Anti-intellectualism is insidious. Much like your egg example; the egg is placed in a pan and boiled slowly. However, it doesn’t take long for the egg to become hardened and used to the consistency of the climbing heat.

    You rightly assert, “This is one of the challenges in maintaining connection with emerging generations. A faith disconnected from dynamic thinking and processing is juxtaposed to their everyday experience and appears to require an anti-intellectualism that is anathema to them.” Many Millennials and Generation Z resonate with Nolls’ words because they’ve experienced them in action. They don’t see the need to pledge their loyalty while removing their doubt. One of the greatest barriers that Nolls discusses is the idea of cultural separation equal to holiness. How do we aid pastors in crossing that barrier while addressing their fear of contamination? How do we address this practically and theologically?

  3. Greg says:

    Dan. I do like a little jaded kiwi commentary from time to time. I haven’t work in a Christian University setting (yet) but can imagine that there is not only a great divide between you and your students but also between the students and the churches on the doorstep of the university. I am not sure how to remain optimistic when our Christian examples continue to make headlines for the wrong reasons.
    I think you have challenged us to see and know that this degree comes with a obligation to not only share our knowledge but be one that continue to learn.

  4. Dan,

    An insightful post. Thank you.

    You stated, “We need to change the focus from a faith that is “not interested in truth that simply informs, but in truth that transforms.” I agree!! The gift of postmodernism is that it is leading us away from an evangelicalism where we have reduced truth down to information, where abundant life in Christ is reduced to moralistic behaviours, and where our approach to Scripture is literalistic rather than contemplative.

  5. mm Trisha Welstad says:

    Dan, this is one of those books that I would have liked to have read in its entirety. There is much to glean and I think you captured some of the aspects of primary importance in your post, particularly engaging in secular academics outside of apologetics. I see this starting to happen in George Fox undergrad but I am sure there is even more that could be done. How are you encouraging your students to be thinkers regardless of vocation?

  6. Chris Pritchett says:

    It’s interesting to hear your thought that narrow-minded evangelicalism has led to the decline of the church. If this is what you argue, I think I agree. We haven’t been able to hold very well amid the intellectual debates which trickles down to a loss of credibility which leads to decline.

  7. I wonder if we could find some links between strong intellectualism and life transformation. I know that people that I consider role models would fit into this category.

  8. Dave Watermulder says:

    Very interesting post, Dan!
    I think you are right on to point out that younger/emerging generations are just not into all the formulas and battles of previous eras of Christianity/evangelicalism, etc. You are fighting the good fight in trying to help them see past the bad reputation that Evangelicalism has given to the Christian faith. I know that in our church youth group and college group, so many kids struggle with this, even though they are part of a church that celebrates academic learning. It’s tough, man.

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