Towards the end of his ministry on earth, Jesus turns and looks at his students and tells them that he, himself, is the way, the truth and the life. If you add to this declaration one part patristic creeds and one part a burning passion for study, you end up with Mark Noll’s book, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind. For Noll, it truly is, like the current pop worship song says, “All About Jesus.” In John 14 Jesus is talking about where he is heading, but Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life for the evangelical is a good summary of Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind. As a result of Jesus, evangelicals “should be among the most active, most serious, and most openminded advocates of general human learning” (x).
Who is the center of the Bible and the creeds? Chapter one says Jesus is in the middle of it all.
Why engage in serious scholarship and biblical reflection? Chapter two says because of Jesus.
Who invented doubleness, contingency, particularity, and self-denial? Jesus did (Ch 3)!
Want to make new sense of Atonement? Read about who Jesus is and what he did (Ch 4).
Why and how should a person study history? Chapter five says because of Jesus.
Science much? If so, chapter 6 says it’s due to Jesus.
Want to correct your hermeneutic? Jesus, and New testament writers who write about Jesus, will show you how (Ch 7)!
The only Scandal sequel I see here happens in the PS section where Noll writes a bit more positively in tone than in 1994 regarding the state of evangelical scholarship.
This is one of those books I wish I would have read ten years ago. I love this book. Sometimes we talk about discovering a book in contrast to a book discovering us. I am not sure what is more true for me here, but I do know that more than any other book we’ve read so far, this one articulates on an intellectually clear and concise way many thoughts and hunches I have had but didn’t know I possessed. For example, I have never been too keen on apologetics and this need to defend scripture or certain religious traditions. It has been my experience that many evangelicals approach the Bible with their beliefs and presuppositions in tact and seek to find proof for their stances. Noll challenges that approach and calls us to look to scripture through who Jesus is and how New Testament writers wrote about him. This is freeing!
This term I am researching the ingredients for making Vineyard bivocational pastors a success. The entire book is helpful for me. Chapter 7 is a particular aid because Noll explains Peter Enns’ way of approaching study of the Bible. After looking at J.I. Packer and B. B. Warfield and the Creeds, Noll turns to Enns for some guidelines. As I pursue creation of a bivocational theological framework, I find some of Enns’ goals to be quite helpful.
1. Christoltelic Biblical Interpretation
This means that each part of the Bible should be related to the grand story of Jesus. Like the two on the Road to Emmaus, I look to Jesus to open my mind so that I can understand scripture and what it means to be a successful pastor. I mean even look to Jesus as to find a definition of success.
2. Incarnational Parallel: Jesus & Bible
Jesus is totally divine and totally human and the scriptures are the same. Is it possible to look at Jesus as bivocational? The Bible as bivocational? Noll cautions us to not take this analogy too far. However, we should take it just far enough so that we don’t make the modernist mistake and ask the Bible questions that the Bible was not trying to answer.
3. Let the Bible Interpret the Bible
For Enns, the procedure to follow with interpretation is to copy how the Bible does it. As I read, teach, study, and preach, I should copy the hermeneutic of Paul, Hebrews and other NT writers. Noll concludes that evangelicals should applaud this strategy.
4. Drop the Modern Defensiveness
The problem here is that the seemingly inconsistent parts in the Bible probably have less to do with the Bible itself and more to do with our modernist notions and preconceptions. For example, if a denomination is convinced bivocationalism is acceptable as a temporary church planting strategy but not a long term life style then that denomination will approach scripture to defend that stance. What is needed here is a classic paradigm shift a la Hebrews 1.1-2. Noll and Enns help us return Jesus back to the position of heir of all things and displaces our prejudiced notions. “If the Bible is the guide for what we believe, it should certainly also be the guide for how we use the Bible to determine what we believe” (135).
Last Sunday while preaching, I blurted out, unscripted, the claim, “I only have permission to read the Old Testament because of Jesus. Jesus gives us christians the permission to read everything in this book (holds up Bible) because of who he is and what he has done. Noll’s book gives the emerging scholars, future doctors of the church, permission to keep going for it!