The only thing I love more than teaching is learning. Some people love jewelry, I just want more books. And book discussions. And journal articles. And classes. I admit it, I am completely addicted to learning. I’ve been in grad school longer than most people are in high school and college combined, and I still eye certificate programs that I would like to enroll in during my post-doctorate life. There is nothing cooler to
me than to learn the facts BEHIND the facts. When I was teaching high school, I searched for hidden gems to make history, government, and Bible stories come alive. I didn’t want to just give them facts; I wanted them to know WHY things happened, and HOW the world was affected. I have to say, I feel all sparkly just thinking about it!
So it probably stands to reason that the only thing I enjoy less than being faced with people who aren’t interested in learning is being in the vicinity of someone who is anti-intellectual and actually
ENCOURAGES people not to bother looking deeper. Ugh. No. Just thinking about it makes the sparkly go away…
I’ve talked a lot in my posts about how my family heritage has shapedme and made me who I am today. I was shocked to learn that not every kid was encouraged to think and learn and question. I found out REALLY QUICK how many parents are not comfortable with their kids thinking for themselves. That’s when someone turned me on to Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. I was captivated from the opening line: “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind,” to the closing sentence of the first paragraph, “Notwithstanding all their other virtues, however, American evanglicals are not exemplary for their thinking, and they have not been so for several generations.” Yikes! This is, of course, a broad stroke, but it clearly spoke to what I was seeing in the classroom and in the church. If fact, this is the book that set me on the path to formal theological learning. I didn’t want to be one of the evangelicals who took the minds we have been given for granted.
One of the best things about Scandal is that Noll takes the time to explore and describe the history of Christian thought in an attempt to show us that it hasn’t always been this way and that evangelicals CAN be a part of the academic conversation, pushing and exploring theology in exciting ways. In his book written almost two decades later (Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind), Noll follows up by optimistically that robust Christology and the engagement with traditional Christian creeds are essential platforms for scholarly evangelical thought and teaching. Noll laid down a challenge and not only explores the impact, but pushes the conversation in a distinctly evangelical manner.
That is not to say all evangelicals buy in to Noll’s ideas about the life of the mind. There are certainly those critics who seem to think that the life of the mind is too otherworldly, or that Noll is unfair to premillennialists and young earth creationists, but it feels like those critiques prove his points. If anything, I am not sure Noll goes far enough in his censure of evangelicalism that has been, at best, coopted by fundamentalists who work very hard to set boundaries as to what is ‘acceptable’ intellectualism and what is heresy. As Peter Enns notes, “The real scandal of the Evangelical mind is that we are not allowed to use it. Calling for Evangelical involvement in public academic discourse is useless if trained Evangelicals are legitimately afraid of what will happen to them if they do.”
This is, of course, the crux of the matter. It’s not that evangelicals don’t want to think and learn and explore. It’s our nature to do so, just like any other human being. The reality is that there is a steep price to be paid by anyone claiming the title of evangelical who infringes upon certain tenets, including inerrancy of Scripture, young earth Creationism (although this is becoming more acceptable in some traditions), traditional interpretation of Old Testament stories, and (heaven forbid) ideas around gender roles, sexuality, and purity culture. These are enough to make the likes of Piper, Grudem, and others to “farewell” earnest theologians permanently, declaring them outside of all evangelical orthodoxy. While some may scoff because they don’t particularly hold these gatekeepers in high esteem, the whiff of a possibility that theologians are dancing on the edge of orthodoxy can (and does) cost them their jobs, publishing deals, and even their church communities. If you have any doubt about this, just Google names like Rob Bell, Rachel Held Evans, Jen and Brandon Hatmaker, or Adam Phillips. Better yet, just suggest to the pastor or board of your local evangelical church that they should consider a sermon series on climate change, inviting renowned scientist Katharine HayHoe or Portland Seminary’s own AJ Swoboda to share.
It’s not like we didn’t know that thinking is dangerous. And it’s not like the realization that those in power aren’t always thrilled when people begin to think for themselves is something new. But it feels like now, more than ever, accepting the status quo will be much more dangerous in the long run. #learningisresistance
. Peter Enns, “The Deeper Scandal of the Evangelical Mind: We Are Not Allowed to Use It,” Patheos Blog, January 25, 2013. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2013/01/the-deeper-scandal-of-the-evangelical-mind-we-are-not-allowed-to-use-it/#. Accessed February 21, 2018.