From its start, Ethiopian Evangelical Christianity has exhibited strong emphases on key characteristics of evangelicalism such as “the need for a supernatural new birth, profess faith in the Bible as a revelation from God, encourage spreading the gospel through missions and personal evangelism, and emphasize the saving character of Jesus’ death and resurrection”(p.9). Denominations who practice these key elements actively tend to grow in numbers, which in turn is considered a sign of growth and influence. Ethiopian Protestant churches grew through times of persecution which drew them closer despite their differences. But, at the same time, churches are completely lacking a thoughtful engagement in the social, political and cultural life of their community. Their lack of influence in a broader culture is primarily theological, but there are cultural and political challenges as well. The cultural challenge is that Ethiopian Evangelical Christians are the minority; they are often influenced by herd instincts. Also, our country has been led by a single-party system that effectively marginalized other opposing parties. These challenges added to the Ethiopian evangelicals’ inattention to explore ways to challenge the oppressive regime in a nonviolent approach.
Coming from this cultural background, I find reading Mark A Noll’s book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind inspiring. Noll’s book is a brilliant analysis on the decline of intellectual life in modern American Evangelicals. Noll begins by asserting, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind” (p.3). He notes that evangelicals have extended much energy to “Feeding the hungry, living simply and banning the bomb” but “neglected sober analysis of nature, human society, and the arts ” (p.3-4). Looking at the historical background, Noll argues modern evangelical leaders are “the spiritual descendants of leaders and movements distinguished by probing, creative, fruitful attention to the mind” (p.4). Although “…all held that diligent, rigorous mental activity was a way to glorify God. None of them believed that intellectual activity was the only was to glorify God…” (p.4).
This reminds me of Jesus’ words in Matthew, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself ” (Mat. 12:30). What does it mean to love the Lord with all our mind? As Noll reminds us one way to love God with our minds means looking back in history and learning from leaders who loved God with their minds as they followed Christ in discipleship. This is one way we become aware of the areas we are doing well or may be falling short in living out our Lord’s commandment and following our evangelical tradition.
Therefore, I love the challenge Noll gives to Evangelicals throughout this book: to make an effort to think like a Christian. He says, “The much more important is what it means to think like a Christian about the nature and working of the physical world, the character of human social structures like government and the economy, the meaning of the past, the nature of artistic creation, and the circumstances attending our perception of the world outside ourselves ” (p.7). Noll says we must take seriously the larger world of intellect if we want “our minds to be shaped by the conventions of our modern universities and the assumptions of Madison Avenue, instead of by God and the servants of God” (p. 34).
I utterly agree with Noll that comprehensive thinking is absolutely essential, as “Luther held, because people needed to understand both the word of Scripture and the nature of the world in which the word would take root” (p.37). And I believe our intellectual life is not at odds with our faith, it is rather an arena in which to glorify God, and will impact our discipleship. When we understand this, we will be able to do our jobs, studies, and ministries not merely to pass time, but to honor God with our whole being. May the Lord help us love Him with all our mind!