The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Mark A. Noll is a great historical journey on the lack of intellectual exploration and emphasis by the Evangelical community in how the church relates to the world academically, politically, scientifically, economically, and culturally. Noll’s opening statement summarizes the book best: “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”(Noll, 3). Noll, who embraces a classic definition of evangelicalism as defined by David Bebbington, explains and walks the reader through a historical and factual journey from its inception to the modern day Evangelical Church as he explains how the church “lost its mind” culturally, institutionally, and theologically. Culturally it is devoid of mind, because “the evangelical ethos is activistic, populist, pragmatic, and utilitarian. It allows very little space for broader or deeper intellectual effort because it is dominated by the urgencies of the moment.” (Noll, 12). Institutionally, it is lost because of the void of research and development through Evangelical colleges, universities, and seminaries. Theologically, it is lost due to the “Christian community to neglect…serious attention to the mind, nature, society, and the arts” (Noll, 23).
I found this book fascinating and insightful, especially because I have spent my entire life as an Evangelical Christian not understanding or knowing the origin of how we arrived intellectually as a movement. I must agree that I resonated with Noll’s “So What?” (Noll, 29) as to why the “scandal” actually matters. However, as I read I found agreement with the author that it does indeed matter and is important for us as 21st century Evangelicals understand how we got here if we are to lead effectively moving forward.
There are aspects in which I disagree with the author. His claim that the lack of Evangelical professionals in North America are affecting society is not completely true when you look at just government officials such as U.S. Presidents, Congress men and women, Supreme Court Justices, and Governors; where the overwhelming majority claim public affiliation to the Evangelical Church. There is also the issue of the discounted theology of Pentecostal and Charismatic Evangelicals that have produced universities for liberal arts education, world wide media and television companies, and account for 8% of world’s population; all within the last century. Last, his view of the inerrancy of Scripture is the antithesis of my belief, why would you follow a religion when you do not have confidence in the legitimacy of its teachings?
However, I do agree and resonate with author on several issues. First, the lack of grip that the Evangelical Church had on colleges and universities at the turn of the 20th century. To allow new thought, devoid of God, to arise without the interjection and discourse of God and his place in the earth and its existence, was eyeopening for me. Second, the anti-intellectual stance of the church is a shame. I think there can be a place for candid and heated theological debate and still hold a relevant and popular message, there is no need to dumb the message down. Third, is the loss of church history. From the Puritans to great orators like Jonathan Edwards, it is easy to forget what got us to were we are as a church and to look for the next fix or cool thing. I think it is easy to forget the message in the methodology. This error does not come from a wrong motive or bad heart, but from an uninformed mind.
There is one thing that I think may be missing from Noll’s book and perspective. It may be that there is not a scandal anywhere but rather a sovereignty that we are missing in the equation. When we look at the timeline of “downfall” of Evangelical’s intellectual place in North American history it is at the close of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. It was in that same time period that liberal theology and secularism began to surface in mainstream North America. It was also the time of a sovereign move of God through the dispensation of the Holy Spirit which had not been witnessed since the 1st century. Is it possible that It was at this time that the Evangelical mind made way for a new heart in the Evangelical community? Maybe this is what God wanted? Maybe God’s use of the mind was to pave the way for the heart? After all a changed heart not a changed mind is the place of salvation. I do not want to parrot Noll’s critics, nor do I think that Evangelical mind and heart cannot or should not coexist, I think it can and it should. However, I think we are checking are brains at the door to discount the emergence and importance of the pentecostal doctrine or modern day Evangelicalism as “emotional” or baseless. Maybe what Noll views as a scandal, is actually actual a sovereign move of God?