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Maybe

Written by: on February 2, 2017

Summary:

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).

 

 

Analysis:

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?

About the Author

Aaron Cole

10 responses to “Maybe”

  1. Your closing statement that a scandal can also be a move of God is quite biblical to me and I think Paul’s comments about the scandal of the cross in 1Cor. resonate with this idea. 🙂

    I was having a discussion with a friend about a hotly contested Christian topic. I thought we were having a pretty healthy lively debate (re: I thought I was winning) when he paused and said, “Aaron, the Holy Spirit told me.”
    End of discussion for me. Knowing that I would not dare argue with the triune God I conceded and walked away.
    Perhaps this story maybe illustrates part of your disagreements with the book. For me there is tension between genuine intellectual pursuits and genuine brothers and sisters of faith who claim Holy Ghost power. I’m of the persuasion to respect both and am in the constant pursuit to live academically honestly (mind) with a pure heart. I don’t always succeed though!

    You blame liberal theology and secularism for evangelical’s downfall in America during the turn of the century. Do you think the pentecostal, fundamentalist, and holiness responses brought us back up the way we should?

    • Aaron Cole says:

      Aaron,

      I don’t know that any of these moves “brought us up”. I am simply proposing that maybe we God wanted the shift? Possibly it was God’s answer or it was the response to the situation. What I do believe, the dispensation that occurred at the turn of the 20th century was from God. How it plays out beyond that is just conjecture that I am offering.

      AC

  2. mm Rose Anding says:

    Thanks Aaron c ‘
    Great read, my focus is on your first para of the analysis, when you stated, “I have spent my entire life as an Evangelical Christian not understanding or knowing the origin of how we arrived intellectually as a movement.”

    There are many persons in the same position. You have done an excellent analysis in your blog.We both have given an analysis of the book in our blogs from different perspective. It was refreshing reading yours! Thanks Rose Maria

  3. mm Marc Andresen says:

    Aaron C,

    You wrote, “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 believe Noll cited Calvin’s belief that the heart must be changed before the mind can be fully engaged. (I think this relates to the doctrine of total depravity.)

    Can you compare this thought to your quotation above?

  4. Kevin Norwood says:

    Aaron,

    I disagree with this author is my favorite part of your blog. I truly do disagree with this author and I too believe the disdain for the Pentecostal approach and outlook along with the discounting of the value of Scripture is a major issue.

    Have you had the thoughts about being significant that this author brings up?

    Is your success wrapped up in “you” or is wrapped up in using your gifts and talents to shape and change the world….literally the world. Instead of being concerned about being recognized in the world of intellect doesn’t it matter to be significant about changing the world?

    Just my rambling thoughts.

    Kevin

  5. mm Phil Goldsberry says:

    Aaron:

    Cole is up, he swings and clears the centerfield fence and lands it in the upper deck!!!!! Great post. Your takeaway resonates with mine.

    Your “sovereign move of God” is a great come back to Noll. You wrote what I have said and expressed about “checking the brains at the door”. Realizing that the book was written in 1994, do you things have changed in the last 12 years?

    Do you think that Noll’s reaction to intellectualism, and the lack thereof, is a reaction to a personal crisis or missing piece in his own life? (Feel free to speculate….we are practitioners assessing)

    Phil

  6. Claire Appiah says:

    Aaron,
    You indicated that Noll may be in error, in that there is no scandal anywhere, but rather the sovereign move of God. In other words, what looks like a scandal to humans may be events that God in His omniscience has been orchestrating for His own eternal purposes. You may be on to something there in your ability to think outside the box. One thing for sure is that nothing happens in our world without God’s allowance.

  7. Jason Kennedy says:

    Aaron,

    Great post and insight on the 19th century. J Gresham Machen picked up on the rise of secularism around this time period and the effect it was playing in the evangelical world. He would echo your thoughts.
    Do you think the pendulum will swing back to more of the center where mind and heart are both regarded?
    Jason

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