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Noll and the Liberal Arts Education Comeback

Written by: on January 26, 2020

*Please note, this blog was written while in the middle of the flu. Not just any flu, THE flu. The one that hit hard this week, spiking my fever to 103 and then took my entire body down to the depths of depravity with it. While I have been fever-free for 24 hours, it’s only been in the last 12 hours or so that I have started to feel human again. Bear with me and thanks for the grace this week.

 

Noll starts out with a bang, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”[1] He makes sure to delineate that it is actually American evangelicals who are generations behind in their thinking, for the graciousness of our global counterparts, lest they believe themselves to be caught up in sustaining a serious academic life as well.[2] Of all people, Mark Noll, should know, right?

 

Mark Noll is currently a research professor at Regent College, and prior to that, was on faculty at both Notre Dame and Wheaton College.[3] As a student, Noll attended Wheaton, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Vanderbilt University. Noll holds a bend towards teaching and writing on American church history, the Reformation, and most things related to American evangelicalism. What strikes me as odd about all this is that he is a product of the American education system, yet lambasts it in the very next breath. Noll really critiques higher education, yet says that we have to think “like a Christian” across the whole spectrum of learning, including everything from economics to the arts.[4] Noll believes that it was fundraising and money that changed the American Education system. It was the high influx of money that changed seats on boards, changed Presidential foci, and lost the orthodoxy of faculty all around.[5] “The effort to integrate religious faith with learning was either given up entirely, under the assumption that the pursuit of science carried with it no antecedent commitments to a worldview – or it was greatly modified, under the felt need to align religion with the certainties of modern thought.”[6]

 

Interestingly, the defense of a Christian Liberal Arts education is making a strong contemporary comeback. In fact, the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities have the tagline, “Advancing Faith and Intellect for the Common Good.”[7] A Christian liberal arts education has the ability to prepare students, not just for the vocation they might enter into, but the broader sense of the world. “Christians desperately need deep learning, not only in theology but in the wonder of God’s creation. What a gift it is to the church and to the world when a Christian liberal arts college graduates students who are not simply interested in a job or a career but who see their work as a calling.”[8] It’s not just Christians who are saying this either. President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of British Columbia recently stated, “And I believe that I am a better scholar because of my liberal arts education, because it was intentionally diverse and heterogeneous, because it made me move outside of my comfort zone into areas of thought and discussion that were uncomfortable to me… it broadened my mind, it exercised my mind.”[9]

 

I would argue that our mind is only part of what makes us human. While it is a vital part, our mind is not the only thing that people should recognize as Christian in the world. I would hope that a university teaches students how to use their mind, and challenges us to integrate our thoughts into the advancement of the greater good for all people. Noll, who taught for many years at his own liberal arts alma mater, must know that it’s not just thought that fixes all things, but instead of a love of learning and a recognition of the world all being intertwined together by a deeper sense of vocation – doing what we were made to do.

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[1] Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), 3.

[2] Ibid., 3.

[3] “Mark Noll, Ph.D.” Wheaton College Website: https://www.wheaton.edu/academics/school-of-biblical-and-theological-studies/faculty/faculty-emeriti/mark-noll-phd/

[4] Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), 7.

[5] Ibid., 110.

[6] Ibid.,, 112.

[7] “About” Council for Christian Colleges & Universities Website: https://www.cccu.org/about/

[8] Kelly Kapic, “Why We Still Need Christian Colleges,” Christianity Today. September 18, 2019. https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/october/kapic-we-need-christian-liberal-arts-colleges.html?share=5uoi1uOzKCnPHCc1kMMm283gNNQrEvVK

[9] “Education Without Liberal Arts is a Threat to Humanity Argues UBC President”, CBC Radio Canada Website, January 14, 2020. https://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/education-without-liberal-arts-is-a-threat-to-humanity-argues-ubc-president-1.5426112?__vfz=medium%3Dsharebar&fbclid=IwAR04b731pRmZ45bhcEDrMBkPW9mMa4GhPsq06si81RWutxAiHkBrk7WQmAc

 

About the Author

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Karen Rouggly

Karen Rouggly is the Director for Mobilization in the Center for Student Action at Azusa Pacific University. She develops transformational experiences for students serving locally, nationally, and internationally. She completed an MA in Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary and is passionate about community development, transformational service and helping students understand vocation and service. Karen is also an active member at the Vineyard Church Glendora where she is a small group leader and serves on the teaching team. She is also a mom to two sweet boys, wife to an amazing guy, and loves being a friend to many.

4 responses to “Noll and the Liberal Arts Education Comeback”

  1. Digby Wilkinson says:

    Welcome back from your near death experience. Pleased the fever broke for you. The Flu is terrible. People often think they have it, but until they have experienced the desire to die, they haven’t.

    You make good observations of Noll’s work considering your addled state. I think his second books attends to your observations of his first, with the attendant requirement for a Christlike humility and broader view of the world and the people who have so much to offer.

    Get well soon. Can we catch that bug online? 🙂

    • mm Karen Rouggly says:

      I hope you can’t catch this bug online. It’s a rough one.

      I did try and get into the second book, but I just didn’t have the energy. I’ll pick it up for my research though – there was a lot in there to chew on for me!

  2. mm John Muhanji says:

    We are sorry for THE Flu you encountered but we are happy that you are doing well through recovery. welcome back and we appreciate you, Karen.

    I am very much encouraged by your response to Noll’s writing on the scandal of the evangelical mind. Much has been achieved through Christian learning institutions and many Christian intellectuals like Noll himself are teaching more intellectuals in the field of Christian academia. His critique of the Evangelicals in the field of intellectualism is the fear to indoctrinate the members from understanding the truth about the world. He is assuming that most evangelical seminaries are not willing to allow liberalism in their learning process as they will pollute the orthodox mind of Christianity. Many liberal arts colleges in the United States started as strong seminaries but broader learning and exposure to what the world is like brought in a new concept challenging the orthodox beliefs.

  3. mm Sean Dean says:

    It seems interesting to me – and possibly only me – that Noll’s book came out the year before I entered college. I think that I experienced everything he says Christian education should be, but also the things that proponents of liberal arts education say it should be. I suspect that, like most things, the truth is somewhere in the middle and as Christians we need to find the balance of the tension between seeing the world through exclusively Christian eyes and through the varied eyes of the liberal arts.

    Glad you are feeling better.

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