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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Noll’s Scandal

Written by: on January 24, 2020

The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind is a fascinating work by Mark A. Noll of the study of the evangelical mind, and how evangelicals, especially modern American evangelicals, “have failed notably in sustaining serious intellectual life.”[1] Noll is a prolific writer and research professor of history at Regent College in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, specializing in American church history. Noll believes it is too simplistic to simply label American evangelicals as anti-intellectual but seeks to understand the aspects of this condition, such as the three dimensions of cultural, institutional, and theological implications that created this scandal.[2]

Regarding the cultural dimension, Noll believes “the evangelical ethos is activist, populist, pragmatic, and utilitarian”, allowing “little space for border or deeper intellectual efforts.”[3] Growing up in a Roman Catholic environment and receiving salvation in college into an evangelical church, I noticed this difference as well, although I never had a name for it. While I grew up exposed to cultural activities like attending the theater and going to art exhibits, I remember these activities being called, “secular”. The Christians I met frowned on doing any “secular” activities and did not attend many if any cultural type activities. People needed to be saved and activities were deemed as either advancing the kingdom or not; no one wanted to practice deeds that were not advancing the kingdom.

Noll states that “the institutional dimensions to the scandal were most obvious for colleges and seminaries, but they are also a feature of other intellectual efforts.”[4] Although Noll agrees that the quality of seminary education is increasing, there is a problem concerning “the connection between theology and other forms of learning.”[5] I also wondered why in England there was no problem with Oxford having “Christ Church College” or other religious names for Universities which were held in high esteem for both secular and religious education. My request at my government position for tuition reimbursement for my seminary leadership courses was turned down because it was leadership in a religious setting. As much as I argued that leadership was a transferrable skill, it fell on deaf ears. There can be a bias against seminary education and its worth in our world today by many.

The theological dimension of the scandal is that the Christian community neglected for generations, “serious attention to the mind, nature, society, and the arts—all spheres created by God and sustained for his own glory.”[6] This recalls the beliefs of the evangelical church I attended while in college. Many were told they were wasting their time pursuing college degrees because they should be reaching the world with the gospel. Those in law or medical schools were targeted the most because they had no time to spread the gospel. These were strong points of contention for me with this church because I was taught by my parents and community that getting an “education” was one of the best ways for an African American to get ahead in life.

This church believed strongly in what Charles Taylor describes as “secular 2”, “a falling off of religious belief and practice, in people turning away from God, and no longer going to Church.”[7] The separation of life into the secular and sacred causes problems for many in this church in that they were constantly separating activities into these two categories, eventually leading to living lives of legalism.

Even after changing churches, I found that other evangelical churches continued to separate life into secular and sacred categories. When I told some I was going to seminary, I was warned of the dangers of getting too much education, that it would cause me to lose my faith. Noll, in his book, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, makes no such separation between the secular and the sacred explaining,

Christianity in its entirety is a religion grounded in what Chalcedon tried to describe: Jesus Christ accomplished his mediatorial work because he was both divine and human—moreover, divine and human joined in one integrated person without confusion, change, division, or separation.[8]

This explanation of Christ being of a dual nature of human and divine allows us to pursue dimensions of life which are cultural, institutional, and theological without feeling schizophrenic or disloyal to our faith in Jesus Christ. Instead, we should rest assured that in all we do we are able to glorify Christ. I thank God that all of this “education” is not in vain.

[1]. Noll, Mark A. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994:3.

[2]. Ibid., 12.

[3]. Ibid., 12.

[4]. Ibid., 15.

[5]. Ibid., 19.

[6]. Ibid., 23.

[7]. Taylor, Charles. A Secular Age. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007: 2.

[8]. Noll, Mark A. Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011: 45.

About the Author

mm

Mary Mims

I am a licensed and ordained Baptist minister and have worked with the children and youth for the last seven years. I have resided in the Washington, DC area for the last 30 years, but I am originally from Michigan. I am also bi-vocational and work at the US Patent and Trademark Office in the Scientific Library.

8 responses to “Noll’s Scandal”

  1. Mario Hood says:

    Wow, thanks for sharing your journey and great insights. I think it’s wrong for jobs to discriminate against types of leadership education.

    On another topic, I wonder if the “don’t get too much education” is a minority issue. I know that a lot of denominations require MDiv and beyond even to be ordained but that’s mostly white churches. Have you notice this as well?

    • mm Mary Mims says:

      Mario, I have actually heard the comment from both Black and White, but only in the non-denominational churches. Most of the mainline denominations in this region of the country require at least a master’s degree for ordination.

  2. Mario Hood says:

    Wow, thanks for sharing your journey and great insights. I think it’s wrong for jobs to discriminate against types of leadership education.

    On another topic, I wonder if the “don’t get too much education” is a minority issue. I know that a lot of denominations require MDiv and beyond even to be ordained but that’s mostly white churches. Have you noticed this as well?

    • mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

      This is a fascinating insight Mario.

      A Masters Degree as a requirement is both an educational achievement standard, indicating someone has at least been trained to a certain level, but is also a benchmark that doesn’t allow everyone “in.” In the PCUSA, the financial support one would need to go through all of the schooling needed to become ordained either A doesn’t exist, or B is only given to certain students. At least to this student it is a clear justice issue.

  3. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Thanks, Mary. You have described so well what many of us have experienced in the Evangelical church. It always amazes me that these very people do not know that much of the music and arts is deeply rooted in Christianity.

    How can we study the all-wise, all-knowing God and lose our faith? By separating the mind from the heart, the soul. I think its why Jesus was so clear in his response about the greatest commandment and how we are to love God. If God and theology become a frog to be dissected like a biology class, rather than a wonder to behold and grow in as we live in him, then its understandable. I sure don’t sense that in any of our cohort. I love watching the faith of all of us grow!

  4. Thank you Mary, I so much relate with your experience. I was also brought up in a catholic family and made my salvation decision in High school right before I joined college. This separation of the divine and secular is so pronounced in the evangelical church. My wife, as a young girl in high school was declared a backslider and worldly, simply because she poked her ears for beauty. She had no choice but to leave the church and was restored while in college. There is merit for intellectualism if the church is to have more influence and create more impact in society.

  5. mm Jenn Burnett says:

    Thank you for sharing Mary. Having come to Christ in a mainline setting I think that sometimes the reverse was true. There is sometimes I tendency in the church to suggest that mature faith can only be attained through education. The result has often been a decrease in holding to some of the more foundational tenants of the faith in favour of making the faith more accessible to the modern intellectual. In more recent years it has been refreshing to see a return to the value of mystery and wonder. I can’t help but wonder if that is at least in part due to the rise in denominational and cultural ‘cross pollination.’ How might your various experiences shape how you will lead differently both in your church and your workplace?

  6. mm John Muhanji says:

    I am encouraged by your sharing your spiritual journey in comparison to Noll’s writing on the subject. Your reflection is actually related to my tradition in Africa. It is true that most schools do not encourage good students to pursue religious studies at all but other disciplines that are highly economical than theology. Many of those people who find themselves in religious or theological studies are taking them as their last option. Most of the people in this field are those who never performed well in their education and hence end up in this field of study. With this kind of people in the field, they inhibit an excellent intellectual study and research in this area. But those who are now pioneering the process are those who took a different discipline in their first degree and then decided to pursue theological studies which have opened up anew perspective in the field of the evangelical intellectual mind. Thank you for triggering this perspective.

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