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.” 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.
Regarding the cultural dimension, Noll believes “the evangelical ethos is activist, populist, pragmatic, and utilitarian”, allowing “little space for border or deeper intellectual efforts.” 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.” 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.” 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.” 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.” 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.
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.
. Noll, Mark A. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994:3.
. Ibid., 12.
. Ibid., 12.
. Ibid., 15.
. Ibid., 19.
. Ibid., 23.
. Taylor, Charles. A Secular Age. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007: 2.
. Noll, Mark A. Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011: 45.