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

Pieces in a Jigsaw Puzzle

Written by: on February 23, 2018

Fundamentalist naiveté concerning science was matched by nineteenth century traits that undercut the possibility for a responsible intellectual life…included a weakness for treating the verses of the Bible as pieces in a jigsaw puzzle that needed only to be sorted and then fit together to possess a finished picture of divine truth; an overwhelming tendency to “essentialism,” or the conviction that a specific formula could capture for all times and places the essence of biblical truth for any specific issue concerning God, the human condition, or the fate of the world;”[1]

Wouldn’t it be nice if all of the world’s problems could be solved by applying a specific formula or looking at a finished picture of divine truth? What happens when you don’t have all of the jigsaw puzzle pieces? Or the ones you have do not connect together? While as Christians we want to acknowledge that Jesus is the answer, I assert that the real importance lies in how we engage with Jesus in the questions and not so much the inevitable finite answer. In my experience, our faith journey reveals more questions than direct answers. We wrestle with the questions together and allow the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us as we continue to move along in our journey. So that being said, our lives as Christians are made up of a complex interrelationship between human life, nature and scripture.  God’s creation combined with life experience teaches us things about human existence that is not bound up in one book.  Throughout Christian history there has been tension between how we learn about this interrelationship and the tools/methods we use as we seek out to discover the answers to the questions that surface in light of these connections.

Within his two books, one being a post script for the other, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind and The Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind Mark Noll explores the historical framework behind evangelicalism and how it relates to culture and scholarship. He writes “if what we claim about Jesus Christ is true, then evangelicals should be among the most active, most serious, and most open minded advocates of general human learning. Evangelical hesitation about scholarship in general or about pursuing learning wholeheartedly is, in other words, antithetical to the Christ-centered basis of evangelical faith.”[2] Over the course of history, evangelicals have shunned the emergence of enlightenment, science and even at times technological advancements.  The divide between faith and science was clear. It was as if science was the antithesis to solid doctrine and faithful practice. Science was seen as other. It was the secular threat brought in by the emergence of enlightenment to disrupt the evangelical fundamentalist way of life. The unfortunate result to this way of thinking and practice was a greater rejection for scholarship as a whole. As universities and places of learning formed, it was not funded or attended by those in the evangelical community. The lack of engagement in scholarship and critical thinking lead to a poor and lack luster theological framework that created a naive and narrow worldview.  Noll asserts that “[f]or Christian thinking about the world, the key question is what happens to a community when it tries to work out a Christian orientation… [i]f that community’s habits of mind concerning those things to which the community pays most diligent attention and accords highest authority — that is, to the Bible and Christian theology — are defined by naive and uncritical assumptions about the way to study or think about anything, so will its efforts to promote Christian thinking about the world be marked by naïveté and an absence of rigorous criticism… it means that fruitful evangelical thinking at the end of the twentieth century must come to grips not only with the excesses of the fundamentalist past but with the compounded damage done when those excesses were grafted on to even longer-lived intellectual weaknesses.[3] Some could say that we have progressed since the 19th century fundamentalist way of thinking but I would not be so quick to say that we are far from it. The point Noll’s is making is a strong one. In order to truly understand the impact of this disastrous way of thinking we must first understand its effect on our history in order to recognize how we have brought our past into our present. So then how do we move beyond this way of thinking and living? Noll’s exhorts us to consider Christ in everything that we do. Placing Him at the center means that a Christian life ultimately at its basic core requires a life of Christian scholarship.  There is no separation in the way in which we learn and engage in all aspects of our life. Noll’s asserts “[t]he specific requirements for Christian scholarship all grow naturally from Christian worship inspired by such love: confidence in the ability to gain knowledge about the world because the world was brought into being through Jesus Christ; commitment to careful examination of the objects of study through “coming and seeing”; trust that good scholarship and faithful discipleship cannot ultimately conflict; humility from realizing that learning depends at every step on a merciful God; and gratitude in acknowledging that all good gifts come from above.[4]

 

 

 

 

[1] Mark A. Noll, The scandal of the Evangelical mind (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994), 127.

[2] Mark Noll, The Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, Grand Rapids: William Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011, Location 27.

[3] Mark A. Noll, The scandal of the Evangelical mind (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994), 129.

 

[4] Mark Noll, The Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, Grand Rapids: William Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011, Location 1656.

About the Author

Christal Jenkins Tanks

8 responses to “Pieces in a Jigsaw Puzzle”

  1. Lynda Gittens says:

    Christal
    I wonder if it is accurate to say that the various church denominations are similar to jigsaw puzzles. If we connect properly, we could be a powerful piece of work for Christ.
    Your statement “then how do we move beyond this way of thinking and living? Noll’s exhorts us to consider Christ in everything that we do. Placing Him at the center means that a Christian life ultimately at its basic core requires a life of Christian scholarship” All Christian denominations believe they are considering Christ in everything. Yet we are not on one accord.

  2. Jim Sabella says:

    Wow, Christal! You start out strong and keep going from there. “While as Christians we want to acknowledge that Jesus is the answer, I assert that the real importance lies in how we engage with Jesus in the questions and not so much the inevitable finite answer.” I do believe that engagement is the key. Our engagement with Jesus and then with the world–especially when our in our engagement with the world we do justly, love mercy and walk humbly. Thank you, Christal.

  3. Stu Cocanougher says:

    “There is no separation in the way in which we learn and engage in all aspects of our life.”

    I think that this is a cultural change this is currently happening among evangelicals. The divide between the sacred and the secular is eroding.

    International businessmen are being trained to use “business as missions.” Pastors are are choosing to be bi vocational. New forms of churches are being planted that depend on the laity to do most of the work.

  4. Mary says:

    Christal, ever since we started together as a cohort, I have always seen you as the perfect embodiment of this lesson. You have united your faith with “secular” learning. You really understand what it means not only to have the mind of Christ, but the strength of the Holy Spirit. You have always been an inspiration for me.
    “There is no separation in the way in which we learn and engage in all aspects of our life.”
    You got it, sister.

  5. mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Love this – “Noll’s exhorts us to consider Christ in everything that we do.” This is a great technique to avoid the disastrous mistakes of our past. On a practical level, how do you suggest we put Christ in everything we do? Maybe if I had “Christ” in my name like you, it would be easier for me. I’m sure you have some special insight and enlightenment on this.
    My quick answer, I was reminded of the power of love. Greater than anything that is great-spiritual giftedness, miraculous power, etc…as mentioned in I Cor. 13. Perfect love allows us to see more clearly what we see dimly, and outlasts everything, as it has no end. Inviting love in, living in love, and rejecting fear seems like a beautiful step in the right direction of keeping Christ in the center.

  6. Chrystal,
    You highlight something really important at the end of your post, when you say ‘There is no separation in the way we learn’ and I think this is a really key.
    So, I wonder if part of what we are seeing in ‘The Scandal’ is not so much a rejection of the Enlightenment, but a response and a reflection of it. Is the Evangelical movement we have the result of the culture in which we are/where living in?

  7. Kristin Hamilton says:

    Christal, Your post reminded me of the “Jesus Is the Answer” bumper stickers and buttons that were popular in the 70s and 80s. It didn’t take long for opposing stickers to come out asking, “So what’s the question?” Not very fruitful for legitimate discussion, but definitely amusing.
    You said, “Some could say that we have progressed since the 19th century fundamentalist way of thinking but I would not be so quick to say that we are far from it.” I agree wholeheartedly. I do think some evangelicals moved away from fundamentalist thinking for a time, but with the resurgence of neo-reformed and neo-fundamentalist leaders, large groups of evangelical traditions retreated under the umbrella of status quo thinking. Christian scholarship with open dialogue is crucial, but it is so costly that I’m afraid we are losing some of our best thinkers.

  8. mm Katy Drage Lines says:

    You quote Noll saying “Christian scholarship all grow naturally from Christian worship.” I, too, highlighted this beautiful closing quote of his. He (rightly, I believe) asserts that learning should emerge out of our love of and response to God through worship. The opposite of that in an intellectual frame is a tendency toward idolatry (see LIFE, ix); a pursuit of intellectual endeavors without the foundation of Christian worship. I appreciate you highlighting that.

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