“The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” This quote opens the text of Mark Noll’s nearly twenty-year old assessment of evangelicals on their disinterest in and distance from influencing the wider culture with a distinctively Christ-centric intellect. Though there has been much debate about the content of the scandal and who is included in the scandal (as it’s much broader than evangelicals), the scandal is largely agreed upon. This is especially validated when considering the cultural, institutional and theological dimensions of intellectual disengagement from the church from a historical and experiential perspective.
The whole idea that evangelicals do not have much depth in their thought life is quite troubling. Why? There are many reasons but two stand out based on the commands of Jesus.
Perhaps the most obvious reason for Christians to have a rich intellectual side is because of the command originally given in Deuteronomy 6 and spoken again by Jesus in the New Testament: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Loving God includes growing and challenging our mind, filling it with thoughts and activities that edify God. As Noll notes, “For Christian scholarship to mean anything, it must mean intellectual labor rooted in Christ, with both the rooting and the laboring essential. To not love God with our whole being is to disobey God’s commands. For this reason alone, evangelicals should seek to enrich their mind, regardless of vocation.
Second, and related to the first command is the command of Jesus to “go and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” from Matthew 28. Those who love God and follow as disciples, literally those being apprenticed by Jesus, are expected to do the same. It is obvious that not all people will be pastors or missionaries, and so all people who are disciples of Jesus need to be educated toward how to live the love of God and continue to grow in the whole of themselves as they go and make disciples in their communities. In addition, if disciples are being unfaithful in the first command, there will be a direct effect on the way disciples are made. This is part of Noll’s argument for why generations of evangelicals in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries have grown more and more shallow in intellectual endeavors.
Sadly, many institutions beginning with intellectual giants, such as John Wesley, have shrunk over time due to over-simplistic thinking and cultural values not in alignment with Christ or the founders. The holiness movement is one cited by Noll as having “special difficulties when putting the mind to use.” My own participations in the holiness movement has shown there is a minority of people who are interested in continued depth in Scripture and application across disciplines, with only about half of the minority or less being those in ministerial leadership.
In Noll’s more recent text, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, he is much more hopeful. Here he concludes with progress he’s seen since the publication of The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Noll includes ten areas where Christians are growing in learning. Of the ten, two areas I have seen direct positive effects in recent years are that of the growth in maturity of the seminary, particularly Portland Seminary, and partnership of philanthropic organizations with the church.
In the last few years Portland Seminary has weathered some major changes that have been challenging for faculty, staff and students. Yet, in that time there has emerged a strong center on honoring the Christ centered values of the university which has extended to hiring well-qualified and diverse scholars who are evangelical in the classical (Bebbington) framework. In addition, the seminary has received two different grants from the Lilly Endowment. These funds are to enrich the scholarship and partnership between the church and the academy.
As part of the Lilly team for Pastor’s Thriving in Ministry, I have the honor of connecting pastors with faculty, mentors and enriching experiences toward pastor’s ability to love God with their whole selves and make disciples. In particular, over the past week I have been studying the research around pastoral flourishing by Notre Dame’s business school and have seen that the Lilly Endowment has utilized Craig Dykstra and Matt Bloom’s research to disperse more than $100 million in grants over the last year. These funds are all about caring for pastors to then help them care for their congregations, and finally for congregations to best impact their communities. It all began with research. Research says a healthy pastor creates a healthy congregation and community.
Unfortunately, most evangelical denominations, (mine included), are focusing on typical external quick fix church growth methods, while not dealing with the long and slow work of the interior life of the mind and well-being of pastors to best serve their communities. What if we continued to begin every church growth seminar with the interior formation before the exterior?
My doctoral research and artifact will utilize the research and experience through our Lilly grant to best equip ministers for their work from the inside out. In particular, women and people of color who are often judged by their exterior, will support one another’s personal development before focusing on external skillsets while continually learning how to navigate the terrain of ministry to best flourish.
To encourage the interior life and give a glimpse of my work, here is a link to the Flourishing in Ministry content from Notre Dame. https://wellbeing.nd.edu/flourishing-in-ministry/
 Noll, Mark A. 1994. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 3.
 Noll, Mark A. Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2013, 147.
 Noll, Mark A. Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2013, 152.