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Stand on Your Convictions or Write For The Critics

Written by: on February 9, 2017

In Noll’s book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (1994), he insisted Christians should pursue their beliefs on the biblical affirmation of creation. In other words, we should stand on our theological convictions, then explore and understand how creation should function under God. Such exploration would undoubtedly motivate Christians to pursue the role of science in the theology of creation. However, affirming a theology of science in creation is viewed as an atheistic approach, which ultimately leads to a functional deism (rejects the belief in the supernaturality of religion and that God created the universe but remains separate from it).

“Understanding more about Christ and his work not only opens a wide doorway to learning, but also checks tendencies toward idolatry that are as potent among scholars as in the rest of humankind” (14, Kindle). This statement gives us a clear direction of Noll’s approach to his new book, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind. He intends to define Christianity by the “person and work of Jesus Christ” (14, Kindle).
This book has two distinct parts. In the first three chapters, Noll made an attempt to develop a Christ-centered framework for learning. We could also argue that chapter 4 should be included in this first segment because Noll seeks a correlation between the atonement and the intellectual life. In his mind, Christians and New Atheists or young earth creationists and evolutionary creationists have already accepted a metaphysical paradigm, although they might diametrically oppose each other. Noll attributes some of this to a shift in western thinking, citing that it changed how Christians talk about ‘nature’ and God’s relationship to creation. Some of the highlights of the first segment include:

  1. Chapter 2 tells us that Christ is the creator of all things and if we believe that Christ is sovereign over all things, we should never isolate God and creation. Noll reveals seven motives for learning
    1. Christ is Creator (p. 25)
    2. All things cohere in Christ, so reality harmonizes with His Lordship (p. 26-30)
    3. Christ’s sovereignty creates the attachment with all things (p. 30-33)
    4. Since the Word became flesh, we cannot ignore the reality of materialism (p. 33-35)
    5. The incarnation and ‘this’ world (p. 35-37)
    6. We study human personality because Jesus was fully human (p. 37-38)
    7. The attention to beauty because of the beauty of God (p. 38-39)
  2. Chapter 3 talks about the four fundamental principles that inform and encourage Christian scholarship
    1. Doubleness (or duality): “The doubleness of Christ as divine and human, which undergirds the whole edifice of Christian life and thought, is a model for studying the spheres of existence” and thus a Christian scholar “should be predisposed to seek knowledge about particular matters from more than one angle” (p. 46).
    2. Contingency: Noll argues that we must “seek out as much evidence as possible about whatever we are studying” (p. 50). We have the incarnate God that facilitated our salvation through such incarnation, but our studies as scholars will reveal the evidence that will guide our thinking.
    3. Particularity: Christianity offers mediation between “the perspectival and the universal” (p. 55). However, “God used the particular means of the incarnation to accomplish a universal redemption” (p. 58). This allows Christian scholars in their debates, to endorse either universal truth or perspectivalism.
    4. Self-denial: The intellectual life often becomes “sickening” with two symptoms, namely self-reliance, and self-praise (or self-adoration) so Noll has a simple antidote. “Knowing Christ,” says Noll, “means learning humility” (p. 62). Christian scholars must show total dependence on God because modern scholarship has the tendency to lead us towards the path of self-advancement.

One of the challenges of feeling the need to respond to every critic is that it slowly minimizes your effectiveness by shifting your work from scholarly to fictional. When I watch The Fast and The Furious, I expect the writers to have me wanting more, but when I leave the theater, I’ll only believe I looked at a good movie and nothing else. In Noll’s case, he wrote this book as a response to critics of his first book, which he wrote because of people’s opinion on creation. After writing this book, I realized he missed something again. Noll provided his Christological framework but never actually showed us how to apply to the task of learning. How does Christ’s mission inform the Christian scholarly task? Christ is “Christ of the Academic Road” (p. 22), where is the road headed? Will we see these answers in another book? Surely, as Christian scholars, we can find these answers, but I believe this becomes our challenge as we study Christian theology. We often find ourselves on the defense because we feel the need to respond to every critic. Overall, this is a great read, and I loved the comprehensive approach in each chapter.

About the Author

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Garfield Harvey

Garfield O. Harvey devotes himself to studies in cultural intelligence (CQ), global leadership and cultural anthropology. During his doctoral studies at George Fox University, he developed CQ Worship to help ministry leaders manage the tension of leading corporate worship with cultural intelligence. His research on worship brings a fresh perspective that suggests corporate worship begins the moment a church engages a community.

13 responses to “Stand on Your Convictions or Write For The Critics”

  1. mm Rose Anding says:

    Thanks Garfield, for an insightful blog…it is from a creative mind. I pray God blessing upon you as you continue your journey to greatness in Him.

    I like to make a few remarks concerning this statement, “Knowing Christ,” says Noll, “means learning humility” (p. 62).As you have said, “Christian scholars must show total dependence on God because modern scholarship has the tendency to lead us towards the path of self-advancement.”
    That is so true.

    As St. Therese put it, not every flower can be a rose. Some are wildflowers or daisies or violets.However, to be humble is to be emptied ~ emptied of myself. It isn’t wallowing in my wretchedness; it is bathing in His mercy. Humility is being content to be who, where and what God asks of me today, and nothing more. I make my whole self – body, mind and heart – an empty vessel to be filled by Him as He sees fit. Nothing I could ever do or be can compare to who He is. The glory is all His. “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags…” Isaiah 64:6 A GREAT READ! Rose Maria

    • mm Garfield Harvey says:

      Rose,
      Thanks for the feedback. It is important for us to continue in humility as Christian leaders. It is impossible for us to bear the name of Christ in pride. I’ve tried to caution myself as I go through this doctoral studies to ensure I don’t have a spirit of entitlement and ensure that I continue to my total dependence on God.

      Garfield

  2. mm Marc Andresen says:

    Garfield,

    Thanks for the great summary of chapters 2 and 3. It was helpful.

    You mentioned the dual nature of Jesus. I was intrigued by the comparison between the human/divine nature of Jesus and the human/divine nature of Scripture.

    Do you have any thoughts/reflections on that similarity between the living and written Word of God?

    You wrote, “…I realized he missed something again. Noll provided his Christological framework but never actually showed us how to apply to the task of learning. How does Christ’s mission inform the Christian scholarly task? Christ is ‘Christ of the Academic Road,’ where is the road headed?”

    These are good questions. Since our current book was, in part, a response to comments on the former book, I would encourage you to write to him and get him thinking about his next book.

    • mm Garfield Harvey says:

      Marc,
      Thanks for the feedback. In response to the similarities, I believe our individual church doctrine will dictate this. There were days in my Christian walk when I tried to comprehend ‘The Virgin Birth’ but never questioned the death, burial, resurrection or ascension.

      Scripture shows us that there is a thin line between the Written Word and the Word that became flesh. “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39-40). The written Word attempts to explain God in writing. For example, I learn a lot about you through the different writings but every time I spend a few days with you on the advances, the things I learn about you supersedes the writing because it was face to face. The Written Word tells me a great deal about God but don’t we always say that ‘they’re a few questions we’d like to ask face to face?’

      Garfield

      • mm Marc Andresen says:

        Garfield – great reply, thanks. The metaphor of getting to know one another in blogs and at the Advances makes a great deal of sense.

  3. Love the outline part of this blog. Helpful! Great catch about Noll not offering a way to study. I think maybe that was not the point of this book, but simply, as you point out, to make sure people put Jesus in the center of their study. What would you say if I said that Noll would answer your question with, “Go read How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren.” What do you think?

    • mm Garfield Harvey says:

      Aaron,
      Thanks for the feedback. Unfortunately, Noll’s writings in this series seem to always involve responding to critics. In this book he was intent on helping Christians in their intellectual pursuits. If this is the case, he has an obligation to each reader (or critic) to accomplish this goal by walking us through every process. Having Jesus in the center of our studies seem to have a roadmap that Noll never got around to explaining in depth. Since he went down the road of writing for critics, he opened himself for criticism in this series. Did I enjoy the reading? Yes, but this blog shows how critics can sometimes minimize the effectiveness of quality work when we start by suggesting that you’re responding to critics and not simply writing a scholarly book.

      Garfield

  4. Claire Appiah says:

    Garfield,
    Thanks for another blog well done. You stated, “Noll provided his Christological framework but never actually showed us how to apply it to the task of learning.” I think Noll believes he as shown us that this academic enterprise is a lifelong process in his book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, p.5. He tells us that, “By an evangelical ‘Life of the Mind’ I mean more the effort to think like a Christian–to think within a specifically Christian framework across the whole spectrum of modern learning . . . ” That is, to engage all the academic disciplines from a Christological perspective.

    • mm Garfield Harvey says:

      Claire,
      Thanks for the feedback. I do agree that our learning is never ending. I realize that every time I get asked a question about the Bible, my first instinct is to research before answering because we live in a critical world. I think sometimes we forget that we can never exhaust God’s infinite Word with our finite thinking. I think Noll’s first book was a blueprint for the intellectual life of Christianity.

      Garfield

  5. Garfield,

    Thanks for the very clear and concise blog concerning this book. I think the one word that Noll leaves out of my three C’s is the comprehensive part.

    He has a lot of intellectual ideas but the road map may not connect. I am not even sure that GPS can put it all together.

    What is the one thing about Christ that really stands out from Noll’s perspective?

    I think his approach to Christ being the end all of every intellectual pursuit is what I take away.

    Great blog.

    Kevin

    • mm Garfield Harvey says:

      Kevin,
      Thanks for the feedback. I think the greatest reminder is that there’s a thin line between Christ and the Written Word. “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39-40). I think we often look for an identical correlation between the two but miss the subtle differences. The only way to understand is to have an intellectual process. As you suggested, Noll’s work is sometimes like a new road that they haven’t collaborated in the GPS system. We know the destination exists but we might have a few wrong turns getting there. He does challenge us to be intentional in our intellectual life.

      Garfield

  6. mm Rose Anding says:

    Thank Garfield for a great read!
    I understand you are Christian worship leaders within the church,may be you can shed a little light on this subject.

    It is apparently within the Contemporary Christian worship leaders within the church are consciously challenging,reinterpreting, and renegotiating religion to theologically justify the use of secular modes to
    spread the Christian message through music.

    Sometime I wonder, how the contemporary Christian musician understands their vocational calling and how they interpret their actions through a religious lens. Since ‘Contemporary Christian musician’ is a profession and because it is such comes with religious consequences. Earning a living through worship music would itself be seen as detrimental to Christian faith, but the way in which contemporary Christian musicians renegotiate their actions as a “calling by God”affirms their earnings are gained through a sacred means and encourages the enjoyment of such
    gain (Weber 2009, 142). ”
    Thanks for one of the best blogs Rose Maria

    • mm Garfield Harvey says:

      Rose,
      I’ve always appreciated your words of encouragement to everyone in this cohort. Thank you for your insightful blogs and feedbacks throughout this semester. I look forward to reading more of your blogs and receiving some more of your encouraging words.

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