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The Evangelical Leadership

Written by: on February 22, 2018

 

“There wasn’t a major Protestant leader in America who obstructed King’s Beloved Community more than Billy Graham did.”  by Michael E. Long, author of “Billy Graham and the Beloved Community: America’s Evangelist and the Dream of Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Author Mark Noll is a historian of American Church Culture. He addresses the influence and lack of influence on the intellectual and political arena of America.  His book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, gave rise to criticism of his approach in defining and identifying the evangelicals. According to Noll, “several readers complained of his singularly evangelical problems were related to the general intellectual difficulties of a frenetic modern society; and they challenged his grouping the fundamentalists, Pentecostals, and holiness advocates as culprits with neo-evangelicals and dispensationalist.” [1] He agrees that he may have been direct in his views but stands by them, nevertheless.

Many reviewers of this book begin their review with his statement, “the scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” [2] The first sentence of the book, Noll suggests that “American evangelicalism is known for its spreading the gospel, providing for the needy, assisting troubled individuals, and churches and parachurch communities, evangelicals are not exemplary for their thinking and have not been for several generations. Evangelicals sponsor dozens of theological seminaries, scores of colleges, hundreds of radio stations, and thousands of parachurch agencies, but not a single research university or a single periodical devoted to in-depth interaction with modern culture.” [3]  Noll states that an evangelical ‘life of the mind’, would be influential when the Christian learning embraces “Christian theology with academic studies, for example, economics and political science, literary criticism and imaginative writing, historical inquiry and philosophical studies, linguistics and the history of science, social theory, and the arts.” [4]

American evangelist leaders have been forefront in the religious and political arena for years. Noll addressed four dimensions of the evangelical influenced “(1) republican theories of politics, (2) took as their own democratic theories of society, (3) embraced liberal views of the economy and (4) domesticated the Enlightenment for Christian purposes.” [5]  They believed “aristocratic tradition, populate influence and executive authority, rather than be simply democratic, aristocratic, or monarchical produces a good government (republicanism).” [6]  He wrote new denominations rose “between the War for Independence and the Civil War.” [7] I found it interesting that an idea by Alexander Campbell thought one day July 4, 1776, was ‘a day to be remembered as with the Jewish Passover.” [8] The Jewish Passover has a spiritual impact with a miracle of signs and wonders performed by a Sovereign God. I must admit that America celebrates this act of Independence Day religiously but there’s no comparison.

American Protestant promoted the “revival to win the unaffiliated and it expressed the country’s democratic spirit.” [9]  But they failed to address a real issue ‘slavery’. The evangelicals were not influential during the times of injustice for the black culture. The recent news of a notable and influential evangelical leader, Billy Graham, death had Facebook in a conversation I call, ‘I remember when”. Many in the black culture are giving him praise for his influence on American history and Christian evangelism. They are remembering watching him on the television drawing thousands to Christ. I too remember watching with my parents every time he came on. I never had the opportunity to experience him in person. His revivals were the largest in the world and his fire and brimstone preaching were fearful to hear but effective. In the black culture, there is a mixture of his known influence but remembering his lack of influence during the black movement identified as the Civil rights. It was told in Graham’s book, that he would pay Rev. Martin Luther King’s bail but was afraid to be shunned if he was publically identified with the movement. These conversations are inline to Noll’s comments of the evangelical leader’s political views.

Noll wrote Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind. Reviewer, Bradley Green, states that “Perhaps the chief value of the book is that it outlines what chief insights for advancing the intellectual life might flow from the heart of the Christian faith: the person and work of Christ.” [10] Noll wrote using a Christological view “doctrine about Christ and his work.” [11]  He wished to encourage Christians to study.  One reviewer states that Noll “presents a more hopeful picture and seeks to draw on Christian theology as a resource to guide scholars in developing a rich intellectualism.” [12] He continues with Noll’s statement, “Jesus Christ who saves sinners is the same Christ who beckons his followers to serious use of their minds for serious explorations of the world.  To study the world, the human structures found in the world, the human experiences of the world, and the humans who experience the world. Much that is intrinsic in Jesus Christ should drive a person to that study.”[13]  Jesus was called a teacher by his disciples and the people whom he taught about the kingdom of heaven. Apostle Paul was an educated man of academics and as well as scripture. God wants us to be knowledgeable in the word as well as the world. The scriptures say we are to live in the world but not to be a part of the world. Evangelical leaders have woven themselves into the political arena for centuries which have been effective and damaging to America by forcing their views on the American people.  Jesus did not force God’s law on the people, he gave them a choice to choose.

 

[1] Mark Noll, The Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, Grand Rapids: William Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011, 151-2.

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

[3] William Gross, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, accessed 2/20/18, http://www.onthewing.org/ user/ Ev_Scandal%20of%20the%20Evangelical%20Mind%20-%20Knoll.pdf.

[4] IBID, Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, 7.

[5] IBID. ,68.

[6] IBID., 69.

[7] IBID., 73.

[8] IBID., 73-4.

[9] IBID., 74.

[10] Bradley Green, TheMelios, accessed 2/20/18, http://themelios.thegospelcoalition.org/review/jesus-christ-and-the-life-of-the-mind.

[11] IBID., Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, X.

[12] David Barshinger, Mark Noll’s Christological Vision on the Life of the Mind, accessed 2/21/18,

Mark Noll’s Christological Vision of the Life of the Mind

[13] IBID.

About the Author

Lynda Gittens

5 responses to “The Evangelical Leadership”

  1. Mary says:

    I was saddened to hear of Rev. Billy Graham’s death at age 99. Articles are everywhere now on this great man who at least fought against the “arms race” and injustice. Billy Graham also realized the devastation that Fundamentalism was causing.
    But I did not know, “It was told in Graham’s book, that he would pay Rev. Martin Luther King’s bail but was afraid to be shunned if he was publically identified with the movement.”
    I’m not really crazy about Mark Noll as an historian. I’ve always thought that his stress on theology promoted white males. (That’s just between you and me.)
    If we don’t embrace the fact that Jesus loves all His children, no matter race, gender, or class, then what are we to say about having a Christian mind?
    Is the mind of Christ theology or love?
    You hit a nail on the head as usual, Lynda. Thank you.

  2. Jim Sabella says:

    Enjoyed your post, Lynda. I too am in the choir that says that Noll painted evangelicalism with too wide of a brush or should I say too narrow a brush. Certainly, not all evangelicals are anti-intellect in the sense that they do not engage with the world with a Christian grid that encompasses the arts, sciences etc. etc. In fact, few fit into the category. To paint with a single brush such a diverse group as evangelicalism does not give a clear picture of what is actually the state of evangelicals. Appreciate your post, Lynda.

  3. Stu Cocanougher says:

    Lynda, referring to Billy Graham, hindsight is 20/20. Graham may not have let down the MLK and the civil rights movement (as did JFK and LBJ for many years), but have you seen this?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UisbJq8Uflg

    (There are four parts, posted separately. I would be curious to hear your perspective.)

  4. mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    So true and powerful: “Jesus did not force God’s law on the people, he gave them a choice to choose.” If Jesus did this, how much more should we? The right to self-determination, free-will. If God lets us choose heaven or hell, we need to give people the right to chose how or if they want to walk in their faith. We are called to love.
    Lynda- “The evangelicals were not influential during the times of injustice for the black culture.” One of our great shames in this country and the evangelical community. So not acceptable in the body of Christ. It makes me wonder what are we are not doing today to advocate for the oppressed because we are embarrassed or guarded to take a forefront in case we will lose favor with others? Any ideas?

  5. mm Katy Drage Lines says:

    Interesting that you found a quote by Alexander Campbell. He & Barton Stone are the founders of the church movement I’m a part of, which was really the first American-born church, founded with Enlightenment and American-democratic ideals. I think many of the trajectories of what ails American evangelicalism can be seen in the microcosm of parts of our movement today, even/especially an unwillingness on the part of white evangelicals to identify racial inequity as a real issue.

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