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The Intellectual Evangelical

Written by: on February 2, 2017

“It is simply impossible to be, with integrity, both evangelical and intellectual” (98, Kindle). This I believe is the challenge of many modern day scholars who are both evangelicals and intellectuals. It is not so much the impossibility of integrity, rather, the challenge to suggest that evangelicals are becoming more intelligent. Jason, one of my colleagues, propose while we were in Hong Kong that evangelicals are scarred because of the perceived ignorance of past leaders.

Noll, an evangelical, chose to write on behalf of his intellectual nature, so this review will also look on that side (with an understanding that he is an evangelical). Romans 7:22-23 states, “For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.” It is not a sin to be intellectual, but it is possible to allow our intellect to dominate how we behave ‘Christianly,’ which could lead to sin. Noll believes that evangelicals have failed to engage the broader culture.

 

Noll is convinced that “evangelicalism has little intellectual muscle” and he also believes “American evangelicals are not exemplary for their thinking, and they have not been so for several generations” (117, Kindle). Now, that’s a bold statement in my opinion especially since he never actually defined evangelicalism in the traditional vernacular. He simply babbled around the shifting movement of evangelicalism. The author continues to talk about the intellectual (and anti-intellectual) nature of evangelicalism without a precise definition of the terms he chooses to use. The jacket of the book suggests that the evangelical movement has contributed “little” to intellectual scholarship in North America.

As a graduate of Liberty University, an accredited university, its founder Jerry Falwell Sr.,  never attended college. He graduated from Brookville High School in Lynchburg, VA, then an unaccredited Bible college and later received three honorary doctoral degrees. If you, watch the latest news, his son Jerry Falwell Jr. reject Donald Trump’s offer for education secretary but is positioned to lead the “Presidential Task Force on Education Reform” according to the Chicago Tribune, New York Times and other news sources. Falwell Sr. established a prominent university with no formal educational credentials to teach intellectual theology, still create controversy. However, Falwell Sr. is not alone because Bill Bright, Oral Roberts, and Pat Robertson did the same thing.

Importantly, the ‘scandal’ Noll is referring to is more about a corporate understanding of evangelicalism and not necessarily evangelical theology.
Noll is emotionally involved in this writing because of his relationship with his colleagues at Wheaton College so he tends to attack creationism and I dear say, a fallacy to the authority of Scripture. However, as Christian thinkers (or theologians), let’s journey back to 1906 when the Apostolic Faith Vol.I.No.1 published their first newspaper article. According to the Azusa Papers, it said this about Charles Parham and his team:

After searching through the country everywhere, they had been

Unable to find any Christians that had true Pentecostal power.

So they laid aside all commentaries and notes and waited on the

Lord, studying His word, and what they did not understand they

Got down before the bench and asked God to have wrought out

In their hearts by the Holy Ghost” (The Azusa Papers, 2).

Reading through the papers, you’ll find that many unexplained miracles took place but their reliance on the Spirit of God and laying aside the commentaries, gave the impression that intellect was not a priority. Unfortunately, this perception followed the movement all these years, and Noll seemed to have found a soft spot in evangelicalism. Phil, a colleague of mine suggested that we didn’t have a clear or recognizable leader who could defend our belief like they had in the likes of Parham who represented denominations.

Noll like many others who write evangelical books, attack creationism because of the lack of uniformity and global acceptance with the authority of biblical interpretations such as The Words of God or Men. He believes that evangelicals rely on a “fatally flawed interpretive scheme of the sort that no responsible Christian teacher in history of the church ever endorsed before this century” (14). In Noll’s opinion, Bible scholars should submit to the consensus of modern scientists and their findings of humanity and their existence. The truth I gather from this book is not an acceptance of Noll’s approach, rather, a challenge to ensure Christian intellectualism because of the growth of Scientology.

Somehow, I don’t believe Mark Noll is seeking harmony with scientist and intellectuals to build a creation model with biblical foundations. However, I do believe it would be interesting to see how the two could relate. I understand elements of Noll’s writing because evangelicals have no problem accepting science regarding global awareness but rejects science on the grounds of religiosity without alternative evidence.

What I gather is that evangelical leaders should embrace academic debates to strength the academy and connect culturally. Evangelicals have the tendency to ignore culture and hide behind religion in fear of the exposure the lack of intelligent theology. American evangelicals have had success at the popular level, but they need to sustain “serious intellectual life” (117, Kindle).

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.

5 responses to “The Intellectual Evangelical”

  1. Hi Garfield. I read the sections on creationism not so much as Noll attacking creationism but challenging how evangelicals interpret the Bible. I like his point that the Bible was not written as a history or science manual but we should interpret everything in light of Jesus. This leads me to think things like, the world was not created in 6 or 7 24hour periods. In fact, I don’t know a single intellectual-type evangelical that actually thinks that either.
    I am curious about your statement regarding Scientology. All of a sudden there is a huge Scientology presence in my town and it concerns me. Please expand your thinking here.

  2. mm Rose Anding says:

    Thanks Garfield for a very detail and well thought out Reading blog, quite interesting I must say.

    When I think of Parham, it bring to mind Azusa Street Revival. How he originated the doctrine of initial evidence—that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is evidenced by speaking in tongues. It was this doctrine that made Pentecostalism distinct from other holiness Christian groups that spoke in tongues or believed in an experience subsequent to salvation and sanctification. In a move criticized by Parham, his Apostolic Faith Movement merged with other Pentecostal groups in 1914 to form the General Council of the Assemblies of God in the United States of America.

    Today, the worldwide Assemblies of God is the largest Pentecostal denomination, Hallelujah Amen.
    Thanks for a great blog Rose Maria

  3. mm Marc Andresen says:

    Garfield,

    In the academic environment of Liberty U, did you see the interaction of theology and other academic disciplines that Noll hopes for?

  4. mm Phil Goldsberry says:

    Garfield:

    Thank you! Thank you! Great, balanced approach to Noll. I couldn’t drink all of his kool-aid (reference to the lack of intellectualism of Jim Jones and his followers), nor should we.

    There is a definite need for balanced higher education coupled with your analogy of Parham. I do agree that some evangelical movements were intellectually challenged and reveled in their stupidity equating it to their level of holiness.

    What is your opinion of the balance between Noll and Parham? Interested to hear.

    Phil

  5. Aaron Cole says:

    Garfield,

    I love Ben Stein, his wife is from Northwest Arkansas (where I am from) and is from a prominent Southern Baptist Church. I enjoyed reading your blog. The biggest item that stood out for me was the author’s difference to evangelical theology. At the very root of that which defines the evangelical church is not in line or mission of what Noll is desiring. It is somewhat like buying a coke and getting orange juice, not going to happen. Great writing!

    Aaron

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