Good grief I am getting old. I have the 1994 edition of Mark Noll’s Scandal of the Evangelical Mind sitting on my shelf which I read in 1995. On first reading, I remember thinking it was a rather harsh experience, but once I realised it was mainly about Americans, I felt so much better. However, the feelings of ebullience were short-lived because Noll did prophetically expose the heart of partisan evangelical western thinking. Interestingly I note that he references his slightly harsh tones in the postscript of his latter book, Jesus Christ in the Life of the Mind, “more hopeful than despairing, more attuned to possibilities than to problems”.
There is no doubt that Noll tends to ‘go for the jugular’ when he disagrees with certain evangelical perspectives, but there is an evenness in critiques. While analysing the unfortunate outcomes of evangelical alliance with mainstream American culture, he prefaces his observations by observing evangelical social reputation (at that time) as a “tremendous achievement”. Likewise, a few pages later, despite his obvious distaste for the political vagaries of historic dispensationalism,* he acknowledges just how difficult commenting on intellectual state of evangelicalism was because of his respect for “how faithfully … [they] passed on essential elements of the Christian faith”.
The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind is split four ways. The first two chapters examine the state of the evangelical mind in the early 1990s explaining the problematic nature of Evangelical anti-intellectualism. In the next three chapters, we discover Noll, the academic, charting his way through the creation story of American evangelicalism, its tenuous relationship with the enlightenment principals of reason and objectivity and its eventual flowering into 20th-century fundamentalism. The next two chapters examine how evangelical thinking has influenced its engagement with society, especially politics and science. The last chapters considered the hope ahead given the resources at evangelicalism’s disposal.
Throughout the book there is one basic theme: The mind of intellectualism matters (stop attacking it), intellectual strength is an essential part of spiritual energy. A secondary, but obvious theme is, well, America – and its undue influence on Christian thinking: immediatism and individualism  and populism and biblicism. Essentially, Noll was suggesting that evangelicalism was “dominated by the urgencies of the moment which suited its activism and practicality but lacked any sense of intention. Then there is a third underlying theme that Noll articulates, anti-traditionalism. As with Charles Taylor, Noll notes that 18th-century revivalism elevated the reformations autonomy of the individual over ecclesial authority. There is a certain irony in 20th-century evangelicalism because while it eschewed enlightenment intellectualism, it welcomed with open arms enlightenment questioning of traditional social foundations. The result was fundamentalisms “self-confidence … that casually discounted the possibility of wisdom from earlier generations”.
Seventeen years later, Noll continues the theme of ‘tradition’ when writing, Jesus Christ in the Life of the Mind. In this second work, Noll makes a clear connection between the communion of the saints and importance of the work accomplished in the creeds, which he makes abundantly clear when he writes, “the distillation of concentrated reflection on Scripture and of hard-won wisdom time-tested by Christian experience”. And, if the opening sentences don’t make the reader aware of Noll’s point, the final chapter is the barb from which there is no escape, “the vitality of [Christian] commitment needs the ballast of tradition”. But why? Noll notes that since 1994, there has been a counter tendency among scholars to quantify, rationalise and harmonise everything and often to look down on the less educated. Thus, Noll calls intellectuals to humility in the face of historical thinking and of course, the life of Christ. In chapter 3 he unpacks what four aspects of Jesus life that ought guide scholars: Doubleness (Jesus was human and Divine); Contingency (we know what God can do because of what God has done; Particularity (the incarnation occurred at a specific point in time and geography); Self-denial (Jesus was humble in all areas).
There is a clear sense that Noll regards the late John Stott with great respect as he offers six recommendations formed in questions that have their beginnings in Stott’s book, The Cross of Christ. And, of course, this means Noll places significant emphasis on penal substitutionary Atonement, disavowing explanations of humanity based on any themes of human innocence – we are totally compromised in all aspects of morality. There is no room for reasoning downward from philosophy or theological convictions; it must be from the text of Scripture and tradition.
The two books are very different in scope and content. The most notable distinction is the Christological emphasis in the latter book, which is lacking in the former. Noll’s earlier book emphasised Scandal and the people perpetrating it. Consequently, Noll seems to refocus the reader’s attention on the Life of Jesus and not the people and politics of a particular movement.
Scandal was written at the beginning of my own ministry, and it was influential in the sense that I agreed with the sentiments expressed as they articulated my own anecdotal evidence. However, I’m not sure that it had the effect hoped for. Evangelical immediatism and populism are as strong as ever and despite a growing number of evangelicals in the Pentecostal tradition taking up study, my observation is that Christian training in any academic sense has been greatly pragmatized in recent years – there is much spoon-feeding, but little rigorous engagement. However, Noll’s Life of Christ I think rightly observes a thawing of evangelicals toward tradition in worship and creed. As Charles Taylor expands in A Secular Age, the more complex the world becomes, the greater the urgency for a solid platform on which to stand.
I didn’t find the material as useful this time around. In 1994 Noll was prophetic in his observation of evangelicalism’s intellectual straight jacket. However, his latter book feels a bit late. Catholic spiritual academics have been happily accessed by evangelical scholars for some time, which makes me think Noll was making an observation that anti-traditionalism was on the decline but needed to keep the reformation Jesus at the centre – hence the emphasis on reformed Christology. There is also something formulaic about the two books which I think comes from his commitments to more reformed evangelical Christian tradition in the first book and his observations of B. B. Warfield and reliance on John Stott in the second. So, in New Zealand, I’m not sure whom I would recommend the books to, as I don’t think they would be easily decipherable – times, language and context have changed. I don’t think Noll has kept pace; at least on the international stage.
 Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994).
 Mark A Noll, Jesus Christ in the Life of the Mind (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013). 153
 Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. 105
 Ibid. 173
 Ibid. 131
 Ibid. 64
 Ibid. 161
 Ibid. 243
 Ibid. 61-67
 Ibid. 87
 Ibid. 127
 Noll, Jesus Christ in the Life of the Mind.
 Ibid. 1
 Ibid. 2
 Ibid. 165
 John Stott, The Cross of Christ (London: InterVarsity Press, 2012).
 Noll, Jesus Christ in the Life of the Mind. 73
 Ibid. 50
Noll, Mark A. Jesus Christ in the Life of the Mind. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013.
Noll, Mark A. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994.
Stott, John. The Cross of Christ. London: InterVarsity Press, 2012.