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The Quandry

Written by: on February 2, 2017

Introduction

I am in a quandary.    After reading and engaging with the concept of “evangelicals”, I thought I was easing in to a comfort zone of understanding and acceptance.  Bebbington’s quadrilateral brought clarity and defined principles that caused this word to have definition.

I pick up Mark Noll’s, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, and begin to question my embrace and acceptance of this nebulous group of Christians.   Noll records the slant of H. Richard Niebuhr, “From the perspective of 1930, the evangelical mind in America was dead, or at least perceptive commentators, including H. Richard Niebuhr, thought it was.”[1]  In Noll’s defense, he does believe there is a renewal of the evangelical intellectualism that is rising.

Noll prescribes to the definition of “intellectual depth” as, “…a way of praising God through the mind”.[2]   This is where the quandary set in.  I can agree with Noll’s concept of intellectual depth being a reflectionImage result for intellectual and an act of praising God.  The main concern is how to keep intellectual depth from sheer intellectualism that is relegated to an elite group of brilliant minds?

Summary

Mark Noll balances the definition and understanding of “evangelicalism”.  He states, “…evangelicalism” has always been made up of shifting movement, temporary alliances, and the lengthened shadows of individuals.”[3]  This combination of movement, alliances, and individuals has brought about the complexity of what an evangelical is, and how to understand this movement.

Noll’s “scandal” is the lack of scholarship within the evangelical movement.  The pendulum swing from lack can be pride.  As Noll says, “Pride of intellectual accomplishment is a real threat to humble faith.  Intellectuals are susceptible to a temptation to trust in their wisdom as a substitute for trusting in the ‘foolishness’ of the gospel.  Appeals for learning must acknowledge the seriousness of these objections.”[4]

Noll points to the lack of scholarship, universities/seminaries/graduate schools, resources, and misdirected educational energies as contributors to this problem.[5]  Realizing that this book was written in 1994, was of interest also in light of Campbell and Garner’s, Network Theology:  Negotiating Faith in Digital Culture.  We live in a world where knowledge and technology increases faster than ever in the history of man.  We have access to more knowledge than man has ever had.  Have we grown intellectually to the worship of God with our minds?  I think not.

 Analysis

The challenge to me is the accessibility to what truth is and what is anti-intellectualism?  Noll seems to take a shot when he says, “This problem may not have been as serious as it first seems, for, however much defenders of supernatural religion, especially Pentecostals and advocates of Holiness, may have turned away from the world’s learning, their emphasis on the practical presence of God did represent pursuit of an essential Christian goal.  The problem came not with the goal, but with the assumption that, in order to be spiritual, one must no longer pay attention to the world.”[6]

I do believe that there has been decay in a solid understanding and defense of what we believe.  ButImage result for presence of god intellectual increase disconnected from the practical presence of God and His holiness, can bring about a stool that is sure to fall over.  On the other hand God’s presence and holiness is not an excuse for the lack of intelligence or superiority.

 

[1] Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind,  (Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), 211.

[2] Ibid., 239.

[3] Ibid., 8.

[4] Ibid., 31.

[5] Ibid., 16-22.

[6] Ibid., 123.

About the Author

mm

Phil Goldsberry

9 responses to “The Quandry”

  1. Phil I applaud you for owning up to the quandary you are currently experiencing. I know it’s not always fun, but for me, this type of quandary is the first step toward recovering exactly what Noll is talking about. My personal opinion is that so many evangelicals fear the feelings that come with being in a quandary that we have ended up guilty of Noll’s description. So I encourage you to keep going for it!
    As leaders with a global perspective I see it as our job to enters these quandaries first so we can be good guides for when our followers experience them.
    In an attempt to come up with a question for you….in regards to the decay of our defense of what we believe, what would happen you think if evangelicals just stopped being defensive?

    • mm Phil Goldsberry says:

      Aaron:

      Mmmm….defensive, isn’t that synonymous with extreme evangelicalism? LOL. I am not against being defensive as long as we have the right spirit and “intellect” to defend the premise.

      Interesting that religion, evangelicals per se, are known for what we are against instead of what we are for. We need to know what we believe, but be willing to present and defend without turning hearts/people away from the central core of our message.

      Phil

  2. mm Marc Andresen says:

    Phil,

    I have a couple of questions – pick which one you’d like to answer.

    In your view, how can the use of the intellect contribute to developing holiness within us?

    I know a very bright young Christian guy who grew up in a church world where he was told he should “cast out the spirit of intellectualism.” How would you respond to that comment?

    • mm Phil Goldsberry says:

      Marc:

      Let me take question #2 first with this answer: You can’t fix stupid! Yet, when intellectualism turns to a form of pride or self exaltation, then we need to take care of that. For those can be a “spirit of…..”.

      #1 – Intellect to perfect holiness. IF “holiness” is conformity to the character of God (a definition that I have held to for years), then knowing God’s character will take some ingenuity and intellect to decipher and make applicable = the path to understanding/intellectualism.

      Thanks for the challenge.

      Phil

      • mm Marc Andresen says:

        Great answer to both – “can’t fix stupid” makes me smile.

        And, yes, what greater challenge to our minds – our whole soul – than to know God’s character and be conformed to it.

  3. mm Rose Anding says:

    Phil, quandary reality! Please don’t allow yourself to question…you, because when we take a closer look at Evangelicalism, it is not fundamentally an intellectual organism but an apologetic one. It did not come to be in order to inspire academic, only to maintain certain theological distinctive by intellectual means. These intellectual means are circumscribed by Evangelical dogma, though avoiding Fundamentalist anti-intellectualism.

    Evangelical institutions are never going to encourage conclusions which are in direct opposition to core Evangelical convictions. Individuals may explore these areas and come to conclusions that are outside of these boundaries, but it is never going to be encouraged by the institutions themselves. Therefore we need an Evangelical culture where the exercise of the Evangelical mind is expected and encouraged.

    You have done an acceptable blog on your read, and it gives us a clear understanding of Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Thanks Rose Maria

    • mm Phil Goldsberry says:

      Rose:

      Thank you for the encouragement. I agree with your summation that the thirst for knowledge, when the motive is wrong, is a destructive instead of constructive force.

      The MOTIVATION behind “evangelical intellectualism” is clearly linked to the heart. Is my reasoning and intellect to defend me or to understand God, is the greater question.

      Phil

  4. Kevin Norwood says:

    Phil,

    When your intellect is completely spent and you have no further answers, do you quit?

    When all of your plans and aspirations of how to do something are out of resources, do you give up?

    I would conclude that your answer would be no. Are you in a quandary then?

    Or

    Do you depend on God to quite your soul and guide your heart to trust him. Your mind might be screaming one thing but your spirit man is believing anyway and trusting anyway and acting anyway.

    Good thing it is not just with our mind that we live for God.

    One of my take aways from the book was that recognition of my intellect from others in the world is what would quantify and qualify what I do. Recognition of intellect and deep thought was of great importance to this author. Did you get that same take away or was yours different?

    Kevin

    • mm Phil Goldsberry says:

      Kevin:

      I concur with you. My reference is the date of the book (which does not seem that long ago, but is). Christian education has gone into a free fall with liberal theology and interpretation. It’s seem we bolster intellectualism as a panacea or one stop shop.

      Get your education so you don’t need God is the extremist view. I know a few that have gone that way and still justify their intellectualism as their defense of why they are right…..they just know more than I do.

      Saying all of that, I am not against comprehension, intellectual formation, correct thinking, etc. The key to exploring the motive is the “humility quotient”. Does my intellect equate me to a higher level just because? Or does my expansive learning bring me to a deeper humility and understanding of the Eternal God that I worship and follow?

      Phil

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