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The Thinking Christian

Written by: on February 2, 2017

Mark Noll’s Scandal of the Evangelical Mind is an attempt to describe the dearth of intellectualism in the modern evangelical church.  Leaning on Bebbington, Noll describes Evangelical as those who believe in conversion, Biblicism, activism, and crucicentrism (p.8).  Noll does not go much further, but seems to lump all evangelicals together when he states his thesis, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind….despite dynamic success at a popular level, modern American evangelicals have failed notably in sustaining serious intellectual life (p. 1).”

Noll is not the only one in modernity to think along these lines.  In his book, The Christian Mind, Harry Blamires states: “There is no longer a Christian mind…the Christian mind has succumbed to the secular drift with a degree of weakness and nervelessness unmatched in Christian history.  It is difficult to do justice in words to the complete loss of intellectual morale in the twentieth-century church.” He goes further by saying: “The bland assumption that the Church’s life will continue to be fruitful so long as we go on praying and cultivating our souls, irrespective of whether we trouble to think and talk Christianly, and therefore theologically, about anything we or others may do or say, may turn out to have dire results.”

               Consider the great John Stott when he states, “My third example is Pentecostal Christians, many of whom make experience the major criterion of truth.  Leaving aside questions regarding the validity of what they seek and claim, one of the most serious features at least of some neo-Pentecostalism is its avowed and anti-intellectualism…This is tantamount to putting our subjective experience above the revealed truth of God.  Others say they believe that God is deliberately giving people unintelligible utterance in order to bypass-and so humble- their proud intellect.  Well, God certainly abases the pride of men, but he does not despise the mind which he himself has made. (Stott, Your Mind Matters, p. 16 &17).”

Now, we can argue whether Blamires, Noll or Stott are broad brushing an issue and that would be fair; however, there does seem to be an overall lack of thinking and pursuit of using the mind within the Christian realm.  It is hard to ignore.  What we preach in the pulpit is leaking before people sit at their desks the next morning.  We must find a solution, and we must challenge people to dig deeper.

REFLECTION

The great commandment challenges us to engage with our minds (love God with all your…mind), so we cannot divorce the Christian journey from mindful pursuits.  Now, while many in this course and even in our denominations are gaining ground with intellectual pursuits, I wonder if it is trickling down through the pulpit. Do our people understand the need to continue to sharpen the mind?  We typically think that the role of Christian thinking is the job for the pastor only.  While it is my major role (thus the reason why I research and read), the reality is there is simply not enough of us in the world to make a dent in the rise of secularism or in laying out an apologetic.  We need more and more men and women dedicated to the process of engaging their minds for the sake of the Gospel.

Let me state my case another way.  Would our people in our pulpits react harshly to Havarti’s book?  Would they try to engage with it apologetically or would they avoid it all together?  Now, I am not saying that they have to like it or even agree, but they must be able to seriously reflect and give a defense for the hope that they have and not merely ignore it. After all, it is where a majority of culture is today.   If our people are not intellectually curious, do we share some of the blame for that?  These are all the questions I have been asking myself.

Now, I tend to believe that a intellectual renaissance in Christianity is beginning to take shape.  I believe as scholars, theologians and pastors we must lead the charge to engage with their minds and their hearts.  In my tribe, it is my hope that we pursue engaging God with our minds as much as we engage him with our hearts and emotions.  I tend to think that when both are activated, authentic Christianity blossoms.

About the Author

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Jason Kennedy

I am a pastor of a thriving church in Grapevine, Texas. With two little girls (5,8), and a wife that is a medical doctor (family practice), life is non-stop.

9 responses to “The Thinking Christian”

  1. Jason you mention the Great Commandment to love God with all our mind. Thinking out loud here…I am wondering if some evangelicals are afraid to pursue scholarship and a deeper intellectualism because within many evangelical circles in the U.S. there is an unwritten bias or even prejudice that says when we study and pursue alternative narratives we are not loving God but actually making him angry. As I type that I realize that I have senses this script in different times of my evangelical life. How can we engage with our minds and hearts like you say and demonstrate love of God?

    • Jason Kennedy says:

      I think the main thing we can do is to not discount either. In my tribe (AG) there are a lot of guys who do not see the need for education and even see it as an antithesis to what we do. I think we cannot be afraid to embrace either. Makes sense?
      Jason

      • Yes, that makes sense. I am wondering way in your tribe, and mine as well, that pursuits of the mind and pursuits of the heart sometimes means only doing one at the cost of the other.

  2. mm Rose Anding says:

    Thanks Jason for your blog,
    Your statement quote, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is the that there is not much of an evangelical mind….despite dynamic success at a popular level, modern American evangelicals have failed notably in sustaining serious serious intellectual life (p. 1).”
    When we give thought to it, “…that there is not much of an evangelical mind…”. The real scandal of the Evangelical mind is that we are not allowed to use it. Calling for Evangelical involvement in public academic discourse is useless if trained Evangelicals are legitimately afraid of what will happen to them if they do.
    This is a real issue in the real world.
    Great Blogs! Rose Maria

    • Jason Kennedy says:

      I agree with you Rose. Many evangelicals are afraid and I think the main reason is that they are not engaging their mind consistently.
      Thank you for the comments.
      Jason

  3. Claire Appiah says:

    Jason,
    Thanks for an excellent, thought-provoking blog. You ask, “Do our people understand the need to continue to sharpen the mind?” The truth of the matter is that the majority of the general populace does not understand the need to continue to sharpen the mind. Period. Culturally, we have been taught to get an education to pursue a specific professional path or to enhance our economic worth. We have not been taught or encouraged to develop and maintain critical thinking skills to help us draw valid conclusions regarding the issues we are faced with in our everyday lives, theologically, socially, culturally, politically, economically or in any other ways.

    You further stated, “We need more men and women dedicated to the process of engaging their minds for the sake of the Gospel.” This is true, and I believe those persons who have that revelation need to communicate the necessity of this process to others and to avail themselves as mentors.

    • Jason Kennedy says:

      Thank you Claire. I totally agree with you. The American populace as a whole does not sharpen the mind any longer. I think the church should stand far and above culture.

      Thanks for your comments.
      J

  4. mm Phil Goldsberry says:

    Jason:

    Do you feel that the 1994 inception of Noll’s work has tainted his writing? Do you think there has been a intellectual shift from Stott’s analogy of “Neo-Pentecostalism avowed in anti-intellectualism”?

    If so how?

    Great job

    Phil

    • Jason Kennedy says:

      Phil,

      I think in the urban centers Stott would be wrong for the most part. There are quite a few of intellectual pentecostals. And, they are really leading the effort. However, there is a lot of skepticism of higher ed in Pentecostal circles. Anecdotally, Kevin, Aaron, and myself will be a very rare minority of pastors with Master’s degrees and even fewer with doctorates within our denomination. I think it is partly due to our “end times” view. I know plenty of guys who left college early because they had to preach before the end of the world. I also know a lot of guys who do no plan, but rather they want the Spirit to lead them on Sunday morning.
      While I think many trends have changed, I would still say that Pentecostals are behind on pursuing scholarship. Again, we have made great strides, but must continue to work at this side.
      Again, not saying Stott or Noll are completely right, but I do think we need to learn from people outside our tribe in order to give us some perspective.
      Thanks Phil!
      Jason

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