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.
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.