Mark Noll –Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind
Mark Noll is a distinguished Reformed evangelical Christian acclaimed as one of the most influential evangelicals in America. He is a research professor at Regent College and a prolific author who has gained the respect of the academic community. Noll indicates he has only changed his mind on a few points in his indictment of evangelical ineptness in his book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, and he stands by its accuracy and validity. In this work, Noll emphasizes that, “For rationale, means, methods, paradigms, and telos, the tasks of Christian scholarship depends pervasively on the work of God in Christ. For Christian scholarship to mean anything, it must mean intellectual labor rooted in Christ.” 
The book outlines a God-centered framework for Christian scholarship. Noll begins this exposition with the reality of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the unity of the Godhead. He believes central to understanding that reality is “the person of Jesus Christ and the meaning of His work for all humanity in all human history.”  Noll explains that based on the claims evangelicals make about Jesus Christ, they should be at the forefront of intellectual endeavors in overall human learning. He goes on to say that, “evangelical hesitation about scholarship in general or about pursuing learning wholeheartedly is, antithetical to the Christ-centered basis of evangelical faith,”  because he is of the opinion that human learning is actually a Christian enterprise.
For Noll, the theology of Orthodox Christology articulated in the classical Christian creeds is foundational for understanding the meaning of divine revelation as it relates to the whole created order. The saints in the fourth and fifth centuries A.D., “summarized the faith in authoritative short statements that could specify what Christianity was, defined a curriculum for new converts, provided formulas for use in worship, and built barriers against false teaching.”  He believes these creeds became authoritative because they were “thoroughly, profoundly, comprehensively, and passionately rooted in Scripture.”  They are seen by the author to have significance for grounding Christian scholarship because “they have stood the test of time as faithful summaries of biblical revelation concerning the person and work of Christ.”  Therefore, he asserts that in order for evangelicals to make a substantial Christian contribution to intellectual life, their faith must be grounded in the great traditions of classical Christian theology. Noll references Peter Enns’ scholarship which stresses the importance of a Christ-centered message of Scripture for understanding the Bible as a whole, and the necessity of a scriptural view of Christ for all intellectual endeavors.
Noll portrays the end result of Christian scholarship as: “service that goes into the world in Christ’s name; Bible reading or preaching or catechesis that rehearses the story of salvation; sacraments that instantiate the presence of Christ; fellowship that draws believers to each other and to their Lord; singing that inspires love of God and neighbor; sympathy that turns hearts toward the suffering; and meditation that draws the mind to God.”  From his perspective, Christian scholarship inspires occasions to glorify God through intellectual pursuits that lead to discipleship, humility that recognizes the capacity to learn is a gift from God, and an acknowledgement that all good gifts come from above. That being the case, one wonders where is the spiritual fruit that emanates from such committed Christian endeavors? How has Christian scholarship shaped and transformed individuals, communities, and nations for the glory of God? Where are these ideals being actualized on the human plane and who are the participants and recipients?
From the time of Noll’s writing of Scandal in 1994 to Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind in 2011, his assessment of evangelical engagement in the Life of the Mind in that time period is that there are substantial barriers that continue to hinder productive thinking. He acknowledges that many developments in the evangelical arena appear to be moving in the right direction. But, he maintains these advancements do not reflect a distinctly evangelical mind. Rather, he declares, “The movement as a whole does not possess theologies full enough, traditions of intellectual practice strong enough, or conceptions of the world deep enough to sustain a full-scale intellectual revival.” 
By contrast to the evangelical intellectualism Noll is advocating, the nascent Christian church in antiquity pre-dated all of the formal academic disciplines we identify today. They preached what they knew, “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” and made a huge impact in spreading the gospel throughout the known world like wildfire, even under heavy persecution. As Noll noted, “Christianity moved from being an illegal and culturally despised sect to becoming a formally recognized religion of the Roman Empire.”  They transformed individuals, communities, nations, and world structures and systems through the propagation of the gospel of salvation through faith in Christ alone. Again we see this wildfire phenomenon in our own age. We are witnessing an unprecedented active and fast moving Protestant Christian growth in the Global South by individuals who are on the margins of society, and not particularly inclined to intellectual pursuits.
My take on evangelical intellectualism is the it doesn’t necessarily lead to glorification and humility before God. Based on my own experiences exaltation and glorification of God is realized in prayer, meditation, praise, and fellowship. In other words, in intimate relationship and communication with Him. Those are the avenues of humility that I get inspiration and revelation of His person, work, and purposes. With that foundation I am in a position to appreciate the discoveries of the various disciplines that reveal some of God’s mysteries that can possibly enhance my Christian walk.
- Mark Noll. Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 2011), 147-148.
- Ibid., ix.
- Ibid., x.
- Ibid., 1.
- Ibid., 2.
- Ibid., 149.
- Ibid., 165.
- Ibid., 1.