'The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind' by Mark A. Noll


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Preferring a narrowly defined gospel, why have so many American evangelicals in recent decades not invested more in intellectual pursuits? Mark A. Noll here in 'The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind' wants to know, and we should want to know along with him.

As he opens, "The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind."

Yet there are a few surprising gems here. For example, Noll confirms a suspicion I recently arrived at from reading other things, that German pietism has had a few hundred years at this point to emphasize the importance of feelings in the Christian life in a way that has gradually displaced the former preeminence which cultivating the life of the Christian mind enjoyed in the Church. This has left the Church in America especially vulnerable to a lot of nonsense, ignorance, and unreasonableness.

Yet Noll seems not to connect sufficiently the link between the condescension of liberal theology having administratively dominated American higher education and K-12 over the past century to the evacuation of conservative evangelical Christians from this space, even though these are two sides of the same coin.

The Democratization of American Christianity by Nathan O. Hatch is referenced helpfully. However, Noll as a Progressive Christian comes across as fussy and whiny at points in a way that is unbecoming and not selling the merit where it is to be found in many of his anecdotes and observations.

Where he complains early and often about Creationism and fundamentalism, for instance, I cannot agree with him. Rather, I am offended because he is being rude and presumptuous - only all the more so because I myself am a Creationist. But there is more.

Noll also seems to be not drawing the relationship correctly between presuming that science on the terms of the positivist has ascended even as conservative Christians have been pushed out of every kind of debate in secular and Statist institutions. But where respectable intellectuals are defined by their adherence to progressive presuppositions, the complaint that few to no conservative intellectuals qualify as such or are celebrated seems disingenuous.

But where I appreciate most what Noll has to say is in his call for restoring a long, rich tradition in Christianity of scholarship, intellectual rigor, study of the natural world, and engagement in every sphere of science to the glory of God. This is well, and the American Church would do well to heed this.

At the same time, Noll's prescription for how to do this is narrower-minded than Rod Dreher’s Live Not By Lies, for instance. Where Dreher calls more recently for more Christian home education and adult education, Noll seems to have eyes only for higher education and the academy on the terms of secularists and liberals, with scant room if any left for conservative Christians whom Noll seems to lump into a kind of basket of deplorables for American Christendom with the moniker 'Fundamentalists.'

Yet I would challenge Noll and those taken with his survey to consider situations like mine and my neighbor JP Chavez’s - who read this book before I did, and recommended it to me - where we read and discuss all these important books like Noll’s, and are endeavoring to cultivate the life of the mind to honor God, lead our families well, and serve our local church with an eye to the rich history of not just Christian life, but also thought.

Where Noll at times comes across as a bit of an elitist, I think his facts and historical treatment of evangelical Christianity in America is generally helpful, yet could have been much more helpful without the condescension and self-aggrandizing of a particularly narrow vision of cultivating Christian intellect.

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