Thursday, September 7, 2017

Hope for the Evangelical Mind




In 2004, ten years after the publication of The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, Mark A. Noll was unrepentant about his assessment of the Evangelical mind.

I remain largely unrepentant about the book’s historical arguments, its assessment of evangelical strengths and weaknesses, and its indictment of evangelical intellectual efforts, though I have changed my mind on a few matters. Some readers have rightly pointed out that what I described as a singularly evangelical problem is certainly related to the general intellectual difficulties of an advertisement-driven, image-preoccupied, television-saturated, frenetically hustling consumer society, and that the reason evangelicals suffer from intellectual weakness is that American culture as a whole suffers from intellectual weakness.[1] 

He continues to point out the flaws with words like, “… we evangelicals as a rule still prefer to put our money into programs offering immediate results, whether evangelistic or humanitarian, instead of into institutions promoting intellectual development over the long term.” Then, at a certain point in the article, he turns to the matter of hope for the Evangelical mind.

Theological reasons to hope for better things from evangelical intellectual effort spring from the resources of classical trinitarian Christianity. Even if those resources are unused or abused, they continue to exist as a powerful latent force wherever individuals or groups look in faith to God as loving Father, redeeming Savior, and sustaining Spirit. Various forms of evangelical Christianity are, in fact, burgeoning around the world; the evangelical proportion of the practicing Christian population in North America continues to expand; where there is evangelical life there is hope for evangelical learning.[2] 

In Noll’s words, trinitarian theology remains at the heart of his hope for the evangelical mind.

If evangelicals are the ones who insist most aggressively that they believe in sola scriptura , and if evangelicals are the ones who assert most vigorously the transforming work of Jesus Christ, then it is reasonable to hope that what the Scriptures teach about the origin of creation in Christ, the sustaining of all things in Christ, and the dignity of all creation in Christ” - about, in other words, the subjects of learning” - will be a spur for evangelicals to a deeper and richer intellectual life: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15-17).[3] 

Noll then goes on to speak of signs of hope in contemporary Evangelical culture:
1.     “increasing engagement between evangelicals and Roman Catholics,”
2.     “the ongoing renascence of Christian philosophy,”
3.     “‘more institutions of evangelical higher learning’ … have seasoned their sectarian certitudes with commitment to ‘mere Christianity’,”
4.     “the consistent quality of intra-evangelical debate in forums such as the American Scientific Affiliation’s Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith” regarding evolution and creation,
5.     “the multiplying Christian presence in the nation’s pluralistic universities, where far more students of evangelical persuasion receive their higher education than at the evangelical colleges and universities,” and
6.     “greater intellectual responsibility [in] the world of publishing.”[4]

It seems to me that both Noll’s original book, and his ten-year assessment, offer an outline for those of us who still see ourselves in the evangelical, but not fundamentalist, tradition. If we pay attention to the six items listed and do our part to enhance each, we may yet redeem the Evangelical mind. 




[1] “The Evangelical Mind Today”, in First Things First, October, 2004, https://www.firstthings.com/article/2004/10/the-evangelical-mind-today
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.

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