Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind

Mark Noll published The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind in 1994. It has become essential reading for all Christians since that time. His main thesis is that "The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind." How well he knew and knows the culture; how well he knew me at the time. This book, and Harry Blamire’s 1963, The Christian Mind, represented a turning point in my understanding of cultural issues, mystery, and complexity. Noll spends the first chapters outlining the problem and is necessarily negative toward the Christian community of the day. This blog will explore the hope and positive directions the book suggests in later posts. For now, let us hear what Noll said to us in 1994 and compare it to the circumstances of 2017. Have we journeyed very far beyond the concerns he expresses here?

To put it most simply, the evangelical ethos is activistic, populist, pragmatic, and utilitarian. It allows little space for broader or deeper intellectual effort because it is dominated by the urgencies of the moment. In addition, habits of mind that in previous generations may have stood evangelicals in good stead have in the twentieth century run amock. As the Canadian scholar N. K. Clifford once aptly summarized the matter: “The Evangelical Protestant mind has never relished complexity. Indeed its crusading genius, whether in religion or politics, has always tended toward an over-simplification of issues and the substitution of inspiration and zeal for critical analysis and serious reflection. The limitations of such a mind-set were less apparent in the relative simplicity of a rural frontier society.”[1]

How would you understand the Evangelical or Christian ethos today? Is it still activistic, populist, pragmatic, and/or utilitarian? Do we relish or avoid complexity?

[1] The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, Mark A. Noll, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, 1994.

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