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The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind

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Winner of the Christianity Today Book of the Year Award (1995)"The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind." So begins this award-winning intellectual history... This description may be from another edition of this product.

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Mark A. Noll begins The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind with a staggering indictment. "The scandal of the evangelical mind", he writes, "is that there is not much of an evangelical mind." With those words begins perhaps the most sobering critique of the place of Evangelical Protestantism within major intellectual currents shaping the culture. This accusation was most striking as it came from within Evangelicalism itself by one of its leading scholars. Since the book's publication, some have applauded and others attacked its major theses, but most will grant that the intellectual landscape of the Evangelical movement was greatly impacted by Noll's criticism and serious new efforts dealing with Evangelicalism and modern culture issue must wrestle with Noll's work. In the four sections of The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (covering the importance of the scandal, an historical analysis of the scandal, negative repercussions of the scandal, and some hopeful signs of a renaissance in Evangelical thought), Noll meticulously builds a case that the Evangelical disengagement from intellectual pursuits has rendered it impotent to interact within the major intellectual currents of the day. Unable to develop a uniquely Evangelical approach to issues of higher culture, the Evangelical response - if any - is often dependent upon the work of scholars from Roman Catholicism and other Protestant traditions. This sterility of thought fosters a retreat into an Evangelical ghetto where the lack of interaction with competing ideas leaves faulty presuppositions unchallenged and its own fruitful sources untapped. Noll is particularly to be commended for his excellent insights into the genesis of the current intellectual malaise. Pointing out the strong efforts of Puritans such as Jonathan Edwards to vigorously address the major intellectual themes of their day (following a long tradition of such efforts by Protestants since the Reformation), he traces a number of interacting factors joining together to produce the uniquely American strain of Protestantism. These include the populist revivals of the Great Awakening, the "common sense" Baconian approach to all inquiry promoted by the Scottish Enlightenment, and the spirit of anti-intellectualism spurred on by modernist views of the Bible and debate on the Darwin's evolutionary theories. Noll sees in current Evangelical uses of Scripture an attempt to recycle ideas discarded elsewhere in the Church as lacking a proper appreciation for historical and cultural contexts. Locked into a system of thought indelibly marked by the nineteenth century, they find themselves unable to respond to intellectual movements far more complex than their narrow categories can handle. Becoming more optimistic in the last section of the book, Noll focuses on signs of a possible renaissance of Evangelical thinking. Interestingly, much of what Noll views as positive signs are the result of influences from interactions with other Christians.

"The scandal of the evangelical mind is..."

"that there is not much of an evangelical mind." That is the first sentence of this book by Mark Noll who is an evangelical himself, professor at Wheaton College, alma mater of Billy and Ruth Bell Graham.So what's the problem, Mark Noll asks? Doesn't Christ command us to love Him with all our mind, and how have evangelicals in this country failed in this respect? That's the aim of Noll in this book to show the historical reasons for that failure but also to show that there is hope and signs that some evangelicals are back on the right track. I think his main point is that research is key to developing the mind, that Christians should venture to explore all "topics under the sun" as Solomon says, and that we can do so in a way that glorifies God without compromising basic Christian beliefs.This author was recommended to me and others from the evangelical church I attend. I loved this book; it's one of the more substantive Jesus books that are out there. It's well-researched and thought provoking. Evangelicalism is new to me, although maybe I was one before I knew what the word meant! In the first chapter, evangelicalism is described as having "the key ingredients of: conversionism/new birth, biblicism/the bible as ultimate religious authority, activism/sharing your faith, crucicentrism/significance of Christ's saving work on the cross." Fundamentalism is not necessarily evangelicalism.Here are some excerpts I loved:"In each of these instances (pro-life/abortion, creationism/creation science/evolution debates), the point at issue for a historian of the intellectual life is not whether the new ideas were right or wrong. The point is that a combination of self-confident biblicism and populist political mobilization greatly restricted, if it did not altogether shut down, promising lines of scientific debate. In such controversies, heat almost entirely replaced the light that might otherwise have been generated to correct, expand, refine, redirect, or otherwise build upon the commendable intelligence of the proposals."I totally love his last chapter, here are his last two sentences: "The effort to think like a Christian is rather an effort to take seriously the sovereignty of God over the world He created, the lordship of Christ over the world he died to redeem, and the power of the Holy Spirit over the world He sustains each and every moment. From this perspective the search for a mind that truly thinks like a Christian takes on ultimate significance, because the search for a Christian mind is not, in the end, a search for a mind but a search for God."

Minding the Mind

There's a good reason why the media, in general, view and portray evangelical Christians as a bunch of uneducated, reactionary rubes who can't think, but can only force their out-dated opinions on others. This view of evangelicals pervades the mainstream culture. In any discipline or field of inquiry, Christians are marginalized and ridiculed, be it in law, science, politics or education. The reason why this is so is very well explained in Noll's book. The absence of deep thought and deep thinkers in evangelical Christianity has led to the demise of respect for the same. This was not always the case. For much of the last two thousand years many of the greatest thinkers were Christians, names such as Aquinas, Newton, Luther, Dostoyevsky, Lebiniz, Lord Kelvin, Faraday. The list is long. But in the twentieth century, evangelicalism has failed to duplicate the intellectual and thoughtful output previously forwarded by Christians. The book focuses mainly on the failure of American evangelicalism (with a few brief mots about Canada). "Despite dynamic success at a popular level, modern American evangelicals have failed notably in sustaining serious intellectual life. They have nourished millions of believers in the simple verities of the gospel but have largely abandoned the universities, the arts, and other realms of "high" culture." Universities originally started by Christians are anything but today, either in thought or in practice.Noll outlines the rise and fall of evangelical thought in America by noting the pivot point of the ministry of Jonathan Edwards. Edwards was an intellectual giant, but his work produced an ironic situation. "Edwards was the greatest evangelical mind in America in large measure because his thought was driven by the profoundest truths of evangelical Protestantism; yet Edwards also promoted with all his heart as the essence of evangelical Christianity a program that led to the eclipse of the evangelical mind in America." The revivalism that Edwards supported for spreading the gospel was the very tradition that, coupled with the disestablishment of the churches (ie. the refusal of the national government to support any particular denomination), caused the life of the Christian mind to be compromised. This revivalism resulted in the decline of deep theological contemplation. The decline was so deep that today "evangelicalism's most discriminating thinker is best known for one fairly untypical sermon, 'Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.'" If Edwards was the pivot, the collapse was achieved with the rise of fundamentalism, especially the adoption of Holiness, pentecostal and dispensational theologies. The emphasis on end-time prophecies has turned the focus away from the realities of the world and towards a fantasy supernatural escapism. The fact that the Left Behind series is so popular among Christians can't bode too well for the church, in my view. In addition, the chapter on creation science is very

Insightful, caring, yet provocative

Mark Noll is a chaired professor of "christian thought," at Wheaton College - one of the great Evangelical liberal arts colleges, as well as being one of the leading church historians of our time. Noll is also one of the leading public intellectuals within the Evangelical movement. (By public intellectual, I mean an academic whose is grounded in rigorous scholarship but who also writes - at a high level - for the general public. Stephen Carter of Yale is another good example of a Christian public intellectual.)Evangelicals are all too often typecast as hillbillies who neither read nor think. Like most stereotypes, there is a grain of truth to the characterization - where there is smoke there is usually fire. In the "Scandal of the Evangelical Mind," Noll issues a wake-up call for a renewed commitment to the life of the mind on the part of Evangelicals. Noll begins by persuasively demonstrating the existence of an intellectual deficit among Evangelicals. In contrast to the Catholic-leaning journals like First Things or the New Oxford review, there is no real Evangelical journal of public thought. There are few scholarly journals focusing on Evangelical perspectives. Evangelical colleges emphasize teaching at the expense of scholarly research, despite decades of proof that the good teaching and good scholarship goes hand in hand.Noll then traces the historical roots of this scandal, showing that there was a time when Evangelicals dominated top institutions of learning. What caused the decline? In what must surely be the most controversial portion of the book, Noll lays the blame on an anti-intellectual strain of populist fundamentalism. As someone who grew up with many working class fundamentalist relatives, I am more sympathetic towards that world view than is Noll. Indeed, Noll candidly admits that his thesis rests in part on his theological disputes with fundamentalism. Yet, as an adult convert to Catholicism currently going through RCIA, I have no doubt that the life of the mind is more highly regarded in Catholicism than in the fundamentalist protestantism of my youth. Unfortunately, the fundamentalists' appropriate rejection of modernity and secular humanism simply painted with too broad a brush.Noll concludes with a slightly self-serving call to action. I say "slightly self-serving" because Noll's call to action includes the idea that Evangelical colleges ought to pay more attention to scholarship. As a top-notch scholar at a leading Evangelical college, Noll probably would benefit from such a shift in emphasis. yet, as Aadam Smith pointed out centuries ago, there is no more powerful engine for the public good than enlightened self-interest. Noll's call to action deserves to be heeded. All Christians, including all evangelicals, are called to serve God not only with our heats but also with our minds.

Articulated my frustrations with evangelical Christianity

Mark Noll has written a most scathing review of the evangelical mind. His opening sentenace says it all: "The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is no evangelical mind". True, harsh words, but Noll was able to put into words so much of what bothers me about evangelical Christianity. From creationism to dispensationalism I have been frustrated by the lack of deep thinking within Christian circles and often I find myself branded as a cynic for asking too many questions. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind does not quite drift into the territory of criticizing BEING an evangelical, only that somewhere along the way, we have let ourselves be co-opted by thinking patterns that stifle good thought processes. Noll deftly traces some of the history and development of the evangelical mind thorough the past few hundred years. I would say that this book changed my life. It helped me to realize much of what bothers me about evangelicalism. It ALMOST made me want to give it up. And some may say that this is the danger of the book. However, I think that Noll does not want us to go that far; he honestly described the problems and begins to offer a solution to the way that we have forgotten how to love God with our minds. I commend this to all who want to think honestly about their faith and not be afraid to be shaken.
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