"The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind." So begins this award-winning intellectual history and critique of the evangelical movement by one of evangelicalism's most respected historians.
Unsparing in his judgment, Mark Noll ask why the largest single group of religious Americans - who enjoy increasing wealth, status, and political influence - have contributed so little to rigorous intellectual scholarship in North America. In nourishing believers in the simple truths of the gospel, why have evangelicals failed at sustaining a serious intellectual life and abandoned the universities, the arts, and other realms of "high" culture?
Noll is probing and forthright in his analysis of how this situation came about, but he doesn't end there. Challenging the evangelical community, he sets out to find, within evangelicalism itself, resources for turning the situation around.
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Still a valuable book for Evangelicals to read
Reader was so-so. He certainly mispronounced some names, at least as far as I could tell.
Many of Noll's criticisms of Evangelical (stipulated components of Evangelicalism: biblicism, conversionism, & activism) thought life are spot on. This book is plenty convicting (and, I think, inspiring/encouraging) even if there are quibbles with some of his criticisms. Particularly powerful are Noll's thoughts on the ways Evangelicalism has "teamed up with" or drawn on Enlightenment goals and methods and Americanism. Specifically, he describes the Evangelical dependence upon 19th-century Enlightenment thought (Scottish Common Sense Realism) and shows some of the limitations of that dependence. Noll demonstrates Jonathan Edwards's Christian stand against the overwhelming tide of Enlightement thought (though not so much in method). Finally, to quote James Brown, on the good foot, his criticisms about the "inductive" method of Bible study were shown to have roots in Enlightenment empiricism. I've long been dubious about "inductive" methods. All this was quite helpful and clarifying to me. Thanks, Dr. Noll.
Interestingly, Noll notes many contributions to Evangelical thought from outside Evangelicalism. Dutch Calvinism, Lutheranism, Anabaptism, Roman Catholicism, mainline Protestantism, and a little bit of Eastern Orthodoxy. He mentions Theonomy / Reconstructionism, noting that it tends toward Libertarianism. He hardly notices Francis Schaeffer, but then again, Schaeffer is was self-consciously dedicated to Christian intellectual enterprise.
Less edifying were Noll's criticisms about Evangelicals and scientific thought. He's death on creation science, seeing it as little more than an enterprise to poke some holes in the enormous bubble of over-confident and expansive evolutionary assumptions. He rightly admonishes his readers that the Book of special revelation (Bible) cannot be rightly understood without a faithful reading of the book of natural revelation. True enough, but Noll gives precious little guidance as to the divine purpose for the Bible. He says that what's essential is that God reveals himself and his incarnate, saving Son through the Bible (Jn. 20:31). However, when it comes to creation, cosmogony, the Flood and some other issues, Noll seems simply to check his Bible at the door, opting for a "Christian mind" in the realm of science. Sadly, at this point, one can indeed perceive some of Noll's mind, but precious little of any Christianity. His thoughts, especially in regard to science, make me think about my own intellectual deficiencies, but they do not make me think he's got the "Christian mind" quite dialed in.
'Nother thought: Upon reflexion, I think that Noll would have done well to interact with sin's noetic effects more consistently throughout the book. That facet (bearing so heavily on topic of the book) gets scant attention, and - as I recall - mostly when his historical subjects made much of it, most notably in the Reformation and in Jonathan Edwards.
- Tim R. Prussic