The scandal of the Evangelical mind, regrettably, is all around us. It is in popular media, social media, the public square, politics, universities and in other accessible spaces. Embarrassingly, we just cannot avoid it. To check my claim, I decided just now as I’m writing this, to turn on the radio and tune in to KKLA (99.5 FM, Los Angeles), “one of America’s most listened to Christian Talk stations.” It says so on their tagline. The mega church pastor who was speaking on the air said in one breath that “…everything you need to know is found in the Bible…” and then followed it up with the verse in Romans 12:1 “…but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” He implied that in order to change one’s life, a person must first be transformed by a renewed mind.
I can give him a pass because I already know what he was trying to communicate to his radio listeners. I have no doubt that he means well and aims to glorify God in all areas of life. However, to an unbeliever’s ear, this message is strange. It might even sound downright silly. Does the Bible really tell us everything there is to know? Will it tell me how much soap to put in the washer; balance my checkbook or prepare an apple cranberry walnut salad? Of course not. But it’s a category mistake to expect the Bible to be something it was not meant to be. Believers who carelessly think this way might be in the grips of biblicism1, which holds to the claim that the Bible is the only source of knowledge. The key word here, of course, is “only.” It is so easy today for a well meaning believers to be exposed as a poor witness simply because they lack the discipline of study.
But how did this happen when according to Mark Noll, Christians are heirs to a rich intellectual heritage found in Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Calvin, Pascal and Edwards?2 Mark Noll in Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind responds to this conundrum and says:
If what we claim about Jesus Christ is true, then evangelicals should be among the most active, most serious, and most openminded advocates of general human learning. Evangelical hesitation about scholarship in general or about pursuing learningwholeheartedly is, in other words, antithetical to the Christ-centered basis of evangelical faith.3
How did Christianity move from having the mind of Christ4 to a descent in intellectual laziness? Noll thinks the problem started when evangelicals started adopting Enlightenment ideas, specifically the didactic form imported by Scottish thinkers such as Francis Hutcheson, Thomas Reid and Adam Smith to name a few.5 In a spate of historic irony, the project failed. The very same Enlightenment concepts evangelical thinkers adopted to harmonize the Bible and nature simply could not hold up against the scrutiny of their interlocuters. This is not to say that Christians did not have any good rejoinders. But instead of doing homework, evangelicals retreated to the “fundamentals” of the faith. Regrettably, this was a euphemism for “we walk by faith, not by sight.” This eventually gave rise to new developments in theology such as the Keswick movement, Holiness, pentecostalism and the like which sought a second work of the Holy Spirit after conversion. By this time, experience and feelings became the exclusive new sources of knowledge at the expense of sound reason, the effects of which are still felt today.
Noll was asked if had to write The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind all over again, what would change? He said that his assessment would remain unchanged but that he would change his tone. He would write with more hope and that is exactly what we find in Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind. He lists no less than ten positive signs of Evangelical advances in philosophy, science, publications, universities (e.g., Biola and George Fox) and other areas of scholarship.
It is high time to answer the clarion call to stand in the gap. Who knows how long the Lord will tarry? Perhaps we are, by God’s grace, given this rare opportunity to help elevate the life of the mind to newer heights in our time. As C.S. Lewis so famously said:
“To be ignorant and simple now–not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground–would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defence but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.”6
- Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), 8.
- It is sobering to note that Jonathan Edwards had no intellectual successors according to Mark Noll.
- Mark Noll, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011), Loc. 27, Kindle.
- Philippians 2:5
- Noll, Scandal, 84.
- C.S. Lewis, “Learning in War-Time,” in The Weight of Glory, ed. Walter Hooper (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001), 58.