>>Anybody knows much about this guy? I see that he is featured on PBS'
Catching up today. Mark Noll's SCANDAL OF THE EVANGELICAL MIND is a classic.
My good friend Bill Hamilton wrote a review on it -- and gave me permission
to post it whereever I wished on talk groups, etc. Here it is:
Subject: Book Review: The scandal of the evangelical mind
From: email@example.com (Bill Hamilton)
The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, by Mark A. Noll,
Grand Rapids,Eerdmans 1994. 255 pages, index, $19.99
Evangelicals and fundamentalists have been accused of anti-intellectualism
for years. Some have frankly acknowledged this accusation and worn it with
pride. Others have taken vigorous exception. Many of us have worried that
the accusations are on the mark, have wondered why evangelicalism has come
to this state and what can be done about it. Mark Noll leaves no doubt of
his own judgment on the state of the evangelical mind. The first sentence
of the book reads, "The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is
not much of an evangelical mind."
Noll pulls no punches as he elaborates:
"[T]he major indictment of the fundamentalist movement, and especially of
the dispensationalism that provided the most systematic interpretation of
the Bible for fundamentalists and later evangelicals, was its intellectual
sterility. Under its midwifery. the evangelical community gave birth to
virtually no insights into how, under God, the natural world proceeded,
how human societies worked, why human nature acted the way it did, or what
constituted the blessings and perils of culture. To be sure,
fundamentalists and their descendants had firm beliefs about some of these
matters--beliefs, moreover, that were backed up by citations from
Scripture. Some of these beliefs were entirely correct. What even the
laudably scriptural beliefs lacked, however, was profound knowledge of the
divinely created world in which those beliefs were applied.
As a result of following a theology that did not provide Christian guidance
for the wider intellectual life, there has been, properly speaking, no
fundamentalist philosophy, no fundamentalist history of science, no
fundamentalist aesthetics, no fundamentalist history, no fundamentalist
novels or poetry, no fundamentalist jurisprudence, no fundamentalist
literary criticism, and no fundamentalist sociology. Or at least there has
been none that has compelled attention for insights into the way God made
the world and situated human beings on this planet. And because
evangelicals, though often dissenting from specific features of
fundamentalism, have largely retained the mentality of fundamentalism when
it comes to looking at the world, there has been a similarly meager harvest
of evangelical intellectual life."
The first five chapters trace the historical influences which have led to
anti-intellectualism among evangelicals. A primary factor, in Noll's view,
is the embracement of the principles of the Scottish Enlightenment by 19th
century American evangelical thinkers. The fundamental principle of the
Scottish Enlightenment was that men are gifted with inborn moral
discernment and epistemological capabilities. This held a powerful
attraction for Americans bent on establishing traditional morality without
appealing to traditional (human) authorities. The Scottish Enlightenment
established common sense as the universal basis for morality and thought.
He also blames Dispensationalism for focusing evangelicals' attention on
eschatology to the exclusion of being concerned with dealing in a Christian
way with today's politics, and the Holiness movement for the debilitating
effect of its "let go and let God" mindset.
Chapters 6 and 7 analyze how the development of the evangelical mindset in
the 19th century translates into political reflection and evangelical views
on science respectively.
Noll discusses four eras in Chapter 6: The age of Bryan, 1896-1925, the age
of fundamentalism, 1925-1941, the age of new beginnings, 1941-1973, and the
age of the New Right, 1973 to the present.
He compares leadership style of American evangelicals with that of more
traditional Christian groups using William Jennings Bryan and Pope Leo
XIII as examples of their respective traditions. Bryan's style was
activist, speech-oriented and not based on church tradition or authority.
This was a sharp break with the Catholic tradition of pastoral letters from
the popes addressing specific issues from the standpoint of general
Noll argues that the evangelical focus on individual action tended to
contribute to erosion of the importance of the various institutions,
"--family, church, community, social structures of any sort -- from which
communities have traditionally drawn guidance."
The age of fundamentalism was characterized by pessimism that political
activism such as Bryan's would bring about a better society. Forces molding
this period included Dispensationalism, the Holiness movement and
"Bryan's optimistic prospects for reform and his support for active
government gave way to cultural pessimism and a fear of government
encroachment. Concern for political involvement was replaced by an almost
exclusive focus on personal evangelism and personal piety. Current events
evoked interpretations of prophecy instead of either reforming activism or
political analysis... Political activism, as well as political reflection,
reached its nadir among evangelicals in the 30's."
Noll describes the Era of new beginnings as an era in which "a number of
subterranean stirrings began to redirect the political energies of
evangelicals." He leaves the discussion of most of these stirrings to
Chapter 8, but briefly notes the influence of the civil rights movement.
Although the civil rights movement was peripheral to the concerns of older
white evangelicals, it had deep roots in evangelical revivalism and
provided a rallying point for younger evangelicals.
The era of the new right began with Roe v. Wade in 1973 and extended at
least until dissolution of the Moral Majority in 1989. The central story
of this period is "the reassertion of moral activism in response to the
perceived crises of the day." Noll likens the revived activism to the
activism of William Jennings Bryan's day.
He suggests that the era of the new right may be drawing to a close and
sees the coming era as one pregnant with possibilities -- if evangelicals
can overcome past habits like trying to fit current events into prophecy
instead of applying Scriptural insights to understanding and dealing with
Chapter 7 discusses fundamentalist/evangelical reactions to developments in
science. Much of the discussion revolves around the creation/evolution
controversy and its development.
Early reactions to evolution among Christians were quite varied. B. B.
Warfield, James McCosh and others believed that biological evolution could
be accommodated within the framework of orthodox Christianity. Until the
1930's, he notes, most conservative Protestants believed that the creation
days were long periods of time. What apparently catalyzed the modern shift
to young-earth creationism was the rapid secularization of the
universities, which left fundamentalists and evangelicals feeling that they
were losing their ability to influence the culture. Seventh Day Adventist
George MacReady Price had limited influence in his day, but by the early
1960's when Morris and Whitcomb published "The Genesis Flood," they were
providing an answer to considerable frustration stemming from the
secularization of the surrounding culture.
Noll attributes the popularity of creation science to the intuitive belief
of many evangelicals that it embodied the simple teachings of Scripture,
growing intrusion of Federal government in local affairs, especially
education, resentment against America's self-appointed knowledge elites,
and dynamics arising from fundamentalist theology, particularly
fundamentalist eschatology and the fascination with dispensations. He
blames creation science for making it much more difficult to think about
human origins, the age of the earth and mechanisms of biological change;
for undermining the ability to look at the world God has made and to
understand what we see when we do look; and for creating "noisy alarums"
which have made it difficult to listen to careful Christian thinkers like
many in ASA or Phillip Johnson.
Chapter 8 outlines developments which offer hope that evangelicals are
returning to efforts to bring Christian thinking to bear on the social,
philosophical, political and scientific problems of the world around them.
However, most of the examples are examples of evangelicals borrowing from
or being enriched by other traditions within Christianity. The chapter
ends with this sobering statement:
"The question must remain whether evangelicalism as it has taken shape in
North America contributes anything intrinsic to the life of the mind.
Historically considered, especially over the course of the twentieth
century, it is difficult to find such a contribution...
And here this book might end. The scandal of the evangelical mind seems to
be that no mind arises from evangelicalism. Evangelicals who believe that
God desires to be worshipped with thought as well as activity may well
remain evangelicals, but they will find intellectual depth -- a way of
praising God through the mind -- in ideas developed by confessional or
mainline Protestants, Roman Catholics, or perhaps even the Eastern
Orthodox. That conclusion may be the only responsible one to reach after
considering the history sketched in this book. Even if it leaves
evangelical intellectuals trapped in personal dissonance and the
evangelical tradition doomed to intellectual superficiality (or worse), the
recent past seems to point in no other direction.
But because American evangelicalism is a form of Christianity, a religion
notable for its paradoxes of faith, hope and love, perhaps there is more to
Chapter 9 addresses the question of what is inherent in evangelicalism that
can make a significant contribution to the intellectual life of Christians.
He concludes that evangelicalism does have much to offer, and suggests how
these qualities may contribute to a rebirth of evangelical intellectual
In part, Noll's prescription is that evangelicals must not let evangelical
distinctives crowd out Christian essentials. We must not allow activism to
crowd out rigorous thinking about how our Christian faith relates to all
areas of life, or to override an attitude of profound gratitude to God.
Literal hermeneutics must be seen as a poor substitute for "profound trust
in the Bible as pointing us to the Savior and orienting our entire
existence to the service of God." We must not allow our emphasis on crisis
conversion to crowd out lifelong spiritual development.
Finally, Noll outlines evangelical characteristics that will in his view
contribute to a renaissance of evangelical intellectual life. While
evangelicals have emphasized supernaturalism and Scripture in ways that
have not been supportive of intellectual activity, we have kept
Christianity itself alive. Our emphasis on supernaturalism has kept the
understanding of God's transcendence alive. We may have used the
Scriptures superficially, but we know the Scriptures. We know how
desperately we need to be saved. Even our evangelical activism has
unappreciated value in building a Christian intellectual life. As we have
evangelized people of different cultures, they have taught us much about
what it means to think in a Christian way. Assimilation of Christianity by
a different culture always brings surprises which, if carefully studied by
missiologists will yield much knowledge about what it means to be a
Christian. The great doctrines of Christianity provide much stimulation
for Christian thought. The Incarnation means that this material world is
important to God. The Atonement tells us that God redeemed people for life
in this world as well as in the world to come. The fact that the gospel
goes out as a universal offer for all of humanity suggests something about
the dignity in this world of all human beings and the potential value in
this world of all that they do.
This book is not for those who are content with the Bible-only separatism
evangelicals are frequently accused of. Much of the book will seem
familiar and depressing to those who have worried about the decline of the
evangelical mind. But Noll helps us understand how we came to be what we
are, and shows that the crucial ingredients for recovery are already
available to evangelicalism, and that they lie precisely in the Christian
essentials evangelicalism has preserved. It is required reading for those
of us who believe that we can and must serve the Lord we love with our
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