The evangelical mind? #dminlgp


The Doctor of Ministry students in the Leadership and Global Perspectives cohort that I lead, have moved into some reading about the place the mind/intellect in Faith.

We are doing that through reading and discussing two books by Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (1994) and his latest book Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind (2011).  You are welcome to read along with their discussions and join in conversation with them on their posts.

In The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, Noll wrote that "The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind".  Noll highlights all the good Evangelicals might be engaged in but then shines a light on why there was and still is an anti-intellectual atmosphere amongst Evangelicals.

I remember reading Noll 10 years ago and finding within, some help in understanding why so many of my Evangelical friends were resistant to thinking about faith, and for any place for disciplined thinking as a part of faith.  I also found in Noll some comfort for why thinking about my faith, and theology were vital to my own spirituality.

Noll's latest book, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, provides an update nearly 20 years later, to that assessment.  You need to jump to after the last chapter, for the Postscript: How Fares the "Evangelical Mind"? (Amazon will let you take a peek at that section with their take a look facility).

In that Noll highlights how things remain very much the same for Evangelicals, whilst at the same time there have been large developments by Evangelicals addressing this problem.

But the book is not just an update of The Scandal, and is not a direct follow up or updating.  Instead it offers an outline of how through an understanding of Jesus (Christology) how we might understand and practice an intellectual life for and with faith.  In other words what might an Evangelical life of the mind look like and why?

Noll writes:

Because of a series of contingent events over the last two centuries, it has become conventional to think that belief in the Christian story opposes serious commitment to intellectual explorations of the world. There are no good reasons for this opinion. It rests on misreadings of the Christian story and misapprehensions of the intellectual life. That Jesus Christ who saves sinners is the same Christ who beckons his followers to serious use of their minds for serious explorations of the world. It is part of the deepest foundation of Christian reality ñ it is an important part of understandings of who Jesus is and what he accomplishes ñ to study the world, the human structures found in the world, the human experiences of the world, and the humans who experience the world. Nothing intrinsic in that study should drive a person away from Jesus Christ. Much that is intrinsic in Jesus Christ should drive a person to that study (p. 41).

When I started my theology degree aged 19, as a very new Christian, I fell into the trap of not thinking about my faith very much.  The pragmatics of my church planting location, the scepticism of many around me about theology, along with a youthful attention to anything other than study, led to much of that.  But my lecturers at the London School of Theology had modelled a life of the mind, and the need for critical thinking within faith.  It was just that I had largely missed it.

So I'm glad that later in life that when I need the consolation of theology for my faith, with some of what life had thrown at me, Graham McFarlane, Conrad Gempf and Antony Billington were willing to engage me with my mind and my faith.