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The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind Paperback – October 19, 1995
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The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, by Mark Noll, is "an epistle from a wounded lover." Noll loves God and he loves academics, but he is wounded because many of his colleagues deny the possibility of maintaining the integrity of both loves. Noll's epistle is a memoir, a historical study, and a wide-ranging piece of cultural criticism that argues, "The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind." Noll considers the effects of evangelical intellectual atrophy on American politics, science, and the arts, and he ultimately offers wise and practical advice for readers who want to explore the full intellectual implications of the incarnation of Christ. --Michael Joseph Gross
From Publishers Weekly
Claiming that "the scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind," historian Noll sets out to trace the reasons for what he sees as the great divorce between intellect and piety in North American Evangelical Christianity. In a breathtaking panorama of evangelical history from the Great Awakenings to the present, Noll shows that early Evangelicals like Jonathan Edwards embraced the use of reason as an expression of faith in the Creator of the natural world. The advent of Fundamentalism and Pentecostalism, Noll contends, with their emphases on dispensationalism and other-worldliness, fostered anti-intellectualism. Since politics and science, in the form of the religious right and creationism, have been the secular arenas in which the Evangelical mind has most publicly expressed itself, Noll focuses on them to explore ways in which the mindlessness "scandal" has created a lack of adequate Christian thinking about the world. Finally, Noll is hopeful that the work of contemporary Evangelical scholars will recover a respect for intellect. Required reading for those seeking to understand the often peculiar relationship between Evangelical religion and secular culture, this is a brilliant study by--yes--a first-rate Evangelical mind.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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I had been wanting to read some church history for a while and have investigated a lot of the books available on amazon. This is the one I happened on though, by accident. Church history made personal.
I've read some complaints here that it's very hard to read - well it is kind of. I found it fascinating enough that I struggled through. Some things I probably missed - not sure if it was because of his lack of clarity or my own ineptitude. Would have appreciated a little more clarity early on in the book about what was meant by baconian science. This figured big in Noll's description of the evangelical mind - it wasn't until late in the book that I got a bit more clarity on what was meant by baconian science - still not sure I understand it 100%. I have enough experience with evangelicalism though, that I think I have a pretty good intuitive feel for what he was talking about.
Another thing I will say regarding how difficult the book is - he did dedicate it to the faculty and trustees of Wheaton College. Those were the people he wanted to have front row seats for this - the rest of us may have to struggle a bit. But it was fascinating and worth the struggle.
I have a list now of people and ideas mentioned that I want to do further reading on. It really was a good read.
I had Dr. Noll as a history professor many years back.
If evangelicalism is a part of your life and you want to do some thinking - this is a book for you - I think you'll like it.
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. In the process of pointing out many that Evangelical distinctives are not essential to Christianity, Noll seems to inadvertently suggest the way for Evangelicals to become more intellectually rigorous is to become less Evangelical.
It remains to be seen whether it is possible to reform Evangelicalism along the lines Noll poposes without becoming something else entirely. Whether one thinks of them as strengths or weaknesses, a downplaying of those aspects of Evangelicalism that Noll finds most disturbing (anti-intellectual strains of populism, self-righteous separatism, strict interpretations of Biblical inerrancy, methods of hermeneutics based upon outmoded theories of textual objectivity, dispensational approaches to eschatology, attacks on scientific theories) would so alter the landscape of the Evangelical movement as to lose any claim of continuity. Is it possible for a Christian who eschewed the imminent rapture, did not approach the Bible as a source of "proof texts", and reconciled his faith with evolution to be identified as an Evangelical? Without the emotional hold those distinctives generate would they not then descend into the same malaise as mainstream Protestantism?
Noll is not off target in his criticism, but the solution may not lie in Evangelicalism. Many thoughtful Evangelicals, disturbed by the anti-intellectual and ahistorical approaches to the faith common in their doctrine and worship, have resolved the issue by moving to the Anglican, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, and Reformed traditions where a richer theology exists, a more dignified worship of God prevails, and intellectual inquiry is accorded a more vital role. Thus the best solution to the problem of the Evangelical mind may well lie in turning one's back on Evangelicalism.
Regardless of the future resolution of these issues, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind is among the most important books on the state of American Christianity written in the last fifty years. For anyone attempting to understand the place of Christianity in American life, it is a must read. For Evangelicals themselves, it may be shocking to grasp the biases within their approaches to their faith, but it may also lead them to a more faith rooted more in the Gospel than in nineteenth century America.