“The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” So begins Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, published nearly 30 years ago in 1994. What Noll calls “an epistle from a wounded lover” landed as a bombshell in the 1990s that has continued to reverberate in the last few decades.
There has been heated debate as to whether the level of scholarship and intellectual rigor found among evangelicals as a whole is adequate or deficient. I myself have noticed a lack of intellectual curiosity and a tendency to think emotionally and be swept along by experience rather than having a critical, and well formed mind that can deal with all the challenges we face as Christians in a post-Christian postmodern world. I think this problem was evidenced by how many evangelicals have dealt with the COVID pandemic. Rather than thinking critically and listening to medical doctors and scientists, they have formed their opinions on COVID based on what politicians and their pastors say which is often factually incorrect.
“Because evangelicalism comes out of fundamentalism, which is anti-intellectual, American evangelicalism continues to operate in the long tail of this,” Dan Crane, professor of law at University of Michigan, said. “It’s not inherent in Protestantism, but it’s a manifestation of American evangelicalism.” This fundamentalism evolved from British evangelicalism. It is a poisonous mindset which eschews using the Logos fully engaged in serving God. Scripture exhorts us to love God with all our mind.
Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.Matthew 22:37
Anecdotally I have found a stronger respect for scholarship and desire to engage our faith with our minds in the Roman Catholic church than I have among most evangelicals I know. There is more history with the Roman church and they had a strong tradition of scholasticism, Thomas Aquinas and other outstanding theologians. The evangelical faith also has outstanding theologians, but the typical evangelical in the pews seems to instinctively shun the life of the mind and opts for a more emotional and experience driven way of living. There are numerous problems with such a approach.
Christianity is a thinking faith. It’s important to be led by the Spirit, and yet we must not neglect our minds. We are called upon to serve God and others using our minds. For a typical evangelical that doesn’t mean they need a seminary degree. But whether it is engaging in apologetic to unbelievers, pursuing Bible studies, or wresting with theology.
The state of the intellect in America is in very bad shape. 25% of American adults have not read a single book in the last year. Americans gorge on mindless social media, sports, entertainment such as TV and movies churned out by godless Hollywood, and there is a very shallow life of the mind for the average American. Those who have an undergraduate college degree are no better. Once they graduate and get a job they basically turn off their minds. So the bad state of the intellect in America trickles down to the Church.
We need parents to instill a lifelong love of reading and learning early in a child’s development. We need rigorous education, not the mediocre lowest common denominator of public education in this country. We need pastors to exhort their churches to engage their minds in their faith and in general. It will take a very long time (many generations) to turn around the sorry state of the evangelical mind, but it is possible I believe. I’m however not very optimistic.
4 responses to “The Closing of the Evangelical Mind?”
The problem with Thomas Aquinas is that he considers philosophy the servant of theology (servita) in contradiction with Saint Gregory Palamas. For Saint palamas we discover the presence in ourselves through prayers and through faith. Our mind does not lead us to the reality as the Grace of God. Even Saint Augustine who is one of the Fathers of the WEST was on the shore of the sea thinking in the mystery of the Holy Trinity. He saw a child dug a hole and was bringing water from the sea and put in the hole. The Saint loved the child and asked him what is he doing. The child said, “I am bringing the water of the sea to put it in this hole.” The Saint said, but the sea is big and the hole is small, how could you bring the sea and put it in the hole. The child answered, what about you? How can you the big mystery of the Holy Trinity which unlimited in your brain which is limited? And the child disappeared. The Saint knew that God sent him an angel to tell him stop thinking of the mystery which above human understanding. Our cannot lead us to where only the Grace of God can open the eyes of our heart.
Excuse the disability to concentrate on what I am writing. My brain exceeds my fingers while typing. I think of complete sentences, but forget to type all the words, but smart people can insert the missing words.
This is exactly what i have been thinking of non-reformed evangelicals for quite some time now! Thank you for sharing this blog brother!
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