I started reading a book that has been around since 1994 – The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Dr. Mark A. Noll who was then Professor of Christian Thought at Wheaton College, and now teaches history at the University of Notre Dame.  The first paragraph of the first page jumped out at me and made me feel defensive.

The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.  An extraordinary range of virtues is found among the sprawling throngs of evangelical Protestants in North America, including great sacrifice in spreading the message of salvation in Jesus Christ, open-hearted generosity to the needy, heroic personal exertion on behalf of troubled individuals, and the unheralded sustenance of countless church and parachurch communities.  Notwithstanding all their other virtues, however, American evangelicals are not exemplary for their thinking, and they have not been so for several generations.

This critique by one of our own is rather stinging, but historically I believe is accurate.  My question is this… are we making progress?  Is this still as true in 2009 as it was in 1994?  Or do you believe this is completely off target?

13 comments
  1. Not sure where Noll is coming from but it often concerns me how much evangelicals seem to mimic and echo the thinkings of their leaders.. sometimes even quoting them as a source of authority.. it is like they feel unqualified to have their own thoughts.

    What do you think Noll was trying to say?

  2. First, people attack sound reason based on political ideology. No such attacks truly “point out” an error in thinking or logic. It's more of a political disagreement turned into a political attack.

    Second, there has been an incredible “dumbing down” in the Christian church. There is also idolatry in people disconnecting their own minds from the Word of God and instead handing themselves over to their leaders. They follow the leader and do not think for themselves, read the Bible for themselves, study for themselves. Also, they have come to despise “doctrine” – which requires study and sequential comprehension of truth.

    The “dumbing down” has occurred culturally. Strong individuality has been weakened as the populace become increasingly spineless sheep who follow leaders and know nothing for themselves – do not question – just eat whatever is presented.

    They are like handicapped children who have never learned to feed themselves. This is the loss of individuality which is birthed from strong personal relationship with God – when birthed most healthily, imo.

    But, God is good and we're about to experience a Great Awakening. He'll wise us up and strengthen us in personal relationship with Him. But by the grace of God, we'd fall and never arise.

    WE NEED THE MIND OF CHRIST and we must be able to think SCRIPTURALLY line upon line and precept upon precent systematically. When Christians cannot do that soundly by clear comprehension of sound doctrine – they lack the structural framework ideology to know good from evil and to order the world aright – to influence their culture positively by sound principles of truth… and are not all that intelligent… I would have to agree. We need the mind of Christ… DEVELOPED… and functional.

    Yet, the truth is that the more the mind of Christ truly is developed the more it is assailed and called stupid by the world. I'm calling to the true mind of Christ and saying that is lacking at this time. But I believe God will build it now in this hour in a Great Awakening by His grace. He will teach us sound doctrine and our minds will become intelligent again in sound order – rather than the chaos of deconstructionism and the weakness of blind followers of the blind.

  3. P.S. I see you are part of the Calvinist network. The boorish distaste of the huddled masses for the Sovereignty of God – their refusal to systematically comprehend sound foundational doctrine revealing God's Sovereignty… is the ROOT… the SOURCE of the “dumbing down” of the Christian church I will add. It is exactly THOSE scriptures that will form the next Great Awakening. We're about to experience,imo, an incredible REFORMATION SURPASSING THE PREVIOUS REFORMATION.. which will result in unification and maturation in the body of Christ. God is about to teach us all sound doctrine – and the core of it is Reformation soteriology, imo, revealing the Sovereignty of God. It's coming. In fact, it's arrived, imo, and beginning to move forward on our shores. God is good.

  4. Sorry I'm barraging this post. It's a real crucial matter.. so it is evoking a response. Briefly, I'll point this out: we do NOT have as many “reformed” believers in the body of Christ as we think. Our pastors have FAILED US in a respect. They DEMAND to be FOLLOWED even in the Reformed churches and have BLOCKED the Christians in the pews from personally knowing truth in their ego-driven fallen nature demand for obeisance and conformity. They have BLOCKED the transforming power of the Word by making themselves, in the flesh, “important” in a top down hierarchal institutional WORLDLY structure of the body of believers. They have become IMPEDIMENTS to true spiritual growth. The churches of today have the systematic structure of CULTS and are WORLDLY. So, though we THINK we have “x number” of believers in reformed churches who know truth – they don't know truth. They are dumbed down. They are following their leaders under oppression of the false worldly top down hierarchal structure – and have NOT been transformed in the renewing of their own minds. They do not know the scripture for themselves… and they MUST… or the body is weak and dumbed down. The spirit of antichrist is IN the reformed churches due to the leadership having been seduced by seducing spirits that demand “group think” in “following the leaders”… and this is cultish and not of God. The structure is wrong. It's upside down. The structure must be GRASSROOTS with those in leadership serving and never suppressing individuality in the body. The Great Awakening will RESTRUCTURE the church and pastors will be thrown out on the street… and the PEOPLE will TAKE TO THE STREETS in the move of the Spirit that is coming. Churches, in their present top down structure, will be no more. There will be city wide churches. The nation will become a church. The nation will split – the church will be so awakened and arise in such equality of knowledge and in glory. We are about to see freedom and liberty and glory and power arise in such grace on the body of Christ as THE PRIESTHOOD OF ALL BELIEVERS RISES… which is the greatest reformation. The church will restructure in the next Great Awakening… and it is pastors who are (and should be) the most threatened by the change. They will be “worked” out of office… and the church in it's institutional structure of top-down hierarchy will be no more. They fear this change… because it is outside their control and dominion… and will make Jesus Lord and all believers equal in knowledge of Truth and in maturity through knowing truth… FOR THEMSELVES. (I'm smiling.) I'm usually kicked out of churches. I can speak the foundational doctrine in such power – the top down structure is demolished as the body arises in light. But, I'll go outside and around the institution now… straight to YouTube and television and public speaking outside the institutional “network”. 😉 Grace.

  5. Just speaking from my own personal point of view, of course, but I think that there is significant progress being made, but center quarters of the Christian world will never be of a thoughtful nature. I think this is because real thoughtfulness dictates a re-evaluation on many social issues, and it is just easier to cling to the past because of the security it represents.

    It's a shame Christ's Church is divided like it is. I would like to see a re-unification of all the various Christian communities, and the return to a universal Christian Communion, but I don't think that will happen until Christians everywhere can learn to give up their prejudices and really embrace the message of Christ. I think all of us need to be careful not to make wrath against sinner out idol.

    As St. Thomas More once said in a vitriolic exchange with Martin Luther:
    [W}ho can endure such a scoundrel who shows himself possessed by a thousand vices and tormented by a legion of demons, and yet stupidly boasts thus: 'The holy fathers have all erred. The whole church has often erred. My teaching cannot err, because I am most certain that my teaching is not my own but Christ's,' alluding of course to those words of Christ, 'My words are not my own but His who sent me, the Father's' (John 12:49)?

  6. I believe that we are becoming much more engaged since this was written. I work for a ministry, and it is one that I see you support here, that just reached a milestone we never conceived of. We now sponsor over 1 million children. At the rate of growth we have in 5 years it will be 2 million. It took 58 years to reach the first mile stone. You can see where I am headed here, people are taking notice of the global church and starting to do something about it.

    Slowly and surely the followership mindset of discipleship is being questioned, reexamined, and people are thinking for themselves. It is taking time, but I believe it is none less then an awakening in the church to what God requires of us… to care for the poor and needy, the widow and the orphan.

    I also believe that people are starting to remember that 200 million dollar budgets for buildings the size of stadiums does not bring God glory… it shames his name. What brings him glory is relationship with him, action as a result of that relationship and the willingess to give HIM the glory, not us.

    We are purging our idols one by one, and as we do so we are becoming what Christ wants us to be… his bride, unblemished and clean.

  7. I agree with you that we sometimes will just kneejerk follow our leaders (like Rick Warren for instance).

    I think, and I can't say for certain as I haven't gotten very far, he's looking at a lack of evangelical sponsored research universities and not funding (in 1994) a single periodical “devoted to in-depth interaction with modern culture.”

    He also cites a general inattention to intellectual life evidenced by the abandonment of the universities, the arts, and other realms of “high culture.”

    I think we've made progress in that area just thinking about what my alma mater, Trinity International University, is doing in the area of bioethics and engaging culture. They also started the Bannockburn Institute. There are similar evangelical works. Are we there yet? No, when your average evangelical in the pew can't adequately articulate a biblical worldview.

    Sorry it took me so long to respond. I was away from my computer after posting this.

  8. Being a pastor I'm going to have to take exception about the “church and pastors being thrown out on the streets.” Not that everything that happens within an institutional structure is good and we've certainly have gotten somethings wrong.

    Read Ephesians 4:11 – they are gifts to the church for the edification of the Body. I agree that the CEO model of pastor is not healthy, but God did create the gift/office of elders/pastors.

    That doesn't negate the priesthood of believers, but each part of the body does their job. Cutting off the pastors, is cutting off part of the body and that isn't helpful or healthy.

  9. Strabo,

    I don't think this is what Noll is getting at. Just so you know his theological bent, he's a reformed evangelical.

    He's talking about taking the message of Christ and biblical worldview and engaging culture, not joining in on greater ecumenicism. Where it can happen I agree that it is a good thing, but there has been division in the past for good reason.

    For instance with Martin Luther, I think the Solas are pretty important. I also would say that his argument against indulgences was valid as well, and while Luther certainly did have his vices (don't we all) it doesn't mean his arguments weren't sound, IMO.

  10. Actually our ministry to the poor and the needy, Noll commends. He is referring to a return to an engagement in intellectual life – with universities, the arts, and “higher forms of culture.” I believe (I haven't gotten very far yet). I think sometimes that people forget that part of the Great Commandment is to love God with all of our mind.

    That, from what I can tell so far, is the thrust of his book.

    Now like I mentioned to Bob above I believe we've made progress in that area since 1994, and I agree with you that we are going in our compassion as well.

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