The Deeper Scandal of the Evangelical Mind: We Are Not Allowed to Use It

The Deeper Scandal of the Evangelical Mind: We Are Not Allowed to Use It January 25, 2013
Twilight Zone’s “The Obsolete Man”

Mark Noll’s 1995 book  The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind hit a raw nerve when he declared “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” He argued that Evangelical scholarship had a minimal presence in doing serious academic research, and that they need to–and can–do better.

His followup book in 2011, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, is Noll’s theological vision for how to move forward–and I don’t mind adding that Noll devoted about 15 pages discussing my 2005 book Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament as a (not “the”) constructive model for moving forward.

Noll’s books have been a wake up call for many and I think his comments are perceptive and penetrating.

Recently, Rachel Held Evans added an important dimension to this discussion. She posted that a deeper problem than the evangelical mind is the scandal of the evangelical heart.

What rocked Rachel’s faith wasn’t the failure of the evangelical intellectual project, but the “failure to maintain emotional integrity”–seen, for example, in the emotional detachment some show toward Canaanite genocide in the Bible. Why are so many Evangelicals “fine” with it? Because it’s in the Bible. End of discussion.

Rachel has a solid point. I would add the scandal of the evangelical heart includes the manner in which controversies are handled–by which I mean differences of opinion that quickly become “controversies” with a giddy sense of anticipation for the hunt.

Back to Noll. I have felt for years that, as right as he is, Noll may be too optimistic.

In my experience, the real problem isn’t simply a failure on the part of Evangelicals to engage the world of thought. Evangelicals earning higher degrees and publishing their findings in the wider intellectual community isn’t what’s needed.

The real scandal of the Evangelical mind is that we are not allowed to use it. 

Calling for Evangelical involvement in public academic discourse is useless if trained Evangelicals are legitimately afraid of what will happen to them if they do.

A more basic need is the creation of an Evangelical culture where the exercise of  the Evangelical mind is expected and encouraged. 

But, with few exceptions, that culture does not exist. The scandal of the Evangelical mind is that degrees, books, papers, and other marks of prestige are valued–provided you come to predetermined conclusions.

Biblical scholarship is the recurring focal point of this type of scandal.

*Sure, dig into evolution and the ancient context of Genesis, but by golly you’d better give me an Adam when you’re done.

*Knock yourself out with scholarship on the Pentateuch, but make sure at the end of it all you affirm that Moses basically wrote it.

*Be part of cutting edge archaeological studies, but when you’re done we want to see you affirm the historicity of the exodus and conquest of Canaan pretty much as the Bible describes them, regardless of what others say.

*Do whatever work you need to do, but when the dust settles, explain how your conclusions fit with inerrancy.

The scandal of the Evangelical mind is that doctrine determines academic conclusions.

Behind all this is a deeper problem. Evangelicalism is not fundamentally an intellectual organism but an apologetic one. It did not come to be in order to inspire academic exploration but to maintain certain theological distinctives by intellectual means. These intellectual means are circumscribed by Evangelical dogma, though avoiding Fundamentalist anti-intellectualism.

As an intellectual phenomenon, the Evangelical experiment is a defensive movement. This raises some obvious questions for me.

Is the Evangelical movement able to create the safe space necessary for the exercise of the Evangelical mind–or, does the adjective “Evangelical” already draw clear limits for any intellectual pursuit?

Is Evangelicalism self-corrective enough to not only allow but to encourage the exercise of mind, to risk the possibility of discovering that theological change is needed?

Can a movement defined by theological defense transform to a movement that willingly accommodates theological change?

If not, the deeper scandal of the Evangelical mind will continue.



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  • Johannine L

    “Where the answers aren’t predetermined and the evidence leads wherever it leads.”

    Objectivity is a myth. Christians interpret reality within a framework because we have to, and it is naive and irrational to believe otherwise. The question isn’t, “Is this scholar biased?” but rather, “Does this scholar have the right bias?” Indeed, I do not think it is hard to prove that apart from revelation there is no knowledge. Man can never collect enough evidence to arrive at what can rightfully be called “justified, true belief”. We need an omniscient mind to speak truth to us. Not just a hypothetical mind, but an actual one. Thankfully this mind did reveal himself, and we have his sure word. That’s why Paul did not hesitate to write, “In Christ are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

    If scholarship only encompasses evidential research, that is fine, but that is entirely separate issue from Noll’s thesis that evangelicals aren’t using their minds, period. Anyway, I disagree that theologians / apologists cannot do research. It is certainly possible to research how God’s word ought to be applied in a particular setting, or how a particular facet of God’s word works with respect to other facets. I suppose you think it is impossible to research any theological matter?

  • Johannine L

    You cannot deduce apostolic succession from Matt 16:17-19. Yes, Peter played a critical role in beginning the Christian church. Verse 19 proves that he had great authority in the church. This doesn’t mean that apostleship (and its benefits) is a torch that is passed on. It may be such a thing, but we wouldn’t know from this passage.

    I should also note that what Christ promised Peter concerning loosing and binding is also promised to the other apostles two chapters later. Peter may have been a leader, though he did not appear to have more authority than the other apostles. Nothing in Acts or the epistles indicates this.

    Concerning sola scriptura—I’ll say what has been said a thousand times before. Sola scriptura does not mean “I get to intepret the Bible however I want”. What it does mean is that scripture is sufficient for doctrine, which is really not very shocking considering that Jude said we should contend for the faith “once for all delivered to the saints”.

    Second, the epistemological critiques you apply to Protestants apply to Catholics as well. Catholics argue that Protestants can never know if they are interpreting scripture properly. Well, how can Catholics know they are interpreting the Magisterium properly? Ultimately Catholics have to appeal to the Holy Spirit. In that case, why can’t the Holy Spirit help Protestants interpret the Bible? The Bereans seemed to believe they could.

    There is one catholic (i.e., universal) church, and it is Christ’s church, regardless of whether doctrinal differences exist that manifest themselves in the form of separate denominations. Indeed, if doctrinal difference is intolerable then we know that the RCC is a false church because doctrinal differences exist in it as well. Pointing to the size of the differences is arbitrary. Regardless, the differences amongst professing Catholics are often times NOT small.

    The church is indeed the pillar and ground of the faith (1 Tim 3:15) in that the church is the keeper and proclaimer of God’s word, just as the Jews were the keepers of God’s word (Rom 3:2). This does not mean there is one monolithic human hierarchy that can proclaim novel revelation. Again, we have to throw the non-sequitur flag.

    • ray

      Doctrinal differences exist ? All our doctrines are declared, defined and closed – That is unchanging, not flip flopping like what you see in evangelical circles !! The Catholic church’s Magisterium decided and closed the Canon of Scriptures (Latin Vulgate) in the 4th century – Your handy bible !! Not the unbiblical sola scriptura, that is why we believe that the bible is the infallible collection of infallible sacred books.

      • Johannine L

        There are doctrinal differences within Romanism and Romanism has “flip-flopped” itself on many notable issues, so your point is dead on arrival.

        Romanism no more determined the Bible than John the Baptist chose that Jesus was the lamb of God when he said, “Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Recognizing something is not the same as choosing something. The scriptures are divine whether the RCC says they are or not. Ultimately, the only certainty we have of the scriptures is that the Holy Spirit guided the elect to recognize them. The RCC arbitrarily inserts itself as an extra layer in this process, as I explain in my comment above.

        • ray

          Who perverted the bible in different versions after the so called reformation in the 16th century, and who got rid of the 7 (Greek texts) (LXX) Septuagint that was canonically approved and used by the apostles such as Paul and Timothy? Who tampered Epistle to the Romans adding “sola” to justify the “sola fide” doctrine? If scripture alone as the sole authority holds true, why did Martin Luther and the present protestant evangelicals holds this biblical position? Protestant evangelicals always scream that the bible is God breathed and inerrant, so why did they change it, where did that authority came from? This is the fallacy of your scripture alone doctrine that is why you t have 43,000 plus denominations that cannot even agree on basic christian beliefs such as salvation and baptism.. this is the symptom of the scripture alone fallacy, and what are the doctrinal differences of the Catholic church. All our doctrines are declared and closed by our councils and the pope. Can you name me one doctrine that was changed overtime? And the papacy was believed by the Early Church (apostolic) fathers, because they know how delicate and important authority is in unifying the church

          • Johannine L

            Ray, the topic at hand is whether Romanism is true, not whether Protestantism is false. (Though I did clarify the definition of sola scriptura to Ahumada.) Moreover, if Protestantism is false, it doesn’t prove that Romanism is true.

            You do present one positive argument for Romanism in your last sentence:

            1. If the early church fathers believed in the legitimacy of the papacy, the papacy is legitimate.
            2. The early church fathers believed in the legitimacy of the papacy.
            3. The papacy is legitimate.

            I disagree with the first premise. If such authority is granted to the church fathers on the basis that they were the papacy, then the argument begs the question.

            If the papacy was legitimate, it would have been taught in the New Testament by Christ or the apostles, so show me where they speak of a single human leader of the Christian church who can speak infallibly and/or dogmatize doctrine.

          • ray
          • Johannine L

            Ray, as I’ll reiterate at the end, this will be my last response.

            As stated earlier, proving that some aspect of Protestantism (e.g., sola scriptura) is false doesn’t prove that Romanism is true.

            Let’s assume that sola scriptura is false. The papacy still has to derive its authority from God at some point in time. You and I agree that founders of Christianity were Christ and the apostles, so any doctrine upholding a single supreme, continuing, earthly authority had to originate with them. So, where in their corpus of teaching do you find justification for said doctrine?

            You did provide a link. I looked at the link. I would encourage any reading to look at the link. Read the scriptures listed very closely. Despite the fascinating list of scriptures demonstrating Peter’s importance as a founder and learder in the church, can you really find any where the Romanist concept of the Magisterium is deducible?

            Deduction is black or white. Either a conclusion is deducible from the premises or the argument is a non-sequitur.

            Obviously most of the prooftexts at that link are horrific non-sequiturs that at best could be said to corroborate with Peter’s papal authority *IF* it was already well-established elsewhere.

            The closest we come is Matt. 16:17-19, which uses some interesting language that may indicate unique authority granted to Peter:

            1. Christ will build his church on Peter and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.

            2. Christ will give Peter the keys to the kingdom.

            3. Whatever Peter binds and looses on earth will be bound and loosed in heaven.

            Let’s discuss each point:

            1. The church was built on Peter… and all of the other apostles, as Ephesians 2:20 says quite plainly. In Matt 16, Peter was simply the first to answer Christ’s question to all of the disciples in verse 15, so Christ’s response was to Peter.

            2. What are “the keys to the kingdom”? They are most likely a reference to the ability to “bind and loose”, which is described in the next clause. Some say they refer to the key of David (Is. 22:22), except that 1) Rev. 3:7 says that Christ has the key of David and 2) “keys” is plural and “key” is singular.

            3. First, the phrase “bind and loose” is a Jewish phrase that means forbid or permit with indisputable authority. Peter did have the power to bind and loose… and all of the other apostles and the entire church did as well. See Matt. 18:15-20. It is because the church can “bind and loose” that they can regard unrepentant members as heathens.

            You can see, then, that Peter was granted nothing unique in this passage. Not surprisingly, then, he is not treated as having papal authority in the New Testament. Just read the book of Acts and see if Luke’s description of Peter lives up to the offical description of the Pope:

            “[B]y virtue of [Peter’s] office, he has supreme, full, immediate and universal ordinary power in the Church, and he can always freely exercise this power” (The canon law, 331).

            Read 1 and 2 Peter and see if his own description of himself matches this. Read any other apostle’s description of Peter and see if it matches this.

            Without papal authority, the Roman Catholic Church is nothing. Undermining the papacy undermines the entire church. Indeed, historically, Romanism has had an advantage in numbers and nothing more. They are simply another denomination in that long list of denominations, and a false one at that due to their perversion of the gospel.

            This is my last contribution to this debate. Another week of work begins and my attention must go elsewhere. Have the last word, Ray.

          • ray

            Who says Jesus Christ is not the Head of the Church? And who says we do not get the authority from God (The Holy Trinity) ? If we did not, like you are assuming, go ask yourself who declared the Dogma of the Holy Trinity and the Nicene Creed in the 3rd century, that fought head to head against the heresy of Arianism? Who decided an closed the Canon of Scriptures ? Where did you get that insane anti-catholic propaganda? This is all evangelical semantic games. Christ established the church on Peter and entrusted the keys to heaven to him.

            This is the teaching from the Holy Scriptures:

            Eph 1:22 And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church,

            Eph 5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and He is the Saviour of the body.

            Col 1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.

            1) The “rock” function of Peter is an “office”, filled by Peter here but ultimately distinct from himself as a moral human being, outlives the life of Peter and is filled in by successors to that “office”. 2) This specific and singular “office” is indestructible, perpetual, and will always channel the Shepherding of Christ from the beginning of Peter’s bishopric until the last Bishop who will witness the coming of the Lord. 3) The “keys” of the kingdom automatically denote succession and therefore this “authority of binding and loosing” continues onward from Peter and it also lasts with the “office” of the papacy.

            All the essential elements of the Papacy are spoken by Jesus right here. Then there should really be no confusion as to how the Church should go henceforth into the world. The apostles carry offices which are perpetual as a college, with Peter as the head and chief, and the “office” itself, not the humans inside it, are what the “faithful” are to keep their hope in for the true construction of the holy Church. The apostles would have understood this right at the moment from which Jesus spoke this.

          • ray

            PART II – The Papacy was prophesied in the Old Testament in ISAIAH 22:20-21 for the Messianic Kingdom of God which Peter will be the “Gatekeeper” or the “Keeper” of the “Key(s)” of the Kingdom which is called “Father/Papa/Pope”.

            ISAIAH 22:20-21 And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah: And I will clothe him with thy robe, and strengthen him with thy girdle, and I will commit thy government into His hand: and he shall be a father to the Inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah.

            ISAIAH 22:22-23 And the key of the house of David will I lay upon His shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. And I will Fasten him as a nail in a sure place; and he shall be for a glorious throne to His Father’s house.

            – This “Prophecy” is fulfilled in St. Peter, “The Key” to whom The Kingdom of The Messiah was given and entrusted. Also given is the title of the ‘Father or Papa/Pope’ to The Kingdom of its inhabitants. Since St. Peter is the very 1st steward of the “Keys” of the Kingdom of Heaven from The Lord Jesus Christ Himself, then He is the 1st Father/Pope/Papa of the Kingdom of Christ.

            – St. Peter is the Pope of the New Testament, bec. the Keys to Heaven was solely entrusted to him by Christ among all of the apostles.

            – This validates the succession among Popes, bec. St. Peter thru its Office of the Keys as Keeper of the Kingdom and therefore rebukes the notion that calling Peter “Pope” is unbiblical.
            – ISAIAH 22:20-21 AM. Keeper. The Key of the Kingdom of the Father is called “Papa”, in MT 16:18-19 Jesus handed and entrusted Peter the Keys to the Kingdom.

            – Pope/Papa/Father is the Fulfillment of Prophecy was which was already stated in the Book of Isaiah. St. Peter was destined to fulfill The Prophecy as the “Gatekeeper” of the Kingdom.

            – The Papacy / Primacy of Peter is also believed by the Early church Fathers, in Scripture and Sacred Traditions:

          • ray

            The early (Apostolic) fathers were all Catholic, they were disciples and students of the Apostles, Clement of Rome, 4th pope was a student and disciple of St. Paul and St LInus was ordained by him, St. Ignatius is a disciple and student of St. John and they all believed in the Primacy of Peter.


            This holds true bec. The Catholic church has stood the test of time.. not protestantism, it is silly to believe that the real church will be found in thousands of denominations..

          • ray

            cont… part 2. The primacy of Peter is in Sacred Tradition and in scripture believed by the Early Church fathers. Sorry I am having problems uploading.


          • ray

            Sorry, sola scriptura is nowhere found in the bible, it is not explicitly and implicitly stated in the bible. The operative word is “only” and there is no chapter and verse nor citation that it is the only rule of authority. Teaching and preaching is not authority. It is not even part of Sacred Tradition. And 2nd, there is no verse in scripture that clearly says that everything has to based in the bible. The bible was only compiled or put together itn the 4th century, decided and closed by the Catholic church’s Magisterium. If you have a problem with this then make up your own bible, good luck if one person in this world will believe you. The bible was codified and canonized based on Sacred Tradition and Oral Teaching from the church, not sola scriptura. Christ sent the Holy Ghost 40 days after His death in the form of tongues of fire not a book or a bible. It was through oral teaching and sacred tradition that the church was built upon, and this was continued by the early church fathers. The Catholic church is universal, St. Ignatius of Antioch (disciple of Apostle John) states it clearly: The combination “the Catholic Church” (he katholike ekklesia) is found for the first time in the letter of St Ignatius, written about the year 110. The words run: “Wheresoever the bishop shall appear, there let the people be, even as where Jesus may be, there is the universal [katholike] Church.”[15] Later, in the “Catechetical Discourses” of St. Cyril of Jerusalem we see the name “Catholic Church” to identify the church from various sects. St Cyril writes, “And if ever thou art sojourning in any city, inquire not simply where the Lord’s house is–for the sects of the profane also attempt to call their own dens, houses of the Lord–nor merely where the church is, but where is the Catholic Church. For this is the peculiar name of the holy body the mother of us all.”

          • peteenns

            Ray, I moderate comments. No need to try posting multiple times.

          • ray

            sorry for that, it just got weird in my end, I posted a comment, then it just disappeared, so I thought there was a glitch, so I just retyped and posted it. Thanks.

  • Jamie O’Hare

    Great article. I have lived this in my own life and through the experiences of those around me many times over. My husband has a PhD in theology from Notre Dame, and we went to church with Mark Noll for those years. If he is too optimistic, it may because he worships in the most vibrant and well educated evangelical congregation I have ever been a member of. Without the benefit of another congregation like it when my husband got a tenure track job in another state, I ended up converting to Roman Catholicism. It’s the only place I feel at home with worship, faith, and scripture after 30 years of trying to remain a Protestant Evangelical.

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  • John Smith

    Great Article, Generally, I don’t read novels just because of lack time and when I read this article, i realized it is has good thought. I have many things with it and also implemented with my personal and professional both life. I always prefer intellectual behavior to prevent myself from many things which is messy for me.
    I want to share one incident of my life here, I wanted to purchase a home from many days, I researched a lot in market or on the web, many relatives and agents tried to trap me in unhealthy deals but i didn’t believe on anyone. I used my mind and used internet to find out the best property in Jaipur for purchasing best home which accomplish all facility and securities and I got successful to find it. 🙂

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