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A Cordial Rebuttal to Owen Strachan’s “Is Mark Noll Right? Is There No Evangelical Mind?”

by Carson T. Clark on January 5, 2013

Last night one of my friends, Alan Noble, who’s a PhD student with my wife at Baylor and also a regular contributor over at Christ and Pop Culture, tagged me in a link. It was to a Patheos post by Dr. Owen Strachan entitled “Is Mark Noll Right? Is There No Evangelical Mind?” This post is my cordial rebuttal. Before proceeding, however, Herbert Butterfield once wrote, “[T]he blindest of all blind are those who are unable to examine their own presuppositions, and blithely imagine therefore that they do not possess any.” Hoping to avoid that kind of myopic ignorance, not to mention uncharitable spirit, I want to be upfront about my perspective.

A college professor recommended I read Noll’s book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, in 2006. Unbeknownst to her I was in the midst of a profound spiritual crisis in which I’d secretly decided to abandon my faith. Having grown up among Christians who downplayed, dismissed, and denigrated the life of the mind as innately antithetical to faith,11.Noll identifies four distinct historical developments that are responsible for the scandal of the evangelical mind: Premillennial Dispensationalism, the Higher Life Movement, Pentecostalism, and fundamentalism. No wonder I was so screwed up. My church background was batting 1.000! I’d made my decision. For me intellectual honesty and the pursuit of truth was more important than devout belief and the pursuit of God. Noll’s book taught me that these two weren’t merely compatible, but for a Christian should be one and the same. This not only saved and transformed my faith, it gave me a sense of purpose. My life goal became to help Christians learn to worship God with their minds as part of a holistic faith.

It goes deeper. The Scandal is my favorite book and Mark Noll is my favorite author. I’ve even got a t-shirt that reads, “Mark Noll is my homeboy” above his curmudgeon portrait.22.Its double purpose is to serve as a satirical commentary on the “Jesus is my homeboy” t-shirt and adjoining evangelical culture as well as raise Mark Noll awareness. That being said, I’m not one for defensive posturing. Yeah, I’m an unabashed Noll fanboy, but that doesn’t mean I’m uncritical. For example, that aforementioned professor, concerned I was becoming too favorable toward Noll, once asked where I disagreed with him. I think she was trying to prove a point, but I quickly produced a fairly extensive list. My point? My perspective here is as a Noll supporter who’s more than familiar with his work, but my point isn’t to jump down Dr. Strachan’s throat. Kapeesh?

Without further adieu, here’s my eight points of cordial rebuttal:

  1. Dr. Strachan stumbles right out of the gate. His post is entitled, “Is Mark Noll Right? Is There No Evangelical Mind?” Noll never wrote that there’s no evangelical mind. That’s an inaccurate misrepresentation. The book’s very first sentence reads, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” Key words: not much of an evangelical mind. They may seem virtually synonymous, but those assertions are not equivalent. Noll’s word choice exemplifies the exact sort of careful, nuanced thinking he commends and encourages throughout the work. It’s meta like that. To misrepresent him there is then to miss the point entirely.33.Even if it’s just well-intentioned shorthand.
  2. I could be wrong, but Dr. Strachan seems to think The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind was too critical whereas its sequel, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, was more “edifying.” This raises a question of what it means to be edifying. The dictionary.com definition is “to instruct or benefit, especially morally or spiritually.” In my opinion, we too often haphazardly equate edify with positive and criticize with negative. It’s not that simple. As Noll wrote in the preface, the original work was “an epistle of a wounded love.”44.That is, the insights and reflections of one who loves both Christ and the life of the mind. Check out its fruit. The book has been profoundly edifying not just in my own life but in its tangible influence upon the larger evangelical culture.
  3. Dr. Strachan doesn’t seem to recognize that Noll’s book is almost two decades old. It was published in 1994. For example, Dr. Strachan mentions Baylor prominently, which is ironic.55.He writes, “But I think he does not go far enough, and indeed I think there is more to be said. It’s true that we have no ‘evangelical Harvard,’ no super-elite liberal arts college… or high tier one research university (Baylor comes closest). But I think Noll might miss something in positing such an exacting standard of scholarly achievement. Evangelicals, over the last 50-60 years, have succeeded in improving many of their schools.” In the early- to mid-’90s Baylor was essentially a sleepy-eyed university drifting toward secularism. It was and continues to be contested, but the Baylor 2012 vision transformed the institution. And that vision was largely and explicitly inspired by The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. To my mind it’s inconsistent to assert that Noll didn’t give evangelical educational institutions enough credit for their improvement, but then cite as his chief example of a quality evangelical university the very place that was inspired by Noll’s criticism and exhortation.66.That being said, I don’t think Dr. Strachan’s criticism is wholly off. While Noll was right that in 1994 there was no evangelical equivalent to a Notre Dame or a BYU, evangelical colleges and universities were already making significant strides forward. It’s a good and helpful nuance. That’s anachronistic nonsense.
  4. Dr. Strachan seeks to defend the fundamentalists of the early 20th century while commending them for upholding the faith. Here my mind goes in three different directions. First, Noll is a historian. He often likes to quip, “Philosophers rush forth where angels fear to tread.” His book isn’t an apologetic.77.In fact, I’ve repeatedly read Noll elsewhere offer a balanced commendation and criticism of those same fundamentalist figures for their labors. Second, Dr. Strachan is trying to create nuance where Noll already did. One of the major themes of the book is this paradox that the very things that allowed Christianity to flourish in the United States as opposed to its European self-destruction are the very things that were disastrous for the life of the mind. Third, as for my own perspective, while I can appreciate that those early fundamentalists were doing what they thought was their best against the cultural-intellectual onslaught of Modernity, in my opinion their methodology and tenor was often inexcusable. In further revealing my own sympathies, Fuller president Richard Mouw once said, “A lot of people today who have strong convictions are not very civil and a lot of people who are civil don’t have very strong convictions. What we really need is convicted civility.” Too many of those early fundamentalists88.And many conservative evangelicals today for that matter. only got the former half of the equation right.
  5. In the past 19 years a good deal of progress has been made academically by evangelical scholars as well as institutionally by evangelical colleges and universities.99.For all of that I’m most grateful. My experience tells me, however, that Noll’s assertion remains spot-on in two crucial ways. First, the dominant intellectual influence upon the evangelical culture remains a network of loosely associated colleges, ecclesiastical associations, parachurch organizations, and media outlets that do anything but encourage the life of the mind. If anything I would suggest that institutions like Baylor and Wheaton are the exceptions that prove the rule. Second, I think Noll’s critique that there’s not much of an evangelical mind rings painfully true in terms of the culture of the average evangelical Christian and their churches. I’ve hope that the chasm between the (improving) ivory towers and the pews will be increasingly bridged in coming years–a task to which I’ve dedicated my life–but there’s still a major disconnect.
  6. I disagree with Dr. Strachan’s assessment of a “culture of discouragement.” It’s always interesting to me how often people read in their own interests, temperaments, and those sorts of things.1010.In 2009 I put together an interdisciplinary academic conference. One day I had back to back meetings with two professors in which I led with almost an identical presentations both in terms of content and tone. The first professor, who was a natural optimistic, described me as a disillusioned cynic. The second professor, who was a natural pessimist, describe me as a hopelessly naive dreamer. What I took away from that experience is that their assessment said far more about them and their own temperaments than it did me. Once again, I could be wrong, but as I read read Dr. Strachan’s post I sensed an optimistically-inclined fellow who perceives sharp criticisms, even if accurate, to represent a culture of discouragement. I couldn’t disagree more. Noll’s sharp criticism gave the evangelical a much need kick in the pants, and it worked! The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind is replete with criticism. No doubt there. Yet I would suggest that in and through those criticisms is a powerful encouragement that has been absurdly successful.
  7. Dr. Strachan provides a list of scholars meant to evidence the present strength of the evangelical mind.1111.Noteworthy is that a significant majority are theologians, which is precisely what Noll observed almost 20 years ago. Has so much really changed? Just as Noll said, it continues to be that the majority of our best minds get sent down a theological track because of the realities of our educational system. That list gives me more than a little pause, though. Don’t get me wrong. Some, perhaps even a strong majority, of the names there listed are outstanding scholars. But there are others who, um, aren’t. I won’t bog things down by mentioning names, but not all are like Noll and Kevin Vanhoozer. Some of them have poor academic reputations because they primarily exhibit a pious Discourse of affirmation rather than scholarly Discourse of inquiry. That’s not to say that the two are necessarily mutually exclusive.1212.Dr. Strachan’s list includes N.T. Wright who, as a former bishop and renowned theologian, proves the point. Yet it remains the case that just because a person has a PhD, holds a respected position, has published a great deal, and is celebrated within certain spheres of influence doesn’t mean he or she excels in scholarship. Sometimes there is smoke without fire.
  8. I’d like to deal with a historiographical issue. Dr. Strachan writes, “I think there’s room for a counter-narrative here. The ‘neo-evangelicals’… actually did launch a theologically-oriented evangelical project in the mid-twentieth century. It didn’t succeed in spectacular fashion, but it did have many positive effects. Noll notes the neo-evangelicals in Scandal; he’s aware of them, of course, and he has some good things to say about them. But I think he does not go far enough, and indeed I think there is more to be said.”1313.Is it self-fulfilling prophecy that Dr. Strachan, a professor of theology and church history, sees success in the launch of “a theologically-oriented evangelical project”? Noll, by contrast, as an English major turned historian backed it out to include “the whole spectrum of modern learning, including economics and political science, literary criticism and imaginative writing, historical inquiry and philosophical studies, linguistics and the history of science, social theory and the arts.” I’m friends with Barry Hankins, a professor of history at Baylor who’s a peer of Noll, D.G. Hart, John Fea, etc. Though I confess I’ve not read it myself, Barry insists that there’s an alternative narrative forming that’s slowly replacing George Marsden’s framework.14 This new view apparently sees more consistency throughout the story arch. Admittedly, Noll’s thesis is framed upon Marsden’s framework and is becoming dated. This may well create room for persons like Dr. Strachan to cast a fresh historical picture as regards the evangelical intellectual life. My only push back is that I suspect such a view should be seen more as a nuanced-narrative than a counter-narrative.14.Namely, that evangelicalism thrived in the 19th century, ceased to exist in the early-20th century, and was reformed in the late ’40s as an alternative to fundamentalism. If Barry reads this, perhaps he’d be kind enough to give a citation or two in the comment section below.

Though strong in some of my points above, I hope Dr. Strachan and others have readily sensed my intended tone of convicted civility. I don’t claim to have all the answers. Perhaps he’ll offer a sound criticism of this post and we’ll continue to wrestle through these things together. What’s clear to me is that he, Noll, and a growing number of evangelicals today do care about the life of the mind. For that we can all be thankful, and I can be euphoric. I suspect where our ultimate difference comes down to is that Dr. Strachan is more of an optimist by nature whereas I definitely am not. As Cornel West once said, “I cannot be an optimist but I am a prisoner of hope.”

  • http://derekzrishmawy.com/ Derek Rishmawy

    I’m mostly offended that my name isn’t in the list. Doesn’t he know I have my own blog?

    • http://twitter.com/MAGuyton Morgan Guyton

      You’re the pulse of the neo-evangelical mind, Derek.

    • http://twitter.com/carsontclark Carson T. Clark

      Ne’er truer words were spoken.

  • http://twitter.com/MAGuyton Morgan Guyton

    I love the footnotes.

    • http://twitter.com/carsontclark Carson T. Clark

      Gracias.

  • http://twitter.com/DaveKetter Dave Ketter

    Overall, I agree with your rebuttal, but I continue to strongly disagree with Noll suggesting that Pentecostalism is a primary contributor. It betrays an ignorance to Pentecostal theologizing/writing within the first 25 years of the Movement. It’s a common ignorance, but an ignorance nonetheless (especially when you include the British Pentecostal movement, which was spearheaded by ordained Anglican clergy).

    • http://twitter.com/carsontclark Carson T. Clark

      Forgive me for forgetting. What’s your background with, or relationship to, Pentecostalism?

    • http://twitter.com/DaveKetter Dave Ketter

      Born, bred, and raised Pentecostal. Assemblies of God all the way through. until college. Part of Sovereign Grace ministries for three years after that. Then Anglicanism…where my Pentecostalism has been radically reinforced (thank you, Abp. Duncan and thank you, Church of Nigeria).

  • Justin Taylor

    Carson, I’m not seeing the footnotes (though I see the superscript numbers in your thoughtful post). Is it just something wrong on my end?

    • http://twitter.com/carsontclark Carson T. Clark

      Hmmmm. I see ‘em. I wonder if anyone else is having a similar problem. Maybe a device or browser thing? What are you using?

      Thanks for the heads up!

    • Justin Taylor

      I’m on Firefox. Checked Chrome too. The numbers are there but they aren’t clickable. At any rate, would love to see note 14 in particular.

    • http://twitter.com/carsontclark Carson T. Clark

      Huh. I’m on Firefox, too… It’s side notes. Not something you click. Nevertheless, I’ll copy and paste ‘em here for you. One sec.

    • http://twitter.com/carsontclark Carson T. Clark

      1. Noll identifies four distinct historical developments that are responsible for the scandal of the evangelical mind: Premillennial Dispensationalism, the Higher Life Movement, Pentecostalism, and fundamentalism. No wonder I was so screwed up. My church background was batting 1.000!

      2. Its double purpose is to serve as a satirical commentary on the “Jesus is my homeboy” t-shirt and adjoining evangelical culture as well as raise Mark Noll awareness.

      3. Even if it’s just well-intentioned shorthand.

      4. That is, the insights and reflections of one who loves both Christ and the life of the mind.

      5. He writes, “But I think he does not go far enough, and indeed I think there is more to be said. It’s true that we have no ‘evangelical Harvard,’ no super-elite liberal arts college… or high tier one research university (Baylor comes closest). But I think Noll might miss something in positing such an exacting standard of scholarly achievement. Evangelicals, over the last 50-60 years, have succeeded in improving many of their schools.”

      6. That being said, I don’t think Dr. Strachan’s criticism is wholly off. While Noll was right that in 1994 there was no evangelical equivalent to a Notre Dame or a BYU, evangelical colleges and universities were already making significant strides forward. It’s a good and helpful nuance.

      7. In fact, I’ve repeatedly read Noll elsewhere offer a balanced commendation and criticism of those same fundamentalist figures for their labors.

      8. And many conservative evangelicals today for that matter.

      9. For all of that I’m most grateful.

      10. In 2009 I put together an interdisciplinary academic conference. One day I had back to back meetings with two professors in which I led with almost an identical presentations both in terms of content and tone. The first professor, who was a natural optimistic, described me as a disillusioned cynic. The second professor, who was a natural pessimist, describe me as a hopelessly naive dreamer. What I took away from that experience is that their assessment said far more about them and their own temperaments than it did me.

      11. Dr. Strachan’s list includes N.T. Wright who, as a former bishop and renowned theologian, proves the point.

      12. Noteworthy is that a significant majority are theologians, which is precisely what Noll observed almost 20 years ago. Has so much really changed? Just as Noll said, it continues to be that the majority of our best minds get sent down a theological track because of the realities of our educational system.

      13. Is it self-fulfilling prophecy that Dr. Strachan, a professor of theology and church history, sees success in the launch of “a theologically-oriented evangelical project”? Noll, by contrast, as an English major turned historian backed it out to include “the whole spectrum of modern learning, including economics and political science, literary criticism and imaginative writing, historical inquiry and philosophical studies, linguistics and the history of science, social theory and the arts.”

      14. Namely, that evangelicalism thrived in the 19th century, ceased to exist in the early-20th century, and was reformed in the late ’40s as an alternative to fundamentalism. If Barry reads this, perhaps he’d be kind enough to give a citation or two in the comment section below.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=689501306 James Coder

    Excellent post. One thing that has sort of bothered me about the general discussion amongst Evangelicals is the continual discussion of institutions. I would much rather hear about general patterns of belief, thought, and behavior amongst Evangelical people. One can have any number of fine books and journals on a given topic … but if the rubber never hits the road, and people are not moved to think and learn about these things, they are of limited value. E.g., we have some excellent sources on the philosophy of hermeneutics with H.G. Gadamer and Anthony Thieselton. But if these aren’t taught to seminary students, as they don’t seem to be in this town … their existence is rather “abstract.”

    Parishes tend to be “parochial” by nature (doh). It’s understandable that Pastor Billy-bob feels he has his hands full enough, without trying to change people’s hearts and minds about intellectual issues and the arts … or that he might refrain from trying to do so, as his church folk might find that “disruptive” or pinko or … “worldly” and not “spiritual.”

    But what can one do in the context of parish ministry, to combat anti-intellectualism amongst the lay people? How can institutions try to work to combat anti-intellectualism amongst the clergy? And with those thoughts … what can any particular organization do to help this general problem in American Protestantism?

    We already have quite a few academic and pseudo-academic journals, institutions, etc. etc.; conferences are being organized (though not on any grand level … it seems Evangelicals are mostly interested these days in Worship Leader Conferences as “the key to being relevant”).

    Any thoughts here on bringing the discussion to the hearts of American Protestants?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Anthony-Bradley/12720920 Anthony Bradley

    This point is so spot on, “Yet it remains the case that just because a person has a PhD, holds a respected position, has published a great deal, and is celebrated within certain spheres of influence doesn’t mean he or she excels in scholarship. ” My recent experience has been that evangelicals are fooled into thinking that books by tribal leaders for tribal readers (that do not but quote other tribal leaders) is actually scholarship. Smoke, no fire.

    • http://twitter.com/carsontclark Carson T. Clark

      Thanks, Anthony.

  • John Fea

    Carson–Thanks for this. I now REALLY want to see that Mark Noll T-Shirt. I would love to put a pic of it on my blog. Even better would be a pic with you wearing it!

    • http://twitter.com/carsontclark Carson T. Clark

      I’m on it!

  • Brendan Payne

    Noll’s Scandal is a polemic: useful, but still exaggerated. It resonates most with those who have reacted against anti-intellectual evangelical communities but retained their faith – like, say, Carson T. Clark. ;) As Carson observed, the book has had some good effects in spurring evangelicals to intellectual engagement.

    But Scandal as a whole dismissed or marginalized real evangelical intellectual achievements before 1994 and openly suggested that evangelicals (then “fundamentalists”) had no one but themselves to blame for marginalization in the academy (again, it is a polemic). While some evangelicals were partly to blame for their academic marginalization in the 1920s and 1930s, intolerant modernists also played a key role in ousting leading evangelical intellectuals from the “real” academy, most notably J. Gresham Machen from Princeton Seminary (he founded Westminster Seminary in response). For personal disclosure, my grandfather was (like Machen) a Presbyterian scholar who was essentially barred from denominational seminaries because of his evangelical beliefs, and taught at the only theological schools that would hire him: “anti-intellectual” fundamentalist places like Bob Jones (who soon discovered he was too liberal) and Covenant Seminary. So whenever I hear learned men like Noll blame evangelicals for their marginalization from the academy, I remember a different story, one of intellectual suppression rather than intellectual stupor.

    Noll’s story of anti-intellectual evangelicals voluntarily withdrawing from the academy is true in part, but anyone who thinks it’s the whole story is kidding themselves. Point 7 of Carson’s rebuttal seems to rehash that same limited (if partly correct) perspective by dismissing many leading scholars as mostly theologians (ignoring the fact that most prominent seminaries had hounded out leading evangelical scholars in the 1930s and had to build their intellectual institutions from scratch – an impressive achievement), and suggesting some of these scholars are not top-notch, when they are all well-published by the best presses. If that’s not the mark of a leading scholar, I respectfully ask, what is?

    I agree with Owen Strachan’s counter-polemic while, like him, acknowledging his debts to Noll, as he stated at the end of his article: “It is my hope that while continuing to profit from Noll’s needed
    polemic, we can build off of his encouraging postscript in his follow-up
    and chart a new course for the evangelical mind.”

    • http://twitter.com/carsontclark Carson T. Clark

      “Noll’s Scandal is a polemic: useful, but still exaggerated.”

      Until further notice, I’m gonna cordially disagree.

      “But Scandal as a whole dismissed or marginalized real evangelical intellectual achievements before 1994 and openly suggested that evangelicals (then ‘fundamentalists’) had no one but themselves to blame for marginalization in the academy (again, it is a polemic).”

      I re-read portions of Scandal after reading your post. It seems to me Noll is placing the primary thrust of his argument not on the early 20th century but on its 18th and 19th century antecedents. Specifically, he looks at revivalism, the separation of church and state, republican political philosophy, democratic pluralism, liberal (classic sense) capitalism, the Scottish Enlightenment, apologetics, Enlightenment intellectual schemas/presuppositions, nationalism, undiscerning cultural synthesis, secularization of the university system, and a host of other things such as the Holiness Movement as well as Dispensationalism’s hermeneutics and obsession with eschatology. What he’s arguing, then, is that the precedents created the framework and set the course, then the momentum has carried it forward into the present. In fact, he spends relatively little time on the 20th century. In that way, I don’t think he’s blaming the early-20th century fundamentalists like Machen. (Truth be known, I suspect he has a great deal of sympathy for him and others involved with the Princeton Theology.) It has become habit for people to ignore Noll’s actual argument by taking a posture of defensiveness, thereby projecting things onto, or reading things into, the book’s text that he never actually wrote. In my opinion, it’s a much better historical work than people (such as yourself?) give it credit for. Noll is primarily, albeit not exclusively, dealing with macro trends in American history generally and American religious history that influenced evangelicalism during its formative 18th century origins and pinnacle in the 19th century.

      “While some evangelicals were partly to blame for their academic marginalization in the 1920s and 1930s, intolerant modernists also played a key role in ousting leading evangelical intellectuals from the ‘real’ academy…”

      Again, I don’t think Noll is blaming those figures. To my recollection, a pillar like Machen isn’t even mentioned, which given Noll’s expertise almost certainly isn’t on accident. If asked I suspect, and here I obviously could be wrong, Noll would see Machen and Co. as fighting and uphill battle because of cultural and institutional factors prior to their time.

      “So whenever I hear learned men like Noll blame evangelicals for their marginalization from the academy, I remember a different story, one of intellectual suppression rather than intellectual stupor.”

      There’s that word again: blame. I find its usage here peculiar. Many people say Noll blamed people throughout the book. I never got that sense reading the text. No doubt he did say, if not in that exact language, that there is an evangelical intellectual stupor. But the primary thrust of his argument was historical rather than philosophical. That is, he’s looking at the historical factors contributing to it and not so much offering a philosophical polemic against it. Perhaps I’m wrong, though. I’d welcome citations from the book that prove me wrong.

      “Noll’s story of anti-intellectual evangelicals voluntarily withdrawing from the academy is true in part, but anyone who thinks it’s the whole story is kidding themselves.”

      I don’t think he argued that. Could be wrong, though. Page references?

      “Point 7 of Carson’s rebuttal seems to rehash that same limited… perspective by dismissing many leading scholars as mostly theologians… (ignoring the fact that most prominent seminaries had hounded out leading evangelical scholars in the 1930s and had to build their intellectual institutions from scratch -an impressive achievement),”

      Sorry to sound like a broken record here, but I don’t think that’s the point Noll made. Rather, he talked about how, influenced by the cultural backdrop of American republicanism and the separation of church and state, the American educational system developed in such a way that, unlike the European model, theological education was often cognitively and institutionally separated from the larger world of liberal arts education. All of which is created and compounded by the Enlightenment intellectual schema, which suggested that religion should be studied more like Baylor’s School of Religion rather than Baylor’s Truett Seminary, for example. In this way, an education in religion became while distinguishable from an education in pastoral ministry. All of which culminates in what you mentioned, the need for endless replication of seminaries and Bible colleges. This then results in evangelicalism’s best minds fairly consistently getting shunted down a seminary-based theological track rather than engaging the broader world of learning. It seems to me you’re making points that Noll already did while suggesting that he ignored said points.

      “and suggesting some of these scholars are not top-notch, when they are all well-published by the best presses. If that’s not the mark of a leading scholar, I respectfully ask, what is?”

      I once knew a preacher who at that time was in his late 70s. By his estimation, he’d preached more than 2,500 sermons. This shocked me as the man was, quiet frankly, not very good. It wasn’t that his rhetorical approach was dated or anything like that. He was just a sub-par preacher in terms of both content and delivery. His quantity was great, but his quality was mediocre at best. Allow me to suggest this is analogous with the situation here. Also, let’s look at J.I. Packer. Back when he was a young theologian he did some excellent work and had a fairly decent reputation, from what I understand. He was respected in his field, at least by those who weren’t militantly opposed to a conservative viewpoint. I would suggest, however, that he has produced little in the way of meaningful scholarship in over 40 years even though for most of that time he was cranking stuff out like clockwork. My point here isn’t to take a cheap shot at Packer. Rather, my point is that just because one is capable of excellence within scholarship doesn’t mean one is producing excellent scholarship.

      “I agree with Owen Strachan’s counter-polemic while, like him, acknowledging his debts to Noll, as he stated at the end of his article: “It is my hope that while continuing to profit from Noll’s needed polemic, we can build off of his encouraging postscript in his follow-up and chart a new course for the evangelical mind.”

      See, I’m not one of these guys who’s particularly inspired by optimism. To be perfectly honest, I was somewhat disappointed by Noll’s new book, which is the first time I’ve ever thought such a thing. I don’t equate criticism with discouragement and commendation with encouragement. The Scandal profoundly encouraged, not to mention inspired, me in and through its criticism.

    • Brendan Payne

      You’re right, “blame” is not the best language, and it’s inexact to say Noll “exaggerated” so much as he focused on the broader narrative of suspicion of the “life of the mind” rather than a smaller narrative of evangelical intellectuals.

      My “polemic” language may also have not been the most helpful. By that I simply meant a strong advocacy of one side in a discussion. For example, in English Reformation studies there are two texts that (to speak in generalizations) I consider on opposite “poles” of the field (and therefore polemics): A. G. Dickens’s “English Reformation” (from an Anglican, Catholic-critical perspective) and Eamon Duffy’s “Stripping of the Altars” (from a pro-Catholic perspective). I see Noll’s work as on the opposite pole from those who view the evangelical subculture as having a rich life of the mind. Now, in an objective sense, Noll is correct that U.S. evangelicals (c. 1994) did not, and to a great extent still do not, have as strong a life of the mind as some other subcultures. But I wonder how much anti-intellectualism is prevalent in American culture as a whole as opposed to especially present in the evangelical subculture.

      I’d also note that Mark Noll did, in fact, apply the statement “there is no Christian mind” to American evangelicals on page 5 of Scandal, contrary to your point 1. It’s just such (in my mind) hyperbolic language that makes Scandal a polemic, because it is essentially dismissive of those enclaves of evangelicals throughout the twentieth century were contributing to reflective analysis of culture. Perhaps in a way similar to how my language of “blame” and “polemic” elicited a strong reaction from you, Carson, so Noll’s language of there being “no Christian mind” prompts me to say Noll is speaking in an exaggerated, polemic way. So sure, Noll is making a valid point, but his language is aimed to shock and cause people to say, “We’ve got to do something.” My use of “polemic” may not have been the most apt, but that’s why I used it.

      Your other comments are well-put. As you wrote, criticism is meant to encourage and inspire, and I certainly hope my criticism here is seen in that light. It goes without saying I respect Noll and hope my scholarship accomplishes a fraction of what his already has, but I’m always open to revision to his, my, and anyone else’s work to give it an even more well-rounded and insightful portrayal of the past.

  • Pingback: Is There No Evangelical Mind? « Persona

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=583664425 facebook-583664425

    I want to thank you, Carson, for this well-thought piece, that I have also shared on my blog.
    I am dealing myself all the time with the (wishful thinking) kind of optimistic view of evangelicalism. It does not help me, nor do I believe it helps anyone, except to make the sick die in peace, if that is what one wants.
    I am much more with Noll (and you) on this. You cannot have the cure without proper diagnosis.
    DanutM

    • http://twitter.com/carsontclark Carson T. Clark

      thanks for the encouragement, Danut.

  • Stephen

    I suspect that one of the things that holds back what one could call the blossoming of the evangelical intellect (though there are rich resources within it) is a fear of innovation or – if I can put it this way – a fear of thinking outside the margins that have been set down. Now, of course there have to be boundaries somewhere, and they should be explored. But, for instance, one can only go over the stock treatments of any passage dealing with the atonement and treat them from a penal substitution standpoint before things get a bit stale. As am ancillary thought, I suspect much the same is true of Christian (especially evangelical) art, whether music, literature, or whatever.

    • http://twitter.com/carsontclark Carson T. Clark

      See: Olson, Roger. Reformed and Always Reforming: The Postconservative Approach to Evangelical Theology.

    • Brendan Payne

      I agree, Stephen, but I’d add a postmodern critique of every subculture, not just evangelicals. Every subculture keeps boundaries of some nature and frowns upon those who leave the fold, so circumscribed thought is to some extent true in every American subculture, and everyone belongs to a subculture(s).

      Also, accepting some ideas on authority is not unique to evangelicals; some may accept the Bible as an authority, while others follow Richard Dawkins or their university professor. Uncritically embracing the thoughts of leading intellectuals does not make one any more intellectual than an evangelical who uncritically embraces the thoughts of leading evangelicals. Likewise, blindly following the professor is no more intellectual than blindly following the pastor. It’s sustained critical engagement that makes the intellectual, and that kind of stubborn curiosity is an oddity in the population at large.

      That’s not to deny the reality of widespread anti-intellectualism among evangelicals, but rather to put it in context: a robust life of the mind does not strike me as particularly common in American culture in general, where pragmatism and pleasure seem to be much more desired than intellectual fulfillment.

  • AHH

    Your #5 particularly resonates with me. For all the good scholars mentioned, the average Evangelical in the pew (and, to a lesser extent, the average Evangelical pastor) is still much more influenced by anti-scholars like Ken Ham or the Discovery Institute or David Barton or Calvin Beisner or Josh McDowell.

  • Whirlwinder

    Gentlemen, my last contact with a christian intellectual was Schaeffer. Then Tommy Nelson of Denton Bible brought Schaeffers thoughts forward with his commentary. My problem with christianity today is that it does not give warning, nor even touch upon, even in passing, the greatest enemy of christianity today which is Islam. It will subsume our culture and dominate the landscape like nothing we have ever experienced and there is not a peep from any christian quarter. If christianity does not have the platform to operate from that the founding fathers set up for us, yes there will still be believers but no room for intellectuals for Islam destroys all.

    • http://twitter.com/carsontclark Carson T. Clark

      Thank you for sharing.

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