The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Mark Noll, originally published in 1994 by Wm. B. Eerdmans, now available in several formats, including audio. (If you follow the link and purchase the book I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.)
“The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” So begins this monumental work by the well-respected theologian and historian Mark Noll. The rest of the book is simply amplification of that one statement. Whatever your interest in Christianity, the Bible, science and the Bible, or why some churches are so fixated on the “end times,” you will find the answers in this book. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
I’ve gotten to only one of my New Year’s resolutions in my posts thus far, the one about damping down my critical spirit, but I have a few more to discuss. One of those is that I want to read more books in 2018, getting back to my book-a-week-or-more habit. If you’ve been a longtime reader of this blog you’ll know that it started back in the summer of 2014, when my son was in the hospital with cancer. We’d visit him every day, and conversation would soon run out since there wasn’t too much to discuss after we covered the “how are you today?” basics. TV was terrible, of course, both in content and also in sound quality, so we fell back on something we had done as a family for all of Gideon’s growing-up years: reading aloud. At some point I decided to start writing about those books as well as others that I read on my own, and for awhile I was keeping up a “Friday Book Club” post every week. Eventually the book posts got folded into the “Intentional Happiness” blog. Now, if you’ve noticed, “Intentional Happiness” has become “Intentional Living,” thus freeing me from any need to explain why a certain topic adds specifically to happiness and instead focusing generally on making good choices in life. What I can say is that I intend to read books that will force me to think. Mark Noll’s book is the first one on that list. (I just finished listening to the audio book this afternoon on my walk.)
When the 2016 election hit, I became consumed with reading news articles online about the issues and the candidates. ‘Surely,’ I thought back then, ‘once the first Tuesday in November is over I’ll get back to normal life and normal reading. I’ll be able to look away from the political spectacle.’ But guess what? The spectacle didn’t go away; if anything, it intensified. Between news articles, blog posts, and podcasts, my absorption of words was pretty well taken up. I certainly did read or listen to some books over the past year and a half, but my usual book list was much shorter than it had been all my reading life (which began when I was, ahem, three). I realized, more times than I care to count, that much of my reading and listening was simply the same subject matter over and over again, told by different authors and from different perspectives, but basically the same material. Maybe, I thought, I should limit my consumption of current events and instead focus on ideas that have led to those events. With perhaps a novel thrown in here and there.
I had heard or read about Mark Noll’s book somewhere and thought it sounded intriguing, especially in the light of two facts:
1) I was raised as a Fundamentalist church and attended a Fundamentalist university for my undergrad and graduate speech degrees. (Noll spends quite a bit of time analyzing Fundamentalism as sort of a sub-genre of Evangelicalism.) I would now, echoing Russell Moore, the president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, simply call myself a Bible Christian.
2) White evangelicals formed a major group that voted for Donald Trump. I try to keep my political opinions off this blog, so if you’re interested in such things you can read additional material about the book as it relates to this issue over on my “Intentional Conservative” blog.
I wanted to read a thoughtful, absorbing, highly-intellectual book by an author who identifies himself as a Christian, and indeed as an Evangelical Christian. Noll says in his introduction that his book is written from the perspective of a “wounded lover.” He quite fairly points out that there have been positive aspects of Fundamentalism, mainly the emphasis placed on the authority of Scripture, but that often this emphasis has veered away from the proper use of the Bible as our guide to understanding God and into the byways of treating it as a puzzle to be solved, especially in the area of biblical prophecy. Parts of the book were eerily familiar to me as Noll described some of these ideas, ones that I heard repeatedly from the pulpit of the church I attended from fourth grade on through my early adulthood. I finished the book feeling that I had indeed learned from it, that my mind had been expanded, and that some of my own ideas had been clarified. While the book was originally written in 1994, it might have been written yesterday. Noll ends his book with a prescription of sorts for ending the scandal and with the hope that it will indeed be ended, but I would have to say, sadly, that his hopes in the main have not been realized.
Be warned that this is a very dense, challenging book. I first started reading it and almost immediately bogged down, thinking that I just could not get through it. But an audiobook version came out last year, and since I had some Audible.com credits to use up I went with that. I usually find that if an audiobook is going to hold my attention it needs to be a narrative of some sort, but I was able to keep going in Noll’s book quite well. His ideas were so compelling that I was drawn along with them. I’d recommend that you try checking out a copy from the library first to see if you’re able to absorb it via the printed word and then give the audio version a try if you just can’t get through the book. Since the audiobook is so new, it’s not available at the library, or at least not at mine. It’s well worth the money, though. And if you’re not an Audible.com member you can get a free audiobook to start your membership. I’d get this one!