Academic journal article Church History

Church History

Academic journal article Church History

Church History

Article excerpt

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Book Reviews and Notes

In the middle of Bill Clinton's first term as president, historian Mark Noll penned a stinging critique of evangelicalism in his now famous The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1994). The scandal, in Noll's reckoning, was that evangelicals did not have much of a mind. He wrote as an insider a point of view that made the book all the more powerful. The volume sold briskly, sparked debate and soul searching, and was very influential on a younger generation of evangelical academics. In addition, the advent of publications like Books & Culture and a flurry in scholarly publishing seemed a direct response to Noll's call for a more lively intellectual engagement among the faithful. Michael Lindsey's book Faith in the Halls to Po wer (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008) served as a progress report on some of this intellectual development.

Now more than fifteen years after Noll's influential book, he returns to the subject with Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind . This is not a scandal redux, however. Here he does not focus on all those movements and ideas that have hindered evangelical intellectual activity--pre-millennialism, personality cult, creationism, literalism, and so forth. Instead he zeroes in on the biblical, Christological, and creedal sources for intellectual engagement.

This is a book for a general learned audience, and evangelical academics in particular. It reads, in fact, a little bit like the work of N. T. Wright, Rowan Williams, or Eugene Peterson. The tone is somewhat pastoral. From a Christian perspective, Noll offers a broad sweeping history infused with theological reflection. In addition to drawing on the Bible and creeds he relies on the insights of Czeslaw Milosz, Jonathan Edwards, St. Augustine, G. K. Chesterton, George Herbert, Peter Enns, and Dana Robert, to name just a few--ranging widely across disciplines and over the centuries. Noll writes, "the main point of this book is to encourage those who already accept traditional interpretations of the Bible" (23). And more directly, Noll asserts at the outset that, "Christianity is defined by the person and work of Jesus Christ. The doctrinal truths supporting this assertion--as set out in Scripture and summarized in the major Christian creeds--provide a compelling reason for pursuing human learning" (ix). Many will wonder what that might mean to all those who are outside the fold. (More on that below.)

Noll's discussion of biblical studies is the most satisfying. Here, summarizing the work of Peter Enns, he calls on evangelicals to engage more seriously the context and meaning of scripture. For instance, he puts the matter succinctly in terms of reading the Old Testament. He cautions believers about forcing the book of Genesis to speak to all manner of contemporary issues. …

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