Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tuesday Tidbit: the wounds of a "friend"

Mark Noll is something of a legend at Wheaton College. Not too many years ago his office was 2 floors below the spot where I am sitting right now as I type this. From that basement room he wrote a book that dropped like a bomb on campus and sent tremors throughout the Evangelical world. The book was as shocking as it was painfully true.

Here's the opening line: "The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind." Ouch.
He continues, "American evangelicals are not exemplary for their thinking, and they have not been so for several generations" (3). Noll includes the text of a dedicatory speech given by Charles Malik for the Billy Graham Center in 1980 (the building in which most of my classes have been held on campus). Malik minced no words: "The greatest danger besetting American Evangelical Christianity is the danger of anti-intellectualism. . . . People are in a hurry to get out of the university and start earning money or serving the church or preaching the Gospel. They have no idea of the infinite value of spending years of leisure in conversing with the greatest minds and souls of the past, and thereby ripening and sharpening and enlarging their powers of thinking. The result is that the arena of creative thinking is abdicated and vacated to the enemy." Malik challenged his listeners, "Evangelicals cannot afford to keep on living on the periphery of responsible intellectual existence" (26). Noll says it took him years to fully absorb and process the truth of Malik's words. Evangelicals are known for their activism, but not for their minds.

Noll now teaches at Notre Dame, the premier Catholic liberal arts institution less than 3 hours from here. When I took a class there last summer I lost count of the number of conversations I had that went something like this.

ND student/faculty/person: Where are you studying?
Me: I'm working on a PhD at Wheaton College in Illinois.
ND student/faculty/person (cheerfully): Oh! Do you know Mark Noll? He teaches here.
Me: I've never met him, but I've heard him speak.
ND student/faculty/person: He's great!

Each of those I spoke with gave me two impressions. (1) Mark Noll embodies evangelicalism. And (2) Mark Noll is a prized member of ND's facultyI gather that he is carving out a space for intellectually rigorous dialogue and changing the way Evangelicals are perceived, little by little. And none too soon. Let's hope that by the time my kids go to college Noll's prophetic critique of Evangelicalism will sound downright strange because it's no longer true.


  1. Thanks for posting this, Carmen. Mark Noll was not yet teaching at Wheaton when I was an undergrad, but he was still on the faculty when we moved here 11 years ago. Although he didn't know me from Adam (make that Eve) he graciously agreed to review a manuscript I wrote about Sarah Pierpont Edwards for the 2003 Edwards Tercentennial Celebration in New England. It still amazes me that a scholar of his stature would take the time to do that!

  2. I know I'm not nearly as "intellectual" as those among whom you work & study, but even here in my little town, I have been called a "Bible snob" by one of my pastors (just because I said "The Message" was a paraphrase, not a translation). I've also been called "too brainy" to teach kids by other leaders (and because I'm female, the elders won't allow me to even lead an adult class through provided curriculum because I might accidentally teach a man).
    One of the pastors even once told the congregation in a sermon, "The definition of 'exegesis' is 'loving the study of Scripture more than God.'" And because the majority of the folks don't know any better, they probably think what he said is true, and don't want to risk being "intellectual."
    By the way, I'm memorizing Luke and now I'm getting to chapter 9 where Jesus sends out the Twelve. It says that they "preached the gospel" and it made me wonder: what was the gospel at that time, being that Jesus hadn't yet died for our sins & rose again (which is what I usually hear recited as the gospel), and therefore how much did the disciples understand at that time to "preach the gospel" (since right up to His death they still didn't seem to get that He was supposed to die for our sins and that He would rise again)? I'm sure there are some Bible scholars who have asked and attempted answering this two-fold question. Could you help me know where to look?

  3. Wow, Maggie. Cool story!

    Jennifer, It's great to hear from you. I'm so sorry to hear that your church is not open and ready to fully appreciate your gifts. It's a good reminder that the freedoms I enjoy are not necessarily the norm, and that as a church we have a long ways to go.

    I LOVE your question about Luke. It's such a great question! I think that the "gospel" Jesus wanted them to preach is that the kingdom of God had arrived -- as evidenced by the victory over demons and sickness (see Luke 4:16–21 for Jesus' inauguration of this preaching ministry). In spite of Roman occupation, God was the true king! As Isaiah promised, God's kingdom had finally come.

    I checked Darrell Bock's well-respected commentary (in the Baker Exegetical Commentary series), and he said of Luke 9:6, "The equation of kingdom and gospel is important, since one points to the other" (1:818). Joel Green's commentary (New International Commentary on the New Testament) says it this way: "their proclamation of the 'kingdom of God' calls into question the ongoing potency of any other kingdom, particularly over the kingdom of the devil that works to enslave persons. The kingdom Jesus preached in word and deed, and so the kingdom communicated by his ambassadors, is the inbreaking presence of the reign and realm of God's saving activity to effect liberty in all its forms" (358). This is truly good news, an indication that salvation is on its way!

    Either of these commentaries would be a great guide as you continue to work through the book of Luke.
    I hope that helps!