REVIEWER: Moses Oludele Idowu
Mark Noll is one of the greatest and most illustrious scholars of the present age. Going through the academic Resume of this prolific author and the number of his publications and output in form of books, papers, reviews, and critiques baffled me. I wonder how a person could have packed all these literary achievements within a single lifetime and yet still hold a full-time job as a teacher, university professor, providing academic leadership, supervising thesis among other things. Mark Noll has also recently written another excellent book to commemorate the 500 years of the Reformation. And all this from a man who is still less than 60 years old.
The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind hereinafter referred to as TSEM is a book of 273 pages, a very scholarly work. It contains nine chapters dealing with various subjects as this book carries the reader through several epochs. It is a voyage around history, culture, religion and the realities of the modern-day. It is carefully divided into four parts.
Part 1 deals with the Scandal itself in its contemporary reality and why this scandal should matter to us. Sometimes the Church wonders why her activities and programmes do not affect the mood or the behaviour of the larger society. Why is it that all the preachings and evangelisms do not seem to matter because the world still remains as wicked as it has always been and people do not seem to care. Noll helps us to understand why: – it is because the church is not speaking to the culture or the worldviews recognised by the larger society and as such is speaking to herself.
Part 2 deals with How the Scandal Has Come to Pass. How could the Evangelical movement the offshoot of the Protestant Reformation, that produced such great thinkers like John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards (described as one of the greatest American brains of all time) Ashbury and others now relapsed into “anti- intellectualism ” – a term used by Mark Noll in this book and which deserves a scholarly treatment and which I shall address someday. With a mastery possible only to a historian and a powerful narrative, Noll takes his readers on a voyage of history beginning from the Revival through the Revolution and the Enlightenment down to the birth of Fundamentalism, to show how the decline in the ” life of the mind ” occurred. This chapter explains why the children could not rise to the higher legacies bequeathed by their fathers.
Part 3 deals with the effect(s) of the Scandal. In two chapters Noll explains to Pentecostals and Evangelicals what the consequences have been for not following in the intellectual heritage of their ancestors. Today, he noted that evangelicals have no influence on the total culture. They have no single scholarly periodical, journal or paper that is interrogating the main culture, to influence it. Yet compared to their population, they should be influencing the nation.
Noll noted that American greatest centres of scholarship today – Harvard, Princeton, and Yale were started and established by Christian missions and Evangelical pioneers, but he noted sadly that the Evangelicals have been evacuated from these centers today due to reasons not unconnected with the subject of the book. And gradually Evangelicals and Pentecostals are being evacuated from the public space and driven away from the public square due to “inattention to the mind”.
Thank God for prayer, fasting, and fellowship, but the Christian life goes beyond this. We must be able to engage the popular culture in their own language. Their language is not the Bible or Christianese but the language of postmodernism. Unless we can address the culture from these higher levels of the world, this commanding height of culture, we shall speak a language known only to ourselves. By culture I mean the total ensemble of man’s daily pursuits encompassing his interests, passions, religion, history, literature, sociology, economics, theatre, music and sports. History matters, and sociology is important. Literature is vital, to affect the culture. Christians cannot cede these spaces to the outside world and still expect to influence them. Jesus spoke to the culture of His days. He engaged the scholars and doctors of Jewish law and cosmology. And they were shocked because He spoke sense not rubbish. Our minds are important, they must be cultivated to prevent a total uprooting out from the public space.
Part 4 considers whether there is any hope left and the way forward. Mark Noll is a first-class scholar of the finest breed. He is also a Christian and an Evangelical. Could God be passing a message to this generation of Evangelicals by using one of our own to speak to us?
Some of the sermons and practices among Pentecostals and Evangelicals today fly in the face of reason and logic. Where is reason today in most of what we do or claim God commissioned us to do? Why would the One who created the mind and reason be against logic and the diligent and productive uses of the mind and the intellect?
In a church in Ibadan, Oyo State of Nigeria, the pastor led the members out with canes and they were flogging the object that was supposed to be their enemies. What is the difference between this and witchcraft? Reason. Christians think!!! Christians use your mind!!!
TSEM is a scholarly work and superbly written. It has the added advantage of showing the details of many other scholarly works that have been done on the subject by others, which the readers may pursue. I recommend this book for every Christian and especially those who say they are Pentecostals and Evangelicals. It is one of the best four books that have come to my hands in the last two years.
Moses Oludele Idowu is an author and writer, an apostle by calling. He is the Convener of Apostolic Christianity Network.