I’m currently reading Mark Noll’s phenomenal book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. His thesis is his first line: “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” Though this is true, Carl Trueman (professor of historical theology and church history at Westminster Theological Seminary) suggests that in Christian scholarship, the problem is not with the use of the mind. Instead, he says, too many evangelical scholars focus on being “scholars” rather than “evangelical.”
…there would seem to be a pervasive evangelical inferiority complex. This means that, while we do not wish to exclude anybody, we dread being excluded ourselves. Indeed, for the evangelical academic, in a world so ill-defined, it is always tempting to cut just a few more corners, or keep shtum on just a couple of rather embarrassing doctrinal commitments, in order to have just that little bit more influence, that slightly bigger platform, in the outside world. This is particularly the temptation of evangelical biblical scholars and systematicians whose wider guilds are so utterly unsympathetic to the kind of supernaturalism and old-fashioned truth claims upon which their church constituencies are largely built. In so doing, we kid ourselves that we are doing the Lord’s work, that, somehow, because we have articles published in this journal or by that press, we are really making real headway into the unbelieving culture of the theological academy. Not that these things are not good and worthy—I do such things myself—but we must be careful that we do not confuse professional academic achievement with building up the saints or scoring a point for the kingdom.
And a note on true Christian ambition:
Finally, too few evangelical academics seem to have much ambition. Perhaps this sounds strange: the desire to hold a tenured university position, to publish with certain presses, to speak at certain scholarly conferences, to be in conversation with the movers and shakers of the guild—these seem like ambitions that are all too common. Yet true ambition, trueChristian ambition, is surely based in and directed towards the upbuilding of the church, towards serving the people of God, and this is where evangelical academics often fail so signally. The impact evangelical scholars have had on the academy is, by and large, paltry, and often (as noted) confined to those areas where their contributions have been negligibly evangelical. Had the same time and energy been devoted to the building up of the saints, imagine how the church might have been transformed.
Again, read the post here. I’m not sure Mark Noll is necessarily wrong in his challenge to the evangelical mind. But there are two different kinds of evangelicals. I think Noll refers mainly to the non-scholars of evangelicalism (and specifically, fundamentalism), who value “just loving Jesus” (as valuable as that is) more than knowing him deeply and precisely. Trueman, however, ably illustrates the danger of being scholarly rather than being Christ-like.