The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind

by Mark A. Noll

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.



We are all curious about the sincerity of Evangelicals. We want to know what motivates or drives them. This book is an epistle from a wounded lover. As one who is in love with the life of the mind but who also has been drawn to faith in Christ through the love of evangelical Protestants. I find myself in a situation in which wounding is commonplace. Although the thought has occurred to the author regularly over the past two decades that, at least in the United States, it is simply impossible to be, with integrity, both evangelical and intellectual, this epistle is not a letter of resignation from the evangelical movement. It intends rather to be a cri di Coeur on behalf of the intellectual life by one who, for very personal reasons, still embraces the Christian faith in an evangelical form.


As one might expect from an evangelical on such a subject, this is not a thoroughly intellectual volume. It is rather a historical meditation in which sermonizing and the making of hypotheses vie with more ordinary exposition. It is meant to incite more than it meant to inform. The notes are here to show where fuller academic treatments, a few of them by the author, may be found. Several of the chapters were first given as talks or lectures, although everything has been rewritten for this book.


The volume is dedicated with gratitude and respect to colleagues at Wheaton College, where we together fight the fights and inflict, sometimes on each other, the wounds that are the subject of this book. The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind. An extraordinary range of virtues is found among the sprawling throngs of evangelical Protestants in North America including great sacrifice in spreading the message of salvation in Jesus Christ, open-hearted generosity to the needy, heroic personal exertion on behalf of troubled individuals, and the unheralded sustenance of countless church and parachurch communities. Notwithstanding all their other virtues, however, American evangelicals are not exemplary for their thinking and they have not been so for several generations.


The question of Christian thinking is a deeply spiritual question. What sort of God will we worship? With this question we return to the most important matter concerning the life of the mind. The Gospel of John tells us that the Word who was made flesh and dwelt amongst us. Full of a glorious grace and truth, was also the Word through whom all things – all phenomena in nature, all capacities for fruitful interactions, all the kinds of beauty, were made. To honor that Word as He deserves to be honored, evangelicals must know both Christ and what He has made. The search for a Christian perspective on life, on our families, on our economies, our leisure activities, our sports, our attitude to the body and health care, our reactions to novels and paintings, as well as our churches and our specifically Christian activities is not just an academic exercise. The effort to think like a Christian is rather an effort to take seriously the sovereignty of God over the world He created, the lordship of Christ over the world He died to redeem and the power of the Holy Spirit over the world he sustains each and every moment. From this perspective the search for a mind that truly thinks like a Christian takes on ultimate significance for the search for a Christian mind is not, in the end, a search for mind but a search for God.