As one of the world’s premier Christian historians, Mark Noll certainly has the credentials to write a book about evangelical intellectualism. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (1994) details Noll’s idea that evangelicals have largely abandoned the intellectual roots of their faith and have instead developed an activist brand of Christianity centered around emotion and spirituality.
After expressing his own theological concerns for the erosion of intellectualism among evangelicals, Noll then takes the reader on a historical journey in an attempt to explain some of this erosion. While Noll mostly succeeds in maintaining an even-handed approach throughout the book, some of his criticisms border upon “elitism.” His calls for greater intellectual depth among evangelicals (albeit biblically-centered), hint at intellectual favoritism – a call that, right or wrong, seems comparable to a fitness guru teaching about the need for six-pack abs.
While Noll’s strong historical knowledge is on display throughout the center portion of the book, his interactions with the history remain suspect. His main criticisms are theological rather than historical, and he does not address countervailing perspectives. The crux of his argument centers around the perceived flaws of dispensational theology. Although Noll does not critique dispensational theology per se, he does enumerate on the ways that it discourages thoughtful (at least in his opinion) intellectual pursuits. He maintains that its rigid biblical literalism actually hinders the truth of God’s word by separating it from science and the arts.
Noll’s idea of evangelical intellectualism seems to be one that is vast and diverse rather than closed and uniform. He points to intellectual giants of the past, particularly Jonathan Edwards, as someone whose ideas are worthy of emulation. While Noll is perhaps right to list Edwards as an exemplar of evangelical faith, he also fails to mention some of Edwards’ own similarities to dispensationalism – such as his antichrist pronouncements and detailed end-time narratives.
Overall, Noll’s thoughtful critiques and scholarly acumen far outweigh the unavoidable presence of personal bias in the work. All American evangelicals should strongly consider Noll’s words, if not for personal improvement, then for intellectual enjoyment.