The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind is that, as Mark Noll puts it, “there is not much of an evangelical mind”; that, despite all their other virtues, “American evangelicals are not exemplary for their thinking, and they have not been for several generations”; and that, at a popular level, “modern American evangelicals have failed notably in sustaining serious intellectual life.” Writing as “a wounded lover,” he adds: “The general impact of Christian thinking on the evangelicals of North America, much less on learned culture as a whole, has been slight . . . there is a long, long way to go.”

This is, alas, true. But the problem Professor Noll identifies is far worse than a scandal: it is a sin. When our Lord was asked what was the great commandment in the law, lie replied, quoting Deuteronomy 6:5: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Matthew 22:36-37). And in II Corinthians 10:5, Paul commands Christians to bring “into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” Thus, the widespread failure of Christians to think Christianly—according to what the Scripture says—is a violation of God’s Law, which is sin. And we see this sinful failure all around us virtually every time a prominent Christian speaks out about anything. In an address last September in Washington, D.C., to the “Christian Coalition” he founded, Pat Robertson told his audience (to a reported standing ovation) that all his group wants to see is “the kind of government and values we had during the Eisenhower administration of the 1950’s.” Really? The Lord Jesus Christ died a hideous, painful death on the Cross, and millions of Christian martyrs have been subsequently murdered, for the purpose of reestablishing the great Christian Republic of Ike?—the Eisenhower who, as President, on December 22, 1952, remarked: “Our form of government makes no sense unless it is founded in a deeply religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.” (Emphasis mine).

Professor Noll says that by an evangelical “life of the mind” he means “the effort to think like a Christian—to think within specifically a Christian framework—across a whole spectrum of modern learning, including economics and political science, literary criticism and imaginative writing, historical inquiry and philosophical studies, linguistics and the history of science, social theory and the fine arts.” He adds: “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind is a scandal from whichever direction it is viewed. It is a scandal arising from the historical experience of an entire culture. It is a scandal to which the shape of evangelical institutions has contributed. Most of all, it is a scandal because it scorns the gifts of a loving God.” Indeed. And I have seen such scorn exhibited—as Howard Cosell used to say—up close and personal. At a Heritage Foundation conference in 1990, at which Fred Barnes of the New Republic defended “Big Government conservatism” as a viable new strategy for the right, I asked Barnes (an evangelical Christian) two simple questions: What, specifically, does your faith have to do with your views regarding civil government? And: From your Christian perspective, are there specific things the federal government is demanding that ought not to be rendered to Caesar? Here is Barnes’s answer in its entirety: “Well, let’s see. I was a conservative before I was a Christian and my views haven’t changed since becoming a Christian. So, uhh, uhh, arc there things the government does now that, well, uhh, uhh, I certainly don’t favor some of the grants by the NFA—which if Bush has his way will continue. That’s one example. But, no. Do I, in thinking about politics, and what I’m for or against, get out the Bible and read it? No.”

Some answer from a Christian. Barnes’s reply was delivered with an expression of utter disgust. I remember wondering as I left this gathering: if Barnes, a Christian, doesn’t read the Bible, God’s Word, to learn what he’s for and against in politics, what does he read? The New Republic, I suppose.

But things were not always thus. Professor Noll contrasts the modern, mindless evangelical Christian with the views of a true Christian thinker, John Calvin, who, he says, in combining a high view of God’s sovereignty with an earnest appreciation of the human intellect, sought “to bring every aspect of life under the general guidance of Christian thinking, to have each question in life answered by a response from a Christian perspective.” As a consequence of Calvin’s influence, “Protestants were encouraged to labor as scientists so that their scientific work could rise to the praise of God,” each exploration “showing forth His glory.” And “at least some statesmen and theologians among the early Protestants carried on the same sort of enterprise with respect to government, they not only worked to make political and social organizations reflect the norms of justice they found in Scripture but also examined the contrasting rights of individuals, kings, and parliaments, and contributed to theories about democracy and the existence of republics. In general, they did what they could to make life in society reflect the goodness of God.” And there are, by God’s grace, such men today who “stand in the gap” (Ezekiel 22:30) and continue John Calvin’s legacy, men who are attempting to develop a Christian mind and apply God’s Word to every area of thought and life. But they fail to receive the credit they deserve from Professor Noll. For example, he only says of Dr. R.J. Rushdoony—head of the Chalcedon Foundation with which I am associated—and of the late Cornelius Van Til, a professor of apologetics at the Westminster Theological Semmary, that as Theonomists or Reconstructionists they tried to offer “practical proposals for public life” by “insisting on carefully formulated theological foundations for political action” pushing “toward a more self-conscious political reflection than is customary in the evangelical tradition.” But this is an inexcusable understatement. Much more needs to be said of these men and their influence. Both Rushdoony (whom I have known personally for over 10 years) and Van Til (most of whose works I have read) are giants among the pygmy Christian thinkers of today. Their works are truly seminal because they are solidly Biblical.

Professor Noll asks: “Can a Christian mind develop out of American evangelicalism?” His answer: “Based solely on 20th century historical precedent, it does not seem likely.” Why not? Because “what is essential to Christianity is a profound trust in the Bible as pointing us to the Savior and for orienting our entire existence to the service of God. . . . 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.” Well, amen! But the leaders of the most prominent evangelical organizations—such as Ralph Reed, head of the Christian Coalition—seem not to have the slightest inkling that this is indeed the essence of the Christian mind. Reed has repeatedly stated, as he did on Today and Good Morning America, that his Christian faith is “personal and private” and that his group wants only to change “public policy,” that his Coalition is “in effect, a League of Women Voters for people of faith.” Yet as Scripture tells us, “faith which produces no Christian works is a dead faith” (James 2:26), a mindless faith, a scandalous faith, a sin. Our Lord Himself calls dead faith a “savorless salt,” so useless it is not fit even for “the dunghill” (Luke 14:34-35).


[The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, by Mark A. Noll (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans) 288 pp., $19.99]