The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind – Mark Noll

The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Mark A. Noll
Also by this author: Every Leaf, Line, and Letter: Evangelicals and the Bible from the 1730s to the Present, Every Leaf, Line, and Letter: Evangelicals and the Bible from the 1730s to the Present, C. S. Lewis in America: Readings and Reception, 1935–1947
Published by Eerdmans on March 31, 2022
Genres: Non-Fiction, Christian Life
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Winner of the Christianity Today Book of the Year Award (1995)
“The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” So begins this award-winning intellectual history and critique of the evangelical movement by one of evangelicalism’s most respected historians.
Unsparing in his indictment, Mark Noll asks why the largest single group of religious Americans—who enjoy increasing wealth, status, and political influence—have contributed so little to rigorous intellectual scholarship. While nourishing believers in the simple truths of the gospel, why have so many evangelicals failed to sustain a serious intellectual life and abandoned the universities, the arts, and other realms of “high” culture? 
Over twenty-five years since its original publication, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind has turned out to be prescient and perennially relevant. In a new preface, Noll lays out his ongoing personal frustrations with this situation, and in a new afterword he assesses the state of the scandal—showing how white evangelicals’ embrace of Trumpism, their deepening distrust of science, and their frequent forays into conspiratorial thinking have coexisted with surprisingly robust scholarship from many with strong evangelical connections.

The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind. I was in my mid-teens when I first read that scathing opening line of Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind and it is part of what pushed me—then a stolid evangelical—toward academic pursuits. Nearly two decades later and I’m still an evangelical (but maybe not an Evangelical, if you can understand the difference) and Noll’s words have proven prophetic even as they still resound as a warning for a new generation.

Evangelicalism as changed significantly since 1994, when the book’s first edition was released. A new edition for the 2020s is both timely and relevant. While the bulk of the book remains the same, Noll has added a new preface and afterword to address 21st century evangelicalism. The afterword is taken from a journal article written for Modern Reformation in 2021, meaning that the only truly brand-new material is Noll’s preface. This is the new edition’s strength and weakness, simultaneously. On one hand, Noll is able to show that the challenges within evangelicalism aren’t endemic to Trumpism or part of a post-Obama era. Or, put another way, it’s not just Jerry Jr and Franklin, it’s Jerry Sr and Billy too. This problem within evangelicalism isn’t recent—it’s been a part of the movement for a long time. On the other, there is so much that could be reworked to provide contemporary examples of the problem. While I appreciate what Noll has done here—and he certainly doesn’t owe us the laboriously intensive process of updating everything in the book—some more recent and novel material would have made this book stand out. This is a 2022 edition of a 1994 book, not an update or a revision.

The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind traces the anti-intellectualism that pervades evangelical thinking. The book is divided into four parts: The Scandal, How the Scandal Has Come to Pass, What the Scandal Has Meant, and Hope?. The first part offers a definition and contextualization of the scandal and briefly sketches why it matters—both for Christian thinking and in the larger world. The second part traces evangelical history, particularly its association with fundamentalism, calling it an “intellectual disaster.” The third part focuses on the arenas of politics and science, while the fourth offers threads for hope—some of which have seen continued fruition while others have died on the vine (or sometimes been killed by establishment evangelicalism).

One thing that I wish The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind made clear was the delineation—not quite so obvious in 1994 as now—between small e evangelicalism and large E Evangelicalism. The former remains a theological paradigm that encompasses a wide range of sociopolitical beliefs. The latter is an American conservative religio-political movement that has come to dominate the Republican Party. Further, there is little discussion of global evangelicalism (other than as a hoped for thing in 1994) and its distinction from American Evangelicalism. Don’t get me wrong, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind remains a seminal work for the critique of evangelicalism from someone who is evangelical, but enough has changed in thirty years that—as I’m sure Noll would agree—that the context of the 90s isn’t quite the same as today.