In his book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, Notre Dame Professor of American religious history, Mark Noll has said that, “the scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”
His argument was simple. Christians need to make an effort to ‘think’ within the Biblical framework across the whole spectrum of learning including: economics, political science, literary criticism, imaginative writing, historical inquiry, philosophical studies, linguistics, the sciences, social theory, and the arts. This call to ‘think’ should be heeded seriously by Christians who are seeking to live as a faithful presence in the world. R.C. Sproul has argued that “we live in what may be the most anti- intellectual period in the history of Western civilization.”
Noll appropriately concludes, “Jesus Christ demands from evangelicals a more responsible intellectual existence.” All other mental disciplines aside, this call for responsible thinking among Christians should be applied to God’s word first and foremost. God has revealed himself in a book. Understanding, interpreting, and applying this book requires rigorous thinking. If we do not labor to think through God’s word we will misinterpret it and lead others astray.
The Bible is clear about the importance of Christian thinking. Proverbs tells us “if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” (Proverbs 2:3-5) Paul carries this thought into the New Testament when he urges Timothy to “think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” (2 Timothy 2:7) The command is clear – Think!
Living as fallen people we must acknowledge that we experience the effects of sin on our minds. However, even as we acknowledge this hard truth, we must not be discouraged for there is hope in the gospel. The gospel is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16), and this salvation includes the renewal of the mind (Romans 12:2). Goldsworthy aptly comments:
“The gospel achieves noetic (see footnote) salvation for us through the perfect mind of Christ our Savior. This is part of his righteous make-up as the perfect human being. His is the human mind in perfect relationship with mind of God. To be justified includes our noetic salvation…our noetic sanctification is the fruit of our justification in Christ. It is the gradual formation within us of what we have in Christ through faith.”
We must acknowledge that as fallen people we have the tendency to swing the ‘pendulum of thinking’ between two extremes: anti-intellectualism and over-intellectualism. In the most general terms, anti-intellectualism tends to pit feeling over thinking while over-intellectualism tends to exalt the life of the mind as an end in itself. But the gospel provides a third way of the mind. We are humble enough to realize that we do not have a perfect mind, and confident enough to know that the renewing of our minds is an ongoing process by which our thinking is being conformed more and more to the truth as it is in Christ.
Just like any other aspect of sanctification, we are called to have an active role in obedience. This is why the Scriptures call us to be sober-minded, to gird up the loins of our thinking, to be ready, to be alert, to be watchful, to have our eyes open. Albert Mohler goes as far to argue that this is our calling as Christians…we are to be a community of the open-eyed, the intellectually alert, the brokenhearted, the resolutely hopeful.” We are called to be a thinking people.
We understand that our hope and salvation does not rest in our intellectual abilities. We must avoid the pride of over-intellectualism. But, the Christians who argue that ‘thinking’ should be left to others. Forgive my ‘lack of tact’, but your anti-intellectualism is unbiblical. John Piper has recently reminded us that “glorifying God with our minds and hearts is not either-or, but both-and. Focusing on the life of the mind will help you know God better, love Him more, and care for the world.”
Yet, if Noll and many others are right, evangelical Christians seem to fit the description of anti-intellectuals more than the opposite. When it comes to thinking about, and through, God’s word, if we don’t think clearly we may find ourselves on the verge of slaughtering the gospel, if we haven’t already. Christians, Tolle! Lege.
- Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, 3.
- R.C. Sproul, Burning Hearts are Not Nourished by Empty Heads, Christianity Today, September 3rd 1982. Quoted in John Piper’s Think, 29.
- Noll, 27.
- The term ‘noetic’ is a word used to describe the effects of sin on all aspects of the mind.
- Graeme Goldsworthy, Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics, 61.
- Albert Mohler, The Disappearance of God, 174.
- John Piper, Think, 36.
- See also J.P. Moreland’s Love God with All Your Mind and OS Guinness’ Fit Bodies Fat Minds.
- “Take Up and Read!”