In 1994, Wheaton College historian Mark Noll published The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind—"an epistle from a wounded lover" that decried the anti-intellectualism of evangelical religious culture. Noll's newest book, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind (Eerdmans, released in August), devotes far less space to criticism and offers instead a foundational vision: The basic truths of Christian faith are the key to Christian scholarship. Christianity Today editor in chief David Neff recently spoke with Noll (now teaching at the University of Notre Dame) about the book.
Although it's not the main subject of Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, most people will want to know: Are you more optimistic today about the state of the evangelical mind than you were 17 years ago?
I am more optimistic, though not overwhelmingly so. The problems endemic to modern Western culture undercut Christian thinking the same way they undercut every other kind of serious intellectual life. The tendencies among evangelicals that undercut serious reflection are also still pretty strong—for example, the populism and the immediatism, the idea that if there is a problem, we have to solve it right away.
Those are strengths in other contexts.
Exactly. That's very important to say. Almost everything in the evangelical world that undercuts serious and sober thinking actually plays a productive role in some other aspect of evangelical life. I never wanted to make a categorical statement that thinking is the most important thing. But it is important.
There are a lot of factors that show commendable and very serious improvement. The trajectory is moving in a positive direction. Christian philosophers have done ...1