Mark Noll: Critiques in Scandal still valid, though much has changed

Mark Noll: Critiques in Scandal still valid, though much has changed
It hasn't sold as many copies as Left Behind, The Prayer of Jabez, or The Purpose-Driven Life, but historian Mark Noll's The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind has arguably shaped the evangelical world (or at least its institutions) more than any other book published in the last decade.

In the October issue of First Things, Noll looks at what has changed and what remains in his critique: "The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind." (First Things has devoted much space to discussing the book over the years.)

"I remain largely unrepentant about the book's historical arguments, its assessment of evangelical strengths and weaknesses, and its indictment of evangelical intellectual efforts, though I have changed my mind on a few matters," Noll writes. If he were to write the book today, he says, "It would have a different tone—more hopeful than despairing, more attuned to possibilities than to problems, more concerned with theological resources than theological deficiencies. The major reason for this alteration in perspective is itself theological; a secondary reason is that many developments on the ground now also seem auspicious."

Among those developments: "increasing engagement between evangelicals and Roman Catholics," an "ongoing renascence of Christian philosophy," evangelical colleges "season[ing] their sectarian certitudes with commitment to 'mere Christianity,'" breakthroughs in engagement with the sciences, "multiplying Christian presence in the nation's pluralistic universities," and serious efforts in Christian publishing.

For anyone who has read the 1994 book (or even quoted the title), it's well worth a read. Actually, the entire October issue of the magazine is superb—one of its best recent offerings. Lawrence Uzzell calls for a moratorium on the word proselytism (echoing earlier calls from Books & Culture editor John Wilson), Richard John Neuhaus profiles Kierkegaard, Amy Sherman reviews Robert Wuthnow's Saving America, and the lead piece gleans meaning from the 2004 Supreme Court decisions.

But if it's more Noll you're after, be sure also to see his article in the September 21 issue of The Christian Century, where he explains why he's staying away from the polls November 2: "Seven issues seem to me to be paramount at the national level: race, the value of life, taxes, trade, medicine, religious freedom, and the international rule of law. In my mind, each of these issues has a strong moral dimension. … Yet neither of the major parties is making a serious effort to consider this particular combination of concerns or even anything remotely resembling it."

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Here he squatted

Here he squatted
According to some Martin Luther historians, what archaeologists in Germany just uncovered may be the most important location in Protestant history apart from the Wittenberg Cathedral doorpost. Since Erik Erikson's 1958 biography, many historians have interpreted Luther's remark that his insight into justification came "in cl." to mean "in cloaca"—while on the toilet.

Not all historians agree: Martin Marty, for example, isn't so sure. But biographer Heiko Oberman adds this commentary in his 1990 Luther: Man Between God and the Devil:

Must the trail of the Reformation be followed this far? There is a dignified way out: by cloaca Luther did not mean the toilet, but the study up in the tower above it. That, however, would be to miss the point of Luther's provocative statement. The cloaca is not just a privy, it is the most degrading place for man and the Devil's favorite habitat. Medieval monks already knew this, but the reformer knows even more now: It is right here that we have Christ, the mighty helper, on our side. No spot is unholy for the Holy Ghost; this is the very place to express contempt for the adversary through trust in Christ crucified.

Luther himself once quoted this poem—in a Christmas sermon, no less!

Devil: Monk on the latrine! You shouldn't be reading matins here!
Monk: I am purging my bowels
While worshiping almighty God.
You can have what goes down
While God gets what goes up.

"This is a great find particularly because we're talking about someone whose texts we have concentrated on for years, while little attention has been paid to anything three-dimensional and human behind them," Luther Memorial Foundation director Stefan Rhein told The Telegraph. "This is where the birth of the Reformation took place. … We just had no idea where this sewer was. Now it's clear what the reformer meant."

The Telegraph wrongly notes that Luther claims to have written his 95 theses there. No theses; just feces. But the paper does add this note about the loo, located in a previously undiscovered annex of his Wittenberg house: "The 450-year-old lavatory, which was very advanced for its time, is made out of stone blocks and, unusually, has a 30cm-square seat with a hole. Underneath is a cesspit attached to a primitive drain."

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If you're a Luther fan, by the way, you'll be interested to know the Joseph Fiennes biopic is out on DVD November 30, and is apparently just now playing in Canada.

More articles

Religion & politics:

  • Faith and patriotism | We don't serve our country — in fact we weaken it intellectually — if we downplay our principles or fail to speak forcefully out of some misguided sense of good manners (Charles J. Chaput, The New York Times)
  • Who's afraid of Christian Right? | Some Jewish voters feel distant from the Bush-Cheney ticket is a fear of extending the influence of the Christian Right. (David Twersky, New York Sun)
  • Rocking the Christian vote | Redeem the Vote encourages young evangelicals to register to cast their ballots (Rachel DiCarlo, The Weekly Standard)
  • Living on a prayer | Pro-abortion candidates like Kerry face long-term trouble from Catholics (Colleen Carroll Campbell, National Review Online)
  • Talk that diminishes faith | This may sound impolitic and even un-Christian, particularly coming from a Christian theologian, but I don't want to hear any more from the presidential candidates about their personal faith (Tom Beaudoin, The Washington Post)
  • Bush, Kerry turn to religion in final weeks | Both presidential candidates, one a Roman Catholic and the other an evangelical Protestant, are conversant about their faith, with each man making religious pitches down the stretch (The Washington Times)
  • George, God here … | President Bush has words with the Almighty (Terry Jones, The Guardian, London)
  • Liberal evangelical voters come out swinging | These are Jesus-loving, church-going, Bible-believing Christians who take their faith seriously but don't let Jerry Falwell set their agenda. Call them Jesus-centric centrists (Cathleen Falsani, Chicago Sun-Times)
  • Fire and brimstone | A wild U.S. Senate debate spilled into living rooms Thursday night as Republican Alan Keyes and Democrat Barack Obama rocked each other with blistering attacks on religious faith, crime, gun control, abortion and sex education (Daily Herald, Chicago suburbs)

Churches & politics:

  • Black ministers in Jersey throw support behind Kerry | They vow that African-Americans will play a key role on Election Day (The Star-Ledger, Newark, N.J.)
  • Politics in the pulpit blurs lines between church, state | Partisan politics has reached new levels in churches, with Catholics heated over Sen. Kerry's stances, and watchdogs pointing to the separation of church and state (The Miami Herald)
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  • Religion and the IRS | Federal tax laws subject churches to fines and removal of their tax-free status if they campaign. Here are some recent penalties (The Miami Herald)
  • Pastors take stands on issues, leave voting to congregants | Local mainline and evangelical churches are approaching political issues from different perspectives and with different purposes (The Washington Times)
  • Va. Beach church to hold rally in D.C. | Comparing the country's moral condition to a house on fire, the founders of Rock Church in Virginia Beach are leading an "America for Jesus" rally today in Washington, where evangelical Christians will ask God to "save our nation" (The Virginian-Pilot, Hampton Roads, Va.)

The Catholic vote:

  • The Catholic vote becomes metaphor for polarized views | This election is turning out to be agonizing for the nation's 50 million Catholics, arguably the country's most important voting bloc (The Wall Street Journal)
  • President visits with cardinal | President Bush took the opportunity to meet with Philadelphia Cardinal Justin Rigali Thursday while visiting Chester County (Daily Local, West Chester, Pa.)
  • President carries quest for votes to Pennsylvania, seeking Catholic support | With about a third of the voters in the state Catholic, one of the highest proportions in the country, Mr. Bush arranged to meet Cardinal Justin Rigali, the head of the Philadelphia Archdiocese who has been quoted as saying Catholics have a "duty and responsibility" to vote for candidates who uphold church teachings, especially those opposing abortion (The New York Times)
  • Mistake to see Catholic voters as pliant lambs | A lot has changed in the Catholic Church since the last election (Dick Ryan, New York Daily News)
  • Bush pitches for Catholic vote | President Bush yesterday met with Cardinal Justin Rigali, the archbishop of Philadelphia, as he continued his election pitch to the nation's 65 million Catholic voters (The Washington Times)

Terri's Law rejection remains:

  • Court: Terri's Law ruling stands | The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday declined a request from Gov. Jeb Bush to reconsider its decision striking down Terri's Law, a state statute written to save the life of a severely brain-damaged woman (The Miami Herald)
  • Fla. court refuses new Schiavo hearing (Associated Press)
  • Florida high court won't rehear right-to-die case (Reuters)


  • U.N. split on human cloning ban | Total restriction backed by U.S. is opposed by some allies (The Washington Post)
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  • UN begins delicate cloning debate | The United Nations is holding a two-day debate on the highly contentious issue of cloning with broad support among members for a ban on human cloning (BBC)

British doctors allowed to let baby die:

  • Doctors win right to let baby die | Doctors have been told they can withhold life-saving treatment from a terminally-ill nine-month-old baby if his condition deteriorates (BBC, video)
  • Doctors can refuse to put baby Luke on a ventilator | A court has ruled that doctors should try to resuscitate a terminally ill baby suffering from a rare genetic abnormality if he suffers a crisis — but they cannot be obliged to put him on a ventilator (The Times, London)
  • Mother seeks dignity for Luke | High Court battle starts to win right for terminally-ill baby to be resuscitated if necessary (The Times, London)
  • Court fight over baby's right to be resuscitated | Family judge must decide on the future of doomed nine-month-old (The Guardian, London)
  • Mother of sick baby weeps as court hears right-to-life case (The Independent, London)
  • 'Give my baby a fighting chance to live' | A mother wept in court yesterday as her lawyers described how her terminally ill baby, who doctors say should be allowed to die, had defied all odds to remain alive (The Telegraph, London)

French headscarves:

  • France turns to tough policy on students' religious garb | This week the Ministry of National Education began expelling students who violated the law banning religious symbols from public schools. (The New York Times)
  • Islamic group alleges abuse of French law | A powerful Islamic organization alleged Thursday that officials were abusing a new law banning religious symbols from schools by expelling Muslim girls who were wearing printed bandannas — not Islamic head scarves (Associated Press)
  • French court rules on Sikh boys | A French administrative court has ruled on an appeal brought by three Sikh boys who have been excluded from classes for wearing the under-turban (BBC, video)

Church & state in Zimbabwe:

  • Bishops lobby for Zimbabwean democracy | Two Zimbabwean bishops working behind the scenes to reduce tensions before parliamentary elections next year visited Washington this week as part of what they consider their duty to keep the country on the world's agenda (Nora Boustany, The Washington Post)
  • Govt moves to grab church land | Government has expanded its bid to nationalize all private land by acquiring church run farms in violation of its earlier promises that it would not take over farms run by religious organizations (Zimbabwe Independent)
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Church & state:

  • County is sued over approval of church | Environmental groups allege S.B. County lacks environmental review for the forest project (Los Angeles Times)
  • Supreme Court preview | Two important establishment clause issues the Supreme Court will decide this term, relating to the Ten Commandments and a key federal statute (Marci Hamilton,
  • Lawsuit puts religious rights, state law at odds | Two sisters sued the Wilton Jehovah's Witnesses congregation and the national Watchtower Bible & Tract Society in 2001, charging church officials failed to notify authorities after the sisters' mother spoke with them about concerns that her husband was physically and emotionally abusing the children (Nashua Telegraph, N.H.)

Religious freedom:

  • China's religion unit grants more freedom | China plans to allow more autonomy for religious groups and curb arbitrary state interference in their activities, a Religious Affairs Bureau official said. (The Washington Times)
  • Human Rights Watch slams Vietnam over religious repression | Human Rights Watch condemned a crackdown on Mennonite Christians in Vietnam and accused the communist regime of intensifying its campaign against religious freedom (AFP)

EU commissioner & gay sin comment:

  • EU may veto panel over gay 'sin' remark | The European Parliament on Thursday threatened to veto the entire incoming European Union executive commission unless Italy's nominee for Justice Commissioner — who earlier described homosexuality as a sin — was dropped from the list (Associated Press)
  • Defiant Barroso stands by anti-gay aide | José Manuel Barroso, the new European commission president, yesterday risked provoking an institutional crisis in the EU by defying MEPs' calls to dump Rocco Buttiglione, an outspoken opponent of gay and women's rights, as justice and civil liberties commissioner (The Guardian, London)

Independent churches in Barbados:

  • Vexing spirit of Christians | The verbal salvos between the Dean of St Michael's Cathedral William Dixon, and leaders of some of the "independent" or unaffiliated "churches" now mushrooming in Barbados, would be of concern to the Christian community as a whole (Rickey Singh, Barbados Daily Nation)
  • Church rebuttal | You are wrong, Dean William Dixon! That's the chorus that went up yesterday from young churches in response to the Anglican priest's claim that those meeting in schools were not churches (Barbados Daily Nation)
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  • Faith, not personalities | For some time now, the rapid splintering of the Christian community into units that seem to be driven more by personality than by a biblical understanding of the faith, has been a source of concern for many Christians in this country (John Holder, Barbados Daily Nation)
  • Reverend Dixon warns of upsurge in Christian denominations in Barbados | Anglican cleric William Dixon, yesterday expressed his concern about the rapidly increasing number of Christian denominations appearing across Barbados (The Barbados Advocate)

Presbyterians meet with Hezbollah:

  • Presbyterians' meeting with Hezbollah angers Jewish groups | A meeting in Beirut last Sunday between Presbyterian Church officials and Hezbollah leaders has aroused furious reactions from American Jewish leaders (Haaretz, Tel Aviv)
  • Church group meets Hizbullah, loses meeting here | The Foreign Ministry Thursday canceled a scheduled meeting with a delegation from the American Presbyterian Church because the group met Hizbullah officials in Beirut and even had words of praise for the organization (The Jerusalem Post)
  • Delegation's meeting with Hezbollah 'misguided' and statements 'reprehensible,' PC(USA) officials tell Jewish leaders | Kirkpatrick, Detterick, Ufford-Chase plead for continued dialogue (Presbyterian News Service)

Anglican Communion:

  • Back from the brink | After a battle over gay bishops, Anglicans try to heal their wounds (David C. Steinmetz, The Wall Street Journal)
  • Episcopal Church slams diocese in southern Va. | Six years ago, the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia was among the most sought-out and healthy dioceses for clergy to join. Now it is perceived as one of the most dysfunctional in the country, according to a report that includes 66 recommendations (Richmond Times-Dispatch, Va.)
  • Gay Episcopal bishop says 'Holy Spirit led us' | The openly gay Episcopal bishop whose ordination threatens to fracture the worldwide Anglican Communion said Wednesday he "genuinely and deeply regrets" the pain this caused some believers, but he sees no need to repent because "the Holy Spirit led us" (USA Today)

Marriage & family:

  • Ohio court rejects gay marriage challenge | The Ohio Supreme Court on Thursday rejected the last pending legal challenge to placing a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and recognition of same-sex couples on the Nov. 2 ballot (Associated Press)
  • The sexual health commissioners have stripped parents of their responsibility | Why is it that when it comes to one potentially life-changing aspect of a child's life, parents can be deprived of any responsibility or even influence? (Patience Wheatcroft, The Times, London)
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  • Honeymoon is over as Govt cancels marriages | Couples who were married by unregistered church ministers are in for a rude shock. The Government yesterday nullified their marriage certificates and vowed it would prosecute the church ministers (East African Standard, Nairobi, Kenya)


  • Stately structure up at Vanguard | First of four new buildings on campus will house classes that intermingle studies of business and religion (Daily Pilot, Newport Beach, Ca.)
  • Professor, activist led influential and controversial life | Henlee H. Barnette, a civil-rights activist and ethicist who influenced generations of Baptist seminarians and medical students in Louisville, died Wednesday (The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Ky.)
  • A revival of religion | For decades American scholars assumed society was becoming more secular, but a revival in spiritual belief is sparking new scholarship on the interplay of religion and culture, writes Alan Wolfe, director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life and professor of political science at Boston College (The Chronicle of Higher Education)
  • One nation, under God? | Robert Wuthnow, Jean Bethke Elshtain, George Marsden, and seven other scholars discuss what they consider to be the key issues in religion and American life today (The Chronicle of Higher Education)
  • Religion in American culture | A sampler of recent and forthcoming scholarly books (The Chronicle of Higher Education)


  • Town reverses time for trick-or-treating | Councilmember Sandi Snyder said she voted against trick-or-treating on Sunday because, "Sunday, historically and traditionally, is the Lord's day when Christians worship and serve the Lord. To combine that with Halloween would be hypocritical." (Post-Tribune, Merrillville, Ind.)
  • Puyallup schools ban Halloween festivities | District officials say the ban is largely a matter of religious sensitivity -- to Wiccans (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

Creation care:

  • Global warming row goes nuclear as bishop quits Friends of the Earth | Hugh Montefiore, the former Bishop of Birmingham, has been kicked off the board of Friends of the Earth, the leading environmental group, for saying publicly that the fight against global warming should involve using nuclear power (The Independent, London)
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  • 'Nuclear' bishop quits campaign | The former Bishop of Birmingham has been forced to leave the board of a leading environmental campaign group in a dispute over promoting nuclear power (BBC)
  • Animals rights: A question of humanity | It's time to pick up where Matthew Scully's Dominion left off (P. David Hornik, The American Prospect)

Missions & ministry:

  • Urbana student missions event changing venues | Urbana won't be in Urbana any more (Mission Network News)
  • A youth movement at St. Peter's | Western Diocese recognizes St. Peter Armenian Church for its youth-based programs (News-Press, Glendale, Ca.)
  • The cloistered among us | Who lives in Israel's many monasteries and convents, why did they choose to shun ordinary life and what is it like? (The Jerusalem Post)
  • Tracts, film tap the brimstone of Christianity | You may have never heard of a Chick tract but, chances are, you've seen or read one (The Tallahassee Democrat, Fla.)
  • Pamphlets targeting Christianity flood homes | "In the name of education, missionaries are turning Hindu children against their religion, and plotting to convert them to Christianity. Let us not become victims of the conspiracy hatched by Western countries by sending our children to study in schools run by missionaries." This is the warning a number of people in the city woke up to when they found booklets tucked in their door latches (The Times of India)
  • Preaching to the preachers | Pastors come to Duke to learn and rejuvenate (The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.)

Church life:

  • Family sues over pastor's alleged affair | Accusation in church service led to near brawl, arrests. Negligence, false arrest are among claims (The Beacon Journal, Akron, Oh.)
  • Casual Sundays make their way to church | Area ministries trying to gear more services toward younger crowd (The State, Columbia, S.C.)

Catholic Church:

  • Iowa diocese says it's near bankruptcy | A judge Thursday rejected a request by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Davenport to delay a trial dealing with alleged sex abuse by priests, a ruling the diocese said would force it to file bankruptcy (Associated Press)
  • Church property still on the minds of selectmen | With less than a week until Our Lady Help of Christians Church closes its doors, and sends the key to the Boston Archdiocese, the Board of Selectmen is fine-tuning a vision for the historic building and adjacent green space (The Concord Journal, Mass.)


  • Slain pair were store's owners | Couple believed killed in botched holdup (The Kansas City Star)
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  • Police: Pastor's porn computer-generated | Search continues for more photos on his computers (The Dominion Post, Morgantown, W.V.)
  • 2 women imprisoned after Manhattan jury rejects 'Lord made me do it' defense | Roberta Dupre and Beverly Stambaugh duped more than 1,000 investors nationwide out of nearly $2 million (Associated Press)
  • Teacher accused of taking drugs into jail | She hid them in the binding of a Bible (The Post-Standard, Syracuse, N.Y.)

More articles of interest:

  • U2 frontman Bono finds his missing lyrics | A long-lost briefcase full of notes and lyrics that were intended for the 1981 U2 album "October" has been returned, 23 years after it was stolen at a Portland concert (Associated Press)
  • 'Thou Art Loosed' keeps it real by simply addressing a serious topic | The movie is a Christian self-help sermon masquerading as a mother-daughter melodrama. While the story couldn't be simpler and the filmmaking is crude, it forcefully addresses a reality more pressing than driving Jimmy Fallon around Manhattan (The Boston Globe)
  • US calls for increased global assistance for Darfur | The White House called for stepped-up international efforts to end the crisis in Sudan's Darfur region, adding that the United States continues to support humanitarian efforts underway (AFP)
  • Building faith | At new mosque, a day to thank Jewish, Christian friends (The Boston Globe)
  • Soul-searching time: Try or not to find a flu shot? | The shortage of flu vaccine has imposed an unusual moral and philosophical calculus on healthy New Yorkers as they face up to the worries of a flu season that is expected to leave half a million New Yorkers sneezing, sniffling, coughing and running fevers (The New York Times)

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