Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Christ-First Intellectual Discipleship

Mark A. Noll. Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011. 180 pp.
Mark Noll is easily recognizable among the intellectual evangelical community as one of its most accomplished historians and profound thinkers. Even though he is so regarded in that community some have felt he was too heavy handed with his charges of anti-intellectualism among the larger evangelical community that appeared in his earlier work, Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. His new book, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, is unlikely to alter either of these opinions. Noll shows again his ability to wrestle with complex philosophical and theological concepts in a way that sheds new light on the path of intellectual endeavor; making the way clearer for others to follow. The brightness of the light may well be unsettling to some in the community as it exposes weaknesses in their own thinking.
The heart of Noll’s argument here is that the reality of Christ’s incarnation and work of redemption is the linchpin for all intellectual efforts that are authentically Christian. For Noll, the best guidance for such “Christ-first” intellectual discipleship is the careful explication of the classic creeds of the faith. Chapters 1-4 explicate the meaning of three major ancient creeds for clues about how to proceed with serious learning that is truly Christian. He proposes four basic methodological stances, drawn from the classical expressions of Christology, that serve as guides to all intellectual work that is genuinely Christian: doubleness, contingency, particularity, and self-denial. In chapters 5-7 Noll provides three illustrations of how this type of study might look in the fields of history, science, and biblical study. He concludes with a short chapter which is something of a doxology and an extended postscript that reflects on hopeful signs of intellectual life in the evangelical community. This book should be required reading for the faculty of any academic institution seeking to support authentically Christian intellectual engagement across the disciplines.
Scandal of the Evangelical Mind was largely motivated by the need to illuminate the impoverished state of intellectual thought in the evangelical community twenty years ago. Noll’s analysis of Peter Enns arguments as a model for authentic Christological hermeneutics reveals that he still senses a need to speak to that historical reality. Having served 30+ years at three different evangelical institutions of higher learning I can attest that the need is still apparent, even if with less intensity. The beauty of this offering from Noll is that it offers such a clear way forward for those willing to take up the call to follow his Christological paradigm for serious study in any discipline. If done from such an authentically orthodoxy stance, it may well lead to refreshing insights for both the practitioner and the larger evangelical community.
Steven L. Baker, Dean of the Warren Library
Palm Beach Atlantic University

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