Monday, December 14, 2009

Book Review

The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind
By: Mark A. Noll

Through several chapters I found myself cheering the author along as I read. He's taken on a monumental task- ferreting out the how's, when's, and why's of the decline in intellectualism within the evangelical protestant faith.

Starting with modern evangelical education settings and traveling backwards and forwards again in time, Mr. Noll accomplishes what I believe to be a remarkable endeavor: looking at the same texts which the majority of sects of Christianity reads every day and deciding that it is not the texts themselves which are the 'problem' with the evangelical sect, it's the overall attitude which is bred within families, congregations, and the church itself. Doomed from the start.

I believe this research of the author's is pertinent in how we view gnosticism today and the state of our education system overall. We have a great deal to be thankful for and to be wary of.

Chapter one of
Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, the author quotes Richard Hofstadter's Pulitzer-prize-winning book Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, who said, "the evangelical spirit is one of the prime sources of American anti-intellectualism." For Hofstadter, there was a common reasoning process by which evangelicals had chosen to evacuate the mind. (EVACUATE the mind?!!)
"One begins with the hardly contestable proposition that religious faith is not, in the main, propagated by logic or learning. One moves on from this to the idea that it is best propagated (in the judgment of Christ and on historical evidence) by men who have been unlearned and ignorant. It seems to follow from this that the kind of wisdom and truth possessed by such men is superior to what learned and cultivated minds have. In fact, learning and cultivation appear to be handicaps in the propagation of faith. And since the propagation of faith is the most important task before man, those who are as "ignorant as babes" have, in the most fundamental virtue, greater strength than men who have addicted themselves to logic and learning. Accordingly, though one shrinks from a bald statement of the conclusion, humble ignorance is far better as a human quality than a cultivated mind. At bottom, this proposition, despite all the difficulties that attend it, has been eminently congenial both to American evangelism and to American democracy."
If that doesn't make you think twice about the pregnant chad fiasco of the presidential election a few years back then I can't imagine what will. Why our gubernatorial choices get so worked up wooing certain religious groups is just pathetic. It appears as though Martin Luther's diatribe against reason is bearing fruit now in this age of pseudo-democracy combined with a love affair of binary numbered technology.

In Ronald Knox's essay on "enthusiasm" he says about most evangelicals,
"That God speaks to us through the intellect is a notion which he may accept on paper, but fears, in practice, to apply."
I am wholeheartedly confounded by this philosophy of 'not thinking.' It leaves me asking a pretty harsh question: why is it fashionable to be ignorant? Somehow I think that being ignorant was not the will of the most holy when He/he said, "be like innocent babes." Then again, it depends on which "subject pronoun" you're talking about as to how you can interpret the phrase declaring we must be innocent.

Overall, I'd have to give this book eight stars. The author, a self-professed evangelical, makes no secret of his religious leanings and is instead relaying his disappointment in his research findings as well as stating that he still believes in evangelism but not how it has taken shape the past hundred years. He isn't giving up on it. The book is thorough and holds no punches. I did learn about a few positive angles of the evangelical mind, too. I was surprised at this.

When you read about the proto-gnostic teachers being exiled, tortured, killed, or simply written about by Irenaeus as blaspheming heretics, choose your words very carefully when you say that gnostics have nothing in common with evangelicals. Gnostics were just as ... verbose... back then as evangelicals are now. We may be a pacifistic and peace loving group who don't really have a political agenda(as a rule we hate getting involved in politics. Period), but we're just as capable of getting the word out to the masses about Love, Peace, and Understanding. The difference is that while we tend to be looked upon as anarchists by comparison because of our freedom loving nature, we have a very different interpretation of Genesis and view of the type of education we should devote ourselves to. But we do have something in common with them. We all believe in Christ's mandate of compassion.

I knocked two stars off for my personal rating of the book because of the downright ass backwards view of the author's concerning Martin Luther. This is a man who championed murdering Jews in Germany and killing off Muslims when he couldn't convert them. And Luther chastised parents who didn't properly educate their children. (say what?!!) I have never found Luther to be spoken of as very big on educating the masses. Quite the opposite. According to the author, Luther was "horrified" to find that his name was now synonymous with a new branch of Christianity. Couldn't have been too horrified since he wrote all the new catechisms himself and even quite a number of hymns!

We'll have to agree to disagree about Luther. The rest of the book was enlightening.

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