The Evangleical Evolution

One rap against evangelical Christians is that they’re all heart
and no head, strong on team spirit but weak when it comes to
thinking about what spirit might actually be. Mark Noll, a history
professor at Wheaton College, made that case in his 1994 book
The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Revisiting the issue
a decade later in the conservative religious journal First
Things
(Oct. 2004), Noll finds that many of his criticisms
still apply, but there are signs of change.

Among the lingering weaknesses, Noll writes, is that ‘we produce
and consume oceans of bathetic End Times literature while
sponsoring only a trickle of serious geopolitical analysis.’ In
addition, the faith’s ‘disembodied ideals of spirituality’ continue
to prove barren for most novelists and poets. ‘And far too many of
us still make the intellectually suicidal mistake of thinking that
promoting ‘creation science’ is the best way to resist naturalistic
philosophies of science.’

As for gains, Noll lists a new interest in Roman Catholic
thought and Christian philosophy in general. Some evangelical
colleges are growing more open, he says, and there’s a greater
evangelical presence at the country’s big universities. Less
rigidity over the creation debate could deepen ties to science.
Evangelicals are also writing more articles and books.

The trend is fragile and may be hard to sustain. The trick will
be to keep learning from older traditions while avoiding their
lapses into ‘comatose spirituality,’ Noll suggests: ‘American
evangelicals display many virtues and do many things well, but
built-in barriers to careful and constructive thinking remain
substantial.’

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