Book Write-Up: The State of the Evangelical Mind

Todd C. Ream, Jerry Pattengale, and Christopher J. Devers. The State of the Evangelical Mind: Reflections on the Past, Prospects for the Future. IVP Academic, 2018. See here to purchase the book.

Mark Noll is an evangelical scholar and historian. His 1994 book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, lamented that there was not much of an evangelical mind. What he meant was that there was a dearth of scholarly engagement and production from a distinctly evangelical perspective. The State of the Evangelical Mind reflects on Noll’s thesis and asks where evangelicalism is now.

The book contains contributions from Mark Noll, Jo Anne Lyon, David C. Mehan, C. Donald Smedley, Timothy Larsen, Lauren F. Winner, James K.A. Smith, and Mark Galli. The book’s editors, Todd C. Ream, Jerry Pattengale, and Christopher J. Devers, write the book’s introduction. The common view in the book seems to be that evangelicalism has made progress, yet there is substantial room for improvement. Evangelical support for Trump concerns one author, for example, as does the bestselling status of Tim Tebow’s book among evangelicals.

The best contribution, in my opinion, is that of C. Donald Smedley. Smedley advances a bold critique of Noll’s thesis. Noll says there is a scandal of the evangelical mind, Smedley contends, yet Noll marginalizes contributions from the evangelical mind, such as apologetics. Noll also dismisses dispensationalism, though it is a Baconian approach to Scripture. Is Noll right that there is a scandal of the evangelical mind, or is Noll’s problem that the evangelical mind does not look as Noll wants it to look? Smedley speculates that Noll’s conclusions may be shaped by his own academic training, as he went from a Christian college to a secular graduate program. Evangelical students at secular colleges, however, find apologetics to be useful as they interact with non-Christian students, so they support that expression of the evangelical mind. Smedley raises important points, but, as I read my notes on Noll’s book, it seemed to me that Smedley did not engage some of Noll’s reasons for his conclusions. Noll was critical of Scottish Common Sense Realism, for instance, because it highly valued intuition, a development that Noll saw as contrary to evangelical intellect.

Timothy Larsen’s contribution is noteworthy because it explains why evangelicals, and really anyone, should value learning, rather than just seeing education as training for the mundane responsibilities of adulthood. Larsen also defends faith statements by Christian colleges, claiming that they do not obviate academic freedom because they have been changed over the years, at least at some Christian colleges.

James K.A. Smith’s contribution is not overly optimistic, for Smith seems to doubt that modern evangelicalism has much of a deep well from which to draw; modern non-denominational churches, for example, lack a deep historical connection. Christianity, however, is a deep well, and evangelicalism can draw from that. Whether Smith is correct on this is a good question. There have been thinkers who could be classified as evangelicals, such as Jonathan Edwards, so perhaps the evangelical well is not completely dry. For some thinkers, their exact classification may be difficult to define: are they evangelicals, or simply conservative Protestants?

Mark Galli offers a stirring praise for evangelicalism on account of its zeal and its emphasis on Jesus.

Some of the essays are dry, in that they mentioned names and fields and made rather obvious points. Still, they contain information that may be of interest to those who want to know more about where evangelicalism is in terms of scholarly endeavors. What I mention in the previous paragraphs is what I consider to be the most insightful, or at least the most thought-provoking, parts of the book.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest.


About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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