JESUS CHRIST AND THE LIFE OF THE MIND – Mark Noll (2011)

Mark Noll’s latest book, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind is “oxygen” for the soul.  Noll’s encouragement is greatly needed in our day.  Many find themselves suffocating in these postmodern times.  The thin air of anti-intellectualism is sucking the life out of the church.  And the poisonous winds of heresy threaten the very spiritual health of believers.

A Place to Stand

Noll assures readers of the firm foundation the Christian worldview provides.  The creeds of the early church serve as concrete blocks in this foundation: “The creeds  … offers full cause for taking seriously the fact of the physical world as created by God, but also the dramas of redemption that relativizes all terrestrial realities in eternal perspective.  It offers, in short, an ideal place from which to approach the tasks of Christian learning.”

Noll reminds readers that this world is uniquely christological.  As such, all learning should begin and end with Christ: “The light of Christ illuminates the laboratory, his speech is the fount of communication, he makes possible the study of humans in all their interactions, he is the source of all life, he provides the wherewithal for every achievement of human civilization, he is the telos of all that is beautiful.  He is, among his many other titles, the Christ of the academic road.”  Indeed, this is much-needed oxygen for the evangelical mind.

Motives for Learning

The author challenges the misplaced notion that a commitment to the Christian worldview necessarily derails a serious pursuit of scholarship.  Noll argues, “The beauties of creation reflect the fullness of the being of God; the person of Jesus Christ is God incarnate in human flesh; through learning of Jesus Christ we learn of God’s chief purpose in creating the world; that chief purpose is the manifestation of his own glory; the manifestation of God’s glory accounts for the deep origin of all that is beautiful in the world.”  So the author vividly conveys a motive for learning by pointing to Christ who creates, controls all things, and became flesh in order to redeem the people of God.

Guidance for Learning

Noll encourages readers with four general expectations that inform the Christian mind, should the great truths of John 1, Colossians 1, and Hebrews 1 be taken seriously.  The four expectations include doubleness, contingency, particularity, and self-denial.

The first expectation that Noll includes, by way of example is “doubleness” which is rooted in the Chalcedonian Creed, namely Christ is one person with two natures – fully human and fully God: “The doubleness of Christ as divine and human, which undergirds the whole edifice of Christian life and thought, is a model for studying the spheres of existence.”  Therefore, Christian scholarship will take into account the Chalcedonian formulation at every juncture.

The Atonement: A Theological Principle to Frame Scholarship

The author successfully demonstrates how an evangelical understanding of the redemptive work of Christ affects scholarly pursuit.  Drawing on John Stott’s monumental work, The Cross of Christ, Noll argues that the atonement affects scholarship in a variety of academic disciplines.

Christology: A Key to Understanding History

The key to understanding history is understanding Christ.  Central to the christological underpinnings of redemptive history is a robust view of providence.  Noll guides readers through a series of providential snapshots and seeks to correct erroneous assumptions along the way.

A Christological Invitation for Science

The author directs readers to God’s “two books,” namely – Scripture and nature in order to make scientific observation.  He posits, “The key is that if Christ is the central and unifying theme of Scripture, then Christ should be preeminent in understanding scriptural revelation about everything else, including nature.”  This notion is developed and bolstered by the musings of Galileo and B.B. Warfield.  And the presuppositions of the Chalcedonian creed help navigate readers through choppy scientific waters.

Christology: The Foundation of Biblical Study

Noll evaluates Peter Enn’s recent work concerning inspiration and incarnation.  His lengthy conclusions lead readers back to familiar ground, namely – the foundation of Christology: “If christological materials provide the right foundation for building other houses of learning, they offer the same for biblical study.”  Again, Noll seeks to guide readers to the lodestar who is Christ – “all things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3, ESV).

The author concludes with a helpful list of goals for anyone who is ready to take the life of Christian scholarship seriously.  Noll’s heart in this work is to move Christian scholars to action.  His goal is accomplished in this much-needed volume.  He continues, “Life in Christ is a gift that makes all things new, including the vocations of learning, but it makes things new only because of how the gift is given and who the giver is.”  May the church breath  in the oxygen that Mark Noll offers.  And may the result be a kind of scholarship that is uniquely Christ-centered  and God-glorifying!

4 stars

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