AWAKENING THE EVANGELICAL MIND – Owen Strachan (2015)

mindIn the late 1940’s, V.W. Steele resigned as the Senior pastor at Bethel Baptist in Everett, Washington. He stepped away from his pulpit at the height of a revival as he felt prompted by God to move to another ministry. He loaded up the car with his young family made the long journey to Los Angeles. Providentially, he was commissioned by Charles Fuller to partner together and preach the gospel in Idaho, Montana and North Dakota. Pastor Steele was my grandfather, so I have a particular interest in his venture with Charles Fuller, the popular preacher on the Old Fashioned Revival Hour radio broadcast.

My grandfather pastored churches in a day where the battle lines were drawn. He lived in a day when men were willing to lose life and limb for the sake of doctrinal convictions. But he also lived in a day when the church was in a titanic struggle against the cultural monster of modernism.

Dr. Owen Strachan’s book, Awakening the Evangelical Mind provides an invaluable service for the church as he explores where the battle lines were drawn and introduces readers to the key players. These neo-evangelicals, including Harold Ockenga, Carl Henry, Billy Graham, and others helped establish the Christian mind in a culture awash in a sea of modernism.

Strachan traces the evangelical trajectory of these seminal thinkers by guiding readers through key historical turning points and decisions that were decisive for the establishment of the Christian mind in America. The author demonstrates how select Christian colleges and Seminaries were launched and the men who envisioned them. These are important historical details that the author skillfully tells; stories that have either been forgotten or worse yet, never heard!

R.C. Sproul and Mark Noll have both lamented about the decline of the Christian mind. Strachan’s excellent work is a much-needed corrective and salve for the soul. Strachan is eager to prop up the long history of the evangelical mind and optimistic about its future: “If the evangelical mind is not always appreciated, this simply cannot be because it does not exist. It does exist, and its contributions over two millennia are monumental.”

The author argues that evangelicals face some important decisions in the days ahead:

The church faces a profound choice: it can retreat and huddle, nursing its wounds as it accepts its intellectual marginalization. Or, it can learn once more from Ockenga, Henry, Graham, and the Cambridge evangelicals, and promote outstanding education that not only engages the questing heart but freshly awakens the evangelical mind.

Awakening the Evangelical Mind is a call to the next generation of Christian leaders to lead with biblical conviction and bold courage; to continue the legacy that was established by some great men of the faith.

 

The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind – Carl Trueman (2011)

0802405746_lIn 1994, Mark Noll dropped a land mine on the ecclesiastical world with his excellent work, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.  Noll argued persuasively that “the scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”  Noll’s conclusion appears to be in agreement with the thesis of Harry Blamires who said, “There is no longer a Christian mind.”  Carl Trueman picks up where Noll and Blamires left off with the publication of his little book, The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.

Trueman questions the functionality of the term “evangelical” which according to David Bebbington is marked by four characteristics:

  • A high regard for the Bible as the primary source of truth
  • A focus on the cross work of Christ
  • A belief in the necessity of personal conversion
  • A public display of the gospel

Trueman is rightly concerned that the doctrinal boundaries which define an evangelical are too broad.  He wisely states, “Ironically, the minimal doctrinal confessions of some evangelical institutions can exacerbate, rather than mitigate the problem of boundary drawing.”  Trueman continues, “A movement that cannot or will not  draw boundaries, or that allows the modern cultural fear of exclusion to set its theological agenda, is doomed to lose its doctrinal identity.”  Indeed, the propensity of evangelicals to be inclusive and draw blurry boundaries will in the final analysis, harm the evangelical mind.   Ignoring Trueman’s counsel will prove detrimental to evangelicalism as a movement.

The author identifies a trend in the evangelical world that is growing increasingly more tolerant with subjects such as universalism or homosexuality.  Some might agree that this broadens the appeal but this brazen compromise does not come without a steep price.  Truly, this is weak-kneed, spineless, and tepid.  And it bears no resemblance to the robust faith of the Puritans and Protestant Reformers.  This is not a “faith” to die for.  This is a “faith” that is marginalized and ineffective.Trueman argues that the net result of this theological compromise will come under “huge strain” in the days ahead.  The author posits, “The impact of this wider cultural shift on evangelical institutions and organizations will be dramatic.”  Simply put, Christ-followers who stand for the truth will not be tolerated.  Christ-followers who think Christianly (to borrow Schaeffer’s language) will be marginalized.  Christ-followers who refuse to compromise the truth will pay a heavy price in the marketplace of ideas.

Trueman gives a brilliant example of where the scandal of the evangelical mind is heading.  He challenges evangelical leaders to weigh in on the matter of homosexuality.  Is it a legitimate lifestyle or not?  “All Christians” says Trueman, “evangelical and otherwise, will face the question, and their answer to it will determine whether they have credibility in the wider culture.”  Evangelicals have not and will not be unified in answering this question because the evangelical world is not “defined by doctrinal commitments.”  One recalls the strong and vigorous challenges of the 20th century from Carl Henry and Francis Schaeffer; calls to maintain fidelity to biblical authority.  Since those calls have gone largely unheeded, the evangelical mind is in trouble.

Here is the rub: “Do we want to be culturally credible, and how much ground are we willing to surrender in order to do so?”  The author reminds anyone tempted by such a tantalizing thought, “Cultural relevance can be a cruel mistress.”  So will Christians leaders stand up and risk being marginalized at best and scorned and persecuted at worst.  That remains a question that has yet to be answered.

Trueman goes one step beyond Mark Noll and his conclusion is not  as half-baked as it appears on the surface.  He maintains, “It is not that there is no mind, but rather that there is no evangelical.”  He predicts that Christianity will be viewed as a cult, much like the 1st century believers in Rome.

The cure, according to Trueman comes not in cultural concession or compromise but in narrowing the boundaries and refining our doctrinal distinctives.  A return to the historic creeds (what the author refers in another work as the Creedal Imperative) may be in order.  Minimizing doctrine never helps combat theological error – it only exacerbates it!

Trueman concludes on a somber note: “The real scandal of the evangelical mind currently is not that it lacks a mind, but that it lacks any agreed-upon evangel.”  The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind is a timely book that should be placed in the hands of as many Christ-followers as possible.  It is a warning; it is a call to arms; it is a wake-up call!  May this book spur church leaders to refuse to loosen up (which is the trend in so many circles today).  The real call is to tighten up!  The real call involves courage in order to rebuild the Christian mind that values orthodoxy, cherishes the historic creeds and confessions, and elevates the gospel in a way that magnifies and glorifies Christ.

Semper Reformanda!

5 stars

THE GOSPEL AND THE MIND: Recovering and Shaping the Intellectual Life – Bradley G. Green (2010)

R.C. Sproul has stated, “We live in the most anti-intellectual period in church history.”  Sproul’s words are right on target.  His timely words are a sober reminder that once we have lost the Christian mind, we have lost all basis for discussion.  Indeed, we have lost our basis for meaning and morality.  When the epistemological scaffolding collapses, one may as well give up the quest for truth.  And when one abandons the quest for truth, one abandons the quest for God!

Bradley Green has brilliantly captured the essence of the Christian mind in his book, The Gospel and the Mind.  The subtitle goes to the core passion of the author, namely – “recovering and shaping the intellectual life.”

Green’s theses is clearly presented at the outset:

1. “The Christian vision of God, man, and the world provides the necessary precondition for the recovery of any meaningful intellectual life.”

2. The Christian vision of God, man, and the world offers a particular, unique understanding of what the intellectual life might look like.”

The remainder of the book defends the theses with skill and precision.  I found the book most helpful and should be included in the arsenal of any thinking Christian.

5 stars

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

A MIND FOR GOD – James Emery White (2006)

“Thinking Christianly” is the purpose of James Emery White’s, A Mind For God.  He writes early on, “While short in length, it sketches out a very large challenge and investment: to develop our minds in light of a biblical worldview that is then used to think Christianly in the world.”

The author reaches his intended goal.  First, he explains the Christian mind and stresses the importance of recognizing and submitting to propositional revelation.  “The Christian mind is a mind that operates under the belief that there is something outside of ourselves that we must take into account.”

Second, the author develops the cultural mind.  In so doing, he explains the cultural battle that faces every Christian, namely, moral relativism, autonomous individualism, narcissistic hedonism, and reductive naturalism.  James Emery White argues essentially that Christ-followers must recognize these cultural competitors and respond in a biblical and winsome way.

Third, the author spends time developing the importance of developing good reading skills in order to nurture the Christian mind and provide a solid foundation for intellectual development.  Scripture, of course, is the centerpiece of the strategy here.

Fourth, there is a certain body of truth one ought to know if he or she is to nurture a properly informed Christian mind.  Included among the most important items are biblical, historical,  and theological literacy.  “Before a mind can contend with culture,” White argues, “it must first ground itself in a sound and vibrant Christian theology.”

The author stresses the need for spiritual discipline: “We need to recapture a sense that the development of our minds is a spiritual discipline.”  He props up specific rules for reading, learning, and reflection.

Finally, James Emery White brings everything together by making an appeal to the lordship of Christ, the issue that stands at the crux of Christian mind development and discipleship.  He writes, “This is the vanguard of Christian thinking – knowing how to live and then working to make the kingdom of God a reality for others to be able to live as well.”

I really enjoyed this book.  James Emery White has the perfect blend of Bible, cultural awareness, passion for the truth, and creativity. A Mind for God is a welcome addition to my own book, Developing a Christian Mind in a Post-Christian World which creates a workable framework for “thinking Christianly.”

4.5 stars

THE EROSION OF THE CHRISTIAN MIND

Erosion occurs in the Christian mind when we do not carefully evaluate the propositions that bombard us.  And make no mistake.  The mental assault is relentless and subtle.  For instance, consider one of the central statements in the movie, Megamind“Destiny is not the path given to us but the path we choose for ourselves.”

How does this square with Scripture and a well-informed Christian worldview?  The statement runs contrary to Scripture because God ordains everything that comes to pass.  This sweeping theological reality shines brightly in Ephesians 1:11 and speaks of God “who works all things according to the counsel of his will.”

The Westminster Confession of Faith (1647) adds, “God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass …”  In other words, God is in sovereign control over all things – including free decisions.  It is critical to note that these decisions are “free” in the sense that they are compatible with God’s eternal decree.

“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand” (Prov. 19:21, ESV).

“The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD;
he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases” (Prov. 21:1, ESV).

“The counsel of the LORD stands forever,
the plans of his heart to all generations” (Ps. 33:11).

Spurgeon believed in meticulous Providence and expressed it this way: “I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes – that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit as well as the sun in the heavens – that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses.  The creeping of an aphid over the rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence – the fall of sere leaves from a poplar is as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche.  He that believes in God must believe this truth.  There is no standing-point between this and atheism.  There is no half way between a mighty God that worketh all things by the sovereign counsel of his will and no God at all.  A God that can not do as he pleases – a God whose will is frustrated, is not a God, and can not be a God.  I could not believe in a God as that” (Spurgeon Sermons – Volume 2, God’s Providence, p. 201).

Ever since the Fall, sinful people have been doubting and contradicting God’s Word.  In postmodern culture, it is in vogue to trifle with and reject God’s Word.  But contradicting God’s Word is sinful activity.  Denying the authority of Scripture is tantamount to cosmic treason. When one contradicts the Word of God, one sets himself up as the autonomous man – the man who makes decisions and sets forth propositions that are not in keeping with the truth of God’s Word.  John Frame says, “Intellectual autonomy is the view that human beings have the right to seek knowledge of God’s world without being subject to God’s revelation” (The Doctrine of the Word of God, 16).

The Christian mind erodes when we do not subject every proposition to the teaching of Scripture.  So heed the subtle warning in the sign: “Keep on the trail that is consistent with the Christian worldview … to prevent further erosion and harm to the Christian mind.”  And pay close attention to the imperative in Scripture to love God with all our minds.  Jesus reminds us, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37, ESV).

THINK: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God – John Piper (2010)

A good friend of mine made a very important statement a number of years ago: “We need to learn  to worship God with the mind.”  Unfortunately, his statement was met with harsh criticism.  The complaint reflected an all too common anti-intellectual approach that has gripped the church for decades.  R.C. Sproul has rightly stated, “We live in what may be the most anti-intellectual period in the history of Western civilization.”

Dr. John Piper’s newest book, Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God is a timely response to the rampant anti-intellectualism that lurks in the evangelical mind and has found lodging in many churches.   His chief aim: “To encourage serious, faithful, humble thinking that leads to the true knowledge of God, which leads to loving him, which overflows in loving others.”  Ultimately, Piper argues that “loving God with the mind means that our thinking is wholly engaged to do all it can to awaken and express the heartfelt fullness of treasuring God above all things.”

Piper carefully forges a path between anti-intellectualism and over-intellectualism.  Both are problematic.  The path that the author encourages is bolstered by two key passages:

Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything (2 Tim. 2:7, ESV).

My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you,
making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding;
yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding,
if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures,
then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.
For the LORD gives wisdom;  from his mouth come knowledge and understanding (Prov. 2:1-6).

The author constructs a foundation for his argument that is anchored in the Trinitarian nature of God.  He appeals to Jonathan Edwards’ insight into God’s “intra-Trinitarian” glory.  Edwards writes, “God is glorified not only by His glory being seen, but by its being rejoiced in.”  So image-bearers must glorify God with both mind and heart.  Piper repeatedly reminds readers that this is not an either-or proposition.  It is a “both-and plea” for “the mind is mainly the servant of the heart.  That is, the mind serves to know the truth that fuels the fires of the heart.”

Piper challenges Christ-followers to see the correlation between reading and thinking.  “Thinking” is described  as “working hard with our minds to figure out meaning from texts.”  He challenges readers to fire questions at a given passage.

The author shows how people come to faith via thinking.  It is a tricky but biblical sell because the unregenerate heart is stony and hard.  The unconverted heart is depraved and darkened.  And Piper reminds readers that “the corruption of our hearts is the deepest root of our irrationality.”

Nevertheless, 2 Timothy 2:7 instructs us to “think.”  So Piper beautifully demonstrates the important role of reason and the necessity of God’s role in “making the mind able to see and embrace truth.”  Again, this is not an either-or proposition.  We think – The Holy Spirit illuminates.

Chapter five continues to outline the tension by explaining  the rational Gospel and spiritual light.  Piper utilizes 2 Cor. 4:4-6 to drive home the biblical idea that we come to faith through thinking, yet the “decisive ground of saving faith is God’s gift of sight to the eyes of the heart.”

Jesus calls us to love him with our mind.  Piper explains that “our thinking should be wholly engaged to do all it can to awaken and express the heartfelt fullness of treasuring God above all things.”

Chapters seven and eight prove to be the most helpful chapters in the book.  Here Piper deals a deadly blow to the ever-popular philosophy of relativism.  He carefully defines relativism and describes the motive behind the worldview: “People don’t embrace relativism because it is philosophically satisfying.  They embrace it because it is physically and emotionally gratifying.  It provides the cover they need at key moments in their lives to do what they want without intrusion from absolutes.”

The assault on relativism continues as Piper lays bare the fundamental flaws:

  • Relativism commits treason
  • Relativism cultivates duplicity
  • Relativism often conceals doctrinal defection
  • Relativism cloaks greed with flattery
  • Relativism cloaks pride with the guise of humility
  • Relativism enslaves people
  • Relativism eventually leads to totalitarianism

The emperor’s filthy garment is systematically removed, leaving his relativistic worldview exposed and defeated.

The author encourages readers to face the uphill challenge of anti-intellectualism by thinking God’s thoughts after him and pursue knowledge as a treasure – all with the ultimate goal of loving God and loving people.  This is a work that demands serious thought but the payoff is well worth it.

Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God is thoughtful, biblical and balanced.  It is an invitation to a lifelong pursuit.  It is a breath of fresh air.  It cuts through the postmodern fog of uncertainty and leads the reader to a new and refreshing vista; a vista that promises fullness of joy and pleasures at God’s right hand (Ps. 16:11).

5 stars