Lesson One
Lesson Two
Lesson Three
Lesson Four
Lesson Five
Lesson Six
Election
2 Activities | 1 Assessment
Lesson Seven
Trinity
2 Activities | 1 Assessment
Lesson Eight
The Church
2 Activities | 1 Assessment
Lesson Nine
Humanity and Sin
2 Activities | 1 Assessment
Lesson Ten
The Work of Christ
2 Activities | 1 Assessment
Lesson Eleven
The Person of Christ
2 Activities | 1 Assessment
Lesson Twelve
The Holy Spirit
2 Activities | 1 Assessment
Lesson Thirteen
Creation
2 Activities | 1 Assessment
Lesson Fourteen
Last Things
2 Activities | 1 Assessment
Lesson Fifteen
Theology Today
1 Activity | 1 Assessment
Course Wrap-Up
Course Completion
1 Activity | 1 Assessment

Lecture

Historian Mark Noll opens his celebrated book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind with a provocative claim: the scandal of the evangelical mind, he says, is that there is not much of an evangelical mind. This tradition, of which Noll is a part, has dedicated itself to many worthy kinds of ministry—planting churches and launching parachurch organizations, supporting missionaries, and founding orphanages. It has cared for the poor, the foreigner, and the widow in halfway houses and soup kitchens. It has supported relationships and defended the family.

It has healed the sick with medical aid and fed the starving with food programs. It has helped to build communities in poverty-stricken lands and to defend the cause of outcasts and “untouchables.” But for all of its efforts and successes in these and other ways, evangelicalism has dedicated comparatively little attention and recourses to cultivating the intellect. It has not valued growth in knowledge as an equally worthwhile response to God’s call, or approached scholarship and education with the same kind of discipline, passion, and financial wherewithal that it has given to other kingdom activities. We might say that while the evangelical tradition has managed well enough to love the Lord with all its heart, soul, and strength, it has not found a way to do so with its mind.

Noll observes that evangelicalism has more or less ceded the ground of intellectual inquiry to other traditions. To this day, it boasts no major research university. Its publications are largely of a popular variety. It educators are consistently drawn away from the tradition, having to attend nonevangelical schools for their training and, once trained, having to choose between continued depth and excellence in their field of study by teaching at a secular institution that supports ongoing research and becoming a generalist by teaching at a Christian school with little money for research. The recourses that evangelicalism does give to higher education are diffuse; concerned more with defending narrowly drawn, dogmatic boundaries, evangelical leaders have historically preferred to open new institutions dedicated to preserving and propagating their core ideas than to partner with existing schools, which orient around a different core.

Noll recognizes that the causes of evangelicalism’s neglect of the mind are complex. They emerge from a series of theological precommitments as well as historical and social developments, which have collectively pitted the tradition against various features of modern society, including the secularity of modern higher learning, and which have made it suspicious of much nonsecular learning. We cannot go through all of these causes here. One, however, merits some attention, as it provides me the opportunity to encourage continued study in theology.

One precommitment that discourages intellectual inquiry is the belief that the gospel is about getting souls into heaven. There is no real need to invest in the development of creaturely faculties, one’s own or others, for ultimately we will transcend our embodied existence. The best that we can do now is to endure our finitude and teach others about the infinite within. This is a good illustration of why theology is important: As the field helps to correct this dualistic reductionism, as it demands a more robust understanding of the good news, it commends a richer proclamation by the church through which the door is opened to richer engagement with the living God.

We saw in our last lecture that Christian eschatology is manifestly not a doctrine of soul escape. The human is not fundamentally a soul, which will be freed from its body and ascend like a weather balloon back to its source of being. God’s redemptive work is an embodied activity in Christ Jesus, which engages us as a soul-body unity. God makes Himself an object before us, standing and relating to us as Lord in the form of a servant and, as such, just in this act of perceiving His being-with-us, He makes us to be His children. He turns our eyes to a new horizon and attunes our ears to a new pitch, not to some point in outer space but to the renewal of time and space in and with our renewal as space-time creatures.

He sets us moving to a new cadence, the pulse of “after-Word.” I don’t know how else to say it! Rather than the impulse to self-priority, that beating drum of the slave master, sin—that instinctual way in which we place ourselves first and center and see everything, including God, in the shadow of ourselves—God stands before us. He shines His light, placing us subsequent to the glory of His life-act, in which we now see Him and the world quite differently. Just this new way of being is our salvation, the foretaste of which is already upon us, the perfection of which is yet to come.

In other words, we have to be careful about uncritically viewing ourselves as dichotomous entities, which vision then restricts God’s saving act to our choicer part. It is not that there is no such thing as the “soul.” But we must be mindful of the ways that we prefigure what that word means, specifically, of all the static content that we import to it. We cannot simply define the soul as the inversion of our perceptible form, like a wraith inhabiting our bodies or as an internal glow or life force, like a nuclear core that powers a building it will long outlast. Such things have no basis in Scripture. God is certainly not speaking a special spiritual code to our inner ghost in His Word or refueling our core. He is addressing Himself to the total creature that He has made, speaking to our fully historical being by living a history with us.

It is the totality of our being, our internal and external faculties as a collective unity, which is being made new. It is with our minds specifically as one part of our total embodied existence that we receive and reiterate the Word of God, that we obey Him and come to our intended being. It is not only with our intellect but also with it that we hear and obey God’s voice as a soul-body totality. Indeed, Paul exhorts us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds in Romans 12:2.

As our thinking is no longer conformed to the pattern of this world, he explains, we practice the humility of Christ Jesus in service to the other. Our cognition and service, minds and hearts are one. He links the internal and external, the thinking and the serving, as an inextricable life-act corresponding to God’s self-determinative life-act in Christ Jesus. Our existence is an event, once again, corresponding to the act of God’s lordship over nonbeing, darkness, and death. We are the objects of that act, the living subjects over which and among which God is Lord; our redemption is in holistic obedience and conformity to His rule.

Our being simply is the response of nonbeing to His vivifying voice, the reflection of light among the darkness, the soul-body animated by His breath. Our true existence happens in answer to God’s calling. In this regard, theology is nothing more than one expression of our genuine being as God’s children.

I noted in our first lecture that some come to theology with trepidation, others with an almost indignant uncertainty about its content, shape, and warrant. And I indicated that such attitudes, which are common and not something to be ashamed of, may nonetheless derive from a faulty perception of the field and its task. I said that theology is not the pursuit of esoteric knowledge done by the especially pious or intellectually eager, but response to the living Word of God, which stands ever before us, and thus an exercise in faith seeking understanding done by all who hear the Word.

Theology is an activity to be undertaken by all Christians. You may not be called to the field vocationally, to write books about it or prepare and record a series of lectures like this one. But make no mistake: You are called by God! “If you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts,” if I may quote the psalmist in this context (Ps. 9:7b-8a). Each one of us is summoned forth in the Word to stand before God in the fullness of our being; not to look away, to be shy, resentful, or rebellious, but in gratitude for His calling to answer with whatever abilities He has given to us.

In such a state of existence, which again is our only true state of existence, our minds are already engaged. It simply is our duty to continue with this engagement, to think and speak as well or as badly as we can of what we have seen and heard, knowing that our diminutive efforts—and all theological efforts are tiny, however grand they feel or appear—are acceptable to God, useful to Him, and bound up in His grace unto His glory.

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Lesson Materials

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