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Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind
 
 

Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind [Kindle Edition]

Mark A. Noll
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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A must-read for all Christian scholars --Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

Product Description

In The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (1994) Mark Noll offered a bleak, even scathing, assessment of the state of evangelical thinking and scholarship. Now, nearly twenty years later, in a sequel that is more hopeful than despairing — more attuned to possibilities than to problems — Noll updates his assessment and charts a positive way forward for evangelical scholarship.



Noll shows how the orthodox Christology confessed in the classic Christian creeds provides an ideal vantage point for viewing the vast domains of human learning and can enhance intellectual engagement in a variety of specific disciplines. In a substantial postscript he candidly addresses the question How fares the “evangelical mind” today?

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  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1562 KB
  • Print Length: 196 pages
  • Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing (22 July 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S. r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005KFSPSY
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stimulating 8 Aug 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Everyone I know is smarter than me. I am not naturally or inherently strong intellectually. It is precisely because of this that I have to be disciplined with my mind and thinking process. I know what little strengths I have and need to nurture those strengths. This is why reading 'Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind' is important for me. Noll claims "Understanding more about Christ and his work not only opens a wide doorway to learning, but also checks tendencies toward idolatry that are as potent among scholars as in the rest of humankind." (p. ix)

I also belong to the Evangelical sub-culture of Northern Ireland. This sub-culture is not known for emphasising learning and the intellectual life as important. At the most extreme this sub-culture tolerates learning and the intellectual life as a means to get a job. In some churches it is not uncommon to hear further education and a life a scholarship viewed with extreme suspicion, especially if that education and scholarship is in Theology and related disciplines. Odd, I know. So it is refreshing to read Noll:

"The message in this book for my fellow evangelicals can be put simply: if what we claim about Jesus Christ is true, then evangelicals should be among the most active, most serious, and most open-minded advocates of general human learning. Evangelical hesitation about scholarship in general or about pursuing learning wholeheartedly is, in other words, antithetical to the Christ-centered basis of evangelical faith." (p. x)

Noll is a historian and therefore he is adept at drawing out the significance of the times.
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Oxygen for the Soul 23 Aug 2011
By Dr. David Steele - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
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 creed ... 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 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 take in the oxygen that Mark Noll offers. And may the result be a kind of scholarship that is uniquely Christ and God-glorifying!
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Importance of Christian learning 29 Aug 2011
By Joel Holtz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Mark Noll is one of the giants in the Evangelical world, and his latest doesn't disappoint.

He sets the tone early for the book when he writes that .."The greatest hope for Christian learning..means learning more of Jesus Christ." (pg.22) I love how he refers to Christ as the "Christ of the Academic Road."

Throughout the book Noll encourages the Christian to make serious use of their minds, and how all learning in fact, leads back to Christ. Some of the book is highly academic, especially the middle chapters, and a bit hard to follow.. "By holding to traditional Christianity, historians can steer between the Scylla of relativistic postmodernism and the Charybdis of naive enlightenment positivism." (pg.77)

For me, the best chapter in the book is the Postscript, entitled "HOW FARES THE EVANGELICAL MIND?" In it, the author gives 10 reasons to be hopeful for intellectual life in Evangelical theology.

Overall, a fairly easy read and well worth the time and effort. A much needed message for current Christendom.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stimulating 8 Aug 2012
By Philip Taylor - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Everyone I know is smarter than me. I am not naturally or inherently strong intellectually. It is precisely because of this that I have to be disciplined with my mind and thinking process. I know what little strengths I have and need to nurture those strengths. This is why reading 'Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind' is important for me. Noll claims "Understanding more about Christ and his work not only opens a wide doorway to learning, but also checks tendencies toward idolatry that are as potent among scholars as in the rest of humankind." (p. ix)

I also belong to the Evangelical sub-culture of Northern Ireland. This sub-culture is not known for emphasising learning and the intellectual life as important. At the most extreme this sub-culture tolerates learning and the intellectual life as a means to get a job. In some churches it is not uncommon to hear further education and a life a scholarship viewed with extreme suspicion, especially if that education and scholarship is in Theology and related disciplines. Odd, I know. So it is refreshing to read Noll:

"The message in this book for my fellow evangelicals can be put simply: if what we claim about Jesus Christ is true, then evangelicals should be among the most active, most serious, and most open-minded advocates of general human learning. Evangelical hesitation about scholarship in general or about pursuing learning wholeheartedly is, in other words, antithetical to the Christ-centered basis of evangelical faith." (p. x)

Noll is a historian and therefore he is adept at drawing out the significance of the times. For example, in Chapter 1, he highlights the importance of Christians who lived in the 4th and 5th centuries when Christianity moved from an illegal sect to a formally recognised religion of the Roman Empire. Noll calls this time "the Church's first intellectual breathing space" and one challenge the Church faced at this time "was to summarize the faith in authoritative short statements that could specify what Christianity was, define a curriculum for new converts, provide formulas for use in worship, and build barriers against false teaching." (p. 1) This is a great explanation of what creeds were for and Noll weaves creedal statements throughout each chapter. Fascinating. But almost superfluous to the book in my opinion. None of his points would be lost or even weakened if his creedal weaving was removed.

For me, the book really takes off in Chapter 2 - Jesus Christ: Motives for Serious Learning - Noll highlights John 1:2-3, Colossians 1:15-16 and Hebrews 1:2 noting that one of the most basic things these passages affirm is that "for believers to be studying created things is to be studying the works of Christ ... There simply is nothing humanly possible to study about the created realm that, in principle, leads us away from Jesus Christ." (p. 25) With regard to Colossians 1:13 - 2:3 Noll elaborates further:

"The claims are strinking and bear repeating. The apostle says, in effect, that if we study anything in the realms of nature or the realms of the spirit, we study what came into existence through Jesus Christ. Likewise, if we study human interactions or spiritual-human interactions (thrones, dominions, rulers, powers), we are studying realms brought into existence by Jesus Christ. If our study concerns predictability, uniformity, regularity, we are working in the domains of the one who 'is before all things, and [in whom] all things hold together.'" (p. 28)
"The tight conjunction of assertions in Colossians underscores the fact that all humans, including academics are needy sinners who require God. All humans, including academics, remain in need of divine grace even as they explore the depths of 'wisdom and knowledge' hidden in Jesus Christ." (p. 30)

In Chapter 3 - Jesus Christ: Guidance for Serious Learning - Noll, drawing from John 1, Colossians 1 and Hebrews 1, focuses on four general expectation that can inform and guide intellectual life:

1. Doubleness. Because Christ is divine and human, two natures in one integrated person, Christian thinkers should be predisposed to seek knowledge about specific things from more than one perspective. "... [F]or a Christian who has experienced the saving power of Christ, it will be a smaller step, when confronting at least some dichotomous intellectual problems, to seek the harmonious acceptance of the dichotomy than for a scholar who does not believe that the integrated person of Christ was made up of a fully divine and fully human nature." (p. 49)
2. Contingency. Contingent statements are not necessarily true (like 1+1=2) or necessarily false (all bicycles have one gear). Contingency will mean pursuing the evidence of experience and not settling for non-contingent statements. As Noll writes "If we know God by experiencing him, so also do we come to know the world." (p. 52)
3. Particularity. Christianity springs from real events about 2000 years ago in a specific location. If read carefully, the Gospels have dust, noise and smell. "The implication can be stated succinctly: because God revealed himself most clearly in a particular time and place, every other particular set of cultural circumstances takes on a fresh potential importance." (p. 55)
4. Self-Denial. A developed and developing intellectual life can lead to pride in degrees and qualifications or pride in academic achievements. This pride can and should shrivel in light of the Good News as Noll writes "... a Christ-centered understanding of why all people require an atoning saviour demands that scholars not trust their own wisdom as the source of their self-worth." (p. 62)

Chapters 4 - 7 move on to specifically look at how Christ's saving work impacts the intellectual life for various disciplines. Noll is upfront and writes that "... these expositions are self-consciously exploratory. They are not intended as final words laying down a law but as first words urging others to take up the task." (p. 65)

Chapter 4 briefly examines the Atonement as a principle to frame scholarship. Noll relies heavily on John Stott's classic 'The Cross of Christ'. This chapter is good, but compared to the others it is a little underdeveloped. It may be that Noll has many more thoughts about the Atonement and scholarship, so much more that another book would be required. I agree with him when he writes that the Atonement "must of necessity have much to do with how the redeemed scholar approaches the tasks of learning." (p. 73) Surely everyone who takes the mantle of scholar or who values the intellectual life could unpack this sentence for a lifetime.

Chapter 5 - Christology: A Key to Understanding History - was probably the highlight of the book for me. It is the most underlined and is very important when I consider my times of doubt (which accompany my times of depression). Noll writes:

"The critical significance of history for Christianity arises, however, not just from how the past bears upon the present, but even more comprehensively from the historical character of Christianity itself ... Christian interest in history writing is a natural consequence of the fact that Christianity is so obviously a religion of historical event." (p. 76)

With regard to the possibility of historical knowledge, Noll admits that history is written by people with a context, that interesting historical facts are complex and historical knowledge is not exhaustive, irreformable or absolute. However, "Christianity has always displayed an innate tendency toward historical realism, in large part because it depends upon events that believers ... assert really happened. Moreover, Christian practice is predicated on the tacit assumption that these past events can be known reliably today and can provide meaning for present life (however far distant they occurred in the past)." (p. 78) Further, "Because all things do in fact hold together in Jesus Christ, historians who write from one particular time and place about an earlier time and place may actually be connected sufficiently with that past time and place to discover at least partial truth about it." (p. 81) This might not be enough for some people but I think it is a profound idea worth trusting. With regard to how Christians write history "The general lesson is that when humans assume that their interpretations of history possess the same level of veracity about God and his purposes as the veracity found in Scripture, there are always real difficulties." (p. 86) This is again very stimulating and worthy of sustained meditation.

Chapter 6 - "Come and See": A Christological Invitation for Science - shows Noll's strengths as a historian. He gives a good short history of the development of science and the relationship it has to Christianity. He provides an important overview of how Galileo Galilei advised how to combine investigations of nature with complete trust in Scripture (p. 103). There is nothing new under the sun. Noll claims that answering questions about science and Christianity responsibly "requires sophistication in scientific knowledge and sophistication in biblical interpretation - exercised humbly, teachably, and non-defensively. Unfortunately these traits and capacities have not always predominated when such questions are addressed." (p. 121) This is not a chapter that young earth creationists will agree with at many points but for me it was important and has helped me think through a number of important issues.

Chapter 7 - Christology: The Foundation of Biblical Study - discusses how to best understand the Scriptures. Noll's two main allies are J I Packer and B B Warfield. This is good because if you were to believe all you read on the internet B B Warfield's work on the Inspiration of Scripture is hopelessly outdated. Noll also uses Peter Enns work Inspiration and Incarnation. I have not read Enns' book but it seems interesting even though a lot of people have been very critical of it. Noll writes "Stressing the capacity of revelation to unite humanity and divinity in perfect integration puts believing scholars on the path to intellectual insight, but only because this is the path to life." (p. 145)

This has been a challenging book to read, not because the writing style was difficult, but because it was so suggestive and stimulating. It was also very devotional causing me to stop and worship God. Not bad for a book about the life of the mind. How has the book changed me? Now, more than ever, I will pursue excellence in intellectual pursuits always being aware that my identity and worth come from Jesus. I will also push back whenever I encounter anti-intellectualism in my own life, church life and work life.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Hope For The Evangelical Mind 9 Mar 2012
By David Swanson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In 1995 Mark Noll wrote The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, a book directed towards Christian academics that was, thankfully, read widely beyond academia. The book's hook came in a phrase often quoted over the past 15 years: The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind. A bit of a downer, yes, but the book provided the implicit expectation of the compatibility of evangelical convictions with a robust life of the mind.

In his new book, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, Noll demonstrates how it is precisely these deeply held convictions that provide the rationale for unapologetic engagement with the academic disciplines. Once again, regardless of its intended audience, this is a book that deserves a wide reading.

Noll, formerly a professor of history at Wheaton College and now at the University of Notre Dame, is straightforward about the reason he believes evangelically-minded people should care deeply about learning.

"Thus, the greatest hope for Christian learning in our age, or in any age, lies not primarily in heightened activity, in better funding, or in strategizing for the tasks at hand - though all these matters play an important part. Rather, the great hope for Christian learning is to delve deeper into the Christian faith itself. And going deeper into Christian faith means, in the end, learning more about Jesus Christ."

And a few pages later, "Put most simply, for believers to be studying created things is to be studying the works of Christ."

Christology, according to the author, is the hope and rationale for all Christian learning. This is the point he makes throughout the book, dedicating chapters to history, science and biblical study to show the difference it makes when certain theological truths are held about Jesus Christ. He comes to this unsurprising but often-neglected starting point through a few key passages from the New Testament - John 1:2-3; Colossians 1:15-16; Hebrews 1:2 - as well as the major Christian creeds - The Apostles' Creed; The Nicene Creed; The Chalcedonian Definition.

The expansive implications of Noll's deceptively simple thesis is what makes this book so important. Consider: If, as the biblical passages above claim, Christ is creator, sustainer, and purpose of the universe, shouldn't Christians be the most curious of all people? Wouldn't we expect to learn more about the one we claim as Savior and King as we pursue wide-ranging studies? Rather than leading to the sort of anti-intellectualism evangelicals can be known for, Noll shows that belief in Jesus as Lord provides all that is needed to intellectually motivate the serious scholar and ordinary person alike.

Noll covers a lot of ground in a quick 167 pages, far too much to summarize here. The pace slows down at points (at least for this non-academic) but the payoff is always worth the effort. Other portions move quickly, with implications that provoke the imagination. Chapter 3, "Jesus Christ: Guidance for Serious Learning," was one such section for me. Here the author provides "four general expectations that might inform intellectual life" based on "the nature of Christ's person and work." These expectations - duality, contingency, particularity, and self-denial - provide an attractive vision of distinctly Christ-centered learning.

Evangelically-oriented Christians have often not taken seriously the biblical command to love God with our minds. Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind shows the pointlessness of this sad fact while providing plenty of hope for a different future.

_____________________________
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Value of Christian Scholarship 14 May 2012
By TomE - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Mark Noll's "Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind" was a thoroughly enjoyable read for me with much scholarly perspective on the historic development of contemporary Christian beliefs and practices. My Christian faith was strengthened as was my ability to reconcile modern scientific findings with the biblical representations. After sharing many of the book's ideas with my wife, she hopes I will not become overbearing in our Lutheran bible study sessions.
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My contention in this book is that coming to know Christ provides the most basic possible motive for pursuing the tasks of human learning. &quote;
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if what we claim about Jesus Christ is true, then evangelicals should be among the most active, most serious, and most openminded advocates of general human learning. Evangelical hesitation about scholarship in general or about pursuing learning wholeheartedly is, in other words, antithetical to the Christ-centered basis of evangelical faith. &quote;
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