Saturday, 5 October 2013

The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind as a Turning Point in History

I am finishing up writing online quiz questions from Mark Noll's book, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, intending to use these questions for my upcoming spring 2014 course, "Pivotal Moments in Christian History." In the afterword, Noll speculates on what may constitute as "turning points" in the history of Christianity within the recent past.

Noll writes, "With the possible exception of a few Roman Catholic popes and a rare Protestant of international stature such as Billy Graham, it does not seem likely that any particular individual of the recent past will be seen to have exercised the long-term impact that historians have described for, say, Constantine, Benedict, Charlemagne, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, and the missionary pioneers Francis Xavier, Bartholomaus Ziegenbalg, and William Carey." Nevertheless, Noll names several individuals of note who have made an impact on the history of Christianity in recent years, including C.S. Lewis, Martin Luther King Jr., Karl Barth, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Bishop Desmond Tutu, and Mother Teresa.

Although Noll is too modest to suggest this, I wonder if his book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (1995), could be counted as a turning point, at least when considering the recent past in American Protestantism. Noll's book led to the founding of Books and Culture and influenced a host of evangelicals to become more actively involved in the intellectual development of Christianity in the academy as well as the wider church. If such a chapter is written on the influence of moderate evangelicals in the academy, other people would certainly need to be considered. In America, that would mean mentioning the contributions to scholarship that Nathan Hatch, George Marsden, and Harry Stout have made. In 1996, Maxie Burch was keenly aware of the influence of Noll, Hatch, and Marsden when writing The Evangelical Historians, and a glimpse of the popularity of Stout's work was evident among those who packed the 2012 ASCH session commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of The New England Soul. If examining the influence of academic evangelical historians in the last few decades, we would also need to recognize the British historian David Bebbington and the late Canadian scholar, George Rawlyk.

As some of these evangelical stalwarts transition into retirement, it will be interesting to see who will emerge as notable scholars in subsequent generations.

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