Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind
By Mark A. Noll, Eerdmans, 2011, 180 pp., ISBN 978-0-8028-6637-0, $25.00 (cloth).
This is the author's version of a work that was submitted/accepted for publication in the following source:
Catholic Library World, Jun 2012, Vol. 82 Issue 4, pp.285-86.
Mark A. Noll, Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame, is a well-respected scholar of North American Christianity. In 1994, he published The Scandal of the American Mind. In this earlier work, Noll asserted that “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind” (3). Nearly twenty-five years later, Noll has written the sequel, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind. The latter work is the polar opposite of the earlier work. While the earlier work was critical and despairing; Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind is positive and hopeful. What caused this change of focus? Have evangelicals become more intellectual and supportive of intellectual life? Noll does see improvement in the intellectual life of evangelicals in the last twenty five years; however, his hopefulness comes from another direction: “Whatever may be the actual intellectual practice of Christian believers, the Christian faith contains all the resources, and more, required for full-scale intellectual engagement. And this engagement, as I have tried to argue, is fully compatible with the most basic beliefs and most essential practices of the Christian faith” (153).
Noll’s method is to show how Christology can enhance humane learning. He believes that the early Christian creeds—Apostles’ Creed, Nicene, and Chalcedon—are a good summary of the essential teachings of the person and work of Christ. Noll asserts that “The specific requirements for Christian scholarship all grow naturally from Christian worship inspired by such love: confidence in the ability to gain knowledge about the world because the world was brought into being through Jesus Christ; commitment to careful examination of the objects of study through ‘coming and seeing’; trust that faithful discipleship cannot ultimately conflict; humility from realizing that learning depends at every step on a merciful God; and gratitude in acknowledging that all good gifts come from above” (149).
The book is divided into two parts. In chapters 1-3, Noll develops “A Christ-centered framework for learning” (x). For example, in chapter 2, Noll points out how the full-deity and the full-humanity of Jesus Christ can be applied to human learning. For example, he asserts, “If it is true that the Word became flesh, it must also be true that the realm that bore the Word, the realm of flesh, is worthy of the most serious consideration” (34). In chapters 4-7, Noll applies the Christological framework to the academic disciplines in general and to the specific disciplines of history, science, and biblical studies. In chapter 4, Noll shows how the atonement can shape Christian scholarship. For in it you have the great narrative of Scripture: Creation, the Fall, and Redemption. This great narrative shows both the sinfulness of man, but also provides hope in the redemption of Christ. He also shows how the teaching of providence, God’s two books, and both the transcendence and immanence of God supports human learning.
Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind is written primarily to evangelicals. However, by tying in human learning with the historic creeds accepted by Catholics, Orthodox, and many Protestant believers, it is applicable to all Christian believers. It would also be helpful to nonbelievers in helping them to understand “why at least some Christian supernaturalists are wholeheartedly committed to the tasks of learning” (x). This book is written in excellent prose that would be understandable to the general reader.