The State of the Evangelical Mind: Reflections on the Past, Prospects for the Future. Edited by Todd Ream, Jerry Pattengale, and Christopher Devers. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2018. 180 pp. Hardcover, $23.87.
This book is comprised of eight essays by scholars in various fields, including journalism and philosophy. It is not an exegetical or theological book. The essays are in response to a book written by Mark Noll in 1994 entitled The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Noll made the point that there was a lack of intellectual prowess in the Evangelical world. He felt that the life of the mind and faith in Christ demonstrated by the love for fellow Evangelicals were often seen as being in opposition to each other (p. 1). Noll was calling for an intellectual renaissance (p. 3). In The State of the Evangelical Mind, the writers evaluate how things are today. The book looks at four areas: churches, parachurch organizations, universities, and Evangelical seminaries. Noll and others have called for Evangelicals to become leaders in fields other than theology, such as philosophy, the arts, history, literature, and mathematics.
The introductory essay defines what the book means by the word “Evangelicals.” These are people who stress four things. The first is conversion, which is defined as a need to change one’s life. The second is activism, which is putting the gospel in action. The third is Biblicism. The last is “crucicentrism,” which is a stress on the sacrifice of Christ (p. 5). At least some Evangelicals will feel that there is a strong ecumenical strand throughout the book. The gospel is not clearly presented.
In this book, Noll comments that Evangelicals have indeed made great strides in engaging the life of the mind in many different disciplines. The secular academic world has taken notice. This has allowed Evangelicals to have closer ties with Catholics and mainline Protestants (pp. 35-36).
In relation to the Church, Jo Anne Lyon says in chapter two that we must beware of things like fundamentalism and nationalism and instead strive for works of love, mercy, and justice in society. These works will impact culture. Racism is a particular problem within Evangelicalism. By developing the Evangelical mind, we can be like the early Wesleyan movement in its opposition to child labor laws, tariffs that hurt the poor, and slavery. Today we can help feed the poor, provide free medical clinics for those in need, and reach out to illegal immigrants. (pp. 44-45). These things come from the prophetic tradition of the Scriptures. If we lose this tradition, Evangelicals will wind up promoting nationalism and a civil religion (p. 57).
David Mahan discusses in chapter three parachurch organizations, such as Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) and says that Evangelicals have made an impact on college campuses (p. 62). They have had to engage in intellectual pursuits and will play a large role in the future. On these campuses, Evangelicals come into contact with views that challenge their Christian commitments (p. 65). However, the chapter also says Evangelicals must carry these intellectual pursuits into the church. The minds of believers in the pew need to be developed as well (p. 99).
In chapter four, Timothy Larsen deals with Evangelicals and universities, including Christian ones. He calls for academic freedom in every case. It is natural that different types of colleges have “ideological boundaries,” but these boundaries cannot be rigid. Theology needs to be discussed in secular universities. Christian colleges must be willing to change, including their statements of belief, when confronted with new evidence. Larsen teaches at Wheaton College and is glad that it modified its views on various positions (p. 122).
Lauren Winner, in chapter five, speaks of the seminary where she attended and later taught. It was open to free intellectual pursuit, and there were students from all kinds of Christian denominations, including Catholicism. Evangelicals were able to “grow” while they were there as a result of the free flow of ideas (pp.125-26). The purpose of seminaries is to help people develop eyes so that when they look at the world, they can see Jesus. This will result in social activism.
In the conclusion, this reviewer was interested in a testimony of conversion. A woman explains how she felt the presence of Jesus in her room one night. She didn’t see Him but just knew He was there. She then had the feeling that a cat was following her around in the following days. The cat wanted her to open the door and let it in. At first she did not, but in the end she gave in and let the cat in (p. 168). She sees this as her conversion to Christianity. The author, Mark Galli, approves of this testimony. He says that some have been converted while on LSD. Jesus needs to be at the center of whatever encounter the non-Christian has (p. 169). Whoever they are, whether Catholic nuns, Evangelicals, or Pentecostals, after this encounter they are called to serve those in need (p. 172).
The value of this book is allowing the reader to see how broad the meaning of the word “Evangelical” is. For those interested in having a clearer understanding of such terminology today and how such Evangelicals are trying to engage our culture and politics, I recommend this book. However, many readers of the JOTGES probably call themselves Evangelicals. They may want to reconsider such a practice since they would not see themselves being described in this book. It is certainly not a book that maintains that the gospel of eternal salvation is based on free grace. If one is seeking a discussion on reaching the culture with the free message of eternal life through faith alone in Christ alone, I do not recommend this book.