In 1994, Mark Noll dropped a land mine on the ecclesiastical world with his excellent work, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Noll argued persuasively that “the scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” Noll’s conclusion appears to be in agreement with the thesis of Harry Blamires who said, “There is no longer a Christian mind.” Carl Trueman picks up where Noll and Blamires left off with the publication of his little book, The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.
Trueman questions the functionality of the term “evangelical” which according to David Bebbington is marked by four characteristics:
- A high regard for the Bible as the primary source of truth
- A focus on the cross work of Christ
- A belief in the necessity of personal conversion
- A public display of the gospel
Trueman is rightly concerned that the doctrinal boundaries which define an evangelical are too broad. He wisely states, “Ironically, the minimal doctrinal confessions of some evangelical institutions can exacerbate, rather than mitigate the problem of boundary drawing.” Trueman continues, “A movement that cannot or will not draw boundaries, or that allows the modern cultural fear of exclusion to set its theological agenda, is doomed to lose its doctrinal identity.” Indeed, the propensity of evangelicals to be inclusive and draw blurry boundaries will in the final analysis, harm the evangelical mind. Ignoring Trueman’s counsel will prove detrimental to evangelicalism as a movement.
The author identifies a trend in the evangelical world that is growing increasingly more tolerant with subjects such as universalism or homosexuality. Some might agree that this broadens the appeal but this brazen compromise does not come without a steep price. Truly, this is weak-kneed, spineless, and tepid. And it bears no resemblance to the robust faith of the Puritans and Protestant Reformers. This is not a “faith” to die for. This is a “faith” that is marginalized and ineffective.Trueman argues that the net result of this theological compromise will come under “huge strain” in the days ahead. The author posits, “The impact of this wider cultural shift on evangelical institutions and organizations will be dramatic.” Simply put, Christ-followers who stand for the truth will not be tolerated. Christ-followers who think Christianly (to borrow Schaeffer’s language) will be marginalized. Christ-followers who refuse to compromise the truth will pay a heavy price in the marketplace of ideas.
Trueman gives a brilliant example of where the scandal of the evangelical mind is heading. He challenges evangelical leaders to weigh in on the matter of homosexuality. Is it a legitimate lifestyle or not? “All Christians,” says Trueman, “evangelical and otherwise, will face the question, and their answer to it will determine whether they have credibility in the wider culture.” Evangelicals have not and will not be unified in answering this question because the evangelical world is not “defined by doctrinal commitments.” One recalls the strong and vigorous challenges of the 20th century from Carl Henry and Francis Schaeffer; calls to maintain fidelity to biblical authority. Since those calls have gone largely unheeded, the evangelical mind is in trouble.
Here is the rub: “Do we want to be culturally credible, and how much ground are we willing to surrender in order to do so?” The author reminds anyone tempted by such a tantalizing thought, “Cultural relevance can be a cruel mistress.” So will Christians leaders stand up and risk being marginalized at best and scorned and persecuted at worst. That remains a question that has yet to be answered.
Trueman goes one step beyond Mark Noll and his conclusion is not as half-baked as it appears on the surface. He maintains, “It is not that there is no mind, but rather that there is no evangelical.” He predicts that Christianity will be viewed as a cult, much like the 1st-century believers in Rome.
The cure, according to Trueman comes not in cultural concession or compromise but in narrowing the boundaries and refining our doctrinal distinctives. A return to the historic creeds (what the author refers to in another work as the Creedal Imperative) may be in order. Minimizing doctrine never helps combat theological error – it only exacerbates it!
Trueman concludes on a somber note: “The real scandal of the evangelical mind currently is not that it lacks a mind, but that it lacks any agreed-upon evangel.” The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind is a timely book that should be placed in the hands of as many Christ-followers as possible. It is a warning; it is a call to arms; it is a wake-up call! May this book spur church leaders to refuse to loosen up (which is the trend in so many circles today). The real call is to tighten up! The real call involves courage in order to rebuild the Christian mind that values orthodoxy, cherishes the historic creeds and confessions, and elevates the gospel in a way that magnifies and glorifies Christ.