I am normally one of those people who attempts to see the good in all things. I continually tell people that they need to calm down. “Get a grip.” I tell them. “Things are not as bad as they seem.” “You have to look at the good.” But today is not one of those days and the issue is not one of those issues. The alarm is sounding and I don’t plan on handing out earplugs.

It has been over a decade since Mark Noll penned the piercing words: “The scandal of the Evangelical mind is that there is not much of an Evangelical mind” (The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind). Sixteen years to be exact. It was a call for Evangelicalism to recover from the spiritual atrophy brought about by a neglect of the mind in favor of a shallow form of Christianity that offered no history, creed, or hope, only self-help remedies without any foundational basis.

Since this time, a lot has happened. But, broadly speaking, not too much progress toward a reformation of the mind. Biblical and theological literacy continues to shame us.  We have seen the children of Evangelicalism turn bitter and pout about their heritage, demanding that all things must change, but not really knowing why or how. They began to implement a sour change that gave birth to a short lived movement without a sustainable or defendable creed, and no certain hope. 

We have seen the iconic fall of the “seeker” mentality when Willow Creek admirably confessed that their method of discipleship was bankrupt. According to Bill Hybels, leader of Willow Creek and the seeker-sensitive movement:

“Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back, it wasn’t helping people that much. Other things that we didn’t put that much money into and didn’t put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for.”

He goes on:

“We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become ‘self feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.”

As wonderful as this admission sounded to many of us, sadly, it seems as if it has been ignored by most. It is as if nothing happened. “Move along. Nothing to see here.” Business as usual for most.

What are “people crying out for”? I don’t think it is too difficult to answer. Lewis Sperry Chafer, founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, used to end each class with this admonistion: “Men, give them something to believe.” That is what people are crying about for: Something to believe. Truth. Not only this, but an understanding of the truth that they have ownership in. It is a stimulation of their minds, so that their hearts can be satisfied. It is teaching. Real teaching. Biblical teaching. Theologically and historically sound teaching. Teaching that relieves the scandal of their own minds which, in most cases I am afraid to say, have never really had a chance to believe. Like really believe. Not simply because of emotional persuasion. Not simply because they have a deep down feeling. Not because their parents or pastor believe this or that. But because they have seen for themselves, and now they know.

J.I. Packer, in a recent issue of Modern Reformation, speaks about the “Evangelicalism’s Winter.”

“It has often been said that Christianity in North America is 3,000 miles wide and half an inch deep. Something similar is true, by all accounts, in Africa and Asia, and (I can testify to this) in Britain also. Worshipers in evangelical churches, from the very young to the very old, and particularly the youth and the twenty- and thirty-somethings, know far less about the Bible and the faith than one would hope and than they themselves need to know for holy living. This is because the teaching mode of Christian communication is out of fashion, and all the emphasis in sermons and small groups is laid on experience in its various aspects. The result is a pietist form of piety, ardent and emotional, in which realizing the reality of fellowship with the Father and the Son is central while living one’s life with Spirit-given wisdom and discernment is neglected both as a topic and as a task. In the Western world in particular, where Christianity is marginalized and secular culture dismisses it as an ideological has-been, where daily we rub shoulders with persons of other faiths and of no faith, and where within the older Protestant churches tolerating the intolerable is advocated as a requirement of justice, versions of Christianity that care more for experiences of life than for principles of truth will neither strengthen churches nor glorify God.”

He goes on:

“The well-being of Christianity worldwide for this twenty-first century directly depends, I am convinced, on the recovery of what has historically been called catechesis—that is, the ministry of systematically teaching people in and coming into our churches the sinew-truths that Christians live by, and the faithful, practical, consistent way for Christians to live by them. During the past three centuries, catechesis as defined has shrunk, even in evangelical churches, from an all-age project to instruction for children and in some cases has vanished altogether. As one who for half a century has been attempting an essentially catechetical ministry by voice and pen, I long for the day when in all our churches systematic catechesis will come back into its own.”

He then speaks about the old Anglican dictum: “There are three priorities in pastoral ministry: the first is, teach; the second is, teach; and the third is, teach.” (Source)

When did we forget this? When did we become scared to teach? When did we start caring so much about what the world thought of our message? When did we quit loving people and start loving the world’s acceptance?

The recovery of Evangelicalism lies in the most obvious of all places. It is a recovery which requires us to gather up our dignity and preach the certain hope of the Gospel with passion and persuasion. Timidity and the Gospel are not bed-fellows. The time for doctrinal embarrassment is over if we are to survive. The song of cultural satiation must not be sung anymore. Evangelicals have a message and it must be preached. Evangelicals have doctrine and it must be taught. Evangelicals have a message and it must be told.

J. Gresham Machen says “False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the Gospel.” When did we forget this? When did false ideas become just other valid options that we don’t happen to agree with? False ideas are our enemy just as much as Satan, demons, pain, depression, poverty, and death.

How do we counter false ideas? By preaching and teaching true doctrine. But the simple fact remains that we cannot preach what we don’t know. Thus our plight. Thus our mission.

“And we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ.” (Col 1:28) 

Result: Complete in Christ

When did teaching become secondary to everything else? How shall we escape if we neglect teaching?

We still are on a mission to recover the mind. We still are on a mission to recover the mind. We still are on a mission to recover the mind. Pick back up your weapons.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    61 replies to "The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind Sixteen Years Later"

    • […] a book that I have not read, but one that I should read.  There was a post the other day on the Reclaiming the Mind blog about The Scandal of the Evangelical […]

    • Steven Wilgus

      Brothers & Sisters in Christ
      3] Always use Bible Doctrine as the Criterion of Validation.
      4] Your feelings negate the Mind of Christ.
      5] Our experiences are so limited when compared to Doctrine they should be seen as they are: inconsequential. Doctrine is the Key. Our interpretation apart from Doctrine is invalid at best and serves Satan at worst by misleading less knowledgeable Christians.
      6] The Love of God is in Free Will, His towards us from Eternity and ours back to Him in time by LEARNING BIBLE DOCTRINE DAILY.

      “Study to show thyself a workman that needeth not to be ASHAMED, rightly dividing the Word of Truth” you can’t divide what you do not know as epignosis.

      all the organizations that deviate from legitimate study/dissemination of the Word FAIL God in every way. HIS Word is for US to learn, not make up silly clubs and such. LEARN DOCTRINE DAILY SO YOU CAN APPLY THE WORD AND LOVE IN THE GOD ORIENTED MANNER HE PROSCRIBES FOR US. Don’t make stuff up and expect it to succeed. We have the Mind of Christ and had better learn it: there is a Test.

      God Blesses us and keeps us.

    • Dana

      Re. Willow Creek Model’s “failure” –not quite so fast!

      I googled the quotes referenced in the blog on Willow Creek’s philosophy of ministry and found the article. It does not appear to prove the point. It may be correct in its assertion that some of their high-dollar activities statistically do not produce as many spiritually mature Christians as other non-high-dollar activities. However, this provides no data to compare Willow Creek’s supposed failure with other church models! An internal relative assessment only provides a relative assessment of internals. ANY undertaking has some statistically better and and some worse efforts, that alone does not tell how good the undertaking is overall. Point being, the worst day of stats at Willow might be better than the best year at an average evangelical church. No data is presented to compare Willow’s “spiritual maturities” vis a vis other churches “spiritual maturities” statistics and models, which is what the article purports to assert! Who’s “spiritual maturity” stats are better than Willow’s, tell me?? That’s the question that needs study to assert the article’s conclusion. I bet you could not name a single evangelical church in the country that has attempted to do a formal analysis of which of their programs produces how much spiritual fruit. I’ll bet it’s the rare seminary as well! And for that analysis it’s deemed a failure?? To me Willow is light years ahead for even asking the question!

      Dana 🙂

    • Dana

      You gotta read: “Revival and Revivalism” by Ian Murray. This is a much deeper historic look at how the turn of evangelicalism from deeper intellect to popular preaching happened in the 1800s. This book explains much of evangelicalism’s methods today.

      Dana 🙂

    • Dave Burke

      Michael, this is a great post. I believe its relevance extends beyond evangelicals to Christians all over the world, in many different denominations and sects.

      Mark Noll’s book was both visionary and prophetic (in the non-supernatural sense).

    • Enrique Dominguez

      If you were to look at the church historically, this “discipleship” issue has not been “corrected” since we created the monologue teaching method found in most modern churches. Discipleship should be personal, intentional and transformational. We must recover the “discipline” of disciple making…Jesus spent more time with a few good men to prepare them for their ministry…He used dialogue to do this…

    • […] world isn’t in much of a better condition than it was when Noll first wrote those words.  Here is a fairly good analysis on the current “evangelical […]

    • Marty

      “How do we counter false ideas? By preaching and teaching true doctrine. But the simple fact remains that we cannot preach what we don’t know.”

      This is not true. We counter false ideas by exposing them openly and explaining from the Bible why they are false. As for true doctrine, are you really saying you don’t know what true doctrine is? That is sad, but perhaps it is an attempt to be pious and humble.

    • Brian Osisek

      Agree. But there is always a balance. We need to be theologians and at the same time we must know that we can live with a cold dead orthodoxy.

      The balance is theology and paying attention to our inner landscape. We must be abiding in the VINE, live in the Spirit, or else it just becomes a dead, cold orthodoxy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.