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“The Evangelical Protestant mind has never relished complexity.”

I’ve been thinking about thinking lately. How do I think differently from a woman living 100 years ago? 1000 years ago? Before the time of Christ? What categories am I lacking? How does that limit my ability to really grasp what is being said in old and ancient writing? What are my blind spots and weaknesses? How can one find that out if they are, in fact, blind to them?

To help think these things through, I’ve been reading as much as I can. (Confession: I have at least six books going right now. But I’m delighted to say that I’ve finished quite a number in the last couple of months, so I don’t just start them and then put them down.) I just started “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” by Mark A. Noll and only 15 pages is, he’s kicking my butt. Here’s just a taste:

“To put it most simply, the evangelical ethos is activistic, populist, pragmatic, and utilitarian. It allows little space for broader or deeper intellectual effort because it is dominated by the urgencies of the moment. In addition, habits of mind that in previous generations may have stood evangelicals in good stead have in the twentieth century run amock. As the Canadian scholar N.K. Clifford once aptly summarized the matter: ‘The Evangelical Protestant mind has never relished complexity. Indeed its crusading genius, whether in religion or politics, has always tended toward an over-simplification of issues and the substitution of inspiration and zeal for critical analysis and serious reflection. The limitations of such a mind-set were less apparent in the relative simplicity of a rural frontier society.’

“Recently two very good, but also very disquieting, books have illustrated the weaknesses of evangelical intellectual life. Both are from historians who teach at the University of Wisconsin. Ronald Numbers’s book The Creationists (Knopf, 1992) explains how a popular belief known as “creationism” –a theory that the earth is ten thousand or less years old — has spread like wildfire in our century from its humble beginnings in the writings of Ellen Whit, the founder of Seventh-day Adventism, to its current status as a gospel truth embraced by tens of millions of Bible-believing evangelicals and fundamentalists around the world. Paul Boyer’s When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture (Harvard University Press, 1992) documents the remarkable popularity among American Bible-believing Christians — again mostly evangelicals and fundamentalists — of radical apocalyptic speculation. Boyer concludes that Christian fascination with the end of the world has existed for a very long time, but also that recent evangelical fixation on such matters — where contemporary events are labeled with great self-confidence as the fulfillment of biblical prophecies heralding the End of Time — has been particularly intense.”

From “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” by Mark A. Noll

I see myself in those words. I’ve only recently grown an appreciation for complexity, nuances, shades of grade (or color), and I still prefer things to be straightforward. I dive in first, think later. Also, I was shocked to discover the roots of creationism.

What about you? What do you think about thinking and our particular weaknesses and blind spots today?

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