Review: The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind

by Apr 26, 2013Books, ChurchLife, Homosexuality5 comments

The Real Scandal of the Evangelical MindThe Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Carl Trueman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I never miss a blog post from Carl Trueman. I’ve also enjoyed several of his books (Republocrat, Histories and Fallacies, The Creedal Imperative). So when Moody released a tiny Trueman book—practically just three blog posts long—for a tiny price, I took notice.

The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind is vintage Trueman. His title, of course, is a reference to Mark Noll’s 1994 book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, a book in which the eminent evangelical historian (Trueman is also a historian) complained, famously, that “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”

Trueman’s response is equally succinct:

The real scandal of the evangelical mind currently is not that it lacks a mind, but that it lacks any agreed-upon evangel. Until we acknowledge that this is the case—until we can agree on what exactly it is that constitutes the evangel—all talk about evangelicalism as a real, coherent movement is likely to be little more than a chimera.*

This is true in particular, Trueman argues, because the large number of people who adopt the label “evangelical” simply cannot be made to fit into any doctrinally coherent movement. In other words, “evangelicalism” is more of a sociological description than a doctrinal prescription, one stemming from the Christian evangel.

Let us be more honest about the vacuous nature of evangelical theological identity. Is contemporary evangelicalism indeed impossible to define doctrinally? Is it merely a sociological category, loosely bounded by a wide range of institutions and organizations? In that case, evangelical theology becomes not an outgrowth of historic doctrinal concerns but rather whatever theology is currently taught at evangelical seminaries, editorialized in evangelical magazines, and published by evangelical presses—and let us not pretend otherwise.

And this is a bad time for evangelicalism to fail to unify around the truths of Scripture. There is never a good time for this to happen, of course, but Trueman points out that evangelicalism’s weak, “red-rover” chain of related institutions is unlikely to survive the onslaught of “the gay lobby, militant secularists, and atheists who deride any religious belief as distasteful.” Take just one of those cultural powers:

Predictably, there will be no evangelical consensus on homosexuality because ethical consideration of it rests upon theological categories of biblical authority, creation, fall, Christology, redemption, and consummation—and there is no evangelical consensus in any of these areas.

The future is not entirely bleak, however. Trueman the prophet predicts that American evangelicalism’s break up may allow “new alliances” to emerge, that it may let a “confusion of a coalition” be replaced with “a doctrinally committed movement.”

Trueman wittily and incisively evaluates modern evangelicalism in this little book. Definitely worth a read.

*Sorry, no page numbers in this review. I read a Kindle version.

View all my reviews

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  1. dcsj

    Mark, I’m not clear why you would say “3 of 5” and still consider it worth a read. 3 of 5 seems kind of average to me.

    Also, your post reminded me of this:

    Not sure if you want to get into controversy or not… there are aspects of Trueman’s publicly known musical practices that seem somewhat problematic, at least.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

    • Mark L Ward Jr

      These stars come from the Goodreads system, and I try to follow it:

      1 star: did not like it
      2 stars: it was ok
      3 stars: liked it
      4 stars: really liked it
      5 stars: it was amazing

      I try to be conservative here; I don’t want grade-inflation. But looking back, I was probably grading Trueman against himself. The book was very good; I really did like it. But it was just “average” as far as Trueman was concerned—he’s capable of constant scintillation but didn’t quite stay there for this whole book! I changed it to four stars at Goodreads to please the Johnsons among my readership. =) Well, I guess that’s kind of redundant.

  2. Duncan Johnson

    FWIW, I have the same question. Does 3/5 mean that I still should read this? Or does your review suffice to carry the main tenor of the book, meaning that I shouldn’t waste more money and time on the full book?

    Not a big deal, but I’m not sure what your advice would be.

  3. dcsj

    The power of the tag team. We would have gotten Meg after you next! (kidding…)

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  4. Duncan Johnson

    Well, I wasn’t expecting you to revise your review… just wanted a little further clarification.

    That helps though, thanks.