Review: The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind
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.