Monday, Feb. 07, 2005

Mark Noll

The Intellectual Exemplar
The scandal of the evangelical mind," Mark Noll wrote a decade ago in a book bearing precisely that title, "... is that there is not much of an evangelical mind." Noll wasn't subscribing to the old caricature of conservative Protestants as Scripture-handcuffed rubes. True, he was merciless in describing the anti-intellectual streak that led many mainstream arbiters to put quotes around the term evangelical scholarship. But his book went on to argue that the problem was not intrinsic — that a "high" view of the Bible and high-level participation in American intellectual life could coexist.

Noll is proof. His powerful yet evenhanded work on the evangelical role in American history earned him a guest professorship at Harvard. The Atlantic Monthly, another blue-chip validator, called his book America's God "almost certainly the most significant work of American historical scholarship" in 2002. He has also been an institution builder, co-founding the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College, a leading Christian school, and helping corral millions in grant money for other intellectual outposts. The community as a whole, he says, has not overcome its general torpor. But he is encouraged that ever more scholars are surmounting this to do what he calls "first-rate work" by anyone's standards. "And hundreds of younger people," he adds, "are coming along."