“The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” Mark Noll in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind


When we published our first article explaining our concern of the dumbing down of the Christian mind, we thought our points were so obvious that there wouldn’t be any discussion. I guess we shouldn’t have been so surprised. A combination of, on one side,  “seeker driven churches” and on the other hand, folks like C.J. and others who have “made it” without a lick of education, have shown the increasingly poorly educated masses that education “ain’t all its cracked up to be”.

For the population at large, they seem content that a person is “good” so long as they attract huge followings, write books, and speak at conferences. Oh, and if they get rich and live the good life while doing it, then they are obviously “blessed by God”.

Let’s assess a couple of reader’s comments.

1.  I think you are placing too much emphasis on a seminary education. Spurgeon and Lloyd-Jones were without seminary education. It must be asked: what seminary? I worked with 2 MDivs. One was a Zen Buddhist priestess, the other was ordained by the Episcopal church despite no training in that faith. I doubt that you would want either of these MDivs pastoring your local evangelical church.

What bothers me the most is the argument from absurdity. If one is educated, one would learn about this tactic that is used to obfuscate the real debate.

This blog is read by lots of folks who are well aware of what constitutes orthodox thinking within Christendom. Most are also aware that education alone does not guarantee faithfulness. However, there are great seminaries, Gordon Conwell and Dallas Theological Seminary (to name two) that are not routinely turning out Zen Buddhists. My guess is that a Zen Buddhist would not be granted a Masters of Divinity degree from these schools and would not receive a recommendation if somehow they slipped through the cracks. But to say that seminary education is somehow “not important” because someone leaves the faith is just plain silly!  Just toodle on over to and see how many pastors of “good churches” have left the faith after being preachers for years. Does this mean we shouldn’t go to church since there are those who have left the faith?

2.  Here is a continued discussion by another reader, which leads us into the second point. Education can help prevent error and also promote understanding and truth.

No one is questioning that God raises up a Spurgeon or others from time to time who are not educated .As a norm, however, we should be encouraging our children to seek an education and that educational attainment is a good thing. And if our congregations are educated, the people who lead them should be, too.

It is true that a formal education in any culture can produce errors and perpetuate some of the culture’s ungodly behaviors or thought patters. But the answer is not to skip education to avoid the possibility of picking up a pathogen .It is more likely that if we raise a generation of ministers who are not well educated that we are MORE LIKELY to follow unscriptural and ungodly paths into which these men might unwittingly lead us. An educated person might have read about previous errors the church may have made over the centuries. And he might have a better grasp of the biblical languages and systematic theology that would keep him from theological error.

This reader makes a good point. We must not argue generalities from a small sampling of good outcomes. For every Spurgeon, there is a Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen,  and more. I remember having a discussion with a woman who was trying to sell me some overpriced vitamins. She claimed that she knew a man who took the vitamins and was cured of cancer. She also claimed that she had not had a cold since she took said vitamins. There were a number of stupid statements in her presentation. Here is what I asked her.

How do you know the vitamins cured this man’s cancer? Had he received radiation, chemotherapy, surgery? How many spontaneous remissions have occurred in this type of cancer? How does she know that his cancer wasn’t cured by some other not defined factor such as an incredibly good immune system? How does she know that she hasn’t had a cold? Could she have had a subclinical cold? I haven’t had a cold this winter and I haven’t taken her vitamins so why was she sure that the vitamins prevented the cold? Then I asked her what randomized, double-blind controlled studies have been done with the vitamins to prove that they prevent colds and cure cancer? Her response was, unfortunately the response I have grown tired of hearing? “I don’t need studies, I just know its true.” Then, (ARCE, I hope you are reading this) I said, ”Are you prepared to be sued by telling people this vitamin cures cancer?” Finally, I saw her get rattled, once again proving that if money is involved, it becomes very, very important.

3.  Another reader argues that encouraging education is being disloyal to the teachings of Jesus.

“Since we like quotes in this discussion group, the verse says: (King James Version)

“Wilt thou also disannul my judgment? wilt thou condemn me, that thou mayest be righteous?”

Have we condemn the spirit of the teachings of Jesus, “The Truth”, by instituting “Man Doctrine and Requirements”?

God, our creator, created us in His image and that, apparently, involves giving us reason and intellect. The perspicuity of Scripture argues that even “a simple plowboy” (Tyndale) should be able to understand Scripture. I agree but that understanding is limited. A simple 17 year old girl (me, many years ago) read the Bible and understood aspects of it, but not fully. God instituted the office of teacher so that those who were not trained theologically could learn deep truths of Scripture. And if it were so simple, why are there so many disagreements regarding the drinking of wine, dispensationalism, covenant theology, Calvinism, the sacraments, and on and on. And that is only in the church.

Let’s move outside the church. Spurgeon was not educated. Many physicians of that day were trained in an apprenticeship. Back then, a leg amputation would involve a dirty hacksaw and a shot of hooch.  Antibiotics had not been invented. The spread of infection was not well understood. Pain was poorly controlled, and hemorrhaging was always a possibility.

So, some scientists (some may not have even been Christians) began to study and invented anesthesia, antibiotics, morphine, antiseptics, intravenous therapy, and so on. Perhaps we should have just ignored all of this stuff and let anyone who wanted to practice medicine do so. After all, isn’t four years of medical school and residency requirements just simply “man’s requirements?”

Also, in case anyone wants to argue that I am talking about secular stuff, let me warn you. I believe that ALL TRUTH IS GOD”S TRUTH and the discovery of bacteria is no less or more part of God’s truth as is Christ’s death and resurrection. I see God revealing Himself in all of creation, not just in the Scripture.

4. Finally, we have one of well-educated and erudite readers, ARCE, who made a great comment.

“I have graduate degrees, including a Ph.D. in psychology and a law degree. The demands of in depth study help one to concentrate, to read and reread, extract meanings, write them down, put them away, and later repeat the process, finding greater depths of understanding of what one has read or studied. Such training also helps one to learn how to avoid common fallacies.

One example. During my education, I learned that most languages, including the original languages of the Bible, use the masculine form for plurals, even when females are included. So that two sisters and one brother become three brothers (e.g., in Spanish tres hermanos, even if two are hermanas). It makes one more careful in reading English translations to avoid foolish statements not supported in the original language.

Education also helps one to find links among ideas and concepts.

I have corrected several pastors who make false statements like “the Supreme Court banned prayer in public schools.” The truth? The court banned agents of the state from REQUIRING prayer, and at first, from requiring a STATE WRITTEN prayer. Such false statements make a pastor look foolish and reduce his ability to witness to the world regarding the Truth and the Life.”

How silly it is when we forget that God has instituted the “priesthood of the believer”. God has gifted each of us in His service. For some, it might mean to study law and for others, medicine. Some of us may not be really great at algebra but we know how to fix a car. When we gather together, we are better than alone. God uses our education and understanding to bless this entire world. The pastor alone is not God’s man. He is simply the advisor to the diverse body of believers. It is my great hope that most pastors will not be like J.D. Greear, who calls well-educated people just “dumb sheep with a PhD.” Instead, he should rejoice that such sheep are following the One who created their intellect and are willing to their special gifts to bring honor and glory to our Father.

Finally, we would like to leave you with the thoughts of Lydia.  

It is amazing how public education has ignored the fact that most history is church/state history. And it says a lot about who we are now and why we do the things we do. We bring more tradition into it than we like to admit. Then, we can note that some seminaries actually rewrite church state history or omit quite a bit depending on their slant. (Some claiming that all Anabaptists were of the Munster stripe. Not true at all)

What is even more amazing is that one can pick up more truths from secular history about those periods in time (and the leaders) than from the official writings of the church or those who defend the church .I would have never known what a creep John Knox was except for secular history. The reformed writings made him out to be a big hero when the man was involved in plotting murder and even writing sermons to show why it was ok to do so. Then in his 50’s, he marries a 17 year old. Even his followers had a problem with that.

How silly it is when pastors and leaders only emphasize “part” of the truth that makes it seem like their particular slant is “correct”. What is so sad is that some of the sheep sit and take it as “Gospel” truth. Perhaps we all need to be educated. And by the way, don’t accept everything you hear. Take time and “educate yourself”. And, while you are at it, please read Mark Noll’s excellent book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.



  1. Speaking of education and being self educated, I would like to introduce folks here to Katherine Bushnell. Born in 1856, became a doctor then a medical missionary in China and INdia, then taught herself Greek and then Hebrew. She ended up writing God’s Word to Women which exegetes the Greek and Hebrew on almost all passages used to subjugate women in the Body.

    She attended Northwestern and then the Women’s Medical College in Chicago. But she taught herself Greek and Hebrew. Her book is devoid of emotion and a strictly scholarly work that she most of the lessons peer reviewed by some of the most best scholars in the US and England at the time.

  2. I think there is a form of anti-intellectualism at work among in some who discount the value of education, and I’ve seen it all too often in churches. Some people would rather engage in magical and wishful thinking than do the hard work of rigorous study, especially when it comes to the Scriptures. So I am all for anyone being highly educated, especially in schools that teach people how to think (critically) rather than just what to think (dogmatically).

    On the other hand, I’ve seen people slavishly follow the words of a man who impressed them by having some letters behind his name. Knowledge can puff up, and it is no substitute for love and godliness. We are all called to serious study in the Word of God, to test whether what we hear is true. And ultimately we must rely on the Spirit to teach us, regardless of our level of education or that of those who are preaching to us.

  3. Hi Junkster

    I absolutely agree with what you have said. There is absolutely no substitute for love and godliness. I watched Bill Maher’s antiChristian screed, Religulous. The guys who ran the chapel for tuckers were absolutely awesome. I would rather spend time with them than with CJ Mahaney or John Piper. Their simple faith and love were evident even to a sarcastic idiot like Maher.

    It is not the lack of education that is the problem. It is the denigration of education and the lack of recognition of the value of education amongst some that is the problem. I think Mahaney is off base. I believe that had he studied under a man such as Walt Kaiser, he might have been taught balance as well as the importance of the context of all of Scripture.

    But, to your point, I am not theologically educated and I see his weaknesses. But so many people out there have little interest in these subjects and are so easily led.

    So, education is important but love and faithfulness to the Spirit is the basis for all that we do.

    Love the input. Thanks!

  4. Lydia
    Once again you stretch my mind. I ned to read about Bushnell. I wonder what Paige Patterson would say about a woman who knew Greek and Hebrew. She must have been an agent of the devil. 😉

  5. Noll’s Scandal of the Evangelical mind was largely a critique of the strained relationship between conservative evangelicalism and science. Even among well-educated Southern Baptists, youth earth creationism has become orthodoxy. Noll would say that this is but one example of why there isn’t much of an evangelical mind. Education does not necessarily cure anti-intellectualism, according to Noll.

  6. Hi Cliff
    He not only spoke of science but the arts and other disciplines.

    Education doesn’t always cure anti-intellectualism but without education you would not have advances in medicine, science, etc.

    It isn’t that education will always cure stupidity. But it does contribute to critical thinking.

    I have said this before and will say it again. You do not need a degree to serve the Lord. But He gave us a mind and reason and wants us to use it well. Some of us have been given gifts in math, science, logic, engineering, etc. We would be remiss not to explore those gifts.

    Look at the Christians who are debating the atheists. Lennox, DSouza, Keller, McGrath, et al. They are all educated beyond high school. Why shouldn’t we encourage our children to achieve such things.

    By the way, for the young earthers out there. Ham has stopped debating non Christians since he has done so abysmally in that arena. The only ones who will listen to him are the ones he can convince that there is only one way to look at Genesis. People are willing to suspend much if they can be convinced that God wants them to believe this way, period! Who doesn’t want to obey God? (BTW, this is not meant to be a discussion about young earth and we implore those trolling not to hijack this discussion on education).

    By the way, Noll taught at Wheaton and now is a chaired professor at the University of Notre Dame and is an adjunct professor at Harvard. Clearly he believes in the value of education since he has devoted his life to it.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  7. I’m not against education. Hardly. I myself have advanced degrees and need no introduction to evangelical historians like Mark Noll, Nathan Hatch, and George Marsden.

    My point is simply that even those with numerous degrees from accredited institutions have embraced ideas that are thoroughly rejected by the larger academy as is the case with Southern Baptists like Oxford-educated Richard Land and Harvard-educated Kurt Wise who are proponents of a young earth. Clearly these men have “explored those gifts” but have reached far-different conclusions than Mark Noll and the majority of academics.

    In the world of conservative evangelicalism, I’m just not sure that an education means very much at all when the uneducated Mahaney and the educated Mohler are in lock-step agreement on virtually every issue discussed by Noll in the Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Perhaps the hindrance to the development of an evangelical mind really comes down to biblical inspiration and the rigid view of inerrancy adopted by many in conservative evangelical circles including Southern Baptists. Noll has stated that this fundamentalistic view of inerrancy has “rendered the experience of the biblical writers nearly meaningless.”

  8. Cliff

    Amen brother. Read my post today. I shall be looking at two churches that I have attended and shall address your thinking on this.

  9. “In the world of conservative evangelicalism, I’m just not sure that an education means very much at all when the uneducated Mahaney and the educated Mohler are in lock-step agreement on virtually every issue discussed by Noll in the Scandal of the Evangelical Mind”

    Take a long indepth look at what they are in lock step over. If you do this, you might be able to see it for the political alliance that it is.

    If one really wants to see the deep chasm of Reformed and free will politics in Christendom and how that is affecting the SBC politically, they should be following the Caner/White debacle.

    BTW: There are no right sides. It is all sin and the result of men wanting pre-eminance and power.

  10. Interesting article,but as one who listened to Martyn Lloyd Jones and whose influence upon my early days in the ministry were profound,I would like to point out the fact that although MLJ had no formal seminary training, he was an eminent Harley St doctor,who gave up what could have been a lucrative career to pursue his first love of preaching.
    His impact upon countless students of the Gospel is felt to this day,His sermons and books are a priceless resource for any and all who value expository preaching…..

  11. GMurray
    I agree with your thoughts and also admire Lloyd Jones. However, like anything else, one does not make a rule from the exception.Our argument stands. Education is better than no education.There are far too few Lloyd Jones types in the world.Most need the rigors of a thoughtful education.Have you read Mark Noll’s book? I would be interested in your thoughts.Thank you for your interest in our blog and your challenge of our assumptions. Such comments cause us to refine our thinking.

  12. Dee,

    Discovered your blog today and found it very thought provoking..[Cant ever remembering blogging before today!]
    Yes I have read Mark Noll’s book and it was so refreshing and timely.

    My remarks about MLJ was not meant to undermine your argument but to do exactly what you pointed out,to illustrate that there are exceptions to the rule.
    Its been some time since reading Mark Noll’s book and I may not be doing him justice,but surely his point was to encourage and to develop any gift to the fullest in the pursuit of learning,while not disparaging those whose intellectual ability had limitations. Education is better every time than nothing at all,but education of the Christian mind should not be limited to seminary education but should be as wide as possible and is not static but ever growing. Education of the Christian mind is an ongoing process that expands way beyond seminary training and in some cases the mind needs to be untrained following such education


  13. George,

    First, thank you so much for your kindness.Welcome!!

    Secondly, I am a bit embarrassed by my response yesterday.I had driven 9 hours and had been up to the wee hours the night before. I missed a most significant point.

    Martin Lloyd Jones was an incredible person.He did get higher education. He trained as a physician. Anyone who goes through the rigors of such training developed an understanding of human nature that few outside the profession can acquire. One deals with death and dying, the problem of pain, sinful behavior that leads to illness (such as alcoholism) , family conflict, how to treat the whole person(body and soul) and on and on.

    I used to practice nursing,my daughter, who unexpectedly recuperated from a malignant brain tumor, is studying nursing, I am married to a doctor and am the daughter and sister of doctors.Medicine gets one into peoples lives in an incredibly intimate way. Besides treatment, most of the time of health professionals is dealing with “life” issues. In fact, my guess is that medical training would be a perfect “seminary” for future preachers.

    As for you comment about “untraining”couldn’t be more than true. One of my current pastors has come to disagree with some of the things he was taught at Dallas Theological Seminary in regards to creationism and eschatology.

    So,I fullt agree with you. But I am still in favor of more education rather than less.

    I hope to get the rest of our archives transferred this week. We used to have a limited format and changed out blog around Christmas. We also plan to have a page that tells more about us along with some TWW terminology.

  14. Dee,
    I count it one of the highlights of my life to have attended the monthly meeting that MLJ had for pastors. I was a young and inexperienced pastor and MLJ’s insight on life and ministry were priceless.

    More education is fine, yet surely just as important is HOW we educate The ability to absorb, change, and re-direct is something that comes only with experience,but we should stress the importance of constant revaluation of our Theology.
    I am amazed how that secondary issues such as Gender,Eschatology,and yes even Creationism assume such importance and often the slightest deviation from stated positions are seen in terms of ones committment to Scripture.

    Some valuable advice given to me early on was to read,read,and read and go as wide as you can in subject without surrendering the foundations of your faith.

    I am surprised how few books are recommended from our pulpits.
    Is it because we are so unsure of our positions that we dont encourage our fellow Evangelicals to read and compare with Scripture other approaches to these secondary matters

    Dee, this is what I glean from Mark Nolls writings, an encouragement to learn more and to be able and willing to examine what we believe

  15. George
    Its interesting that you say that so few books are recommended from the pulpits. Actually our Calvinista friends are changing that, unfortunately. They are recommending each others books from the pulpits and selling them outside the sanctuary. I visited a Sovereign Grace church and was shocked to see the books store located right outside the sanctuary. The only books allowed we those of CJ Mahaney and his buddies.

    I am with you. There should be a wide variety of books from a wide variety of thought within orthodox Christianity. I remember seeing Corrie Ten Boom speak at Park St Church in Boston years ago. This tiny woman taught me much about love, forgiveness and pain. Her book, The Hiding Place, would not be found in a SGM bookstore. She would not be allowed to speak because she is a woman. Yet she influenced the world in a profound way. Instead, women are told to read the inane blog, Girl Talk, which talks about things like decorating tables with infested pine cones.(a true entry-we keep an eye on that one).Park Street was really big on reading widely and historically as well.

    BTW, I read books by those I disagree with. We reviewed CJ Mahaney’s The Cross Centered Life on the blog. Didn’t much like it but read it. I am currently reading through a stack of old Christian History Magazines that were well researched.

    As for books with various thoughts on secondary issues, there are some great ones on creationism, eschatology, and so forth. They go by such titles as Three View on Creation, etc. I love reading those since they give a lot of information in a handy book.

    This Sunday, my husband and I are showing a DVD of a debate between a premil/pretrib professor and a partial preterist professor. Its funny. The longer that I am a Christian, the more I question some of my presuppositions. Not the essentials, mind you. But things like a pretrib rapture , etc. I can’t wait to see Him face to face so I can ask a whole bunch of questions.

    Well, I am rambling and need to get to bed. I envy you for having heard the great MLJ. Didn’t he pass away sometime in the early 80s? You say that you are a pastor. May God bless you in your ministry.

  16. Dee,
    My Pastor days are now over. I was a Pastor in UK and when I came to US in the 80’s I served on the staff of a Evan Free.
    However I soon found that I could not be ordained as a Pastor in that denomination because of their strict eschatological stand,a position that is reflected unfortunately in many denominations over here.
    In the UK, a belief in the Second coming is a major item in a denominations articles of faith, how and what happens afterwards is a matter of interpretation..

    I started to question my gender beliefs after reading such scholars as Gordon Fee and FF Bruce so I know what you feel about someone like Corrie Ten Boom.
    However as I have previously noted, the problem with having different interpretations on Gender and Eschatological positions,is that if you do,the first thing that is questioned is ones belief in Scripture.
    My response has and continues to be, that while all Scripture is inerrant, inerrancy does not extend to interpretation.

    BTW- MLJ passed away on St.Davids day in 1981. great timing for a Welshman dont you think.

    Thanks Dee, for yr thought and comments. I think I am going to like this site and will follow it with great interest.

  17. George
    You story sounds most interesting. Would you like to tell it in the form of a post? We could keep it strictly anonymous.Its OK if you’d rather not. But one purpose of this blog is to let folks tell their stories. Many of us have stories as well. It is safe to say that this blog, although planned for a couple of years, got the wind beneath its wings from a “situation.”As you read the blog, particularly some archive that are slowly being uploaded, you’ll get the idea.
    Please feel to contact us at our confidential email

  18. George,

    We’re so glad you found us! Dee and I have known each other for close to a decade, and we have had many deep spiritual discussions over the years. Instead of keeping our theological concerns to ourselves, we decided to go public which happened in March 2009.

    The more we discover about what’s really going on within Christendom, the more concerned we are becoming. We feel a tremendous burden to alert our brothers and sisters in Christ to some dangerous trends we are detecting.

    Hope you will feel free to comment often. I believe you will find our readers to be highly intellectual and extremely serious about their faith.


  19. Deb,

    Thanks.. Have already enjoyed reading and trying to digest various articles.
    Sent the link to some friends on both sides of the ‘pond’