One of the benefits of attending the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society is the opportunity to visit the meeting’s exhibition hall. In the hall one can peruse the latest titles from major Christian publishing houses and can purchase such books at steep discounts. Many publishers also give away things such as coffee (thanks Broadman!), candy, or advertising trinkets. This year Moody Press gave away copies of Carl Trueman’s book The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (2011). A few days ago I got around to reading my copy.
Trueman’s short book obviously plays off the title of Mark Noll’s work published in 1994. In that older work, Noll lamented the seeming lack of an “evangelical mind” as evidenced by the fact that evangelicals have become increasingly marginalized in the academic world. Noll’s work was largely a call for evangelicals to engage in more rigorous intellectual activity in the academy. In contrast to Noll, Trueman argues that “the real scandal of the evangelical mind currently is not that it lacks a mind, but that it lacks any agreed-upon evangel” (41). Trueman believes that the main problem with the “evangelical mind” is not that Christians are absent from the academy, but rather that both within and without the academy “evangelicals” lack any agreed upon gospel.
Throughout the book, Trueman points out that evangelicalism (if such a thing exists) has come to be defined more by experience and key institutions than by any particular doctrinal affirmations. In light of where I acquired my copy of this book, I thought it rather ironic that Trueman singles out the ETS for special criticism in this area. He notes that the society’s innocuous 43-word statement of faith could be affirmed with integrity by conservative Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and Eastern Orthodox people alike. If such is the case, why call it the Evangelical Theological Society? Does this not just further muddy the definitional waters surrounding the term evangelicalism?
In my opinion, Trueman’s most significant contribution in this book is his call for Christians to think through what they are willing to surrender on the altar of cultural relevance. He predicts that in the coming days “evangelical” individuals and institutions will increasingly be forced to make tough decisions about whether to affirm unflinchingly such biblical truths as the historicity of Adam and creator-designed sexuality in the face of cultural shifts in these areas. He rightly believes that those who cave to cultural pressures on such issues will gain only Pyrrhic victories and that the real cost will be the further erosion of evangelical identity.
As I said before, the book is short. In fact, it’s only 41 pages long. But as with just about everything Trueman writes, The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind is well worth reading.