This is a reflection on how the “Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” has been observed over the years. From being outside Christianity and inside Mormonism and meeting former evangelicals who struggled with discernment and had converted to the LDS faith; to experiences in evangelicalism along the way. After all is Mark Noll’s theory correct when a graduate from the United States Air Force Academy calls a Sovereign Grace church the healthiest church he has ever known? But in the end is this author validating the theory by trying the evangelical church again and again? Is that my form of cognitive dissonance?
“The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”
“The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget.”
This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him.
1 John 3:19-22 NIV
It was 1995 and 1996 and I was slowly converting to Mormonism. I remember one time I got a ride from a married Mormon couple to the LDS Church service. Both of them had at one point been evangelicals who had converted to Mormonism. One was Baptist and the other was Presbyterian. Plus both individuals were highly educated as I recall one was a psychologist for the Lewis and Clark County school system in Helena, Montana. As we made our way to the Mormon church service and as I bounced around in the back seat of a Jeep Cherokee the husband who was driving explained why he converted from evangelicalism into Mormonism. Evangelical Christianity had issues and he had questions. What about those who never heard the Gospel, as I recall him saying? He liked the Mormon belief of baptism of the dead. Plus he also spoke about why Joseph Smith is a prophet. I sat there listening as he explained why he left evangelicalism. Later on in another Mormon service I watched a Mormon give his testimony on fast and testimony Sunday which is the first Sunday of the month. This former Baptist told his story of how he converted into Mormonism and walked away from the Baptist faith. His mother who was Baptist sat behind me and cried. You can read more about that in “My Descent into Mormonism & My Cognitive Dissonance.”
In my exploration of Mormonism I met a number of people who had walked away from evangelical Christianity and converted to Mormonism. I found it odd, after all I was looking into Mormonism from Roman Catholicism at the time. I didn’t have a solid Bible knowledge as many of these evangelicals did. At the time I was baffled and confused. I thought Baptists and Presbyterians knew their Bible and knew scripture. I myself was trying to figure things out as well. But when I heard these stories over and over I was puzzled. “Baptists don’t become Mormon I thought?” How and why was this happening? At this stage of my life my background was Roman Catholic and I had no knowledge or experience in Evangelical Christianity. I didn’t know it then but at that stage of life I was being introduced to a major issue in modern evangelicalism. I wasn’t even evangelical and mired in Mormon thought and theology. But I started to encounter this issue with former evangelicals, who turned away from evangelicalism and embraced the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The issue was captured in a book by Mark Noll called “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.” Much later in life as I reflect back on all this I consider this to be a seminal exposure to a critical flaw in Evangelical Christianity.
What is the Scandal of the Evangelical Mind?
Around the time that I was looking into Mormonism in college a new ground breaking book would be published. In the evangelical scene it would create an earthquake, and it would become a major milestone. The book is called “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” and it was published by Mark Noll. Mark Noll is the Francis A McAnaney Professor of History, at the University of Notre Dame since 2006. Prior to that he was in different teaching capacities at Wheaton from 1979 until 2006. In the “Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” the first sentence states the following. “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” The book continues and states that American evangelicalism is anti-intellectual. The first five chapters explore how evangelicalism came to be anti-intellectual. Noll believes that the problem goes back to the embracing of principles of Scottish enlightenment by 19th century American evangelical thinkers. Noll also compares the leadership style of American evangelicals with that of more traditional Christian groups. He uses famed orator William Jennings Bryan and Pope Leo XIII to make his point. Also in the book Noll goes into the creationism issue and how evangelicals reacted to evolution as the result of the secularization of society. I leaned heavily on this review as I was reading and writing that post. However there was a follow up to Mark Noll’s thesis that I believe deserves attention as well. In May of 2016 at his blog Peter Enns writes that the issue is not publishing more papers, books or having conferences The issue is that many evangelicals are not allowed to use their minds. That I think is a significant development and that it has a lot of truth to it.
Here is what Mark Noll’s “Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” means to me. Evangelicalism is not intellectual and its too shallow. It is hostile to science and academia. At the same time evangelicals, as Peter Enns notes, are not allowed to think and use their minds. Because of this many evangelicals cannot practice discernment and employ critical thinking skills. This has a wide range of implications. This is what allows people to continues to seek out people who should never be in ministry. People like televangelists, and prosperity theologians still teach when they should be rejected. Its why people still follow Mark Driscoll or C.J. Mahaney despite their behavior and abuse or criminal allegations that dog them. For me that is what the “Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” means. In the end its a movement that is both anti-intellectual, and one that is struggling with discernment issues. Let me go back to my story to further make my point.
Evangelical Corruption Observed and Dealing with Intellectual Doubts in a Faith Crisis
In my time within evangelicalism the “Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” resurfaced frequently. For those who are into dispensationalism it has led some people to view tragedies as indicators that the end times are here. Its also led to situations where child sex abuse and a poor reaction to the topic has reared its ugly head. There was the situation in Sovereign Grace of which I was invited to, and then there was the situation at Rod Stafford’s Fairfax Community Church (FCC). Rod Stafford had put into a key position Eric Nickle. Eric is on the Commonwealth of Virginia’s sex offender registry and is listed as violent. I wrote about this in “Why Does Fairfax Community Church have a Care Director on the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Sex Offender Registry?” Why would a church be so naive as to put someone in such a sensitive position? To this day I fear that one day I will be driving in the D.C. area and hear about a sexual abuse situation at FCC, knowing that it could have been prevented. In my evangelical experience I brushed up against four churches or movements that were struggling with this topic. Another indicator of the scandal of the evangelical mind occurred in my church in Wisconsin called Wooded Hill Bible Church. In that church the youth group was sent to a convenience store to engage in spiritual warfare and drive demons out of the property.
After I had a faith crisis the “Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” revealed itself again. In a faith system that is too shallow and more like junk food the following began to happen. I went to church to church asking hard questions about the problem of evil, and really many people couldn’t talk or discuss it. After asking questions such as “why does a loving God allow so much evil in the world?” many people in positions were uncomfortable in discussing the question. Since evangelicalism lacks intellectualism, that is one of the reasons why I wrote evangelicals would not be able to talk to atheists about the Gospel. You can read about that in “Why Evangelical Christians will be Unable to Reach Atheists with the Gospel.” But many evangelicals can’t engage on intellectual topics, as it took a faith crisis to learn that experience.
Situation with Redeemer Arlington Formerly of Sovereign Grace Ministries
The “Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” took a dark turn here in the Washington, D.C. area. It involved a 29 to 30 year old Air Force Captain who graduated from the United States Air Force Academy. The Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs is like any of the United States military academies. It is set apart, has very high standards and attracts the best recruits. Most of the people reading this post, including me would never qualify for the Air Force Academy. To get into the Air Force Academy you need to be nominated by a Congressman or the Vice President I believe, and you need to pass a battery of physical tests. The academic standards are high, with the acceptance rate being 17%. 81% of those who are accepted attend. The average SAT score for a cadet at the Air Force Academy in 1360 out of 1600. Plus the average high school GPA for a freshman cadet is 3.75% and higher out of 4.0. For some insight on life at the Air Force Academy I would refer you to this video, and this write up here and here. Andrew White was corrupted by the “Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” and ultimately by Sovereign Grace. When he was looking into Sovereign Grace while he was stationed at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Andrew was warned by a friend that Sovereign Grace was corrupt and given an article and informed about SGM Survivors. As a result of the “Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” this alumnus of the Air Force Academy dismissed all warnings and warmly embraced it. Andrew knew about the criminal allegations with Sovereign Grace, the allegations of covering up child sex abuse and he dismissed all of it. When he tried to get me involved I couldn’t believe what I was being invited to. One day at work, I told Andrew that C.J. Mahaney was a fraud and he blew. He got so upset that he couldn’t work for a day. Andrew spent two years recruiting me to a former Sovereign Grace church before giving birth to a false accusation that took aim at my name and reputation and my ability to earn income. Andrew became my Judas Iscariot and I was thrust into the darkest season of my life. You can read about that in “How I Managed a False Accusation Given Birth to by a USAF Captain and Care Group Leader from Redeemer Arlington for 408 Days.”
The “Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” prevented Andrew from doing the right thing, and owning his mistakes. Plus he walked away from bringing someone back into the Christian faith, being able to observe and possibly participate in a baptism. In the end the “Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” meant that Andrew could not practice discernment. This is particularly sad as he graduated from one of the best military academies in the world. What is even sadder is that he can’t even reach out and say, “Dave…I’m sorry….” when I would shower him with grace and forgiveness – if he just asked. In this case Redeemer Arlington as a former Sovereign Grace church corrupted a military officer. In this sad case Jordan Kauflin, and Eric Simmons scored a coup in corrupting an Air Force officer. The “Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” then continued with Jordan Kauflin. Jordan could not even do the basic requirements for retracting and neutralizing a false accusation. He let Andrew White off the hook, left the false accusation in place, and couldn’t practice common discernment. He also could not realize that I would have worked with him, and in the end I would have ceased writing all this about Redeemer Arlington. This blog exists because of the leadership of Redeemer and because of Andrew’s behavior.
The Fact that I Keep Trying Evangelicalism Shows My Lack of Discernment?
In this post I have written some stinging comments both about evangelicals and Andrew White and Jordan Kauflin. But let me close out this post by writing harshly about myself and asking myself some difficult questions. Is the greatest evidence of the “Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” rest with someone who keeps trying evangelicalism when he knows its failed? Do I ultimately lack discernment when I keep trying, trying and trying in spite of seeing the hubris and wreckage of evangelicalism for nearly 20 years? Do I lack discernment in my hopes that this false accusation mess will be solved one day? Am I exhibiting cognitive dissonance in my involvement in a Bible study, doing a retreat, and get back involved? In the end am I exhibiting worse discernment skills than Andrew White, Jordan Kauflin, and the former evangelicals who became Mormons that I write about in this post? It is certainly possible and from time to time I reflect on this issue quite a bit. After all I have been burned and fried and I still try evangelicalism. I am not on the Kool Aid so in the end I have no excuse for any experiences of spiritual abuse or problems. Is that the core problem here with me and have I failed at discernment? To be totally honest with you I am still wrestling with this and struggling with it. Maybe in the course of time I can write a post and explain my answer. My views are based on my experiences, and that is a constantly shifting experience. Alright guys that is it for the night, please know that I love you!