Working in university ministry with grad students, I am often asked the question of just how this thing of integration of faith and learning is supposed to work. Mark Noll‘s Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind (Eerdmans, 2011) is a landmark answer to this question. In one sense, his answer is the very simple, Sunday school answer — Jesus. Yet behind this simple answer is some very profound theological thinking. Noll not only sees the life of the mind encouraged through our union with Christ, which unites all things in him, but in careful reflection upon the classic Christian creeds that help us understand the person and work of Christ — as one of the members of the Trinity, as fully God and fully human, and as our atoning sacrifice.
In particular, he sees four aspects of Christology as crucial to scholarship. Doubleness, that Jesus is fully God and fully human, helps us to understand other ways the supernatural can intersect the natural world and inquiry into it without conflict. Contingency helps us understand how randomness can yet be a part of divine providence. Particularity, the fact of the Lord of all coming in human flesh as a Jew at a particular time, helps as we face questions of both diversity and unity in the human experience. And the self-denial of Jesus calls us to the proper humility necessary for good scholarship.
Noll applies this thinking to three “case studies” — history, science, and theological studies and works out some of the possible implications for these convictions. Most telling to me were his thoughts about science and how “doubleness” permits the affirmation both of God’s creative work, and yet also the material explanations of origins that science provides without setting these in irresolvable conflict — where only one can be right.
One concluding sample of Noll’s writing to give the flavor of his argument:
The Jesus Christ who saves sinner is the same Christ who beckons his followers to serious use of their minds for serious explorations of the world. It is part of the deepest foundation of Christian reality — it is an important part of understanding who Jesus is and what he accomplishes — to study the world, the human structures found in the world, the human experience of the world, and the humans who experience the world. Nothing intrinsic in that study should drive a person away from Jesus Christ. Much that is intrinsic in Jesus Christ should drive a person to that study (41).
Editor’s note: Click here for an earlier review contributed by Tom Trevethan. Trevethan’s review includes a section entitled Challenges to Evangelical Faculty.