How Mark Noll’s Mind Has Changed

When I was an undergrad at Brewton-Parker College in South Georgia, I was wrestling with the question of calling and vocation. I entered college believing that God was calling me to full-time local church ministry, and throughout college I served in bivocational youth ministry and interim pastor positions. Though I loved that work (well, not so much the youth ministry), by my senior year I had a growing desire to pursue a ministry of theological education in either church history or systematic theology. To this day I see this vocation as an outworking of and completely compatible with my calling to local church ministry.

By the time I was wrapping up my M.Div. studies, Church history had won out over theology, in part because of the influence of some key teachers and mentors along the way. But an additional factor in my decision to become a church historian was reading the works of evangelical historian Mark Noll. His provocative The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind was a key book in shaping my call to theological education, while his A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada and America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln helped solidify my desire to focus my own studies on American Religious History. In the decade or so since I was introduced to Noll’s books, I’ve read numerous of Noll’s other works and always find them immensely helpful, even when I differ with some of his interpretations.

Because of my respect for Noll, I was very interested in his recent article “Deep and Wide,” which was published in the June 1 edition of The Christian Century. You can read the online version at The Christian Century’s website. The article was part of an ongoing series titled “How My Mind Has Changed,” and in Noll’s piece he focuses on how he has grown in his appreciation for Nicene Orthodoxy, older hymnody, and celebrating communion. As is so often the case, I find myself resonating with Noll’s emphases very much, even while I differ with him in some particulars (I’m way too reformational and Free Church to have much sympathy for Roman Catholic views of the Lord’s Supper). Anyway, it is an interesting read that is well worth pondering so I thought I’d pass it on to you. I hope you enjoy it.

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  1. John   •  

    “[RE: Holy Communion] The command, after all, was Take eat; not Take, understand. I hope I need not be tormented by the question ‘What is this?’ – this wafer, this sip of wine. That has a dreadful effect on me. It invites me to take ‘this’ out of its holy context and regard it as an object among objects, indeed as part of nature. It is like taking a red coal out of the fire to examine it: it becomes a dead coal.” – C.S. Lewis, _Letters to Malcom: Chiefly on Prayer_

    I confess that I look forward to our celebration of Holy Communion more every time we celebrate it at the church I pastor. If our church grows to the point that we can afford a full-time pastor, I intend to offer a weekly Communion service during the week.

    “Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus said. Perhaps we and our congregants would remember Jesus more, and follow His commands more fully, if we celebrated Holy Communion more frequently.

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