“The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of a mind,” Noll writes in his opening sentence. That is a controversial umbrella statement, of course, but the evidence is there. Written in 1994, Noll provides ample evidence at the outset of his book that the “life of the mind” is not a prized virtue among modern North American evangelicals (broadly defined). Those of us who have spent time with this particularly broad group of Christians probably already know this. Noll’s book asks why this is the state of things.
Later in life Merton would repent from this [sectarian] attitude and embrace a radically ecumenical perspective. It is for this reason that he would later disassociate himself from his early autobiography, describing it as “the work of a man I have never even heard of.” There are lots of reasons and developments in Merton and in Catholicism for this change of heart. Other people could do a better job at tracing all that out. Merton’s own struggle with the ecumenical question—from skepticism to embrace—makes me want to engage with my own. And so here goes.
The trait that captures the essence of Churches of Christ most, for so long is the exclusivist or sectarian spirit. In short, we have thought we were the only ones who got Christianity right, and that if you didn’t agree with us, then you were not only mistaken, you were condemned. Yet this is only one side of the debate in our church.
In the church I grew up in we prided ourselves on restoring the New Testament Church. This was a way of saying that the way we did things in our church was intended to be a copy in all things essential of the church as it we see it in the New Testament. We fought one another over the minutiae of this project, like whether the early church had one or many communion cups, but we never seemed to bother too much over whether they had things like air conditioning or a/v systems.