Mark Noll says evangelicals voted for Trump for lots of reasons, abortion among them

Historians in the News
tags: evangelicals, Trump, Mark Noll

For 27 years, Dr. Mark Noll served on the History Department faculty, ending his tenure as McManis Professor of Christian Thought in 2006. In 2016, he retired from The University of Notre Dame after teaching for 10 years. Mark Noll’s book “The Scandal of The Evangelical Mind” (1994) earned him a lasting place in evangelical scholarship. In 2005, Time Magazine named Noll one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in America.

The Record met with Dr. Mark Noll for an interview regarding the current state of evangelicalism, his experience at Wheaton and what is next for him upon retirement. ...

C: Your banner book “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind” has, of course, secured you a place in modern history of evangelicalism in America. Do you think that the definition of evangelicalism is changing or has changed, since you wrote your famous book in 1994?

M: I think people your age are going to have to answer that question. Because I think the real problem is trying to define evangelical in any simple way. The things that David Bebbington identified, that others have used and I’ve used — cross, Bible, conversion, activity in the world — these all characterize broadly speaking “evangelical” people. I don’t actually think “evangelicalism” exists. There are evangelical institutions, evangelical movements, evangelical people, evangelical emphases. But you say, what’s the institutional or organizational continuity? And there just isn’t any. So does the word mean anything? If when people hear “evangelical” they think of something political first, then the serious meaning of the word is gone.

C: The word “evangelical” took center stage in the presidential election and continues to do so. However, there does seem to be a disconnect between Trump’s policies such as the now-blocked travel ban, immigration and sole support for Israel which Christians are divided on — so how do you explain the evangelical support and winning the evangelical vote?

M: I think what’s called “evangelical support for Trump” had to do with the pro-life position of the Republican party, it had to do with a lot of antagonism against some of the cultural steps taken by the Obama administration. It certainly had to do with the memory of Bill Clinton’s immorality in the White House, and a lot of white evangelicals were concerned about economics…I do think we have increasing numbers of Christian academics who would have a much more sophisticated approach to political life than, “I’m angry at Hillary so I’m voting for Trump.” But I’m worried about the Christian populace at large listening all the time to their media go-to and never being concerned about folks who are trying to see things more broadly.

C: Are you more optimistic about the state of the evangelical mind than you were in ’94?

M: Yes, and for a number of reasons. A major one would be that I think I was not keeping in mind as much as I could have in writing the book that weaknesses and mistakes from a Christian perspective should never be taken too seriously. The Christian faith is a faith of hope. So that was a theological adjustment…In the areas that were discussed in the book, I think there are problems, but by the same token, there are lots of serious Christian people who are doing really serious thinking about politics, about history, about science. In that sense, I think it’s not a golden age, but you can find first-level, deep Christian analyses of whatever you’re interested in that domain. But, there’s also a pretty big disconnect — and I think a growing disconnect. That may be worse than it was in the past, even though the number of evangelical Christian people who are bringing their Christianity to the intellectual task has risen.

C: So how do we bridge that gap then, from the “elite” and the majority population?

M: I still hold a lot of hope for local churches. Ideally when you have one congregation with people of different minds, you do have the possibility of improving things, of having the populus as a whole less spasmodic in thinking about things. You have the occasion for people who have studied things to talk to others who haven’t. In other words, there’s a burden on Christian intellectuals to take part in local congregations. ...

comments powered by Disqus