Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind: Q & A with John Piper and Mark Noll

A Conversation with John Piper and Mark Noll

Ryan Griffith: Thanks again for joining us this evening to talk about the Christian life of the mind, and very appreciative of the MacLaurin Institute and Dr. Noll for being here this evening. And I’m looking forward to our conversation together. Given the audience here, most probably college university students from the area, other professors from area institutions.

One of the things that I really would like to focus on is just some practical questions trying to help present students, men and women who are serving in the academy, think particularly about how to glorify God in the use of the mind. So I’m going to kind of take our questions that direction. And the first question I have, Dr. Noll, in both your most recent book and in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, you spend a lot of time encouraging Christians, and especially evangelicals, that they ought to engage in what you call serious thinking in the academy.

But you also point out that the environment oftentimes in the secular academy is pretty antagonistic, especially more recently towards evangelicals. So if I was a young evangelical Christian, I was an inerrantist, I loved the Bible, I was complementarian, I felt that the Bible clearly taught that homosexuality is wrong, but I’m a rigorous thinker, I’m a researcher. I’m excited about how to use the gifts that the Lord has given me in the academy, am I going to survive in the secular academy? What would you say to a student who might come sit in your office and ask that question?

Mark Noll: A question about survival I think would depend a lot on what the student was interested in. If the person felt called to work as a physicist or a mathematician or in one of the visual arts in biology, if the person was interested in medieval history, I don’t think there’d be anything standing in the way of academic achievement that would make it difficult. In fact, my reading of the intellectual character of the modern academy is that there’s much less settled opinions about important topics.

I read last night a very long review in the New York Review of Books of a person’s lifetime work on the 17th century and Oliver Cromwell in England. The author, a very distinguished person not known for Christian faith, said this author sees that religion was important for those people and he does not do what was done so long, which was for historians to say what people really meant when they were using religious language, but he takes that religious language for what it means.

So academically considered for many fields, I just don’t think there is a problem if a person has a vocation, talent, other people advising, open doors for the vocation. Now you really raised more than that. It’s getting along in a world in which the academy is left-wing, the academy is progressive on all of the family and gender issues. And I would say, and you can sometimes say it with a grin, but I’d say it very, very straightforwardly that you stay in your church and work on your opinions on those type of life issues and keep them to yourself until you’re tenured, because a tenured professor with respect in his or her field should not actually be speaking out about a lot of things, but can speak out more naturally.

For all academics at all stages, undergraduate, graduate, professional life, significant activity in a local congregation I think is essential because that means that the person’s strengthening the faith will proceed. I think that’s the way I would answer. There really are two different questions and I think that’s how I’d answer them.

Ryan Griffith: So the way that I’d ask the follow-up question to that is one of the things that we’re attempting to do at BCS is also to recognize that the current academic climate is not always set up in such a way that it’s really going to encourage and press forward serious scholarship with those kinds of strongly held beliefs. To put it in Reformation terms, do we need a Magisterial Reformation of the academy or do we need an Anabaptist? Do we need to be starting our own institutions or is there ways that Christian scholarship can advance change the environment of the secular academy?

Mark Noll: I think if the BCS trustees and leaders tried to mount a first-rate program in physics, they should have their heads examined. If they tried to mount a first-rate program in exegesis, this is an entirely different matter. I’m not sure the degree of separate institutions that are needed, but if an academic institution in the study of the Scriptures, for example, mandates a kind of lockstep approval of JEPD and studying the Old Testament, I mean there’s no point. You could be as brilliant as Alvin Plantinga studying the Old Testament and it wouldn’t work. So there has to be space to work.

My own sense is that the body of Christ is strongest when there are multiple approaches to even common problems. So in exegesis, in studying the Scriptures, I think the ideal world would be where there are Christian-defined institutions like BCS where there are Catholic-defined institutions like the University of Notre Dame, which leaves space for many kinds of explicitly Christian work.

And I think there’s room for things like the University of Minnesota or Cambridge University or the University of California, Berkeley, where it would be a struggle to be intensely confessional, or some people, I know a Jewish scholar at the Harvard Divinity School who loves evangelical students because they take the Hebrew Scriptures seriously. There needs to be a few people like that also. So any one person must, I think, follow God’s guidance, but for subjects matters like that seems to me that we need many different institutional forms.

Ryan Griffith: Pastor John, I don’t know if you have anything you want to add to that. If not, I want to ask a related question. You spoke a lot in your talk about the role of affections in scholarship, and the way that I want to pose the question is very specifically: what kind of advice would you give to a student who’s studying biology or a student who’s studying sociology in terms of how to do their scholarship in such a way to magnify Christ and to pursue joy in their scholarship? And I’d love for both of you to answer that.

John Piper: Well, first of all, I do think that’s an appropriate goal, that he should not only be an accurate observer of what’s there and construe the accurate observations with intelligence so that they are handled coherently and comprehensively and draw inferences from it that would be serviceable and useful for the good of people. That’s one way to describe his Christian goals.

But that in the seeing and the handling, there would be, as Mark said, our perception, Christ made this, Christ sustains this, this is for Christ, and not only the heavens are telling the glory of God, but molecules are telling the glory of God. And as a Christian, he should apprehend that better than anybody else, any other religion, or any person. And so rising up within him in all of his studies should be wonder and amazement at the one whose glory is being reflected here, and that’s a proper and right goal.

He should be worshiping in that way. His affection should be rising. He knows why they’re rising. He should channel them toward the crucified and risen Christ who made and sustains what he’s looking at. That would all be, I think, essential to his doing the work the way he does it for biology or for any other discipline for that matter. One of the things that I didn’t say, and this may be a good place to stick it in, is that it is an incomplete picture for me to say Mind is designed by God to serve the heart or to serve the affections. That’s true, and that’s mainly true, I think; however, we know it works reciprocally, it works the other way around, that if you are refreshed by and thrilled by what you are seeing of God, your mind, whether you’re studying the Bible or the world, will be appropriately liberated from false apprehensions.

I think because the joy is meant to feed backward into a mind that is now more alert and more engaged and more zealous for its attention to what’s really there. And spiritually, the way it works in the Bible is that we know that with the gospel, our security is set, and we don’t have to fret, and therefore the mind doesn’t have to use itself like those folks in Matthew 21, constantly trying not to let that data go someplace. I can’t let it go there because that will threaten me.

And if you’re not threatened, if you’re at peace with what God made you and the future that he’s promised you, there should be, I think, a greater freedom to follow the truth where it leads. So it works backward as well as forward. That the affections and the apprehensions of the beauty of Christ and what he’s promised us have a reciprocal effect back on the mind to enable it to do its work better than just saying the mind is throwing logs of truth on the fire of faith.

Ryan Griffith: Dr. Noll, any thoughts on that?

Mark Noll: I don’t really have anything more to say. I think that a Christian scholar is not guaranteed better insights into the field for most subjects in the academy. I think when it comes to theology and direct approach to the Scriptures, it might be different. But for most subjects that are studied in the universities, being a Christian does not guarantee you better insights. It should guarantee that you take greater delight in your work because you realize, however dimly, that it’s possible only because the one who loved you and gave himself for you lies behind it.

Ryan Griffith: So in light of that, I’m wondering, as evangelical scholars, given the kind of parameters that the Christian faith puts out for us, is there a way that we can contribute uniquely? I mean, it sounds like what Pastor John is saying is, in some sense, there perhaps is a humility, there’s a clarity, there’s maybe even more energy for the task than would otherwise perhaps happen outside of Christ. I mean, is that at least one way?

John Piper: Can I put a point on the question from a quote that you wrote? I was fumbling with my pages because I reread it this afternoon. I was just so blown away by it that I wondered what you would say because that’s what this question is. So you said, “Atonement presupposes a sinful breach between God and humanity. Reasoning that ignores this breach must be fatally flawed” (Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind, 69). Reasoning that ignores the atonement must be fatally flawed, which means virtually all the reasoning in the academy is fatally flawed.

Mark Noll: Well, yes and no. I mean, again, I do think it makes a big difference what you’re studying. So if you are working on a problem about distances in the universe, I’m not sure that the atonement is directly applicable to that subject per se. Now I think it is indirectly applicable because all people will be doing what they do either for themselves or for God and so in.

But if you are working on, as I have done and as John has done more recently, if you’re working on the history of race relations in the United States and you work hard on the evidence and so you put yourself in the academic picture of having done your necessary homework, and if you conclude that what was the heart of the matter was misinformation, then I think on both careful academic grounds and certainly Christian grounds, that conclusion can be challenged. On academic grounds, you want to say, well, misinformation able to explain why a Christian minister of the gospel could stand by and give a blessing when a crowd castrates a Black man, flays him and then burns him alive. That’s more than misinformation.

Now, I don’t think you can move immediately from gathering information on such activities and saying what’s at stake is the picture of original sin we have in Scripture, but you are not very far away from making that conclusion. So psychology, sociology, history that sees human problems as somehow disconnected from the human capacity to harm ourselves and generally speaking over time doesn’t work as scholarship and certainly doesn’t fit with Christian faith.

My own sense of Christian contributions in those areas is that we have tremendous potential for going into the academy with a subtle, nuanced and very deeply ingrained picture of the atonement. And as an evangelical protestant, I would like to start there, but that potential has only been realized partially and has sometimes been squandered because of the culture wars mentality that’s been in place since the 1870–1880s that’s hurt the academy and its ability to hear and has hurt the church in its ability to promote subtly nuanced and depth of reasoning.

So in principle, for all of the human disciplines, I think good scholarship is going to come. It’s not going to reveal the atonement, but it’s going to point in the direction of a theory about humanity that requires something like the Christian picture for redemption. I think it was Reinhold Niebuhr who said that the only empirically verifiable part of human history that coincides exactly with the gospel is the empirical evidence for original sin. He was right.

John Piper: Would you agree that, I’ve often said, and this is not exactly the same, but it’s related, that on a continuum between scholarly outcomes that have no bearing on my most deeply cherished convictions (distance between two stars or some penicillin), and outcomes that touch very deeply my cherished convictions, on that continuum, the closer you are to truth, that is, the more Christian you are, the more you will be able to be faithful to the data if it is pointing towards the truth? Would that be fair?

Mark Noll: Well, no, I think it’s exactly right in principle, but as a historian, I would say that some of the problems in intellectual efforts on those things closest to the heart of Christian faith, some of the ways of researching, debating, arguing, those have been caught up in, as you put it earlier tonight, the spin factory rather than the truth-seeking factory so that non-believers refuse to see what is put in front of their faces well constructed if it turns against what they’ve been committed to seeing before they started their investigation.

Unfortunately, sometimes believers do the same thing, not because the evidence before them is problematic, but because they are committed to a position. And of course, all I’m thinking of are the ones I don’t like. So I need to think of one I like, if I can use it as an example. Okay, so I’m pretty much committed to the old earth, the billions of years, and I think that actually is compatible with some very important ways of thinking as a Christian.

Nonetheless, if I’m presented with evidence that pushes in the direction of a very short earth, I might reject that not because I really have looked at the evidence and rejected it, but because that conclusion is undermining something that I have committed myself to. So I do think unless you’re a perfectionist as a Christian, that ego is a problem for Christian academics, maybe not to the same degree, but in the same way that ego is a problem for non-Christian academics.

John Piper: So on the continuum, the better way to say it, to make it work, is not that Christians do better, but that wherever truth accords with what you already feel convinced about, you’re going to be more objective there or you’re going to be able to see things more clearly there. Your perceptions will accord because you’re already there. Whereas if you’re embracing something Christian or non-Christian that is threatening and it’s coming, then you may distort, spin, push back in ways that don’t take the data.

Mark Noll: But I do think that the principle is very important because it should, again, liberate Christian scholars even when they’re working on things like the nature of the Scriptures, like the nature of the family, like the nature of the social order that we think is given direction by God. It liberates Christians to really engage with the evidence in Scripture and in the world and things brought to Scripture rather than to be defensive about the positions that I’ve constructed to make my world work the best way for me as a Christian. Now, I don’t think actually that that’s as bad a problem in the Christian world as in the non-believing world, but I think it is actually a serious problem nonetheless.

Ryan Griffith: Thank you. That is helpful. It’s a helpful discussion. You both have been significantly impacted by the writing of Jonathan Edwards, and I would love to hear both of you talk about how Edwards stands out as a model of Christian intellectual pursuit.

John Piper: Well, let me just toss that to Mark by saying that I had hanging on my wall for a long time a page from Christian History Magazine, which went defunct for a while. I think it might be back now. And under the picture of Jonathan Edwards is a quote by Mark Noll to the effect that the revival affectional dimension of Lewis continued on in historic revivalism, and the intellectual life of Edwards continued on, I think you said in Princeton or something like that. And there is no heir of what he achieved. So maybe just comment on that or clarify that if I got it right.

Mark Noll: I think so. That was quite a while ago and I used to have a memory. I think Jonathan Edwards remains very important though a sinner saved by grace. Just on that point, I do think George Marsden’s splendid biography of Edwards shows that he was a person with flaws and sins.

Okay, having made that important point. Nonetheless, what you do have with Edwards, I think, and I put this in his first historical terms and then in other terms, but you have a person who was able to take advantage of the best of the Puritan tradition, which was learned biblical academic and ecclesiastical, churchly, but that world was fading, and the best of the world that was coming with the evangelical awakenings and pietistic. So he was both a theocrat. He didn’t believe in the separation of church and state. He thought that when the minister spoke, people should listen, and he felt that a four-year-old, his congregation might have more insight into the nature of the gospel than himself.

So he lived at a time when that was, I was going to say easier, that’s the wrong word, possible in a way that probably wasn’t as certainly possible later. I would say more recently, and this would be an effect from living in Catholic precincts now for some time. What Edwards did as a thinker was very much along the lines that John has emphasized to point out how basic the affections were to Scripture understanding, to understanding the conversion, to understanding true religion. But his understanding of the affections was also extraordinarily self-consciously philosophical.

He did not worry about spending days, months pondering over the works of people who posed a philosophical challenge to the Christian faith. At the same time as he was burrowing the Scriptures, as he was trying to deal not too well sometimes with problems in his own parish, but he realized that there was a philosophical domain that Christ also ruled over. And I do think that until very recently, until after World War II, there really was no real serious American evangelical philosophy, which meant that there were a lot of problems in the many good aspects of American evangelical life.

John Piper: There’s a little anecdotal thing, Mark, and I think we’re in the same romantic literature class with Clyde Kilby, at least I was in there, and I think you’re there. And Kilby was a great Lewis scholar, and I did not know this until I got to Germany that Kilby wrote an essay on David Brainerd, a mini biography. And in it he contrasted Brainerd who was, if he had lived, probably would’ve been Edward’s son-in-law with Edwards himself.

And one of the contrasts he made was how healthy Edward seemed to be in his mind with regard to the handling of nature and his appreciation for a spider’s web or stars or clouds or a little white flower representing holiness. And you find none of it in Brainerd. He was a sick man. He was mentally sick. That’s just one of the amazing things about Edwards, that there’s not many brains that have come into the universe like Edwards’ brain, and yet didn’t create that sickness.

It didn’t make him inattentive to his wife, I don’t think, or his children. They all turned out pretty well, it seems. He had eleven kids and none of them said ugly things about their dad, and he wrote seraphically about things in nature. And so when I stumbled across Edwards back in 1970, I felt like I had come home. He was a C.S. Lewis type, romantic rationalist only all Reformed theology dumped in. And I’ve never found anybody quite like him who really put a high premium with great reflection on the affections as what magnifies God.

And he roots it in the nature of the Trinity as affection and knowledge of the Son and the Father and the Holy Spirit. He’s just an incredibly comprehensive thinker with an attention to the beauties of the world with a goal to delight in God fully. That is every time I read him, I just want to cry that I’m not there and I want to go there more and more.

Ryan Griffith: So one of the things that Edwards was working on at the end of his life or what he hoped at least to work on was this massive kind of magnum opus in the history of redemption, and he preached thirty sermons on it, but then wanted to develop that into a much larger work. And so the next question that I had for you, Dr. Noll, and Pastor John as well, how should evangelical historians regard the role of God’s providence in history? Outside of Scripture, is it in any way, in any sense discernible, and if so, how?

Mark Noll: I’m in a minority position of Edwards scholars and actually don’t think that his history of work redemption was successful. And the reason is because I’m a modern Christian historian. We have in the present, and we’ve had right back to Eusebius in the fourth century, many Christian believers who have read providence. Jonathan Edwards, as John knows in his diaries and private writing, kept real close tabs on whenever the French or the Spanish suffered a military defeat. In his mind, the Spanish and the French were simple tools of the papacy. The papacy was the great horror of Rome, and when Spain and France suffered defeats, it meant that you were that much closer to realizing what had been foreseen in Scripture about the defeat of the great horror of Rome.

I have full understanding why it would be his reaction at the time and actually have great admiration, the consistency with which he maintained such a viewpoint, which would’ve been worked out as a minor point in the big history of the work of redemption. From my angle, it simply was just wrong. What he missed about Roman Catholicism in the 17th and 18th century was that despite, from his angle and from mine too, many, many violations of the gospel, was a preservation of strong teaching about the Trinity, strong teaching about the divinity of Christ, strong teaching affirming the Nicene Creed.

And what I think I would see, I don’t claim it as a providential interpretation of history, but I would see standing in 2012, is that those powerful continuations of classic Christian doctrine were able to nourish a G.K. Chesterton, a J.R. Tolkien, several faculty members that I know at Notre Dame who are my seniors in Christian faith, defined in evangelical terms.

So as a Christian historian in my day, I want to affirm very strongly God’s providential rule over all of history. I’m very suspicious of my own ability to have a Scripture like understanding of how history is unfolding. When it comes to the gospel I think I’m prepared to say that I see God at work wherever the gospel goes wider or deeper because that trajectory is defined very carefully in the Scriptures time and time again, where is God at work? Well, do we know that God has worked when the British are defeated in 1783? I don’t think we do. Do we know that God has worked when people turn in faith and repentance to him? Yes, we do. That’s where I see providence at work in history.

John Piper: Another way that you have addressed this is in the chapter on history, and the different kinds of histories that are written, which might be helpful. Let’s take an example. I’ll just pick one, Harry Stouts biography of Whitfield and Iain Murray of Jonathan Edwards. Now you, I think, look with appreciation on both, you have names for them that are not always perceived to be as complementarities.

I mean this one would be more tribal. Iain Murray would be more tribal. He’s writing for a group and Harry Stout is writing with less attention to explicit Christian readings of providence or something like that. And yet I would’ve rather read the one. Harry Stout’s was annoying to me, it was cynical, it seemed like in the way he was putting naturalistic spin on much of Whitfield. So talk a little bit about how to write history with more or less explicit observations.

Mark Noll: Those are good examples. I happen to think that the Iain Murray biography of Edwards is the best biography by Edwards that Edwards would’ve agreed with. Now, I think Edwards would’ve read Marsden’s biography with a great deal of appreciation, but he would’ve asked about it. But you ask about Stout, why not spend more time emphasizing the most important things?

And I think George Marsden would’ve said, if I had emphasized what even I think is most important, I would’ve had a book like Iain Murray’s, which would’ve been deeply appreciated by a part of the Christian world and would’ve left Edwards an unknown figure to some of the Christian world and all of the non-Christian world. As it is, there’s enough in the book about Edwards that Edwards himself would’ve thought was most important to entice people further. Stout’s book is different. It’s written almost entirely for those in the academy who would not have either been interested in or have any kind of belief possible in anything providential.

My reading is that it is not completely cynical, but it is a natural approach to Whitfield. Stout himself has said that he wished he’d written a little bit more for the people who were already fans of Whitfield. He had in mind the people who’d never heard of Whitfield and trying to show why this was an important figure to study. Stout, I think, would affirm, as he did actually in exchange with Iain Murray, that he too was writing a providential biography, but providence in a very broad and general sense rather than a specific sense focused on the history of redemption.

John Piper: Yep. That’s helpful.

Ryan Griffith: A couple final questions here. Particular to the exercise of scholars within the church, how can scholars in disciplines other than theology better serve their churches? So how can the church stand to benefit from having those people as members? Some ideas from both of you guys.

John Piper: That’s a good one for Mark to answer, but let me answer the reverse question while you’re thinking. I sat down a few years ago with Duane Litfin while he was the president of Wheaton and with great earnestness he posed me the opposite question. He said, “John, would you pastors please help me? I have to staff this college with chemists and biologists and historians and anthropologists who are evangelical and I can’t find them to the degree that I would like what’s not happening.” And I felt pricked as a pastor. I haven’t made that a big point in my preaching for 32 years, looking out on a congregation and say there’s a handful of you in every group that God is calling to these things.

You’re asking the other question, if they go there, how can there be a benefit to the church? But I just want to confess and encourage those of us in the church to take that on. If you love sending your kids to a Christian college, you better do something so that there’s a college to exist, that people care about scholarship in all those areas and have kept the faith and they’re going to come from our churches or they’re going to come from nowhere probably. But his question, Mark, was not that.

Mark Noll: And thank you for the time to think about it. It was a surprising development after The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind was published and continued actually until the very recent past that I would get, in the old days, actual letters that were written on paper and phone calls and then eventually emails saying, in effect, the same thing. And this happened probably twenty or twenty-five times. I’m a serious Christian person teaching such and such at the state university, and I’m very active in my local church. When I’m in church, I try not to let people know where I work. When I’m at work, I try to keep it quiet that I’m an active member of this church.

And the reason, in the academy, are things we’ve talked about before. In some cases, it actually was prejudice against scholarship, more cases prejudice against Christian lifestyle. The church was an opposite problem, and that was due to pastoral leadership often where pastors, one, did not encourage the people with expertise and calling in the different spheres of life to have a place in the church explaining those things in academic terms or in terms of scholarship, but then also encouraging those people to move what they know as scholars toward the church. So that one, they didn’t encourage what John has just said needed to be encouraged.

And then sometimes, secondly, pastors and other leaders in the church who knew not whereof they spoke out on science issues, political issues, psychological issues without knowing a single thing about them as if they were speaking the word of the Lord. So what I could do in almost every case is not to help out with a local situation, but to say I think I know someone in the history of art who can talk to you. I think I know another evolutionary biologist who you can talk to about this situation.

And today there are even more people like that in different schools. And I think there are more examples of churches that are not seeing themselves as substitutes or replacements for the academy, but have learned to focus on the Christian vocation that is a vocation of everyone that requires attentiveness to our sinfulness, God’s grace in Christ, the living of a holy life, and who simply take a step back and do not try to provide a very tight, all-encompassing explanation for everything in life. And those are churches where there is at least coming more of the kind of positive reinforcement. And that’s not always an easy thing because there is controversy, there are academics who will say things, pastors who will say things that offend one side or another, but having the grace to listen, to be patient, to encourage discussion is a grace that we all need all the time and churches need as well.

Ryan Griffith: So maybe an additional question along those lines. Obviously, the focus of an organization like BCS is going to be very narrow, it’s going to be very defined. And so we are still a large church and have professors from a number of institutions coming here to worship here.

One of the questions that I think it’s important for us to try to answer is how then do we as a church, as a church body, not the individual scholars within it serving the church, but how does the church serve and support those who are engaged in a broad range of academic fields in the academy? And I love both of your perspectives on that.

Mark Noll: I remember years ago in a church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, I worked summers, and then while I was actually writing a doctoral dissertation for a painter. He hadn’t made it through high school, but he loved to say to his clients, “Well, I’ve got somebody working on a PhD with the brush out here.” I thought it was very funny. I wish he just paid me 50 cents an hour more than he did. But he was deeply offended at one time when our church had a major remodeling and hired another painter outside of the church.

Now, should he have been deeply offended? Probably not. But the same thing applies. People in the church with special expertise should find in the church not an opportunity to make disciples of their expertise, not an opportunity to shift the whole direction of the church, but simply to have a space to talk about what they do.

I would say that’s true for people in every sphere of life. The more church people know about what nurses do, teachers do, homemakers do, plumbers do, physicists do, the better the church understands its own possibilities. But for academics, giving a space either to be informative, what they used to call those things at Wheaton College, it wasn’t necessarily going to be a sermon.

Everybody got together in chapel and they took your attendance, but there wasn’t a text, it was somebody else. You have those kinds of meetings, but then you also sometimes ask the academics, well, could you talk about your psychology? Could you talk about your chemistry? Could you talk about what you do in foreign relations and then try to bring Christian insights to bear? And those, again, you don’t have to follow what people say, but a church is an ideal place to give space for all the members to make their contribution to the church as well as out in the world.

John Piper: I think academics and everybody else need to feed, “Man should not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God.” They need a solid, biblically informed or saturated-based word from God every Sunday. God has spoken to me. And if you don’t major on the peripheries, but keep it close to the center of the text and you lift up what’s really there and make God look great, make Christ look great, make the gospel look great, make our inheritance look great, make the power of God at work in us look great, academics as well as ordinary non-academics are going to be helped.

They got marital problems, they got kid problems, they got health problems, they got vocational problems, they got all the problems, they need God — a big God — they can lean on. They need specific promises they can trust to get them through hard times. And so I think my job is the same for professors as it is for the people with the high school education. They need a word from God to live on.

Ryan Griffith: So we’re getting close to the end of our time, and I purposely saved this one for the end. I wasn’t sure how much time we would want to devote to it, but I do want to see if you want to follow up. You mentioned right at the beginning of your talk that you wanted to talk a little bit more about the scientific component of Mark’s talk, and I wondered if you guys would want to dialogue about that a little bit.

John Piper: It probably wouldn’t be edifying to hammer out a full-blown view of evolution. But what will be helpful is to talk about some principles, I think, because as I read your book, the first half was worshipful even. It was unbelievably worshipful for me. And the closer it got to the Bible, the more disillusioned I became with some of the things you were advocating. And Peter ends being held up as a model doesn’t work for me. And those are very closely related to how the Scriptures are handled with regard to evolution and so on. So the question would be to see, because I feel like as long as we’re talking principles, which is so together, and then when you come and see for the Bible and come and see for geology and molecular biology, the principles are all the same.

Yes. See what’s really there. Don’t make this text mean what it doesn’t mean. Yes. See what’s really there. Don’t make these rocks mean what they don’t mean. So at that level, the book, I think our two books are just like this. They’re just perfectly in harmony with one another. And so I think maybe go ahead and get on your soapbox if you want to here with regard to why is it to your mind simply beyond responsibility anymore to claim that you have come and saw and concluded a young earth or come and saw and concluded an immediately created pair of human beings? What is the come and see principle that you say now it’s just suicidal to think that way, which I think was the word you used?

Mark Noll: Probably for young Earth. Actually, I’m not at all offended by your account of the book that way because I do set out and say, I’ve been thinking about these things for only 30 years. I’m pretty secure on what I see as a platform, less secure in the application, even for historical study, which I’m supposed to be able to have a handle on.

The reason that I think that young Earth is suicidal is because the coming-in scene that has led the scientific establishment to the belief in an old universe, for example, has not been quick, has not been from many people aimed in any way at taking away from the goodness and glory of God, has been reaffirmed by people in many cultures through many experiments, through many different varieties of coming and seeing. Now there is a factor of reliance upon testimony which has actually been written up quite well in the history of science.

If you ask me to explain why, looking at what physicists do or what molecular biologists do can justify talking about longer, I can’t do it. But I’ve talked to people who have trained, disciplined their seeing, checked their seeing by many other people, believers and non-believers and shown why following what they have seen need not be destructive to Christian faith. They are persuasive to me.

On the opposite side, I have read and have been reading since I was nine years old, creation science literature, which does almost none of those things. It’s very few people seeing. It’s not disciplined seeing, it’s not well-trained seeing. It’s not careful construction of what has been seen. The further you move toward humankind, the more complicated things become. I don’t call myself a theistic evolutionist because I don’t know enough evolution and I don’t know enough about technical interpretation of the Scriptures.

What I did say tonight, I’m quite sure of that there remains a very important sticking point in Scripture and that is the Adam/Jesus relationship. I hope serious Christian theologians like yourself will work very hard at that problem as if it were an important problem. Now, I think it’s an important problem. You might not, others might not because that’s way beyond where you’ve come in thinking about the world and these sorts of issues all told.

But I know for a fact that lots of well-trained Christianly vocational biologists, physicists, astronomers, need Christian advice for exactly the kinds you’ve just described. That is to say, biblically rooted, biblically focused, theologically rich, affectionately strong. When they ask the question, how does the Scriptures account of sin and Adam and Eve relate to redemption in Jesus Christ, they need that desperately. They do not need to be told you should rethink how old the earth is. Many of them are past being told you should rethink the lifetime of work you’ve done in genetics that has led you to think that the evolutionary depiction that’s standard in the scientific textbooks is true.

I do think most Christian believers will say, “The closer you get to humankind, the more hypothetical you’re talking.” But there are many serious believers today who not for any non-Christian reason have come to the standard scientific conclusions. They’re desperate to know how we will put together what seems to be disciplined, well-regulated looking at the world and disciplined, well-regulated looking at Scripture.

John Piper: Is the reason there’s still a sticking point with regard to human beings being created uniquely in God’s image because the Bible seems clearer on that, or because the testimony of secular scholars is less united?

Mark Noll: I think it’s because of the nature of the Scriptures. And I’m not enough of an expert on evolutionary biology to say. I think it’s not just the Scriptures, but aspects of Scripture.

John Piper: Yes, I totally agree with that, but it does seem methodologically. And then to say that Scripture, if it’s clear enough, might cause you to hold sway over against lots of secular unanimity.

Mark Noll: Well, except that carefully parsed, carefully stated scientific conclusions about humankind will not say anything about the uniqueness or non-uniqueness of humankind. The statement that humans are just animals is an addition to what is found empirically. What’s found empirically is a series of genetic marks. To say that humankind is special, to say that humankind is only an animal, are both statements that go beyond the evidence. And historically for all people in the west, and certainly now for Christian people, what goes beyond the evidence is to say that however you parse the appearance of human beings, there is something special about human beings. And that is actually a conclusion shared by a wide swath of the secular academic community.

My hope is that we will see in days to come powerful biblical statements about what it means to be created, especially in the image of God. My own belief is you can’t have a full satisfying view of the Scriptures in Christian theology. It doesn’t posit special direct creation made in the image of God. My question is how is that principial Christian belief to be interpreted or reinterpreted in the light of what seems to be increasingly powerful evidence for consistent evolutionary change?

Ryan Griffith: Okay, I think we’re right at the end of our time. Thank you both for being here. We could go on and talk about that the rest of the night, but one of the encouragements that I walk away from an evening like this with is, in light of what often feels like a very fractured academy where the disciplines don’t talk to one another as much as they should, this seems to be even more of an imperative for those kinds of things to happen, especially among evangelicals as they’re doing their work. So I’m grateful for both of your willingness to be here.