Eerdmans has published a new book, releasing later this week, entitled Turning Points in the History of American Evangelicalism, edited by Heath Carter and Laura Porter. The book was inspired by and is dedicated to one of the great historians of religion in our time, Mark Noll, who recently retired from Notre Dame.

Noll’s book, Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, sought to identify key inflection points in church history. Carter and Porter carry on the tradition, with an all-star cast of contributors, focusing on momentous events in American evangelical history. Doug Sweeney writes:

This is a great collection of essays by an all-star cast of scholars working on American religion. It is fascinating reading that will serve as a benchmark in the study of evangelicals for many years to come.

The foreword for the book was written by Nathan Hatch, the noted historian of American religion who has been the President of Wake Forest University since 2005. (Hatch was a classmate of Mark Noll and John Piper in the graduating class of 1968 at Wheaton College.)

Eerdmans and the editors have granted permission for Dr. Hatch’s tribute to be reprinted below.

It is a privilege, indeed, to write the foreword for a book of essays dedicated to Mark Noll, who has been a treasured friend and colleague over the last forty years.

Mark and I graduated together in the Wheaton College class of 1968. We did not know each other well as undergraduates, but I did have great admiration for his abilities—as a versatile starting forward on the Wheaton basketball team.

By different routes both of us ended up studying early American history and wrote dissertations on the relationship of religion and politics in the age of the American Revolution

Both of us ended up teaching in the Midwest, he at our alma mater, Wheaton College, and I ninety miles to the east at Notre Dame, a place, interestingly, where the Nolls took up residence the year after the Hatches moved to Wake Forest in 2005.

Mark found his vocation after college—through a liberating engagement with history. At Wheaton he had principally studied literature and philosophy and, upon graduation, pursued studies in comparative literature, English and German, at the University of Iowa.

During that time he also began to read deeply in the writings of Luther, Calvin, and other Reformers. The result was nothing less than a personal awakening and a reorientation of his intellectual interests, more in the direction of history and historical theology. In the Reformers, Noll found a captivating new vision of the Christian faith, one that was intellectually rich and powerful, one that captured his heart and imagination. “The riches of classical Protestantism opened a new and exceedingly compelling vision of existence,” Noll has written about himself. “Intellectually, theologically, existentially, I was rescued by the Reformation.”

Mark’s calling as a historian and Christian intellectual has led to enormously fruitful work in at least five areas:

(1) as a distinguished historian of religious experience of North America—and, in recent years, of Christianity as a worldwide, cross-cultural phenomenon;

(2) as an interpreter of the American evangelical experience, for scholars and for a broader public, including the church;

(3) as a Christian intellectual and firm advocate for American evangelicals to take up the challenge of serious intellectual engagement;

(4) as an institution-builder in developing efforts such as The Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College, the journal Books and Culture, and the launching and editing of Eerdmans’s Library of Religious Biography; and

(5) as a consequential builder of networks, through engagement with graduate students and younger scholars around the world, through consistent participation in conferences and colloquia, and through careful reading and critiquing of papers and books.

[Mark Noll the Historian of Religion in North America and Global Christianity]

Mark is a historian of enormous erudition, range, and impact.

He has written or edited more than forty books and does so with prose that is clear, interesting, and readable—capable of explaining complexity in understandable terms. His magnum opus, America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln, is a magisterial synthesis of the cultural context of American theology from the 1730s to the 1860s. This work, which emphasizes the characteristically American shape of religious ideas in this land, manifests a lifetime of immersion in every conceivable primary source and an active engagement with every important interpreter of the period.

For most historians, this work, and all the research and writing leading up to it, could constitute the major project of a lifetime.

Yet, at the same time, Mark Noll has continued to mine other historical veins. He has studied deeply and written cogently on the relationship of religion and science, on the intellectual and religious significance of race and the Civil War, on the importance of hymnody in religious life, on Canadian religious history, on the relationship of Protestants and Catholics, and, most recently, on the dimensions of global Christianity.

He is also engaged in writing a three-volume history of the role of the Bible in American public life. The range of his interests and expertise is remarkable and has never stopped expanding. His standing in the historical academy is indicated by his election in 2005 to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. A year later, at the White House, President George Bush presented him the National Humanities Medal.

[Mark Noll the Interpreter of American Evangelicalism]

At the heart of Mark’s work has been a passion to understand the characteristic shape and orientation of evangelical Christianity in America. He has always been forthright in owning that tradition, even being so bold as to make that plain when accepting the National Humanities Medal: “I am a historian who happens to be an evangelical Christian.”

At the same time, he treats his own tradition with a remarkably even hand, putting it into the perspective of the broader sweep of Christianity—historically and globally. He has not been afraid to criticize its distinct and parochial elements; its approach to science, politics, and biblical hermeneutics; and its overall lack of engagement with culture. But he has never done this with anger or dismissal—as is often the case with those who grow up in an orthodox tradition and then define themselves in dismissive reaction. Mark’s rare gift has been to identify thoroughly his own heritage, however flawed, and to interpret it in comparative context. He describes his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind as “an epistle from a wounded lover.” Mark Noll found history to be life-giving initially because it opened powerful and renewing strains of the Christian tradition that he had not known. Likewise, his study of American evangelicals was freeing for him—and a whole generation of students and younger scholars—because it helped to explain the characteristic shape and dynamic of that tradition. By becoming conscious of certain influences, one did not have to accept them as self-evident but could discriminate and compare them to the broader reaches of Christianity.

[Mark Noll the Christian Intellectual]

Mark’s third great contribution has been as a versatile Christian intellectual and a firm advocate of Christian intellectual life.

In his own work, he has brought a remarkably broad range of intellectual perspectives to the understanding and justification of Christian learning. He is conversant with contemporary analytic philosophy, with literary theory and hermeneutics, with theology, with the history and philosophy of science and political theory, and with the field of missiology. His book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind laments the inability of the evangelical tradition to mount serious intellectual activity. And his book Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind points a way forward, offering compelling Christological justification for serious learning and guidelines for thinking and acting in specific disciplines.

These books, like so much of Mark’s writing, are rare examples of work that is academically serious and thoroughly accessible to an educated lay public. In all of this, Mark has been a responsible citizen of two worlds—as a critical historian at home in the secular academy and as a person of faith. In negotiating these different identities and languages, he has clearly pointed the way for many younger scholars.

[Mark Noll the Institution Builder]

Mark Noll is most at home as a scholar, studying, writing, engaging ideas. But he has also been willing to work toward the building of programs and institutions.

He cofounded The Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College and, over the last thirty years, guided many of its conferences and publications. The network of scholars associated with that institute, many of whom are represented in this volume, have done much to reshape the ways in which scholars understand evangelicals in American culture.

Mark was also instrumental in launching the Library of Religious Biography series that the William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company began in 1991 with the publication of Harry Stout’s marvelous biography of George Whitfield, The Divine Dramatist. Mark Noll’s recruitment of authors and steady editorial hand since that time have led to almost thirty serious but accessible biographies published, including

  • George Marsden on Jonathan Edwards,
  • Marvin O’Connell on Blaise Pascal,
  • Edwin Gaustad on Thomas Jefferson,
  • Nancy Koester on Harriett Beecher Stowe,
  • Robert Bruce Mullen on Horace Bushnell,
  • Edith Blumhofer on Aimee Semple McPherson,
  • Allenn Guelzo on Abraham Lincoln,
  • Charles Hamrick-Stowe on Charles Finney,
  • David Bebbington on William Gladstone, and more.

This series illustrates, again, Mark Noll’s abiding convictions that history and biography have great contemporary relevance and that serious historians can, and should, make their work accessible to a broader public.

Mark Noll was also a principal architect of the journal Books and Culture: A Christian Review and has served with Philip Yancey for the last twenty years as co-chair of its editorial board. Mark’s own essays and reviews have regularly graced the pages of this bimonthly review, which seeks to bring Christian perspectives to bear on the broader worlds of nature, society, politics, and the arts. He has also enlisted a broad range of diverse contributors to write for this journal, which, like Mark Noll himself, begins with Christian assumptions but seeks “common ground with like-minded souls from other communities of faith.”

[Mark Noll the Network Builder]

Perhaps Mark’s greatest gift to the profession has been his tireless investment in the work of colleagues. This begins with his remarkable mentoring of students at Notre Dame, at Wheaton, and at other places he has visited: Harvard, Chicago, and Regent College in Vancouver. I have heard him admit that his typical Saturday is taken up with writing letters of recommendation for students and former students.

More than anyone I know, he also gives himself to reading and critiquing the work of other scholars, particularly young and emerging faculty and those from other cultures—British and Irish, Canadian, Australian, and African. Mark has read and offered detailed comment on hundreds and hundreds of manuscripts for his colleagues. This steady work, often unknown and unheralded, has been a great gift to individual scholars and to the common enterprise of historical writing.

[My Greatest Debt to Mark and Maggie Noll]

My greatest debt to Mark, and his wife Maggie, is being able to learn from how they live. They have gone about their calling in winsome and compelling ways, sustaining commitments and friendships, investing deeply in church communities, and reaching out to others in quiet but effective ways. There is no pretense or posturing. In academe, persons of great talent often carry the baggage of giant egos with which their colleagues have to contend. In Mark’s case, I have never known anyone who accomplished so much but wanted so little attention drawn to himself. He has always reckoned his achievements as good gifts. Mark’s talent and his demeanor have meant that he has been at the center of many intellectual networks. And in this engagement, many friendships have been forged. In fostering real intellectual community, like-minded friends, Mark Noll has advanced the quality of historical work and made that work a delight for many.