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We wish to thank Timothy Larsen for his generous and critical engagement with our book. As a fellow heir of the Pentecostal and academic heritage represented in our book, he is uniquely situated to discern its potential contributions and shortcomings. He rightly notes our desire to develop a Pentecost vision of higher education that asks how pneumatology might inform the Christian university. As he intimates, such a vision must be robustly trinitarian, which is why we proposed a Christ-shaped and Spirit-infused account centered on the cultivation of a holistic disposition in students. This new disposition or habitus unfolds through an educational journey centered upon moral formation, encounters with transcendence, and engagement in mission (going forward we shorten this to FEE—formation, encounter, and engagement). We utilized the term habitus to highlight a way of being in the world informed by the narrative catechesis of the story of God and over against a set of beliefs or conceptual scheme about the world (worldview) with its particular view of rationality. These features comprise the integral humanism we proposed in keeping with medieval thinkers and as fleshed out by the literary and biblical humanism of the Renaissance and Reformation.

Larsen’s set of criticisms center upon a lack of concreteness in the “clarity and practical application of their vision.” While he considers our fundamental proposal clear enough, he still sees our vision as “frustratingly disembodied.” While registering appreciation for the basic vision, he longs for more coherent and specific proposals. On this basis, he engages the two parts of our work and our critique of Mark Noll. Following his lead, we want to revisit the question of concrete application and then note why we engaged Noll’s Scandal in the first section of chapter four.

Before we do, we reiterate our points on “what this book does not attempt” that anticipate some of his concerns (10–11). We note that many in CCCU institutions will recognize some elements of what we suggest as already in place, which we happily see Larsen has done. Our aim is inspirational insofar as we ask readers to imagine (with the help of the Spirit) what a holistic vision that seeks to cultivate the cognitive, affective, and bodily dimensions of the human person might look like. That is, when the focus is on the use of narrative catechesis to form a new habitus in students that integrates all sides of our humanity (integral humanism) through FEE, what possibilities might this open up? Theologically, when Christian institutions fuse moral formation through sanctification with charismatic encounters that elevate the soul into the presence of the bridegroom, particularly, the role of the ecstatic in revelation and vision, and see both informing mission under the canopy of the story of God, what difference might this make? We did not set out to create a concrete model, which would be counter to our approach. We set out to propose a Christ-shaped and Spirit-infused journey to maintain an integral humanism and hope(d) its concrete application might occur in a variety of ways.

Larsen rightly identifies that we had multiple aims in the first part. His criticism is that the major point of the historical narrative seems lost. Is it a retrieval? Is it an apologetic? Is it a critique of Holiness and Pentecostal shortcomings? Yes, but with a baseline followed by improvisational interventions (to borrow a jazz metaphor). For example, we clearly state that an apologetic is not our primary aim and for this reason we did not develop a Pentecostal philosophy of higher education (4). Apologetic moves are improvisations from the baseline. The baseline is a retrieval through a historical narrative that claims FEE are core features of the approach to education from ancient philosophy to the twentieth century. While there was an overarching shift from the mythos of ancient philosophy and the production of a sage to the story of God with its quest for sainthood, and then a return to the scholar as hero/sage in the modern era with its Enlightenment focus on self-cultivation (Bildung) through a new narrative for culture, the core features remained. Because these are core features, we see them as normative. Everything else we say flows from this historical and pneumatological ressourcement.

For example, by connecting the charismatic to ecstasy and inward vision and revelation, we tried to show how thinkers from Plotinus to Coleridge understood encounters with transcendence in terms of the ecstatic. We also tried to connect this to patristic ideas about the ascent to God, medieval notions of contemplative ecstasy, and Holiness and Pentecostal views of encounters with the Spirit as generating intuitive knowledge over against a more evidential rationalism. Thus, we maintained the baseline while also “improvising” that Holiness and Pentecostal believers should be placed in this trajectory rather than written out of it. Intuitive rationality turns out to be another form of contemplative ecstasy and charismatic encounter as part of the ascent to God. Not only did this insight allow us to place Holiness and Pentecostal approaches into a broad historical argument, it allowed us to contrast this to the approach to rationality we found in worldview thinking. The improvisation in our argument flowed out of the baseline.

At the same time, we also argued for meditative engagement of the intellect via discursive reasoning. We saw this as part of the emphasis on moral formation and the sanctified life. On this basis, we criticized Holiness and Pentecostal approaches as failing to integrate meditation with contemplation. Our argument for a focus on moral formation and encounters with transcendence embodies a claim to retrieve a holistic view of rationality that encompasses discursive and non-discursive forms. In chapter five, we build precisely on this more holistic vision, rooting it in a narrative interpretation of scripture and a Spirit-infused “performance” by which a habitus must be cultivated. We also argued that a holistic vision requires multidisciplinarity, interdisciplinarity, and even transdisciplinarity. The latter is our argument to expand the notion of encounter so that the many disciplines together (interdisciplinarity) engaging creation through the Spirit can move back toward a unified vision that declares the glory of God and gives fresh insight into the Spirit’s work. This is part of an argument to return theology to a crucial place as it forces us to maintain the eschatological horizon of the story of God. At the core of our historical and theological argument is a retrieval of a holistic vision of human rationality that includes moral formation (sanctified reason) and encounters with transcendence (charismatically-elevated reason).

We also argue for a concrete vision (which, as noted above, Larsen discovered) and a concrete set of emphases and practices to implement that vision (which Larsen thinks is lacking). The engagement with utilitarian and vocational models of education was not simply to explain how Holiness and Pentecostal institutions came about, it was to point toward a fundamental approach to mission grounded in populism that sought to transform folk cultures, not build a new high culture. Institutions like Wheaton and Oberlin were meant to be evangelical monasteries in Midwestern “deserts,” transforming their regions by altering the local cultures through inculcating the habitus. For this same reason, we invoked the debate between W. E. B. Du Bois’ top-down talented tenth model and Booker T. Washington’s bottom-up training model. Du Bois was echoing Tappan’s trickle-down theory of education whereas we were describing a different starting point. It was a return to the local and regional focus on folk cultures, which was a return to particularity as the starting point. We make this point at the beginning of the second part (155).

If the goal of higher education is a formational journey to inculcate a habitus that is Christ-shaped and Spirit-infused through FEE, then it cannot be instrumentalist and utilitarian in the sense of just churning out professionals. We see no contradiction between the point we made on page 249 and the larger vision we endorse. We were never arguing that Holiness and Pentecostal educators were going for technical proficiency in their endorsement of transforming folk cultures through populism. Instead, beginning with the particularity of folk culture, we can move onwards and upwards through ongoing encounters that point toward a cosmic vision, the story of God. This is why in the section Larsen cites, we say “the big questions of life get adjudicated en via” (247) and argue for service-learning as necessary but that service-learning cannot be allowed to slowly shift toward a professionalism that alters the end of education in terms of technique rather than an eschatological telos experienced in the encounter with transcendence.

Finally, some points regarding our engagement with Noll. First, the intention was never to engage Noll’s entire corpus–we do draw on some of his historical work (62–64)–but to probe his Scandal. Given Larsen’s personal recount of his conversation with Noll, we suspect he shares at least some of our concerns even as we share his deep respect for Noll’s contribution to scholarship. Moreover, whatever private exchanges he may have had with Larsen, Noll has made it clear in print that he stands by his criticisms; a point we noted (112). As we noted in our book, in the most recent edition of Scandal, Noll claims that evangelical intellectual life is virtually a lost cause because the ethos of evangelicalism prevents the trickle-down effect of scholarship–the very model of Tappan, reiterated in Du Bois’ talented tenth (122). Our brief examination of Noll (107–122) should register our shared respect with Larsen for Noll. Given his stature, the impact of Scandal, and his continued endorsement of his argument, how could we not engage him?

Second, Noll’s account is part of a larger indictment of pietistic traditions not simply Pentecostalism, which is why we discuss Burtchaell’s “pietistic instability” (107–111). In this respect, our engagement with Noll was part of a broader concern to argue for pietist sensibilities. This explains our return to the debate between George Marsden and Donald Dayton (125–128). Moreover, we needed to point out that the American historiographical tradition embodied in Richard Hofstadter that saw populism as anti-intellectual made it difficult for Noll to find positive contributions in any pietist tradition. Yet, we also claim that Holiness and Pentecostal traditions have failed to integrate their own instinctive impulses into a holistic vision. As Larsen rightly noted, our aim was never a full-throated apologetic but a retrieval that included pietistic traditions and showed why they matter.

Third, Noll’s vision of higher education as engaging the mind has a particular view of rationality that disregards intuitive knowledge, the very contribution Reidian philosophy made that became central to the nineteenth century. If Larsen agrees with our point that sometimes the charge of anti-intellectualism is, in fact, a critique of a specific form of rationalism, then we wonder whether he agrees with our assessment that worldview thinking can promote that type of rationalism? Noll’s Christ of the confessions in Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind1 is an incomplete picture of the patristic and medieval visions of the cosmic Christ who is the Logos governing creation in whose image humanity is fashioned, and who renews that image in his salvific work. Noll’s focus in this book is another feature of worldview confessionalism, which has dominated evangelical approaches to faith-learning integration. If we are correct, then this approach does not advance the integral humanism we espouse and that is formed through the narrative of the story of God to which Chalcedon points. In this sense, we are no longer clearing the ground for pietistic approaches but suggesting that Noll’s view of rationality, worldview confessionalism, and quest for high culture is too constricting.

Larsen’s sympathetic and critical attentiveness to our argument is much appreciated. We recognized in writing this book that we were attempting many things at once. We hoped that the baseline would be clear and that the improvisations would not detract too much from the whole. Still, we recognized that being improvisational introduces an element of chaos that only gets resolved by following the arc of the solo until it returns to the baseline. This is always a risk whose success depends on the skill of the musician. Maybe in that risk our skills fell short. In this response, we have tried to trace out some of those arcs of improvisation in the hope of showing Larsen how we maintained the baseline of a Christ-shaped and Spirit-infused habitus with concrete application to contemporary concerns.

Cite this article
Amos Yong and Dale M. Coulter, ““The Idea of a Spirit-Infused College:” A Response to Timothy Larsen”, Christian Scholar’s Review, 53:1 , 87-91


  1. Mark A. Noll, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2013).

Amos Yong

Fuller Theological Seminary
Amos Yong is Dean of the School of Theology and the School of Intercultural Studies, as well as Professor of Theology and Missions at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Dale M. Coulter

Dale M. Coulter is Professor of Historical Theology at Pentecostal Theological Seminary.