Professor Mark Noll came to Wheaton College several years after I graduated (B.A., 1971; M.A., 1973). He has been an institution at my alma mater for nearly three decades. In some circles his name is virtually synonymous with Wheaton’s solid academic reputation. However, Noll is leaving Wheaton College this month to replace George M. Marsden at Notre Dame University. Both Noll and Marsden are world renowned scholars of American church history. And both are Christian gentlemen in the truest sense as well as serious Reformed scholars and Christians. George Marsden’s dad was an Orthodox Presbyterian minister and Mark Noll has faithfully served as an elder at Immanuel Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) in Warrenville, pastored by an ACT 3 board member, Dr. Mateen Elass.
Most know Mark Noll for his many books, especially for his two highly respected books: The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind and America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln. Marsden is known for his biography of Jonathan Edwards, thus his contribution to our own ACT 3 conference on Edwards two years ago here in Wheaton.
I have had the privilege of knowing Mark Noll as a friend. Time and again we have enjoyed small talk and, over the years, several fine meals. We have not been extremely close but we have shared ideas and thoughts as brothers. Mark has time and again shown himself to be a wonderful person in my context. He sent me several handwritten letters over the years, noting with appreciation some things I had written or editorial approaches I had taken in our ACT 3 Review quarterly journal. He has, in one word, shown me the gift of encouragement. To get such affirmation from a highly respected scholar has meant a great deal to me personally. Even more than the note itself was the fact that Mark took the time to write when he was one of the busiest people I ever met. Supremely busy people can find ways to be warm and human, and thus encourage others, if they want to do it. Mark always showed me that he cared not only about Christian thought but about real people who sought to do Christian thought well.
Mark Noll may have paid me one of my more encouraging public tributes when he noted my positive move toward ecumenism and the catholicity of the church in his recent book, Is the Reformation Over? He used me as an example of a Protestant evangelical who had actively shown how evangelicals could pursue non-evangelicals as brothers and sisters in personal relationship. As with many things Mark did in his work I didn’t even know that I was in this book until someone else told me.
I will miss Mark being nearby for friendly chats. I wish him well at Notre Dame and will definitely try to look him up again when I am in South Bend. I pray, “God’s speed dear brother.” Your contribution to my life, though given in small doses, has been important and your contribution to the church of Jesus Christ has been immense. Your many friends wish you long life and much more fruitful writing yet to come.