In Memoriam – Carl F. H. Henry

carl henryAmerican religious history is rife with significant figures who shaped the landscape of what we call “North American Evangelicalism.” Theologians and preachers such as Jonathan Edwards, Charles Finney, Dwight L. Moody, Aimee Semple McPherson, Billy Sunday, Billy Graham, etc. are only a few in a long line of religious stalwarts who gave shape to contemporary Christianity in America. If one were to insert a name of a person who gave an identity to evangelicalism in the 20th century, it would have to be Billy Graham. In fact, George Marsden once remarked that an evangelical is someone who liked Billy Graham. However, if one were to throw out a name of a person who gave theological structure to evangelicalism, it would have to be Carl F. H. Henry. His name comes up in most discussions concerning the shape of this movement.

Now, we realize that times have changed and some see Henry as a dinosaur, but it would be a colossal mistake to ignore him or dismiss him as some folks have. To be sure, contemporary hermeneutics has changed dramatically in the last three decades, and Henry’s contribution seem so distant in the current state of affairs; however, what he worked tirelessly for in God, Revelation, and Authority is something evangelicals must continually hold dear: the reality of a personal God who speaks as the basis for our confidence in the inspired text! Henry gave evangelicals substantial meat to their theological understanding of Holy Scriptures. As the debates rage in 2013 concerning the nature of the Bible, it would be wise to pick up Henry once again – to learn why he argued so vehemently for the authority of God’s Word.

Moreover, take a gander at American Church History text books and see the impact Henry had in shaping evangelicalism after the Modernist-Fundamentalist debates. It was Henry’s The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (1947) that gave rise to a new breed of young neo-evangelicals who re-entered the public arena. Henry’s wise critique of both the right and the left for giving up so much should be heeded today. For the left, it was their rejection of the historic Christian faith – in order to gain the acceptance of secular culture – that was contemptible, for it was no longer Christianity; for the right, however, not engaging for the sake of protecting orthodoxy was not sustainable, for it led to isolation and a loss of its saltiness in a world that desperately needed the gospel. Perhaps, both the emergent crowd and the separatist folks need to pick up and drink from Henry’s well and find that the gospel is to be cherished and preserved, but not hoarded or perverted.

It has now been 100 years since his birth, and much has changed; but the greater portion of Henry’s counsel must be heeded if evangelicalism is to remain vibrant in the 21st century and hold faithfully to biblical orthodoxy in the 22nd century.

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