Carl Henry was a giant of American evangelicalism:
Carl Ferdinand Howard Henry (1913-2003), was one of the most important names in American evangelicalism of the past century. The theologian, educator and evangelical leader had a huge impact on American Christianity. He accomplished a tremendous amount of work in over a half century of Christian service.
1913, January 22 Born in New York
1933 Begins work as a journalist, becomes the editor of a local newspaper
1933, June 10 Converted to evangelical Christianity
1935-1940 Attends Wheaton College in Chicago and obtains a BA and MA
1940 He marries Helga Bender
1940-1947 Teaches theology and philosophy of religion at Northern Baptist Seminary
1941 Ordained in the Northern Baptist Convention
1942 Completes doctoral studies at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary
1942 Becomes the first president of the National Association of Evangelicals
1949 Completes further doctoral studies at Boston University
1947-1956 Helps to establish Fuller Theological Seminary and becomes its first professor of theology
1956-1968 He becomes the first editor of Christianity Today
1969-74 Becomes professor of theology at Eastern Baptist Seminary
1971 A visiting professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
1974-1987 Served as lecturer-at-large for World Vision International
1976-1983 He writes his magisterial 6-volume, 3,000-page work, God, Revelation and Authority
1989 Co-chairs with Kenneth Kantzer the Evangelical Affirmations Conference
1990-? Lecturer-at-large for Prison Fellowship Ministries
2003, December 7 Passes away
Henry and neoevangelicalism
The above timeline alone shows just what an important figure he was in American evangelicalism. But to best understand the significance of Henry, one needs to know a bit about the historical and theological background of his times. Theological liberalism and the social gospel had been plaguing the West (especially Europe) since the mid-1800s.
Fundamentalism was a response to that, stressing the biblical fundamentals of the gospel. But in its reaction it tended to become insular, anti-intellectual, and withdrawn from the culture around it. See more on this here: billmuehlenberg.com/1999/07/26/what-is-fundamentalism/
It was Henry, along with people like Harold Ockenga, Charles Fuller and E. J. Carnell who wanted to address these issues. They wanted to see evangelicals have an impact on the surrounding culture, but not at the expense of preaching and sound theology. They wanted to see both social change and cultural renewal, as well as evangelism. And they wanted to see God glorified through the use of the mind. Thus the establishment of things like the NAE, Fuller, and Christianity Today.
His concern to see an evangelical mind holding forth with the best of pagan thought is evidenced in his many teaching positions as well as his thirty-plus books that he penned, nine of them while he served at Fuller. Let me speak further to one of these key titles.
The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism
One of Henry’s most important and enduring works came out 75 years ago. In 1947 The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism appeared and it would have a lasting impact on the Christian scene in America. In it Henry chastised the older fundamentalism and pleaded with it to take its social and intellectual obligations seriously. A few quotes from this crucial book are worth featuring here.
“A globe-changing passion certainly characterized the early church, however much it thought within a redemptive pattern centering in Christ’s substitutionary death and bodily resurrection. Had it not been so, Christianity would not have been the religion of the then-known world within three centuries. Some sort of a world passion had made the Christian message pertinent enough for rulers to want to bring their subjects in subjection to it. A Christianity without a passion to turn the world upside down is not reflective of apostolic Christianity.” p. 16
“This early outlook, seeking to relate Christianity redemptively to the Graeco-Roman environment of the day, so characterized the apostolic witness that within three centuries the new religion had, in large measure, captured the then-known world. Whatever their view of the kingdom, the early Christians did not permit it to interfere with their world-changing zeal; they were not embarrassed that some opponents should suspect them of turning the world “upside down.” This does not mean that early Christianity charted the course for social reform; rather, it furnished the basic principles and the moral dynamic for such reform, and concentrated on regeneration as the guarantee of bettered conditions.” p. 37
“If historic Christianity is again to compete as a vital world ideology, evangelicalism must project a solution for the most pressing world problems. It must offer a formula for a new world mind with spiritual ends, involving evangelical affirmations in political, economic, sociological, and educational realms, local and international. The redemptive message has implications for all of life; a truncated life results from a truncated message.” p. 65
“Evangelicalism does not believe that man’s progress is limited by man’s nature as man, as much as by his refusal to appropriate divine regenerative grace. Therefore evangelicalism can view the future with a sober optimism, grounded not only in the assurance of the ultimate triumph of righteousness, but also in the conviction that divine redemption can be a potent factor in any age. That evangelicalism may not create a fully Christian civilization does not argue against an effort to win as many areas as possible by the redemptive power of Christ; it can engender reformation here, and overthrow paganism there; it can win outlets for the redemption that is in Christ Jesus reminiscent of apostolic triumphs.” p. 67
“The cries of suffering humanity today are many. No evangelicalism which ignores the totality of man’s condition dares respond in the name of Christianity. Though the modern crisis is not basically political, economic or social – fundamentally it is religious – yet evangelicalism must be armed to declare the implications of its proposed religious solution for the politico-economic and sociological context for modern life. However marred, the world vessel of clay is not without some of the influence of the Master Molder. God has not left Himself entirely without witness in the global calamity; He discloses Himself in the tragedies as well as the triumphs of history. He works in history as well as above history. There is a universal confrontation of men and women by the divine Spirit, invading all cultures and all individual lives. There is a constructive work of God in history, even where the redemptive Gospel does not do a recreating work. The evangelical missionary message cannot be measured for success by the number of converts only. The Christian message has a salting effect upon the earth.” pp. 83-84
“The battle against evil in all its forms must be pressed unsparingly; we must pursue the enemy, in politics, in economics, in science, in ethics—everywhere, in every field, we must pursue relentlessly.” p. 86
“Christian ethics will always resist any reduction of the good of the community to something divorced from theism and revelation; its conviction that non-evangelical humanism cannot achieve any lasting moral improvements in the world as a whole, because of the lack of an adequate dynamic, will engender the vigorous affirmation of a Christian solution.” p. 88
“The evangelical task primarily is the preaching of the Gospel, in the interest of individual regeneration by the supernatural grace of God, in such a way that divine redemption can be recognized as the best solution of our problems, individual and social. This produces within history, through the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit, a divine society that transcends national and international lines.” pp. 88-89
Major works by Henry
Remaking the Modern Mind (1946)
The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (1947, 2003)
Christian Personal Ethics (1957)
Revelation and the Bible (editor, 1958)
Baker’s Dictionary of Christian Ethics (editor, 1960)
Aspects of Christian Social Ethics (1964)
God, Revelation and Authority, 6 vols. (1976-1983)
Christian Faith and Modern Theology (1971)
A Plea For Evangelical Demonstration (1971)
Horizons of Science (1978)
The Christian Mindset in a Secular Society (1984)
Christian Countermoves in a Decadent Culture (1986)
Carl F. H. Henry, Confessions of a Theologian: An Autobiography (1986)
Twilight of a Great Civilization (1988)
Toward a Recovery of Christian Belief (1990)
Collections of his writings
Architect of Evangelicalism: Essential Essays of Carl F. H Henry. Lexham Press, 2019.
Carl Henry at His Best. Multnomah, 1989.
For further reading
Carson, D. A. and John Woodbridge, eds., God and Culture: Essays in Honor of Carl F. H. Henry. Eerdmans, 1993.
Hall, Matthew and Owen Strachan, eds., Essential Evangelicalism: The Enduring Influence of Carl F. H. Henry. Crossway, 2015.
Patterson Bob, Carl F. H. Henry. Word, 1983.
Payne, Jesse, Carl F. H. Henry on the Holy Spirit. Lexham Press, 2021.
Thornbury, Gregory Alan, Recovering Classic Evangelicalism: Applying the Wisdom and Vision of Carl F. H. Henry. Crossway, 2013.
Strachan, Owen, Awakening the Evangelical Mind: An Intellectual History of the Neo-Evangelical Movement. Zondervan, 2015.
And I have written before about Henry. This one is on the holiness of God: billmuehlenberg.com/2015/02/12/carl-henry-on-the-holiness-of-god/
And this one is on the issue of authority: billmuehlenberg.com/2008/07/07/another-missing-%E2%80%98a%E2%80%99-word-authority/
A few closing quotes about Henry:
“What made Henry unique was his mind, his pen, and the methods by which he deployed his enormous intellect to help evangelicals introduce people to Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ the risen Lord. Because he operated from this prime directive, Henry also made distinctive contributions to central concerns of the evangelical community: the grounds for Christian theism, the importance of reaching contemporary culture, the need for a transdenominational evangelical witness, and the preservation of faithful evangelical institutions.” -Gregory Alan Thornbury
“I had the privilege to know and learn from Carl F. H. Henry. Those who knew him well found him to be a devout believer and faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. Those who met him for the first time often stood in awe of his giant intellect. But soon, almost without exception, they became more impressed with his humility and gracious spirit.” -David Dockery
“It would be fair to say that he midwifed, nurtured, watched over, raised, and, where necessary, disciplined the revitalized evangelicalism of the late twentieth century to its present site of budding maturity.” -Charles Colson
“Henry’s ‘Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism’ is perhaps the most important evangelical book of the twentieth-century. It is just as relevant as it was in 1947, and should be read again by all those with a serious commitment to applying a kingdom vision to every aspect of life. The kingdom Jesus inaugurated spoke to the whole person, to spiritual lostness, to physical sickness, to material poverty, to the need for community. A church that joins Jesus in preaching the kingdom will too. We need that reminder every generation, perhaps especially now. The evangelical conscience is, after all, still uneasy after all these years.” -Russell Moore