The Life and Legacy of Carl F. H. Henry: A Remembrance
- Tuesday, December 09, 2003
"Everyone has a theology," wrote Carl F. H. Henry. "It may be a very shoddy one, and if it is shoddy, it will rise to haunt one in a crisis of life. It's my conviction that only a theology which has the living God at its center and that is rooted in Christ, the crucified and risen Redeemer, has the intellectual struts to engage the modern secular views effectively."
Carl Henry, who died in his sleep December 7, devoted his long and illustrious career as a theologian to building and defending the "intellectual struts" of evangelical theology. His death at age 90 closes an important chapter in the history of American evangelicalism--and raises anew the great questions with which he struggled. Among those questions was one he revisited time and time again: Will evangelicalism remain recognizably evangelical?
Henry came to faith in Christ as a young man with a promising career in journalism. Before age 23, he had already edited a major Long Island newspaper and was covering a large part of the region for The New York Times. A call to ministry turned him to Wheaton College at the very moment conservative Protestantism was about to emerge with renewed vigor on the national scene. At Wheaton, Henry met and developed a close friendship with a young evangelist named Billy Graham. Their lives and careers would intersect at numerous points over the next half-century and more.
Wheaton also introduced Henry to Helga Bender. They married in 1940 and were later to have two children. Henry stayed in the Chicago area to complete three degrees in theology after Wheaton and later earned a Ph.D. in philosophy from Boston University. From the start, Carl Henry was a theologian to the marrow of his bones. Before long, he would emerge as the most formative theological mind of his generation--and as the intellectual father to the movement soon to be known as evangelicalism.
Henry and his colleagues in the young evangelical movement wanted to establish the intellectual and moral credibility of orthodox Christianity in the modern world. They had taken the measure of the modern secular worldview and knew both its seductions and its ultimate despair. At the same time, they saw fundamentalism as a failed project doomed to ultimate irrelevance by its fixation on non-essential doctrines and its lack of social conscience. Henry's first major book, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, was a lament of fundamentalism's failure and a proposal for evangelical recovery.
For the next half-century, Henry stood at the center of virtually every major development in evangelical life, combining tenacity with restlessness. When evangelicals established Fuller Theological Seminary as a beachhead for orthodox theology on the west coast, Henry was on the founding faculty. When, prompted by Billy Graham, evangelicals established Christianity Today as their flagship magazine, Carl Henry was the logical choice as editor. In addition, he would serve as chairman of the historic Berlin Congress on Evangelism in 1966 and would eventually teach at a host of evangelical institutions, produce a massive body of published writings, and influence successive generations of young evangelical thinkers and leaders.
At the same time, Henry did not sail placidly through his long and remarkable career. He left the editorship of Christianity Today after conflict over the magazine's direction. He would later register his great disappointment in the trajectory of institutions he had loved and served--most notably Fuller Theological Seminary--and would seem to vacillate between hope and despair when he considered the future of the evangelical movement he had helped to establish. He worried that evangelicalism had become "a lion on the loose that no one today seriously fears."
Though later associated with World Vision and Prison Fellowship, he devoted most of his career after Christianity Today to a massive theological project published as the six-volume God, Revelation and Authority. Beyond this, he became the evangelical elder statesman, and an encourager to younger theologians who would take up his task.
Recently on Spiritual Life
Have something to say about this article? Leave your comment via Facebook below!
Listen to Your Favorite Pastors
Add Crosswalk.com content to your siteBrowse available content