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Originally published in 1947, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism has since served as the manifesto of evangelical Christians serious about bringing the fundamentals of the Christian faith to bear in contemporary culture. In this classic book Carl F. H. Henry, the father of modern fundamentalism, pioneered a path for active Christian engagement with the world - a path as relevant today as when it was first...
Originally published in 1947, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism has since served as the manifesto of evangelical Christians serious about bringing the fundamentals of the Christian faith to bear in contemporary culture. In this classic book Carl F. H. Henry, the father of modern fundamentalism, pioneered a path for active Christian engagement with the world - a path as relevant today as when it was first staked out.
Now available again and featuring a new foreword by Richard J. Mouw, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism offers a bracing world-and-life view that calls for boldness on the part of the evangelical community. Henry argues that a reformation is imperative within the ranks of conservative Christianity, one that will result in an ecumenical passion for souls and in the power to meaningfully address the social and intellectual needs of the world.
The present tendency of conservative Christianity is to make
much of the embarrassment of religious modernism.
The modernist embarrassment is serious indeed. The shallow
insistence on inevitable world progress and on man's essential
goodness has been violently declared false. Not only
sound Bible exegesis but the world events of 1914-1946 indict
But contemporary Fundamentalism is not without its
own moments of guilt. For the world crisis serves to embarrass
Fundamentalism also. The uncomfortableness of evangelicalism
cannot be palliated by an emphasis on someone else's uneasy
predicament. Even if it could, the device would hardly escape
attention from the alert modern mind.
The predicament of contemporary evangelicalism can be
set forth from two vantage points, that of the non-evangelicals
and that of the evangelicals themselves. From whichever direction
the problem is approached, it is serious enough.
Against Protestant Fundamentalism the non-evangelicals
level the charge that it has no social program calling for a practical
attack on acknowledged world evils. True, other complaints
are made against Christian supernaturalism. Representative
spokesmen for religious liberalism, for ethical idealism, for religious
humanism, and for pessimism, are linked by a common
network of assumptions which clearly differentiates their philosophic
premises from the orthodox Hebrew-Christian view.
Non-Christian groups have no dealings with a super naturalistic
metaphysics. But nonetheless-though they regard contemporary
orthodoxy as a vestigial remnant of traditional obscurantism
-they theoretically recognize the philosophic right of the
evangelicals to hold any doctrinal framework they may desire.
But what is almost wholly unintelligible to the naturalistic and
idealistic groups, burdened as they are for a new world order, is
the apparent lack of any social passion in Protestant Fundamentalism.
On this evaluation, Fundamentalism is the modern
priest and Levite, by-passing suffering humanity.
The picture is clear when one brings into focus such admitted
social evils as aggressive warfare, racial hatred and intolerance,
the liquor traffic, and exploitation of labor or management,
whichever it may be.
The social reform movements dedicated to the elimination
of such evils do not have the active, let alone vigorous, cooperation
of large segments of evangelical Christianity. In fact, Fundamentalist
churches increasingly have repudiated the very
movements whose most energetic efforts have gone into an attack
on such social ills. The studied Fundamentalist avoidance
of, and bitter criticism of, the World Council of Churches and
the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America is a pertinent
Now, such resistance would be far more intelligible to
non-evangelicals were it accompanied by an equally forceful
assault on social evils in a distinctly super naturalistic framework.
But, by and large, the Fundamentalist opposition to societal
ills has been more vocal than actual. Some concerted effort
has been attempted through organizations like the
National Association of Evangelicals or the American Council
of Churches. Southern Baptists have a somewhat better record,
coupled with rejection of the Federal Council. But evangelical
social action has been spotty and usually of the emergency
The situation has even a darker side. The great majority of
Fundamentalist clergymen, during the past generation of
world disintegration, became increasingly less vocal about social
evils. It was unusual to find a conservative preacher occupied
at length with world ills.
In a company of more than one hundred representative
evangelical pastors, the writer proposed the following question:
"How many of you, during the past six months, have
preached a sermon devoted in large part to a condemnation of
such social evils as aggressive warfare, racial hatred and intolerance,
the liquor traffic, exploitation of labor or management,
or the like-a sermon containing not merely an incidental or
illustrative reference, but directed mainly against such evils
and proposing the framework in which you think solution is
possible?" Not a single hand was raised in response. Now this
situation is not characteristic only of one particular denominational
group of Fundamentalists; rather, a predominant
trait, in most Fundamentalist preaching, is this reluctance to
come to grips with social evils.
There are Fundamentalist groups, admittedly, which have
not lost a keen world reference, especially those alert to their
Reformational lineage in John Calvin. Their interest in ethics is
demanded, rather than precluded, by their doctrinal fervor.
Holding fast to an ideology of supernaturalism, these groups
have sometimes been tempted to dissociate themselves from
the Fundamentalist camp because of the widespread notion
that indifference to world evils is essential to Fundamentalism.
And, after all, social irresponsibility was not the only trend
that was imputed to Fundamentalist circles. Modern prejudice,
justly or unjustly, had come to identify Fundamentalism
largely in terms of an anti-ecumenical spirit of independent
isolationism, an uncritically-held set of theological formulas,
an overly-emotional type of revivalism. There is also the tendency
to replace great church music by a barn-dance variety of
semi-religious choruses; some churches have almost become
spiritualized juke boxes. It was the recognition, by the ethically
alert Fundamentalist minority, that such tendencies do
not express the inherent genius of the great evangelical tradition
that prevented their desertion from the Fundamentalist
camp. Spokesmen particularly for orthodox Reformed groups
saw that the title of "Fundamentalism" was applied initially
with doctrinal fidelity, rather than ethical irresponsibility, as
the frame of reference. Fundamentalism was a Bible-believing
Christianity which regarded the supernatural as a part of the
essence of the Biblical view; the miraculous was not to be
viewed, as in liberalism, as an incidental and superfluous accretion.
It was from its affirmation of the historic evangelical
doctrinal fundamentals that modern orthodoxy received its
name, and not from its growing silence on pressing global
problems. This was clearly seen by spokesmen for contemporary
Fundamentalism like the late J. Gresham Machen, who
vigorously insisted that Christianity has a message relevant to
the world crisis, however staggering the issues.
The average Fundamentalist's indifference to social implications
of his religious message has been so marked, however,
that the non-evangelicals have sometimes classified him with
the pessimist in his attitude toward world conditions.
Of all the seemingly incongruous weddings in philosophy,
this is the most striking. That Christian supernaturalism,
which as a matter of historical record furnished the background
and in some sense the support for the modern
humanisms and idealisms, should be accused of having lost its
own devotion to human well-being, is indeed a startling accusation.
But, from the standpoint of not a few religious modernists,
ethical idealists and humanists, the common strand that
runs through Fundamentalism and pessimism is that both are
viewpoints from which the humanism, or humanitarianism,
This is not to suggest that Fundamentalism had no militant
opposition to sin. Of all modern viewpoints, when measured
against the black background of human nature disclosed
by the generation of two world wars, Fundamentalism provided
the most realistic appraisal of the condition of man. The
sinfulness of man, and the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and that
God alone can save man from his disaster, are insistences that
were heard with commonplace frequency only within the
evangelical churches. But the sin against which Fundamentalism
has inveighed, almost exclusively, was individual sin rather
than social evil.
It is not fair to say that the ethical platform of all conservative
churches has clustered about such platitudes as "abstain
from intoxicating beverages, movies, dancing, card-playing,
and smoking," but there are multitudes of Fundamentalist
congregations in which these are the main points of reference
for ethical speculation. In one of the large Christian colleges, a
chapel speaker recently expressed amazement that the campus
newspaper could devote so much space to the all-important
problem of whether it is right to play "rook," while
the nations of the world are playing with fire.
And yet it ought not to be overlooked that, in its attack on
personal sins, there is an indirect coming to grips in Fundamentalist
churches with some of the major contemporary
problems. The bitter opposition to intoxicating beverages is, in
a localized sense, an attack upon the liquor traffic, even though
it does nothing to curb the menace itself and concentrates upon
schooling the believer to circumvent it. Again, while the Fundamentalist's
opposition to the theatre is sometimes so deep rooted
that it is forgotten that the camera may also serve to the
glory of God, he nevertheless is expressing a vigorous protest
against the secular and often pagan standards of value which
Hollywood film producers have consistently enthroned and
glorified. At this point, in fact, the Fundamentalist has often
been more sensitive to the danger of undermining Christian
convictions by propaganda means than has the religious modernist
with his selection of "best, good, and unrecommended
films." And yet, the Fundamentalist appears to pursue a rather
foredoomed approach, schooling his constituency against all
movies, as if they are inherently evil, so that there is no direct attempt
to change the external picture itself.
The problem of personal ethics, moreover, is complicated
no little by the shifting standards in various sections of the
country, among Fundamentalists themselves. Among evangelicals,
for example, smoking is hardly considered the sin in the
southern tobacco-growing states that it is in the north. And
the northern Baptist pastor who would join his wife for mixed
public swimming would be called before his board of deacons
in many a southern church.
Now, the purpose of such examples is not to promote a
plea for laxity in personal morals. It is simply to emphasize
that such personal issues are themselves frequently in a state of
environmental flux which, if anything, adds to the predicament
of the Fundamentalist pastor on the score of ethical
Even more serious is the mounting repudiation in evangelical
circles of Fundamentalist standards for the practical moral
life. This testifies to more than a growing estrangement from
traditional ways of living. As seen by those who are not evangelicals,
this movement away from the evangelical evaluation
of life and duty, in the personal as well as social code of behavior,
is an inevitable consequence of an ideology which refuses
to relate itself to the cardinal issues of the global dilemma. The
non-Christian idealists and naturalists know, of course, that
their outlooks demand an evaluation of life which differs from
the Fundamental appraisal, but they trace the growing Fundamentalist
revolt against stringent personal prohibitions, to the
peculiar strategy of evangelical ethics, as much as to the penetrative
dissemination of anti-Christian moral theories. It remains
a question whether one can be perpetually indifferent
to the problems of social justice and international order, and
develop a wholesome personal ethics.
In mentioning the typical ethical insistences of Fundamentalist
churches, it would be unfair not to allude to the strict
attitude taken toward divorce, as contrasted with the increasingly
loose secular view of family relations. The insistence that
only death or adultery can sever the marriage bond is maintained
nowhere today with such a conviction of absoluteness
as in Fundamentalist circles, although there are here, as everywhere,
exceptions. The contribution of this viewpoint to the
integrity of the family, and its significance in precluding juvenile
delinquency, is of no small moment in its social consequences.
From a certain perspective it can be said that the effort
to remedy the disintegration of the American home,
pressed by social reformers, does not get at the heart of the
problem as directly as the Fundamentalist proclamation of the
divine sanction of a monogamous family life.
But here again it must also be conceded that the defection
of American culture from a vital Christianity means that the
problem of the home and of juvenile delinquency is unconfronted
in countless family circles where remedial measures
might create a more favorable soil for the preaching of the
Gospel. By such argument even those who have disagreed with
a supernaturalist ideology have sought to enlist evangelicalism
in reform programs.
The failure of the evangelical movement to react favorably
on any widespread front to campaigns against social evils has
led, finally, to a suspicion on the part of non-evangelicals that
there is something in the very nature of Fundamentalism
which makes a world ethical view impossible. The conviction
is widespread that Fundamentalism takes too pessimistic a
view of human nature to make a social program practicable.
This modern mind-set, insisting that evangelical supernaturalism
has inherent within it an ideological fault which precludes
any vital social thrust, is one of the most disturbing dividing
lines in contemporary thought. In the struggle for a
world mind which will make global order and brotherhood a
possibility, contemporary speculation has no hearing whatever
for a viewpoint which it suspects has no world program.
It dismisses Fundamentalism with the thought that, in this expression
of the Great Tradition, the humanitarianism has
evaporated from Christianity.
No complaint against Fundamentalism is, from the Fundamentalist
viewpoint, more untrue than the contention that the
Biblical estimate of man involves a social impotence.
An evangelical message vitally related to world conditions
is not precluded by New Testament doctrine.
Indeed, conservative Protestantism insists, only this estimate
of the sinfulness of man and his need of regeneration is
sufficiently realistic to make at all possible any securely grounded
optimism in world affairs. Any other framework
can offer only a "bubble and froth cure."
And yet, evangelicalism is disturbed. There is a growing
awareness in Fundamentalist circles that, despite the orthodox
insistence upon revelation and redemption, evangelical Christianity
has become increasingly inarticulate about the social
reference of the Gospel.
Excerpted from THE UNEASY CONSCIENCE of MODERN FUNDAMENTALISM
by Carl F. H. Henry
Copyright © 1947 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
|I||The Evaporation of Fundamentalist Humanitarianism||1|
|II||The Protest Against Foredoomed Failure||13|
|III||The Most Embarrassing Evangelical Divorce||27|
|IV||The Apprehension Over Kingdom Preaching||41|
|V||The Fundamentalist Thief on the Cross||55|
|VI||The Struggle for a New World Mind||65|
|VII||The Evangelical "Formula of Protest"||75|
|VIII||The Dawn of a New Reformation||83|