Essential Evangelicalism: The Enduring Influence of Carl F. H. Henry

Essential Evangelicalism: The Enduring Influence of Carl F. H. Henry


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This collection of essays by a team of evangelical scholars explores the legacy of Carl F. H. Henry, a neglected giant of twentieth-century evangelicalism—contending masterfully for Henry’s continued relevance in a changing world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781433547263
Publisher: Crossway
Publication date: 09/30/2015
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Matthew J. Hall (PhD, University of Kentucky) serves as vice president of academic services and assistant professor of church history at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He is also a research fellow for the Research Institute of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Owen Strachan (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is associate professor of Christian theology and director of the Theological and Cultural Engagement at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also serves as president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

D. A. Carson (PhD, Cambridge University) is Emeritus Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he has taught since 1978. He is a cofounder of the Gospel Coalition and has written or edited nearly 120 books. He and his wife, Joy, have two children and live in the north suburbs of Chicago.

David S. Dockery (PhD, University of Texas) is the chancellor of Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois, following five years as president. He is a much-sought-after speaker and lecturer, a consulting editor for Christianity Today, and the author or editor of more than thirty books. Dockery and his wife, Lanese, have three sons and seven grandchildren.

Paul R. House (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) serves as professor of divinity at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama. He has been a pastor or teacher in churches, Christian colleges, and seminaries for over thirty years. He is a past president of the Evangelical Theological Society, an active member of the Society of Biblical Literature, and a member of the Translation Oversight Committee for the English Standard Version Bible. House is the author of numerous books, including Bonhoeffer’s Seminary Vision.

R. Albert Mohler Jr. (PhD, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) serves as the ninth president and the Joseph Emerson Brown Professor of Christian Theology of Southern Seminary. Considered a leader among American evangelicals by Time and Christianity Today magazines, Dr. Mohler hosts two programs: The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview, and Thinking in Public, a series of conversations with today’s leading thinkers. He also writes a popular blog and a regular commentary on moral, cultural, and theological issues.

Russell Moore (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the eighth president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, the moral and public policy agency of the nation's largest Protestant denomination. A widely-sought commentator, Dr. Moore has been called "vigorous, cheerful, and fiercely articulate" by the Wall Street Journal. He is the author of several books, including Onward, The Kingdom of ChristAdopted for Life, and Tempted and Tried, and he blogs regularly at and tweets at @drmoore. He and his wife, Maria, have five sons.

Gregory Alan Thornbury (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) serves as the sixth president of the King's College in New York City. He is also a visiting professor at the Values and Capitalism Initiative of the American Enterprise Institute, a senior fellow for The Kairos Journal, a columnist for, and a member of the editorial board of the Salem Media Group. A popular campus speaker and lecturer, he is also a member of the Society of Christian Philosophers. Thornbury and his wife, Kimberly, have two daughters and reside in Manhattan.

John D. Woodbridge (PhD, Universite de Toulouse, France) is research professor of church history and the history of Christian thought at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Woodbridge has taught history at the University of Toulouse, Northwestern University, and Hautes Etudes, Sorbonne. He and his wife, Susan, reside in Lake Forest, Illinois, and they have three children.  

Owen Strachan (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is associate professor of Christian theology and director of the Theological and Cultural Engagement at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also serves as president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

Read an Excerpt


The Indispensable Evangelical

Carl F. H. Henry and Evangelical Ambition in the Twentieth Century

R. Albert Mohler Jr.

Historians often overplay the term indispensable. Charles De Gaulle once quipped that cemeteries are filled with "indispensable" men. Nevertheless, it is certainly true that some men are indeed indispensable in the stories of nations, movements, and institutions. Historians of the founding era of the United States, for example, increasingly understand the indispensability of certain men whose lives proved consequential in the founding of the American nation. James Thomas Flexner, for example, wrote a Pulitzer Prize–winning biography entitled Washington: The Indispensable Man, a monograph that describes Washington's indispensable role in the birth of America.

Carl Henry had a similar stature within the evangelical movement in the United States during the twentieth century. His role in the neoevangelical movement was, without overstatement, indispensable. Just as the story of America's founding is impossible to tell without the indispensable George Washington and his network of colaborers, so also it is impossible to tell the story of the evangelical movement in the twentieth century without the indispensable Carl Henry and his fellow laborers Harold John Ockenga and Billy Graham.

In 1983 Word Publishing released a monograph on Carl Henry in their series Makers of the Modern Theological Mind. Bob Patterson, the general editor of the series, chose to write the volume on Carl Henry. He explained in the book's foreword, "As the editor of this series ... I had to select an (or the) outstanding American evangelical theologian about whom to write a book. That choice was simplicity itself — Carl F. H. Henry, of course. Carl Henry is the prime interpreter of evangelical theology — one of its leading theoreticians and now in his seventies, the unofficial spokesman for the entire tradition." Later he wrote, "Carl Henry has been the prime mover in helping evangelical theology in America re-assert its self-respect." In 1978, Time magazine named Carl Henry evangelicalism's leading theologian. In his obituary in the New York Times, published on December 13, 2003, Laurie Goodstein described Carl Henry as the "brain of the evangelical movement"— a line that served as the headline of the obituary.

The description of Henry as the "brain" of the evangelical movement was not original to Goodstein. She adopted the phrase from none other than David Neff, the then-editor of Christianity Today. Neff told the New York Times, "If we see Billy Graham as the great public face and general spirit of the evangelical movement, Carl Henry was the brains." Goodstein also said, "In more than 40 books he wrote or edited, Dr. Henry laid out an intellectual defense both for a literal understanding of Scripture and for the imperative of spreading the faith." She went on to conclude, "Dr. Henry helped start several of the institutional pillars of the evangelical movement: Fuller Theological Seminary, where he was the first acting dean, and the National Association of Evangelicals, in addition to Christianity Today." Greg Thornbury later added a similar assessment of Henry's role in the neo-evangelical movement: "It would be fair to say that if Billy Graham was the heart of evangelicalism, Carl F. H. Henry was its head. The man with a massive brain, a journalist's pen, and an Athanasian fortitude." Paul House also noted, "It is historically untenable to ignore or dismiss Carl Henry's role in the shaping of twentieth century American evangelicalism. His involvement in evangelical life is well known, and has been well documented by himself and others." My own assessment of Henry already published in Baptist Theologians is in accord with the statements above: "In an age of declining theological vigor and few theological giants, Carl F. H. Henry has emerged as one of the theological luminaries of the twentieth century. His experience as journalist, teacher, theologian, editor, and world spokesman for evangelical Christianity ranks him among the few individuals who can claim to have shaped a major movement." I continue to stand by those words and the assessment made in that essay.


Henry at Southern Seminary

I first encountered Dr. Henry in his theological literature. Remaking the Modern Mind was the first of his books I read. This work and others on the modern mind were written a generation before I read them. These books, however, described exactly what I was seeing and experiencing both in the modern world and in classrooms at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary during the 1980s.

I met Dr. Henry personally when he visited Southern Seminary at the invitation of the Student Evangelical Fellowship (SEF) in the 1984–1985 academic year. This was a critical time for both the seminary and the Southern Baptist Convention. Just one year prior (1983), Glenn Hinson, one of the most influential professors on the campus of Southern Seminary, and James Leo Garrett of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary participated in a literary project that asked the question, Are Southern Baptists evangelicals? Garrett was more open to the notion that Southern Baptists were evangelical of a sort. Hinson, however, was adamant that Southern Baptists were not evangelicals. Evangelicals were not only a different theological tribe but of a different species! As both he and other SBC moderates saw it, evangelical was an undesirable adjective and a noun they did not intend to be.

Furthermore, in 1984 Jimmy Draper, then president of the Southern Baptist Convention, published Authority: The Critical Issue for Southern Baptists. That the president of the SBC was writing about serious theological issues within the church was an important achievement for the convention. Draper's book is also notable because it was largely dependent on the work of Carl Henry. Further, Draper, as president of the convention, included Henry and other prominent evangelicals in many important conversations taking place in Southern Baptist circles.

When Dr. Henry arrived on campus at Southern Seminary, I was serving as the assistant to my predecessor, President Roy Honeycutt. Dr. Honeycutt called me and indicated that we were facing an institutional challenge due to Henry's presence on campus. Henry, the most distinguished evangelical theologian of our time, had come to Southern Seminary, and yet no faculty member would host him. In light of this crisis, I was asked to host Henry. This was an experience that, for me, was a bit like discovering one had been asked to have breakfast with a visiting head of state!

Dr. Henry's arrival proved an intimidating experience — a massive, titanic theological presence had been delivered unto me for hosting. Having admired Henry's work and having listened to so many audio recordings of his lectures, I wondered what he was going to do with this twenty-something who had been appointed as his official host simply because the members of the faculty did not want to host him.

Dr. Henry accompanied me to my PhD theological colloquium, where I introduced him to Dr. Frank Tupper, the chairman of that colloquium and a senior faculty member at Southern. The faculty, having met prior to my arrival with Henry, had decided that Henry was certainly welcome to participate as an observer but was not allowed to speak. As usual, Henry was incredibly gracious. He folded himself into a chair among the students, took out a tattered, leather briefcase with "C. H." in gold on the clasp, retrieved some notes, and listened quietly.

The student presenting in colloquium that day was Charles Scalise, who now serves as professor of church history at Fuller Theological Seminary. Scalise had written a very incisive paper on Brevard Childs's pioneering work on canonical theology. After roughly thirty minutes of cross-examination from the students, the faculty entered the conversation with a very lively debate about Hans Frei, James Barr, and Brevard Childs. Though I could almost feel the energy coming out of Dr. Henry, he exercised restraint and said nothing. At the end of the colloquium he privately made some very kind comments to Scalise about the paper.

Later that day Dr. Henry pulled three large manila envelopes out of his briefcase and handed them to me. The first was dated two weeks previous and labeled "Debate with Brevard Childs — Yale University." The next envelope was also dated very recently and labeled "Dialogue with Hans Frei." The final envelope was also recently dated and labeled "Debate with James Barr, Tyndale Fellowship, Edinburgh." Each of these conversations had taken place just within the past few weeks! The PhD colloquium and faculty had just been discussing Brevard Childs, Hans Frei, and James Barr, and here was the man who not only had written about them but had just engaged them in public conversation. Yet he was not allowed to speak in colloquium. Of course, that did not keep him from speaking thereafter.

As readers may imagine, Dr. Henry and I had a great deal of conversation thereafter, particularly during the time he delivered an address to the SEF. During this time I learned that Henry could talk and walk at equal pace. He was a torrent of conversation. He had an unusual ability to put so many places and people on a theological and intellectual map of conversation. He connected so many dots into a cohesive theological worldview. I often wish I could now replay all of those conversations.

His conversation was also challenging. During his visit, I was writing my dissertation on Karl Barth and American evangelicalism. At one point, he decided to grill me on my reading of Karl Barth. Those who have read portions of Barth's Church Dogmatics will know that there are sections in large print and sections in small print (the minuscula). Thankfully, due to my attention to the minuscula, I was able to respond to each of Dr. Henry's questions to his satisfaction. Henry concluded the conversation by reminding me, "Always read the minuscula. That's where Barth is at his greatest and most dangerous."

He grilled me with other theological questions as well. He had a knack for positing the most challenging theological questions in casual conversation. Though he was enormously kind, he was not a man given to many pleasantries. Conversations almost always seemed to end with a discussion of epistemology. On one occasion as we drove to dinner, he turned to me in the car and asked, "Which is prior, correspondence or coherence?" At the time I was more concerned about which is better, Italian or Thai? However, after being thrust into the deep end of the epistemological pool, I had to either sink or swim. My answer: "Correspondence is prior, coherence is meaningful only after correspondence." He simply responded, "We can eat now."

As his autobiography, Confessions of a Theologian, makes clear, Dr. Henry had something of a "vagabond ministry" during this time. His travel schedule was quite rigorous. Thankfully, his next engagement after his trip to Southern Seminary turned out to be some time away, so he continued to stay on campus. This time was a tremendously rich experience for me. One of the most important encounters I had with Henry during that time came as we walked across the seminary lawn after lunch. I can still remember exactly where we were on the seminary lawn when Henry asked me, "What is your position on women in the pastorate?" Until then, I had happily been an egalitarian. In fact, in 1984 the Southern Baptist Convention had adopted a resolution stating that the office of pastor was limited by Scripture to qualified men. In response, I instigated a public statement and bought a full-page ad in the Louisville Courier Journal to write a manifesto about how wrong the Southern Baptist Convention was on that issue. I do not know if Henry was aware of that information, but my guess is that someone in the SEF had informed him. After I stated my convictions, Dr. Henry looked at me over his glasses and said "One day, you'll be embarrassed to have made that argument."

Of course, I found Dr. Henry's statement rather devastating. That night, I went to Southern Seminary's library and tried to find everything I could on the issue of the ordination of women — which was not much. This, of course, was before publications such as Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and other literature upholding modern evangelical complementarianism. As a matter of fact, the only book I could find that opposed women's ordination was Man and Woman in Christ by Stephen Clark, a rather eccentric Roman Catholic. Both Clark's book and a fresh evaluation of Scripture's teaching on the issue forced me to realize I had the wrong position — a position that was inconsistent with other theological commitments I had made. The experience now feels something like when Apollos was taken aside and instructed more accurately. Henry had a way of doing just that. I am very grateful for these experiences.

The Years That Followed

Dr. Henry and I remained in contact, especially as I was writing my dissertation. In 1987 he came as a visiting professor to the campus, as part of a Pew Charitable Trusts' funded project on Southern Baptists and American evangelicals. This experience allowed me to spend more time with him and witness how he worked — an experience for which I am profoundly grateful. In 1989 I was elected editor of the Christian Index, the oldest newspaper serving the Southern Baptist Convention and now the oldest religious periodical in America. Carl Henry was the one man whom I had as a role model for editorial work, and we corresponded regularly. Henry never offered a critical word about my editorials, though he would often suggest other issues that should have been addressed. His letters regularly included statements such as, "You could have said such and such ... but you're always going to run out of space"— a final sentence that he would usually write in tiny script at the end of the letter because he himself had just run out of space. Henry's Christianity Today was the standard I hoped to accomplish at the Christian Index.

In 1993, I was elected president of Southern Seminary. During my inauguration, a time of volatility almost impossible to describe, one of my goals was to make a statement about the direction that Southern Seminary needed to take. I asked several people for help in that task. The first was Billy Graham, who not only came and spoke at my inauguration but also allowed us to name our graduate school of missions and evangelism after him. It remains the only graduate school that bears his name. I asked Henry to deliver the inaugural address at lunch, to which he graciously agreed.

Dr. Henry's address at the inaugural luncheon was entitled "Theology in the Balance." His address was both profound and incisive.

At this turning time in the history of Southern Seminary ... the institution can exert enormous influences in view of its role in the denomination and the manner in which theoretical and practical studies are coordinated and in which the great heritage is perpetuated. There are always free spirits who think theologians, like magicians, need only carry a special bag of tricks or think that a pastor's main asset is his ready effervescence and his discharge of charismatic dynamism. Instead of looking to God and his self-disclosure and to the Bible and God's enduring promises, they look to self-esteem, to humanity, and its potential. ... The time is right therefore to emphasize that truth is the highest asset the Christian religion can have. Nothing else much matters: the nature of God, the content of the Christian faith, redemption, regeneration, resurrection, and heaven and eternal bliss. If we remain only in the realm of myth, none of this matters. ... Yet theology once again hangs insecurely in the balances ... it is once again at a crucial stage, at a decisive juncture, at a critical turning point. We who profess to be its champions, and who welcome it for what it authentically and genuinely presents, need more aggressively to herald the direction it gives, and the truth and justice it affirms. The grace and moral energy it offers needs a larger sounding board. ... Even an inaugural occasion like this reminds us that Baptists were among the earliest in founding Christian universities and seminaries. They've also had one of the poorest records in preserving their theological stability. We need more than two hands to count up the number of Baptist institutions that have gone down the drain doctrinally. ... There are gratifying signs, however, of a recovery of academic heritage. ... Even the launching of a large Christian university in the New York/New Jersey area is again being discussed, sixty years after it was first seriously probed. If a comprehensive Christian alternative to a turbulent secular outlook is to arrive, it will come from a Christian academia. The foes of Christian education can hardly be expected to respond critically to their own theories. The time has come to put things right again. Theology may no longer be king or queen of the sciences, but that is not reason for demeaning it to a bargain basement closeout.


Excerpted from "Essential Evangelicalism"
by .
Copyright © 2015 Matthew J. Hall and Owen Strachan.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
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.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Timothy George,
Editors' Preface,
1 The Indispensable Evangelical Carl F. H. Henry and Evangelical Ambition in the Twentieth Century R. Albert Mohler Jr.,
2 Toward a Full-Orbed Evangelical Ethic The Pioneering Contribution of Carl F. H. Henry Richard J. Mouw,
3 Carl F. H. Henry's University Crusade The Spectacular Promise and Ultimate Failure of Crusade University Owen Strachan,
4 Carl F. H. Henry A Biblically Faithful Theologian Evangelist John Woodbridge,
5 The Compleat Christian The Massive Vision of Carl F. H. Henry D. A. Carson,
6 Hope, Discipline, and the Incarnational Scholar Carl F. H. Henry's Motives, Methods, and Manners Paul House,
7 Vain Philosophy? Carl F. H. Henry's Plea For A Philosophically Informed Ministry Gregory Alan Thornbury,
8 The Modern Mind and the Uneasy Conscience Carl F. H. Henry and Postwar Evangelical Social Ethic Ben Peays,
9 The Kingdom of God in the Social Ethics of Carl F. H. Henry A Twenty-First-Century Evangelical Reappraisal Russell D. Moore,
Selected Bibliography,
General Index,
Scripture Index,

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“Henry’s commitment to both social justice and evangelism called a generation of Christians to engage the world. This book will deepen your understanding of how Carl Henry sought to place all aspects of life under the banner of the gospel.”
Richard Stearns, President, World Vision US; author, Unfinished and The Hole in Our Gospel

“It has been a marked blessing of God in my life to have known Carl and Helga Henry personally. I do what I do and live where I have lived now for over twenty years in no small because of Carl Henry. Carefully reading each of these essays has left me feeling like I’ve just spent time with him again. Careful research, clear writing, and shared concerns mark the chapters in this book. The authors are to be commended.”
Mark Dever, pastor, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, DC; president, 9Marks

“It would be hard to overstate the importance and ongoing relevance of the writings of Carl Henry, one of the fathers of modern evangelicalism. Henry was a close friend of my organization’s founder, Chuck Colson. His impact continues to be felt on our board of directors, in the Christian worldview ministry he helped to inspire, and in the hundreds of thousands of men and women behind bars who have also been impacted through his teaching. This book belongs on the must-buy list of today’s evangelical readers.”
Jim Liske, President and CEO, Prison Fellowship Ministries

“Too many evangelical churches today are enamored with a therapeutic gospel and pander after yet another spiritual experience. What we need is a good dose of the theological depth and intellectual rigor of the likes of Carl Henry. You don’t have to agree with everything he wrote, but you will be wise for having wrestled with his great mind.”
Mark Galli, Editor, Christianity Today

“Carl F. H. Henry is a writing mentor to me. Like Francis Schaeffer, I fear losing him to a generation that desperately needs to hear both their voices. This book will help contemporary evangelicals understand why they need to know this man and delve into his writings. It will stretch them intellectually. It will guide them spiritually. And it will greatly aid them in not repeating mistakes from the past—mistakes already uncovered and handled by this princely theologian.”
Daniel L. Akin, President, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

“The brilliant essays found in Essential Evangelicalism provide readers with a masterful and comprehensive look at the life and work of Carl F. H. Henry. So much more than a historical reflection, this timely and extraordinary volume not only presents Henry’s massive thought to a new generation of readers, but carefully explores the identity and theology of the evangelical movement with remarkable insight. With great enthusiasm, it is a privilege to recommend this outstanding publication.”
David S. Dockery, President, Trinity International University

“Carl Henry was a giant on whose shoulders all contemporary evangelicals stand—whether or not they know that. This volume represents another significant contribution to celebrating, assessing, and reclaiming Henry’s massive influence. One need not agree with every aspect of Henry’s thought (or this volume’s claims about Henry) to rejoice in this multivoiced wrestling with Henry’s huge role in shaping contemporary evangelicalism.”
Ronald J. Sider, Senior Distinguished Professor of Theology, Holistic Ministry, and Public Policy, Palmer Theological Seminary

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