carl f. h. henry
Carl F. H. Henry (1913—2003) was an American Baptist theologian known primarily for his writings on the nature of Scripture and how the church should engage the surrounding culture as salt and light. Born to German immigrants and raised on Long Island, Henry was a journalist before his conversion to Christ. Upon coming to faith, Henry immediately pursued theological studies at Wheaton College, Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Boston University.
Henry was one of the key leaders of neo-evangelicalism, a broad movement beginning in the 1940s that sought to retain many of the doctrinal stances of earlier fundamentalism, but to hold them with a more positive tone and willingness to cross denominational lines for the advancement of the gospel. Further, it attempted to carve out a respectable evangelical presence among the nation’s academic elite. Henry played significant roles in two of neo-evangelicalism’s important institutions. He was a founding faculty member of Fuller Theological Seminary and the founding editor of Christianity Today. Further, Henry’s 1947 The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism functioned as a rallying cry for what neo-evangelicalism was seeking to accomplish.
Gregory Thornbury has stated that if Billy Graham was the heart of this movement, then Carl Henry was its head. Henry was known primarily for his role as a writer and educator. His definitive theological work is his six volume God, Revelation, and Authority, published from 1976—1983.
Why should Christians read Carl F. H. Henry? It’s a good question, for the simple reason that it’s important to begin in the right place with him. He’s not always an easy read, and not a few have begun to read him only to get lost in a theological and philosophical maze. Nonetheless, reading Carl Henry is a worthwhile endeavor today, as demonstrated by a resurgence of attention to his work in the last decade. Henry anticipates and answers many of the questions about the Bible that evangelicals are still asking today. For those who are wrestling with questions about Scripture, Carl Henry provides a brilliant, thoughtful, and thorough defense as to why the Bible is true. Further, Henry’s thoughts on how the church should engage the surrounding culture are perennially relevant and necessary as 21st century Christians continue to face a growing secular landscape.
Where to Begin
Where to begin with Henry himself? His The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism is a good place for starters. For those who want to take the deep dive into his theological works, A Recovery of Christian Belief or Volume IV of God, Revelation, and Authority are great launching pads. Henry also gives a sweeping and colorful narrative of his own life in Confessions of a Theologian.
For those who want to an introduction to Henry from a theological and historical perspective, Jason Duesing provides a great look at him in Seven Summits of Church History. If you’d like to know more about Henry’s role in American evangelicalism and his importance to evangelical thought, the place to begin is Owen Strachan’s excellent Awakening the Evangelical Mind. Two other valuable resources are Essential Evangelicalism: The Enduring Influence of Carl F. H. Henry and Recovering Classic Evangelicalism: Applying the Wisdom and Vision of Carl F. H. Henry.