Monday, June 27, 2011

Carl F. H. Henry: Scattered Thoughts from a Thoughtful Theologian

Carl F. H. Henry was one of the premier evangelical theologians of the 20th century.  He entered into his rest in 2003 but his thought and words live on.  I was recently re-reading portions of Twilight of a Great Civilization: The Drift Toward Neo-Paganism (Crossway, 1988) which is a collection of essays and addresses he gave.  Here are a few gems from Henry:
[T]heologians face the ready temptation to think that the schematic system or speculative philosophy they bring to the Bible is what make the Judeo-Christian revelation and faith in God specially credible....
The theologian is imperiled as well as his theological enterprise if he thinks Biblical theism depends for its credibility and power upon speculative discoveries and disclosures peculiar to our century, or to any century this side of the apostolic age.  "The word of truth" of which Paul writes is a divine given; it is not a tentative proposal awaiting human reorientation, whether through a system made in Marburg or Claremont or, let me add, on Chestnut Hill or in Arlington, Virginia.  It is Scripture that illumines the contemporary conjectural conceptualities far more than these current speculative insights confer credibility upon the Bible.  (p. 53)
All of us, I am sure, applaud evangelical social engagement.  But had there been no apostolic proclamation while the apostles day and night, month after month performed good works, not even the most disciplined empiricist could have extracted from their behavior such conclusions as the incarnation of the Logos, the sinlessness of Jesus and His substitutionary atonement for sinners, His bodily resurrection and impending return in glory and judgment.  When contemporary theologians call for works and not words, there is reason to believe that some are less interested in a supernatural faith that works than they are in circumventing the apostolic kerygma.  (p. 54)
We theologians become a self-endangered species when we leash our message to ghettos of faith and do not unleash it into the world for which it was intended.  Christianity is good news for Planet Earth; if we confine its convictions to the churches, we will needlessly forfeit its cultural impact to naturalistic alternatives...Isolate ourselves and we suggest that our message and we the messengers are irrelevant to the world in which God has placed us.  (p. 54)
It is highly probable that in tomorrow's world Christianity will need to fend for itself either in a secularized social milieu of intellectual atheism that empties the churches or in a society where a religious sense of many coexisting gods saturates civic culture as did ancient paganism.  In the one case, Christian orthodoxy will be charged with espousing the objective existence of a supernatural reality in an age when religion is presumed to traffic only in optional myths; in the other case, Christian orthodoxy will be charged anew with intolerance and with atheism because to deny everyone's gods violates public piety and its approval of the plural gods.  (p. 180)
We must choose to cast our lot either with a society that admits only private faiths, and then simply add another idol to modernity's expanding God-shelf, or we must hoist a banner to a higher Sovereign, the Lord of lords and King of kings.  Just as the Christian witness to "one Lord, one faith, one baptism" invited unrelenting persecution by Roman authorities, so also Christianity's reiteration of a universal validity-claim still invites and will continue to invite the entrenched hostility of modern intellectual authority.  (p. 181)