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Carl F.H. Henry: ‘indispensable evangelical’

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP) — Few people are indispensable, but theologian Carl F.H. Henry and his role in the evangelical movement can be described as just that, R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said during a celebration of Henry at the Louisville, Ky., campus.

The daylong conference, “Carl F.H. Henry: A Centennial Celebration,” honored the legacy of Henry, who died in 2003 and would have been 100 this year. Mohler and various other leaders voiced their tributes to the multi-dimensional theologian.

Mohler, in an address titled “The Indispensable Evangelical: Carl F.H. Henry and Evangelical Ambition in the 20th Century,” compared Henry’s role in evangelicalism to that of George Washington during the American Revolution, describing Henry as “the indispensable evangelical,” the “brain of the evangelical movement” and the “theological luminary of the 20th century.”

Mohler reflected on his interactions with Henry as a student and later as Southern Seminary president, comparing Henry’s influence to that of a father. He also discussed Henry’s many ambitions, which Mohler labeled “evangelical, institutional, theological, cultural and political and personal.”

Not all of these ambitions were realized, Mohler said, but they live on in individuals and institutions that bear Henry’s influence.

Among the sponsors of the Sept. 26 conference, in addition to Southern Seminary, were Beeson Divinity School, Fuller Theological Seminary, Union University, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Christianity Today, Crossway Books and Prison Fellowship.

Russell D. Moore, Mark Galli and Timothy George were part of a panel discussion that expanded on Henry’s influence.

“What he was saying has ongoing relevance to the things that we’re all facing in evangelicalism right now,” said Moore, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Moore said his debt to Henry is reflected by the copies of the theologian’s groundbreaking book, “The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism,” that he frequently gives away.

“Dr. Henry used to say, ‘We serve a God who is the God of both justice and justification,’ and I think that’s a message that is ongoingly needed for the church,” said Moore, former senior vice president for academic administration at Southern Seminary and dean of the school of theology.

Galli, editor of Christianity Today, the magazine where Henry was founding editor, 1956-68, credited Henry for bringing “a sense of respect to CT” and lauded Henry for the role he believed theology should play in public life.

“He was not satisfied with just talking with other people in the academy; he wanted evangelical theology to be spread far and wide,” Galli said.

While Galli considers himself “a happy recipient” of Henry’s legacy at Christianity Today, previous editorial staffs have not always so highly esteemed Henry.

“When I first got to CT, frankly, there were conversations where Carl Henry was disparaged,” Galli said.

Conference attendees all received copies of the first issue of Christianity Today, published on Oct. 15, 1956.

George, dean of Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala., said Henry knew that his convictions would bring opposition, but he also knew how to hold such convictions humbly and interact with opponents lovingly.

“He stood clearly and firmly for conservative, convictional beliefs, but he did so with irenicism and a charity and an intelligence that could not be dismissed” by his opponents, said George, former professor of church history at Southern Seminary.

Also featured at the conference were Richard Mouw, recently retired president of Fuller Theological Seminary, where Henry served as one of the founding faculty members; Gregory Alan Thornbury, author of the recently released book, “Recovering Classic Evangelicalism: Applying the Wisdom and Vision of Carl F.H. Henry” and the new president of The King’s College in New York City, a city that Henry viewed as a strategic location for an evangelical school; David Dockery, president of Union University and another former dean of Southern’s school of theology; John Woodbridge, research professor of church history and history of Christian thought at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; and Paul House, an Old Testament professor at Beeson Divinity School who formerly taught at Southern Seminary.

Audio and video from the conference are available at sbts.edu/resources.
Matt Damico is a writer for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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  • Matt Damico