NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Well-known evangelical scholar Carl F.H. Henry reissued his decades-old call for the church to “confront the culture with the message of the Bible,” in opening the inaugural meeting of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s Research Institute Feb. 17. The Institute will advise and assist the ERLC in developing strategies and resources that bring biblical truth to bear on moral and public policy issues.
Henry, founding editor of Christianity Today, warned in his classic text, “The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism,” in 1947 that when evangelicals withdraw from the public square, others whose message is antithetical to Scripture rush to fill the void.
“Instead of total disengagement from the culture, Christians should challenge it,” Henry offered to the Institute’s founding fellows, noting an absence of godly moral influence upon the culture has had direct theological, social and political consequences.
“What has happened to America as moral guardian of the nations?” he asked, saying, “The time has come for America again to exhibit to the world the moral leadership and integrity that exhibits and commends ethical democracy to the world.”
In introducing Henry, ERLC President Richard Land said evangelicals “owed Dr. Henry a tremendous and incalculable debt of gratitude” for his “strong and uncompromising stance and his willingness to apply academic rigors to the issues that have been so seminal in the last half of the 20th century.” Land saluted the 87-year-old Henry for “vigorously blowing on the embers of the reformation trying to keep the glow alive.”
Henry called for evangelicals to become personally involved in evangelism and to encourage young people to enter into key vocations so they “can serve and give the leadership that we need” in the broader culture, and “beyond that, daily devotions in the Book.”
Land cited Henry’s distinguished career as a model for the Research Institute to emulate. “It is my hope this will be the beginning of the marshalling and focusing of the resources that God has put at our disposal as Southern Baptists, and even beyond the Southern Baptist Convention, to invigorate the church to be that counter-culture which offers an alternative of hope to a contemporary culture that offers no real hope.
“We must seek to revive, rearm and reawaken God’s people, to inoculate them against what is looking alarmingly like a fully blown pagan culture,” Land said, explaining the intent of the Research Institute was to “gain a synergy in gathering some of the best thinkers available to address critical moral and ethical issues.”
In addition to Henry and Land, founding fellows of the Institute include Paige Patterson, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and current SBC president; R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky.; and Steve Lemke, provost of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
The group agreed on the necessity of elevating awareness of a Christian worldview’s value, underscoring the need to aid Christians to embrace such a biblically based perspective on life at a time when the absence of such a foundation has spawned grave distortions to God’s intent for human sexuality.
Additionally, concerns were raised about threats to religious liberty around the world, and even within the United States, citing attacks that reveal growing hostility in many parts of the world to the Christian faith.
There remains a serious need, Patterson said, to “prepare the people of God to live effectively in an increasingly antagonistic culture.”
“We are citizens of a larger world,” Patterson continued. “It is time we not only discuss the message Scripture brings to a culture in distress but also examine how and why the message should be communicated.”
“It is high time that evangelical Christians take up the task of providing intellectual leadership for the battle of the mind,” Mohler said, expressing appreciation for the “leadership” of the ERLC in establishing the Research Institute.
“In order seriously to address the great moral issues of the day, we need intellectual engagement that is deeply rooted in Scripture and that seeks to construct the totality of the Christian worldview,” Mohler continued. “We need a more comprehensive vision of the pastoral task that includes responding to the great issues of the day but first arming Christians for the battle of the mind. What we hope to see is the rise of a new generation who believe that this task of constructing a Christian biblical worldview is absolutely essential for the church.”
Lemke noted that while Christians are aware of the decay in the culture, they despair at a lack of means to respond to it. “The Research Institute has the potential to develop strategic plans to address the problems that are out there and hopefully make it a better world.
“At times in our denomination we have embraced a tradition in which we totally avoided ethical issues because they might be viewed as controversial,” Lemke said. “Through the work of this institute perhaps we can help Christians face these issues more forthrightly, approaching the ethical issues from a biblical perspective. It has the potential of impacting the church, and through the church to the world.”
Other founding fellows of the Research Institute at the meeting are Daniel Akin, associate professor of Christian theology and vice president for academic administration at Southern Seminary; C. Ben Mitchell, assistant professor of bioethics and contemporary culture at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill.; Don Buckley, a physician from Pensacola, Fla.; and the institute’s director, Barrett Duke, vice president of research for the ERLC. Timothy George, dean of Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School, Birmingham, Ala., and David Dockery, president of Union University, Jackson, Tenn., were announced as founding fellows but were unable to attend the meeting.