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5 Facts about Carl F. H. Henry

Oct 25, 2019

ERLC has recently republished Carl F. H. Henry’s 1996 book, Has Democracy Had Its Day?, under our Leland House Press imprint. The republication was in conjunction with the ERLC’s latest Research Institute meeting held on October 2-3. The institute's fellows discussed the theme of Henry's book during the meeting titled, “Has Democracy Had Its Day? Evangelicals, Liberal Democracy, and a Culture in Crisis.”  

In honor of the publication, here are five things you should know about one of the most significant theologians of the neo-evangelical movement. 

1. Carl Ferdinand Howard Henry was born in Long Island, New York, in 1913, on the eve of the outbreak of World War I. Interested in journalism from a young age, Henry served as a proofreader before taking over editorial duties at the Smithtown Star. By the age of 20 he was reportedly the youngest newspaper editor in America. He also worked at various times as a freelance journalist for The New York Times, New York Herald Tribune, and the Chicago Tribune. In 1956, with the support of Billy Graham, Henry used his journalism skills to become the founding editor of Christianity Today. Under Henry’s leadership, the publication quickly became America’s best-read Christian newsmagazine

2. Henry grew up in a nominally Methodist home and attended an Episcopal Sunday School, but his first exposure to Christianity as a living faith came when he was a young newspaperman. While proofreading with a colleague, Henry once used the Lord's name as an expletive. His middle-aged co-worker, Mildred Christy, commented, “Carl, I’d rather you slap my face than take the name of my best Friend in vain.” One day in 1935, after picking up Christy from a church gathering, Henry was introduced to Gene Bedford, a participant in the Oxford Group movement. “[Bedford] told me about Christ as we drove around Long Island in my battered old Chevy,” Henry told The New York Times in 1966. “I knelt in the back of that car and dedicated myself to Jesus Christ. Life has not been the same since.”

3. Two years after becoming a Christian, Henry went to Wheaton College, where he met his wife, Helga Bender, and his friend and future ministry partner, Billy Graham. While at Wheaton he earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy and a master’s in biblical and theological studies. He later earned a bachelor’s degree in divinity and a doctorate in theology from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary. He earned a second doctorate in philosophy from Boston University and studied for a year at Cambridge University. Henry would go on to teach at Northern Seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary, and Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Henry was so influential as a theologian that he has been dubbed the 'dean' of evangelical theologians

4. In 1947, the same year he became dean at Fuller, Henry published his most influential book, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism. As ERLC President Russell Moore has said, Henry’s book was concerned about two fronts: detached fundamentalism and social gospel liberalism. Liberals saw the Kingdom as a program for public righteousness, often enacted legislatively, says Moore, while Henry warned that conservatives over-reacted to the social gospel, speaking of the Kingdom of God but acting as though it were wholly future. The book is considered by many to have launched the movement known as  “new evangelicalism,” a “gospel-focused, socially-conscious, culturally-engaged movement.” The book "came just as Billy Graham was preaching, and many people believe, as I do, that Henry and Graham, together, sparked the renewal of evangelicalism," the late Charles Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries, told the Chicago Tribune. 

5. The primary feature of Henry’s theology was the ultimate authority of God’s Word. As Adam L. Lickey says, this presupposition impacted every area of his thinking and manifested itself in the practical outworking of Henry’s theology. In his magnum opus, a six-volume work titled God, Revelation, and Authority that was completed in 1983, Henry says that, "if we humans say anything authentic about God, we can do so only on the basis of divine self-revelation; all other God-talk is conjectural." All Christian doctrine must therefore be rooted in Scripture and "the theorems derived from the axioms of revelation." This perspective influenced the many institutions Henry was involved in throughout his life. Henry was a founder (and the first plenary speaker) of the Evangelical Theological Society (1949); a member of the Board of Administration of the National Association of Evangelicals (1956-1970); chairman of the 1966 Berlin Congress on World Evangelism, a forerunner of the Lausanne movement; founder of the Institute for Advanced Christian Studies (1967); a signer an advocate of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978), which he included in God, Revelation, and Authority; the theologian-at-large for World Vision International (1974-1987); and president of the American Theological Society (1979-1980). He also published over 30 volumes and hundreds of articles, reviews, and essays. As Richard J. Mouw, the former Fuller Theological Seminary President, told the Los Angeles Times, Henry led the evangelical movement "out of the margins of social, political, and academic life to where today we are mainstream Protestantism, a powerful intellectual and political force."