3 Things I’ve Learned from Carl F. H. Henry

Carl Henry died in December of 2003 and I never got to meet him. But his life and work have exerted a formative influence on me.

“Evangelicalism can view the future with a sober optimism, grounded not only in the assurance of the ultimate triumph of righteousness, but also in the conviction that divine redemption can be a potent factor in any age.” I love this about Henry. He was able to look right into the darkness—right into the most hostile challenges and threats to the kingdom of Christ—and never despair.

One of My Best Teachers

Some of the best teachers I’ve ever had were ones I never met. In fact, some of them have been dead a long time. I mean a really long time (e.g., Augustine).

But one of the best teachers I’ve had in my life died at the beginning of this century, just as I was finishing my first year as a seminary student.

Carl Henry died in December of 2003 and I never got to meet him. But his life and work have exerted a formative influence on me. The following three examples are among some of the most quintessentially Henrician lessons I’ve learned.

  1. The gospel really is good news and evangelism matters. A lot.

Henry was a brilliant theologian, to be sure. But he had the heart of an evangelist. In fact, he devoted much of his life to organizing evangelicals to greater effectiveness in the task of global mission. Theology and mission went hand in hand for Henry, with everything grounded in an ethic of love. He writes,

It would be a supreme act of lovelessness on the part of the Christian community to withhold from the body of humanity, lost in sin, the evangel that Christ died for sinners and that the new birth—without which no man can see the kingdom of God—is available on the condition of personal repentance and faith. [1]

If Henry were still with us, the advance of Christianity during the past decade, particularly in the Global South, would undoubtedly delight him. But he would also continue to summon those of us living in North America and Europe not to shrink back from personal evangelism.

  1. The Christian faith cannot be indifferent to social injustice.

American evangelicalism has long wrestled with its seemingly schizophrenic tension between the command to proclaim the gospel and to pursue justice, reconciliation, and righteousness. Do we send missionaries to evangelize unreached people groups? Or do we advocate for the vulnerable and oppressed?….

  1. As bad as things may appear, the Christian disposition is one of hope.

[1] Carl F. H. Henry, Evangelicals at the Brink of Crisis: Significance of the World Congress on Evangelism (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1967), 36.

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