Could Carl Henry Be Wrong?

I was struck by something that I read today in Carl F. H. Henry’s watershed work The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (1947).

Fundamentalism is agreed on the main doctrines of God, of creation, of anthropology, of soteriology, and of eschatology in its main peaks (p. 61).

What impressed me about Henry’s observation here is that, sadly, it is no longer true. The consensus that used to characterize American evangelicalism no longer exists.

One can no longer claim unity among evangelicals on central issues. Current debates among evangelicals about open theism and the adequacy of the penal substitution model of the atonement demonstrate that the old, broad consensus on the doctrine of God and soteriology has broken down.

Henry’s characterization of old liberal saws sounds a lot like the critiques of some post-modern and emergent evangelicals today. Can you see the similarities in the following?

To conceal his own embarrassment, many a liberal today follows a planned strategy of thanking God he is not a Fundamentalist [just like this guy and this guy]. A frequent pattern is to remark that of course the liberal repudiates the obscurantism of taking the whole Bible literally [like this guy again], or of thinking God dictated it without respecting the personalities of the writers, or of contending that God stopped working in human history 1900 years ago. What is not remarked is that no representative Fundamentalist thinks that either (p. 56).

I could give a lot more examples of correlation, but I will stop with these. Truly, there is nothing new under the sun.


  • R10B

    Why are so many people blind to the fact that the new BS is just the old BS reheated? I wonder how much of it has to do with the “virtue” of youth, the idea that what our fathers believed must be wrong and we should ignore their perspectives and see for ourselves what’s true. But when we do we lose the history and accumulated wisdom which helps us (along with those dusty scriptures) to judge the winds of doctrine. I am very thankful for my fundamentalist father. I may have loosened my tie somewhat (ok a lot) but I am glad to hear his voice in my ear when someone like Brian McLaren comes along.

  • D. Taylor Benton

    Dr. Burk,

    I am actually pretty suprised by this article due to the fact i was just the other day re-reading/reviewing The kingdom of Christ by Dr. Moore in which he expounds on some of the leading theological ideas of Henry. I wanted to ask you if you thought it was correct to say that Henry is wrong? I would probably say that his statements and thoughts may be culturally dated and not applicable to evangelicalism today in some instances but wrong? i haven’t studied it too close so let me know. So many of the comments and views held by our champions of the faith would sounds outright silly today if not taken in context. P.S. this article is just another notch on the belt of great, edifying, and sharping articles. keep it up!

  • D. Taylor Benton

    to ammend what i just asked, i do want to make it clear that i understand the title was not the main point of the article nor was it the agenda or observation thereof. but i do think you are right in stating the fact that the tables and arguements have seemed to turned 180. this is a great illustration of the spectrum of beliefs noting that once you go too far one way you end up on the other side of the spectrum of thought and belief

  • Denny Burk

    Dear Dustin,

    No, Carl Henry was not wrong. I was just trying to think of a provocative title. Maybe I should change it.

    Times have changed, and so has evangelicalism. All I was really trying to say is that the broad evangelical consensus on the “big” issues is not longer there. That makes our day quite different than his.

    I think I might change that title.


  • sean

    I agree whole-heartedly with Mister Benton. What I find to be most interesting is that even though many are still holding on to their Pre-mil- or their Amil- (a position that Henry was not convinced of but neverthless saw within the bounds of evangelicalism even when liberalism was seen by many as any eschatological view that wasn’t Pre-mil) convictions there has been because of the shared understanding of the already, not-yet in the Kingdom even closer agreement in fundamental truths. I recently finished reading One Faith: The Evangelical Consensus by Packer and Oden and even though I disagree with some of what they included in their book (particularly their inclusion of Fuller’s positions on Scripture), there is much to be celebrated in terms of how evangelicals really do share a great deal of common convictions (i.e. the fundamentals) and concerns (i.e. the spread of the gospel).

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