[I am working on a project that may become a book on the most influential evangelicals leaders of our generation, since 1976, and the impact they’ve had on the church and their times. I will introduce them briefly on this blog from time to time. Who should be on this list?]
Formidable evangelical theologian and founding editor of Christianity Today magazine Carl F. H. Henry stole his first Bible from a church. Later, when God opened his heart and convicted him of his sins (not just the Bible stealing), Henry knelt down by his car on Long Island and prayed the Lord’s Prayer, the only way he knew how to speak to God. His actions and his communication improved dramatically. In 1947 he contended in The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism for evangelical positions against the prevailing liberalism of the mainline church, and pushed his conservative brethren for more cultural engagement than prescribed by the fundamentalists of the day, led by Carl McIntyre, a writer, radio preacher, and rabble-rousing symbol of Presbyterian fundamentalism.
It was Henry and his contemporaries Harold J. Ockenga and Billy Graham who propelled the modern evangelical movement as a vital societal force and set the stage for it to soar past theological liberalism as the prominent Protestant force of the time. From the beginning of his academic career Henry aspired to lead Protestant fundamentalism to greater intellectual and social engagement with the larger American culture.
Henry was born to German immigrant parents just before the outbreak of World War I. Raised on Long Island, Henry became interested in journalism, and by age 19 he edited a weekly newspaper in New York’s Nassau county. After his conversion to Christianity, Henry attended Wheaton College, obtaining his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
Bent on pursuing an academic career in theology, he completed doctoral studies at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary (1942) and later at Boston University (1949). He was ordained in the Northern Baptist Convention,and taught theology and philosophy of religion at Northern Baptist Seminary. In 1947, he accepted Ockenga’s call to become the first professor of theology at the new Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.
In 1955, Henry became the first editor of Christianity Today, a publication conceived by Billy Graham and L. Nelson Bell and financed by Sun Oil magnate, J. Howard Pew, as an evangelical alternative to the Christian Century. Under Henry’s guidance, Christianity Today became the leading journalistic mouthpiece for evangelicalism and provided the movement intellectual respectability. He resigned his position at Christianity Today in 1968, after conflicts with Pew and Bell over editorial issues and criticism from evangelicalism’s fundamentalist wing.
After a year of studies at Cambridge University, Henry became professor of theology at Eastern Baptist Seminary (1969-74) and visiting professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (1971). After 1974, he served stints as lecturer-at-large for World Vision International (1974-87) and Prison Fellowship Ministries (1990-).
Henry’s six-volume theological tome God, Revelation and Authority is one of the most important evangelical theological works of the twentieth century. Published between 1976 and 1983, it shaped the evangelical movement in countless ways and is still widely read, studied as a clear statement of evangelical beliefs contra liberalism and neo-orthodoxy. The New York Times called it “The most important work of evangelical theology in modern times.”