JACKSON, Tenn. – March 13, 2002 – Carl F.H. Henry was just a young man when he came in contact with the Gospel. A son of German immigrants living in one of the poorest sections of New York growing up, Henry had little luxury or evidence of religion within his family, but as a successful and promising reporter and editor for several New York papers, Henry soon came to the first major intersection in his life.
“The big turn came,” he wrote in his autobiography Confessions of a Theologian, “when I was twenty, and received Jesus Christ as personal Savior and Lord of my life. Into the darkness of my young life he put bright stars that still shine and sparkle. After that encounter I walked the world with God as my Friend.”
Henry, the young man who chose to leave the field of journalism and attended Wheaton College where he made friends with Billy Graham and studied with philosopher Gordon Clark, went on to become what many of today’s theologians consider one of the greatest Christian thinkers of the 20th century, encouraging a belief in divine revelation over natural law.
The Christian leader was the focus of a recent national theological conference jointly sponsored by the Carl F.H. Henry Center for Christian Leadership at Union University and Broadman and Holman Publishers, held at Union and titled “Remaking the Modern Mind.” More than 150 pastors, theologians and interested laypeople came together to hear from eight different scholars and speakers on various subjects related to issues of evangelicalism, Christian ethics, inerrancy of Scripture, and others – all using Henry’s life and ministry as the backdrop for reflection.
“In an age of declining theological vigor and few theological giants, Carl F.H. Henry has emerged as one of the theological luminaries of the twentieth century,” said Al Mohler, president of Southern Seminary and one of the plenary speakers at the conference, who addressed the health of evangelicalism.
Other speakers included Millard Erickson of Baylor University, Stanley Grenz of Regent College, Vancouver, BC, Anthony Thiselton of Nottingham University, C. Ben Mitchell of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Paul House of Wheaton College, Union President David S. Dockery, and Union professors and Wilberforce Forum fellows David Gushee and Gregory Alan Thornbury.
Completing both his bachelor and master’s degrees at Wheaton, Henry went on to finish his M.Div and TH.D. at Northern Baptist Seminary and later the Ph.D. in philosophy at Boston University. After several years of serving as one of the founding faculty of the Fuller Theological Seminary in Calif., Henry accepted the invitation to serve as founding editor of Christianity Today. Now 89 years old and currently residing in Watertown, Wis., Henry was unable to attend the symposium due to his inability to travel. He gave his name to Union’s Center for Christian Leadership in 2001.
“Few people in the 20th century have done more to articulate the importance of a coherent Christian world and life view than Carl F.H. Henry,” said Dockery, who argued in his address that a truly evangelical doctrine of Scripture alone could provide both a center and circumference for evangelical definition.
In other plenary addresses, Grenz called for evangelicals to stress the piety of the evangelical movement while simultaneously maintaining concern for good theology, Erickson uncovered the philosophical presuppositions of the openness of God movement, and Anthony Thiselton showed that biblical authority need not be compromised in light of recent philosophical developments. Other papers saw Paul House give a panoramic overview of Henry’s life and ministry, Thornbury point to Henry as a recent and faithful model of Reformation worldview thinking, Gushee contend for the legitimacy of Christian ethics as its own discipline and Ben Mitchell assess Henry’s social and ethical vision.
“The mission of the Henry center is to provide the tools to equip students and other leaders with Christian worldview thinking skills necessary for faithful engagement of the culture in every avenue of modern life,” explained the center’s director, Thornbury. Previous conferences hosted by the center have covered topics ranging from bioethics, Christian Higher education and politics. The Henry Center also sponsors a regular lecture series at Union titled Mars Hill Forum, whose recent speakers have included Os Guiness, David Cook, Wendy Shalit and Ken Myers.
Sara B. Horn,