“The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism” Carl F. H. Henry

To be a young Christian these days is to love social action.  I work at a Christian liberal arts university, and our students are enthused for helping the world.  It is thrilling, but not as novel as they think it is.

Carl Henry called Fundamentalists/Evangelicals (using the terms interchangeably) to engage their world with the cause of Christ–defining that cause in redemptive and social terms.   Here’s a topical collection of quotes from Henry’s excellent book.

It’s time for young Evangelicals to throw on their throwback jerseys and rediscover this gem from their heritage.

Henry’s Goal

“My hope is that some, who were not troubled at the outset of these pages, will become concerned before they finish” (xviii).

“The church needs a progressive Fundamentalism with a social message” (Ockenga: xx).

“Contemporary evangelicalism needs (1) to reawaken to the relevance of its redemptive message to the global predicament; (2) to stress the great evangelical agreements in a common world front; (3) to discard elements of its message which cut the nerve of world compassion as contradictory to the inherent genius of Christianity; (4) to restudy eschatological convictions for a proper perspective which will not unnecessarily dissipate evangelical strength in controversy over secondary positions, in a day when the significance of the primary insistences is international” (53-54).

THE HISTORICAL FRAMEWORK

The Recent Horrors of “Recent” Events

“… the judgment of the two world wars stands now with the appraisal of the Fundamentalist” (24).

The Brokenness of the World

“… while the Fundamentalist’s opposition to the theatre is sometimes so deep-rooted that it is forgotten that the camera may also serve to the glory of God, he nevertheless is expressing a vigorous protest against the secular and often pagan standards of value which Hollywood film producers have consistently enthroned and glorified” (8).

“Only an anthropology and a soteriology that insists upon man’s sinful lostness and the ability of God to restore the responsive sinner is the adequate key to the door of Fundamentalist world betterment. Any other approach is a needless waste of effort and, in effect an attack on the exclusive relevance, if not an any relevance, of the historic redemptive Gospel” (15).

“In our American environment, the influences of Christian theism are still abroad with enough vigor that the usual solutions are non-redemptive, rather than anti-redemptive, in character” (87).

WHO ARE EVANGELICALS/FUNDAMENTALISTS?

“. . . while we are pilgrims here, we are ambassadors also” (xix).

Historically Active

“That Christian supernaturalism, which as a matter of historical record furnished the background and in some sense the support for the modern humanisms and idealisms, should be accused of having lost its own devotion to human well-being, is indeed a startling accusation” (6).

“There are Fundamentalist groups, admittedly, which have not lost a keen world reference, especially those alert to their Reformational lineage in John Calvin. Their interest in ethics is demanded, rather than precluded, by their doctrinal fervor” (4).

“A Christianity without a passion to turn the world upside down is not reflective of apostolic Christianity” (16).

“In both eras [Old and New Testaments] it is wrong to worship false gods, to murder, to commit adultery, and for a reason more ultimate than that the prophet Moses said so. These deeds were wrong before Moses, yea even before Adam; they have been wrong always and will be wrong always, because they are antagonistic to the character and will of the sovereign God of the universe. They are wrong for all creatures anywhere anytime” (31).

“On Old Testament pages no less than New, then, the cardinal doctrines are not divorced from ethical implications” (32).

“[Paul’s] missionary passion contradicts any view that he conceived of the believer’s life as an exclusive privilege to be lived in monastic privacy; rather, he was spiritually aflame to bring the world to the feet of Jesus” (36).

“[Fundamentalism] is discerning anew that an assault on global evils is not only consistent with, but rather is demanded by, its proper world-lifeview” (40).

“Because He brings rivers of living water to the redeemed, He does not on that account withhold the rain from the unjust and just alike” (85).

Henry compares Fundamentalists to the thief on the cross, asking Christ to remember them in the kingdom, to which Christ replies Today you will be with me in paradise” (55). Or like Mary, telling Christ her brother “shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (John 11:24) (62).

Recently Tragically Inactive

“. . . Fundamentalism is the modern priest and Levite, by-passing suffering humanity” (2).

“…the Fundamentalist opposition to societal ills has been more vocal than actual. . . evangelical social action has been spotty and usually of the emergency type” (3).

“. . . Protestant Fundamentalism . . . has no social program calling for a practical attack on acknowledged world evils” (2).

“The conviction is widespread that Fundamentalism takes too pessimistic a view of human nature to make a social program practicable” (11).

“. . . Fundamentalism became increasingly absorbed in resistance to non-evangelical humanism as a deceptive competitor for the commitment of multitudes, and because of its prophetic cheerlessness about the present age came more and more to narrow its message for the ‘faithful remnant’ that would be called out of the godless world context” (18-19).

“Whereas once the redemptive gospel was a world-changing message, now it was narrowed to a world-resisting message. Out of twentieth century Fundamentalism of this sort there could come no contemporary version of Augustine’s The City of God” (19).

“For the first protracted period in its history, evangelical Christianity stands divorced from the great social reform movements” (27).

“… Fundamentalism in the main fails to make relevant to the great moral problems in twentieth-century global living the implications of its redemptive message” (30).

“Recent Fundamentalism increasingly reflects a marked hesitancy about kingdom preaching” (43).

HOW DID FUNDEMENTALISM GET THIS WAY?

“Cultures which tend to be democratic rather than totalitarian may be preferential for many reasons, but they are not, therefore, to be equated with the kingdom. For this reason, Fundamentalism has resisted the kingdom now mood which characterized much liberal preaching” (43-44).

“. . . some Fundamentalist workers substituted a familiarity with the prophetic teaching of the Bible for an aggressive effort to proclaim Christ as the potent answer to the dissolution of world culture. As a consequence, they trained enlightened spectators, rather than empowered ambassadors. Prophetic conference, rather than pentecostal challenge, was their forte” (44-45).

Henry articulates Ladd’s concept of inaugurated eschatology in 1947 (!). “No study of the kingdom teaching of Jesus is adequate unless it recognizes His implication both that the kingdom is here, and that it is not here. This does not imply an ultimate paradox, but rather stresses that the kingdom exists in incomplete realization. The task of the Bible student is to discover (1) in what sense it is here; (2) in what sense it is to be further realized before the advent of Christ; and (3) in what sense it will be fully realized at the advent of Christ” (48).

“The extent to which man centers his life and energy in the redemptive King now determines the extent of the divine kingdom in the present age” (49-50).

WHAT DO EVANGELICALS NEED TO DO?

REGAIN APOSTOLIC CLARITY

“. . . 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” (67).

REGAIN MORAL CREDIBILITY

“The Christian life must be lived out, among the regenerate, in every area of activity, until even the unregenerate are moved by Christian standards, acknowledging their force” (71).

STOP “BUSINESS AS USUAL”

“The day has now come for evangelicalism to rethink its whole building program. By tremendous outlay of funds, most church communities provide a worship structure which usually stands idle except for two Sunday services and a midweek prayer meeting, if the latter” (70).

REGAIN POLITICAL PERSPECTIVE

“No political or economic system has utopian promise if the essential redemptive ingredient is missing from it. A redemptive totalitarianism is far preferable to an unredemptive democracy; a redemptive Communism far more advantageous than an unredemptive Captialism, and vice versa” (73).

EDUCATE

“Evangelicalism must contend . . . for two great academic changes. First, it must develop a competent literature in every field of study, on every level from the grade school through the university, which adequately presents each subject with its implication from the Christian as well as non-Christian points of view. … Secondly, evangelicalism must not let the fact that the state has now become an agent of indoctrination obscure the evangelical obligation to press the Christian world-life view upon the masses. . . the importance of the evangelical school must be reaffirmed” (68-69).

“The maintenance of evangelical grade and high schools, and of evangelical colleges and universities, with the highest academic standards, promises most quickly to concentrate the thinking of youth upon the Christian world-life view as the only adequate spiritual ground for a surviving culture. . . . If it entails sacrifice, it will not on that account be displeasing to Jesus Christ” (70-71).

SPEAK UP

“The message for decadent modern civilization must ring with the present tense. We must confront the world now with an ethics to make it tremble, and with a dynamic to give it hope” (55).

“[The evangelical] must give unlimited expression to his condemnation of all social evils, coupled with an insistence that a self-sustaning solution can be found only on a redemptive foundation. More vigorously than the humanists and religious modernists press their battle, the evangelical ought to be counted upon in the war against aggressive conflict, political naturalism, racial intolerance, the liquor traffic, labor-management inequities, and every wrong. And as vigorously as the evangelical presses his battle, he ought to be counted upon to point to the redemption that is in Christ Jesus as the onlyadequate solution. This appears to the writer to be the tru evangelical methodology; to fill this form with content, in its application, is the difficult task which remains undone” (78).

“The evangelical task primarily is the preaching of the Gospel, in the interest of individual regeneration by the supernatural grace of God, in such a way that divine redemption can be recognized as the best solution of our problems, individual and social” (88-89).

AVOID LIBERAL ERROR

“A sorry answer lies in the abandonment of social fields to the secularist” (Ockenga: xxi).

“One of the things which modern man most needs to be saved from, is a moral sense which is outraged at a divine provision of redemption” (xvi).

“The globe-changing passion of the modern reformers who operate without a Biblical context is, from this vantage point, an ignoring of Jesus’ insistence that “all these things shall be added” only after man has sought first ‘the kingdom of God and His righteousness.’ Non-evangelicals tend to equate the ‘kingdom’ and the ‘these things,’ reflecting a blindness to the significance of the vicarious atonement of Christ” (15-16).

“The apostolic Gospel stands divorced from a passion to right the world. The Christian social imperative is today in the hands of those who understand it in sub-Christian terms” (39).

“The supernaturalist framework of historic Christianity is here espoused as the lone solution of modern dilemmas. That solution is not the renunciation of naturalism in the name of Platonic idealism, nor Kierkegaardian existentialism, but the reaffirmation of Hebrew-Christian redemptionism” (57).

“The revitalization of modern evangelicalism will not come by a discard of its doctrinal convictions and a movement in the direction of liberalism. For current history has decisively unmasked liberal unrealism” (59).

“Modern evangelicalism need not substitute as its primary aim the building of  ‘relatively higher civilizations.’ To do that is to fall into the error of yesterday’s liberalism” (84).

GET SOCIALLY INVOLVED

“. . . the path of evangelical actions seems to be an eagerness to condemn all social evils, no less vigorously than any other group, and a determination (1) when evangelicals are in the majority, to couple such condemnation with the redemptive Christian message as the only true solution; (2) when evangelicals are in the minority, to express their opposition to evils in a  “formula of protest,” concurring heartily in the assault on the social wrongs, but insisting upon the regenerative context as alone able to secure a permanent rectification of such wrongs” (79).

“The evangelical mood must not withdraw from tomorrow’s political scene” (71-72).

WHAT IF EVANGELICALS DON’T GET INVOLVED

“It is sober realism, rather than undue alarm, that prompts the fear that, unless we experience a rebirth of apostolic passion, Fundamentalism in two generations will be reduced either to a tolerated cult status or, in the event of Roman Catholic domination in the united States, become once again a despised and oppressed sect” (xv).

“… I voice my concern because we have not applied the genius of our [Hebrew-Christian] position constructively to those problems which press most for solution in a social way. Unless we do this, I am unsure that we shall get another world hearing for the Gospel” (xvii).

“It remains a question whether one can be perpetually indifferent to the problems of social justice and international order, and develop a wholesome personal ethics” (10).

“The picture is clear when one brings into focus such admitted social evils as aggressive warfare, racial hatred and intolerance, the liquor traffic, and exploitation of labor or management, whichever it may be” (3).

“The evangelical missionary message cannot be measured for success by the number of converts only. The Christian message has a salting effect upon the earth. It aims at a re-created society; where it is resisted, it often encourages the displacement of a low ideology by one relatively higher” (84).

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