Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of the evangelical great, Carl F. H. Henry. Justin Taylor has a roundup of links over at his blog.
I’d like to point to an essay from a couple years back by Richard Mouw in Christianity Today, in which Mouw describes how Carl Henry changed his mind about the church and social justice. The story takes place within the context of Henry’s role as editor of CT, and Mouw’s attempt to contribute. There is an editorial back and forth that Mouw describes, and here’s a key takeaway:
Here is what I need to say now about my youthful negotiations with Carl Henry: Henry was right and I was wrong. At the time I agreed to Henry’s revision of my draft, I only grudgingly accepted what I considered a less-than-fully satisfactory compromise arrangement. What I really wanted to say is that the church—in the form of both preaching and ecclesial pronouncements—could do more than merely utter a “no” to some social evils. There were times, I was convinced, that the church could rightly say a bold “yes” to specific policy-like solutions. I now see that youthful conviction as misguided. Henry was right, and I was wrong.
Mouw goes on to note the coherence between Henry’s position and that articulated by Paul Ramsey in his book, Who Speaks for the Church? As Mouw writes, “the issue for Ramsey was not just the sheer number of pronouncements, but also a methodology that flowed from a defective theology. Henry quotes Ramsey’s harsh verdict: ‘Identification of Christian social ethics with specific partisan proposals that clearly are not the only ones that may be characterized as Christian and as morally acceptable comes close to the original New Testament meaning of heresy.’” These same concerns about the specificity and ideology of ecclesial pronouncements, inspired in large part by Ramsey, were a driving factor behind my engagement of ecumenical ethics and economics, Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church’s Social Witness.
Mouw goes on to make some important points about the role individual Christians and extra-ecclesial institutions have in working out the social implications of the gospel in concrete terms. As Mouw concludes, “I am not alone in owing a debt of gratitude to Henry for his pioneering—and courageous—efforts to encourage a more mature evangelical discipleship in the broad reaches of culture. I hope others will join me in continuing to learn from him how best to search out remedies for an evangelicalism that still suffers from an ‘uneasy conscience.’”