Carl F. H. Henry left us in 2003 at the age of 90; nevertheless, his enduring legacy thrives through numerous written works, lectures, and Christianity Today magazine. I was fortunate enough to hear him speak on one occasion and having re-read his 1986 book Christian Countermoves In A Decadent Culture many times over the last two decades, I wish to share several of his observations which reveal his remarkable cultural insights.
Henry made an unforgettable assertion – one that grows more ominous with each passing year. He said:
No culture can survive in the absence of shared beliefs and values. Past civilizations have crumbled when social cohesion has vanished, and the modern nations are currently in deep trouble. Ours is the first generation in history to attempt to build a culture on naturalistic relativism.
Prior to this statement, Henry reminds us of Toynbee’s sentiment that every great civilization has ended in rubble and ruin and history validates the point that every great world power sooner or later becomes second-rate.
As a 1953 product of the baby-boom, my childhood was blessed with the peace and prosperity paid for in blood, bullets, and bombs by the WWII generation. In six years, they cut the heads off two totalitarian serpents — a Japanese emperor that was worshipped as a living god and a Nazi monster who spouted a glorious vision of making Germany great again. Our G.I.’s returned, went to work, and didn’t talk much about saving the entire world.
My father’s generation helped rebuild both Japan and Germany and did so without planting the seeds of hate in the hearts of their children. They rebuilt America by crisscrossing our land with expansive interstate highways, new schools, bridges, businesses, and pioneered growing fields of science, medicine, and technology. America made many great decisions based on a collective moral consciousness steeped in the Judeo-Christian ethic. Dark clouds appeared in the late 60’s.
I would venture to say that Dr. Henry considered “the outrageous evil of abortion” a major moral turning point in America. He notes how liberal clergymen played a key role in promoting the elimination of all legal restrictions for the passing of abortion laws and accommodated the leaders and lobbyists of this death industry. This national sin of infanticide proves our newfound affection for “naturalistic relativism” and our downgrade of a Judeo-Christian worldview.
The last five decades of deconstruction show an erosion of shared values, beliefs, and optimism concerning the American future.
Carl F. H. Henry was a man of hope! His hope was in Christ and his words and works sought to call the Church to loving evangelistic action. Ancient Christianity snatched scores of abandoned babies (mostly little girls) from the hungry jaws of garbage hounds and flesh-eating rats as pagans left their babies on trash heaps to die. Saving and raising pagan babies in loving Christian homes turned the tide by pulling pagans from the darkness to the light of the Gospel.
As Henry approached 90, he said, “The loss of biblical virtues and vitalities is the occasion of the moral confusion of our age, besieged as it now is by sensate, scientific, and sexual priorities.” He saw that the liberal intellectual elites were self-assured in the fact that whatever future religion we may have in America; it will not be in the form of biblical theism.
He saw that ecumenical pluralism of recent church history failed to build a one world church; it actually lost more believers than it enlisted pagans.
Dr. Henry bids us back to biblical authority and living above the sludge of our society by putting God first and foremost. He assures us that we can be vanguards of peace and good news in a land of dispirited people. He reminds us we must clothe ourselves in the armor of God as we look evil squarely in the face. As a warm-hearted theologian, Henry was a friend to evangelists and endeavored to fan the flame of evangelistic zeal among the brethren.
Lastly, the aging Henry reminds us that we can confidently live in these turning and churning days because for the believer the worst that can happen is already past. God has already judged our sin and Christ has borne it. For the believer, however dark it may be, the present always has a brighter side because God is working all things for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. Even in persecution and threatening days, the best that will happen lies in the believer’s future.
Even sudden death is sudden glory!