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Carl Henry
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Carl Henry

Recoveries, crises, and falls

Books | Three books about evangelicals and intellectualism

Issue: "Going it alone," Nov. 2, 2013

Two new books have as a crucial figure Carl Henry, the Christianity Today editor who wrote columns for WORLD in the early 1990s. Gregory Thornbury, in Recovering Classic Evangelicalism: Applying the Wisdom and Vision of Carl F.H. Henry (Crossway, 2013), lists some intellectual defections from Protestantism but doesn’t think the solution is to give up distinctives. Instead, he says “evangelicals must remind themselves of the glorious advances that were secured as a result of the Reformation and its heirs. Our shortcomings are often the result of an abandonment of the presuppositions that once made evangelicalism great.” 

Thornbury, who recently became president of The King’s College in New York City, also doesn’t seem ready to appease Darwinists: He sees that “abandoning the notion of Adam and Eve as historical persons … has massive ramifications for soteriology and the entire system of theology.” He quotes Carl Henry’s comment about the “disintegration” that begins in “a society that refers origins to evolution, conscience to culture, nature and history to happenstance.” Henry in his 1989 Rutherford Lectures showed that every view of reality is based on theological assumptions, and Thornbury says he has become skeptical about “the persuasive power of natural law in matters related to public square issues”: Thornbury wryly concludes, “As long as you bear the stigmata of being a Christian … you might just as well go ahead and cite Scripture passages in support of your position while you’re at it.” 

Recovering Classic Evangelicalism displays an author’s caring involvement in the controversies he describes. In contrast, Molly Worthen’s Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism (Oxford, 2013), reads more like a smart but supercilious author’s trip to the zoo. Carl Henry keeps popping back unhappily into this intellectual history of a frequently anti-intellectual (yet not anti-intellect) movement, but Francis Schaeffer comes off the worst. Worthen calls him a “brilliant demagogue” and demeans him as merely “a brazen editor of history” who offered a “hamfisted caricature of history [filled with] exaggerations, oversimplification, and misinformation.” The horror is even greater: Schaeffer had the unfortunate habit of drawing a “foreboding graphic on the blackboard at every opportunity.” 

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Benjamin Ginsberg’s The Fall of the Faculty (Oxford, 2013) has as its subtitle The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters—but it leaves me wondering why it does matter. Since so many professors are propagandistic and so many administrators are annoying, don’t they deserve each other? Ginsberg does offer good information in his chapter on “The Realpolitik of Race and Gender,” showing how the “moral imperatives” of the professoriate give administrators the opportunity to grab hiring decisions from the faculty by forging “tactical alliances with representatives of minority groups.” But neither Worthen nor Ginsberg apparently grasps how corrupt academia has become. Both Carl Henry and Francis Schaeffer did.

Faith and medicine

If we focus only on the problems of Obamacare, we miss what Christopher Bogosh has to teach us about modern medicine in his short yet thoughtful Compassionate Jesus (Reformation Heritage, 2013). Bogosh notes, “According to modern medicine, religion or spirituality is merely the handmaiden … beliefs may help you cope with your medical problems and provide a sense of hope when all else fails, but real hope is found in the healing that modern medical science provides now.” The problem, though, is that “treatment can be destructive, prolonging life may intensify suffering, and the hope it offers is limited.”

We should be aware of how, when we’re ill, “Satan will attempt to create doubt and despair.” Our response: “While it is not wrong to pray for physical healing, the focus of our prayers … should be on spiritual restoration in Christ.” When death looms, “We are to pray that we will be able to persevere without fear.” When churches have healing services, they shouldn’t fall into materialism: “It is wonderful to see a sick person healed physically, whether by miracle or medical treatment, but it is equally praiseworthy to see a person persevere under affliction and die in the Lord with no curative treatment.” —M.O.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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