The Kingdom Of God In The Social Ethics Of Carl F. H. Henry: A Twenty-First Century Evangelical Reappraisal -- By: Russell D. Moore

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 55:2 (Jun 2012)
Article: The Kingdom Of God In The Social Ethics Of Carl F. H. Henry: A Twenty-First Century Evangelical Reappraisal
Author: Russell D. Moore


The Kingdom Of God In The Social Ethics Of Carl F. H. Henry: A Twenty-First Century Evangelical Reappraisal

Russell D. Moore

Russell Moore is dean of the School of Theology and professor of Christian theology and ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2825 Lexington Road, Louisville, KY 40280.

I. Introduction

When I was told of theologian Carl F. H. Henry’s death, the first thing I thought of was one of an unfinished conversation I had had with him. I was working on a dissertation on the kingdom of God and social ethics and eager to ask him questions about his views on the subject. His health was failing, and I was helping him along, holding his arm as he slowly walked down a corridor. “So are you still a premillennialist?” I asked him. He looked at me with confusion and, almost contempt, as though I had asked him, “So are you still opposed to the dictatorship of the proletariat?” He said, “Of course. I’ve always been a premillennialist, and for three important reasons.” I waited to hear them.

First, he said, is the exegesis of Revelation 20. After he spent a few minutes speaking about the reasons he did not believe the text there could support an amillennial or postmillennial viewpoint, he moved to his second point: the hymnody of the church, which he said had always held the apocalypse to be a cataclysmic event after a time of historical tumult. He then paused, and said, “And the third reason … well, I don’t remember the third reason. But it is compelling.” At the death of Henry, I reflected on the fact that I will now never know that third compelling reason until both Dr. Henry and I both know for certain what the future kingdom looks like.

When many contemporary evangelicals think of Carl Henry, they think of his prophetic call for evangelical social action: The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism. What many fail to see, though, is why Henry thought the conscience was so uneasy in the first place: a deficient vision of the kingdom of God. It is easy to remember Henry for his work on issues of epistemology and theology proper, but not to consider his critical scholarship on the issues of the Kingdom. Whether the elderly Carl Henry could remember everything he believed about the Kingdom, the young Carl Henry certainly taught the evangelical movement much about the kingdom of God, both in its present and future manifestations.

This paper will offer a few reappraisals of Henry’s understanding of the kingdom of God as it relates to his social ethics. While much could be said on this topic with the benefit of nearly a generation of backward glance, there are three

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