What Is Christianity? -- By: Carl F. H. Henry

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 123:490 (Apr 1966)
Article: What Is Christianity?
Author: Carl F. H. Henry


What Is Christianity?

Carl F. H. Henry

[Carl F. H. Henry, Editor, Christianity Today, Washington, D.C.]

[Editor’s Note: This article is a lecture in the W. H. Griffith Thomas series given in November, 1965, by Dr. Henry on the general theme of “Christian Thrust at the Modern Frontiers.” A second lecture on “The Ecumenical Age: Problems and Promise” will be published in the July issue of Bibliotheca Sacra. These addresses with other unpublished essays will appear in a book in April under the title The God Who Shows Himself, by Word Books, Waco, Texas. The title of this new production, says Dr. Henry, is a reversal of the modernist-dialectical-existential emphasis on the hidden God.]

Every scholar knows that Christianity has been more variously defined in our century than at any other time in the long history of Western thought. Today intellectual formulations run the wide range from Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics to Paul Tillich’s Systematic Theology, just as a generation ago they covered the vast distance between J. Gresham Machen’s The Origin of Pauls Religion and Shailer Mathews’ The Faith of Modernism and Wieman and Meland’s Is There a God? and in the forepart of this century spanned the great gulf between James Orr’s The Christian View of God and the World and Adolf Harnack’s What Is Christianity? In such conflicting representations of the Christian religion, the disunity of the Christian church in recent times finds some of its deepest roots.

In a moment of editorial unecumenical candor, The Christian Century noted that “the differences between Fundamentalism (which was the Centurys ‘color word’ for biblical theism) and modernism…are foundation differences, structural differences, amounting in their radical dissimilarity almost to the difference between two distinct religions.”1 With equal frankness Samuel C. Craig, long editor of The Presbyterian, stated in 1946 that his book Christianity Rightly So Called aimed to distinguish “between Christianity

and its counterfeits” in the face of conceptions of Christianity so radically different that if any of them is true, many of them must necessarily be false.2

The question “What is Christianity?” must be answered normatively in terms of the ideal, and not descriptively in terms of the present historical situation for, taken descriptively, Christianity now bears such a multitude of meanings as virtually to rob the term of any fixed content wha...

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