Carl F. H. Henry’s Early Apologetic For An Evangelical Social Ethic, 1942-1956 -- By: Augustus Cerillo, Jr.

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 34:3 (Sep 1991)
Article: Carl F. H. Henry’s Early Apologetic For An Evangelical Social Ethic, 1942-1956
Author: Augustus Cerillo, Jr.


Carl F. H. Henry’s Early Apologetic
For An Evangelical Social Ethic, 1942-1956

Augustus Cerillo, Jr.

Murray W. Dempster*

The period between the founding of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) in 1942 and the launching of Christianity Today under the editorship of Carl F. H. Henry in 1956 were the watershed years in what has been called the renaissance of evangelical social concern.1 Before the NAE was organized “to retrieve Christianity from a mere eddy of the mainstream into the full current of modern life,” the fundamentalist evangelical movement was a socially marginalized and politically impotent subculture in American society.2 Only fourteen years later the publication of Christianity Today symbolized the strength of a reinvigorated “new evangelicalism,” postured and ready to engage modern American life and thought.3

* Augustus Cerillo is professor of history at California State University in Long Beach, and Murray Dempster is professor of social ethics at Southern California College in Costa Mesa.

During these formative years of evangelical renewal Carl F. H. Henry, more than any other individual, led the way in formulating the apologetic for a socially relevant evangelicalism. His early writings are routinely cited as the main instigators in the awakening of contemporary evangelical social concern, but they are rarely expounded in terms of their content. This essay seeks to fill that lacuna. First, it will examine Henry’s activity and writings in the period from 1942 to 1952 when he sought to stir the uneasy conscience of fundamentalist evangelicalism to recognize the Biblical mandate for social involvement. Second, it will identify the contours of Henry’s social ethic from his published works in the period 1952 to 1956. In conclusion, the essay will suggest the immediate and long-range significance of Henry’s early apologetic for evangelical political and social concern.

I. Creating A New Evangelical Social Presence, 1942-1952

1. Mobilizing for social action. During World War II and the immediate postwar years Henry and other evangelical leaders sought to reverse the declining fortunes of evangelicalism in American life and rebuild a social and political conscience within fundamentalism. They were aided in this effort by a growing societal openness to religion. Historian Joel Carpenter states that during the difficult days of the war the American people, faced with battlefield casualties, family disruptions and increased moral laxness, sho...

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