With What Is Evangelicalism To Penetrate The World? A Study Of Carl Henry’s Envisioned Evangelicalism -- By: Mavis M. Leung

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 27:2 (Fall 2006)
Article: With What Is Evangelicalism To Penetrate The World? A Study Of Carl Henry’s Envisioned Evangelicalism
Author: Mavis M. Leung


With What Is Evangelicalism To Penetrate The World? A Study Of Carl Henry’s Envisioned Evangelicalism

Mavis M. Leung

Mavis M. Leung is a Ph.D. student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois.

The death of Carl F. H. Henry1 (1913–2003) at the age of ninety on December 7, 2003, in Watertown, Wisconsin, marked the close of an era in the history of modern American evangelicalism.2 The consistent challenge issued in Henry’s writings is to evangelicals to penetrate into the world to bring about social change. But despite the encouraging reports of the success of evangelicalism in terms of numerical growth and gained public respectability, to a certain extent there have been internal disunities and cultural accommodation within the movement. The splendor of “The Year of the Evangelical” in 1976 did not last long.3

The contrast between a flourishing evangelicalism and its ineffectiveness in cultural renewal has been an intriguing research topic for church historians and social scientists such as George Marsden, Mark Noll, and Christian Smith, to name a few. Various possible factors have been proposed to explain this contrast. These include an attitudinal change towards certain lifestyle issues, the lack of a broad institutional church base, adjustment to a shifting cultural climate, and the inadequacy of “personal influence strategy” and “voluntaristic absolutism.”4 Whereas the above analyses in one way or the other have shed some light on the relation of evangelicalism and its socio-cultural milieu, the perspective of the pioneers of the movement has not been taken seriously.

As one of the first to challenge evangelicals of the twentieth century to rethink the proper relation of Christianity and society, Henry’s thoughts are certainly worth revisiting. It is unfortunate that many evangelicals of a younger generation do not know much of his vision which sparked the new evangelical movement leading to the resuscitation of modern American evangelicalism. With this in mind, the present essay has two purposes. The first is historical and descriptive. I will survey Henry’s rationale of Christian social concern, his several key tactics for social transformation, and his assessment of the evangelical failure to impact the nation. As will be seen, Henry believed that the absence of a comprehensive Christian world-life view, which could penetrate into the world, was a prime factor undergirding the social ineffective...

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