Carl F. H. Henry, Old Princeton, And The Right Use Of Reason: Continuity Or Discontinuity? -- By: Paul Kjoss Helseth

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 73:2 (Fall 2011)
Article: Carl F. H. Henry, Old Princeton, And The Right Use Of Reason: Continuity Or Discontinuity?
Author: Paul Kjoss Helseth


Carl F. H. Henry, Old Princeton, And The Right Use Of Reason:
Continuity Or Discontinuity?

Paul Kjoss Helseth

Paul Kjoss Helseth is Professor of Christian Thought at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minn., and is currently Scholar-In-Residence at The MacLaurin Institute on the Twin Cities campus of the University of Minnesota.

I. Introduction: Knowing “Aright”

In the fifth volume of his magnum opus, God, Revelation and Authority, Carl F. H. Henry distinguishes himself from his more theologically liberal contemporaries by insisting that “rational discourse” is essential to biblically faithful Christian theology.1 According to Henry, John 17:3, which says

“This is eternal life, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” . . . is a fundamental postulate of the Christian religion; that he must be known aright for life abundant and life eternal is an emphasis integral to the Gospels. That God can be known, that divine revelation is rationally given and is to be rationally understood, is a basic presupposition of biblical theology.2

Given the emphasis throughout Henry’s writings on “the necessary centrality of reason in the service of God,”3 the question arises as to what he believes it means to know God and the substance of what he has revealed in a true or “right” fashion.4 In the discussion that follows I explore a possible answer to this

question by comparing Henry’s understanding of the right use of reason with that of B. B. Warfield, who for the purposes of this article is representative of the best theologians at Old Princeton Seminary. What I hope to establish is that while Henry and Warfield share an emphasis upon the “primacy of the intellect” in faith and in the doing of theology more generally, they conceive of the “primacy of the intellect” and the right use of reason in significantly different senses for reasons that are ultimately grounded in disagreements regarding: (1) the epistemological entailments of the Creator/creature distinction, and (2) the effects of the fall upon the human capacity to know. Indeed, whereas Henry conceives of knowing reality “as God preserves and knows it”5 as an activity that is focused almost exclusively on the rational faculty of the soul—a faculty that he believes retains its capacity to know “rightly” d...

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