Getting a Handle on Carl F. H. Henry

Last week, I attended the Carl F. H. Henry Centennial Celebration at Southern Seminary. While there, I was reminded (or better: learned for the first time) how important Henry was. His pupils have been my teachers; his name has been mentiond with reverence; and his massive, six-volume set has overlooked my office for a year now, but I have not cracked it. Until now.

But how do you get a handle on Henry?

He is a massive figure. In evangelical history, in this theological output, and in the density of his scholarship, he is a force to be reckoned with. So, how do you begin? I am not sure I have an answer to that question, yet. But I do know this, to understand his theology it will take a serious wrestling with the 15 theses that he expounds in three volumes (vols. 2-4) of his six-volume set.

To help myself (and anyone else) get a handle on Henry, I’ve reproduced his 15 theses below, with one or two word headings to help get my mind around his train of thought.  The bold words are mine; the italicizes are his, taken from God, Revelation, and Authority, vol. 2 (pp. 7-16).

1. Revelation is Monergistic. Revelation is a divinely initiated activity, God’s free communication by which he alone turns his personal privacy into a deliberate disclosure of his reality.

2. Revelation is Gracious. Divine revelation is given for human benefit, offering us privileged communion with our Creator in the kingdom of God.

3. Revelation is  a Finite Creation. Divine revelation does not completely erase God’s transcedent mystery, inasmuch as God the Revealer transcends his own revelation.

4. Revelation is Unified. The very fact of disclosure by the one living God assures the comprehensive unity of divine revelation.

5. Revelation is a Divine Prerogative. Not only the occurrence of divine revelation, but also its very nature, content, and variety are exclusively God’s determination.

6. Revelation is Personal. God’s revelation is uniquely personal both in content and form.

7. Revelation is Historical. God reveals himself not only universally in the history of the cosmos and of the nations, but also redemptively within this external history in unique saving acts.

8. Revelation moves toward Christ (i.e., it is Christotelic). The climax of God’s special revelation is Jesus of Nazareth, the personal incarnation of God in the flesh; in Jesus Christ the source and content of revelation converge and coincide.

9. Revelation is mediated by Christ (i.e., it is Mediatorial). The mediating agent in all divine revelation is the Eternal Logos—preexistent, incarnate, and now glorified.

10. Revelation is Rational. God’s revelation is rational communication conveyed in intelligible ideas and meaningful words, that is, in conceptual-verb form.

11. (Special) Revelation is Inscripturated Truth (about God’s Actions). The Bible is the reservoir and conduit of divine truth.

12. Revelation is Spiritual. The Holy Spirit superintends the communication of divine revelation, first, by inspiring the prophetic-apostolic writings, and second, by illuminating and interpreting the scripturally given Word of God.

13. Revelation (Trans)Formative. As bestower of spiritual life the Holy Spirit enables individuals to appropriate God’s revelation savingly, and thereby attests the redemptive power of the revealed truth of God in the personal experience of reborn sinners.

14. Revelation is Ecclesial. The church approximates the kingdom of God in miniature; as such she is to mirror to each successive generation the power and joy of the appropriated realities of divine revelation.

15. Revelation is Eschatology. The self-manifesting God will unveil his glory in a crowning revelation of power and judgment; in this disclosure at the consummation of the ages, God will vindicate righteousness and justice, finally subdue and subordinate evil, and bring into being a new heaven and earth.

In Henry’s introduction these 15 theses are followed by densely defined terms and then developed over the course of three volumes. I look forward to reading them and better understanding this theological giant.

For those interested in learning more about Henry’s vital contribution to theology, you can check out Justin Taylor’s list of resources:

  • To hear from Dr. Henry himself in his later years, you can watch two parts of the four-part series of video interviews of Henry and Kenneth Kantzer in 1991.
  • And one of his final interviews (I believe) was with Mark Dever in 1997: “Life of Carl F. H. Henry.”

Additionally, you can check out this discussion between John Starke, Collin Hansen, and Greg Thronbury.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

 

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