CFC Lecture

“The Gospel Is Above Ideology”: Gregory Thornbury on Carl F. H. Henry

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Dr. Gregory Alan Thornbury, President of King’s College in New York, NY, recently gave a lecture at Southeastern Seminary about Carl F. H. Henry. Here are the highlights:

What made Carl Henry unique?
“There’s many things I would say about Dr. Henry as a man, but I am very much of the opinion that the character makes the theologian.”

The character makes the theologian.

What would Henry think about evangelicalism today?
“In his latter years he was dispirited at times at the future of where the evangelical movement was going. But here’s what I’m pretty sure would be the case: Carl Henry would be overjoyed to hear about what’s happening at Southeastern Seminary. To see the level of scholarship that’s taking place here…. He would have rejoiced to know what’s happening in the evangelical world despite our problems….

“But, I think if he were still around, he would keep pressing us in a few ways.”

Where does the church need to direct its cultural efforts?
“If you read his works, one of the things he’d constantly bring up is, ‘Are pastors and teachers reading at the highest levels of the ideas that grip the thoughts of this generation?’ And if you know how culture is produced, it always begins at high culture. … High culture starts with the intellectuals and the philosophers. And very often we are fighting a rear-guard action because all we will talk about is politics, and pop culture, and low culture, and we don’t start at the top.”

Are pastors & teachers reading at the highest levels of the ideas that grip the thoughts of this generation?

Is the church equipped to reach the culture?
“And yet at the level of what we do in terms of reaching this generation for Christ, we probably don’t have the intellectual gravitas that we really need to make the case all too often. And we may be fighting battles that are from a bygone era.”

How can Christians re-engage millenials?
“The case we have to make… we have to make the case that there is a difference between the gospel and ideology. And if you want my opinion, the number one thing we have to do to re-engage the spiritual but not religious millennial generation is to prove that evangelical Christianity is not just another ideology…. but that the gospel is above ideology. This is what Carl Henry was contending for in Remaking the Modern Mind.

Did Henry anticipate Trump?
“[Henry] warned the church to read closely and carefully the writings of Marshall McLuhan…. What Henry recognized is that Marshall McLuhan was signaling the end of the logical, propositional word in terms of helping people understand what was good and bad. McLuhan’s central message was, ‘The medium is the message…’. McLuhan’s point was that in this new era of television… logical, propositional thought doesn’t matter anymore. All that matters is the image.

What Trump represents is the final chickens coming home to roost on Marshall McLuhan’s thesis.

“So I have been trying to tell my friends in the world of political punditry. They’re pulling their hair out, trying to explain the Trump phenomenon. And I’m not saying that aren’t things we can say in explanation for it. But of all the things you want to say about angry voters and all that, what Trump represents is the final chickens coming home to roost on Marshall McLuhan’s thesis. The medium is the message. It has nothing to do fundamentally with what he says. The fact that people have sat at home and seen his image on TV is enough.”

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Center for Faith and Culture

The L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture seeks to engage culture as salt and light, presenting the Christian faith and demonstrating its implications for all areas of human existence.

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