Social Engagement Before It Was Cool: The Life and Times of Carl F. H. Henry (Part 6)

This is Part 6 of 6.  For those who have made it this far (all two of you), thanks and enjoy.

Perhaps the most powerful and illuminating illustration of Carl F.H. Henry’s political philosophy comes from the New Testament itself; the letter to Philemon.  In it, Paul writes to the well-off Christian leader Philemon concerning the status of his slave Onesimus.  Onesimus falls into ill repute with his master and is now at Paul’s side.  As Henry describes it,

“Paul did not withhold Christ’s gospel from this pilfering runaway who had no legal rights and toward whom no one acknowledged any responsibilities. Paul knew that Christ’s gospel is the Magna Charta of mankind, and that to transform this representative of the lowest of the race into a son of God’s kingdom declared to all the world the reality and assurance of a divine regenerative power, equality, and brotherhood that supersede all human ideologies and determinations.”

The lasting political message of Carl Henry is, as profoundly shown here, that the legacy of the Gospel on social realm is one of radical, relational reconciliation.  This simply cannot happen if there is a disconnect between spiritual salvation and earthly hope.  Consider what kind of Gospel would Paul have communicated if he did not lift a finger to address Onesimus’ situation?  Is it any wonder many around the world have viewed the church as an instrument of exploitation?

On the contrary, the Christian message is centered around salvation and earth meeting long ago in history with the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  Truly believing this leaves the Christian with no choice but to refuse to leave the world solely to those without this hope.  We must gain entry by excellence into every cultural area and learn to communicate hope there on each arena’s own terms.  Not to legislate morality, not to moralize, not to judge, but to inspire hope and reconciliation, to teach others how to listen, to speak truth and peace where fear, mistrust, manipulation reign.

As Carl Henry wrote, “God who has an eye on the poor, and perhaps specially on us 20th Century theologians, in his infinite wisdom…spoke by Balaam’s ass.  God’s spokesmen may be confused but the ass knows his master’s anger; stones no less than scrolls will praise God’s transcendent revelation when Christ’s professing disciples are tongue-tied.”

May this not be necessary for the 21st Century.  May the followers of Christ penetrate every arena of human life with the message of redemption.  All of it was made by God for a good purpose. Let us who profess him lead and journey with others on the road to discovering those purposes.




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