by Jims | December 16th, 2009
Henry’s View of Scripture
In any era of thought and preaching there are cultural challenges to one’s view. Carl Henry thought and wrote in a time of theological instability and multiplicity of views on the nature and authority of Scripture. A vast percentage of his writings are polemics against the liberal attacks waged on the integrity of Scripture. Wellum notes that much of Henry’s efforts concentrated on a defense of revelational epistemology against the rise of modernism and neo-orthodoxy as well as against the detractors of legitimate biblical authority. In an address to the World Conference on Evangelism in 1966, Henry stated, “What therefore the church now desperately needs is to recover the truth of revelation and the authoritative note whereby the Protestant Reformation recalled Western Christianity from the welter of tradition and speculation to the teaching of the Bible.” Thornbury reiterates Henry’s view of his task in stating that God, Revelation, and Authority is Henry’s Reformation inspired view of Scripture. Henry, in regard to this cultural challenge within theology also notes that the movement within his time of church history was not towards reformation principles, but rather towards inclusive ideologies that were forming under the mantra of ecumenism, which Henry understood to ultimately be an inherent threat to the authority of Scripture.
In a 1981 interview, Henry indicated that he believed the greatest challenge among evangelicals in that decade was the problem of biblical authority. Although the opponents Henry challenged did not go the way of legalism they nonetheless, according to Henry, “dissolved the authority of the written revelation into a vague mysticism.” A major catalyst for the intended demise of scriptural authority emerged from Harry Emerson Fosdick and Birney Smith’s removal of the validity of authority and elevation of one’s own subjective experience, which Henry called a compromise to the authority of Scripture and biblical teaching. The end result of these challenges to authority was a misinformed church that could not discern the dangers of the challenges to scriptural authority. Henry went so far as to believe that the constant attack leveled against the issue of authority caused evangelicalism to “run the risk of bankruptcy by such widespread assignment of divine sanction to erroneous speculations.”
Not only was the ecumenical movement posing a threat to the authority of Scripture, but liberalism was waging an assault on the very nature of truth. Henry noted the shift from a time when people, without reservation, proclaimed the complete trustworthiness and factuality of statements, to a season in which people questioned the legitimacy of the gospel. In Henry’s estimation the primary issue facing the intellectuals of his day was the credibility of biblical revelation. He stated that in the mid-twentieth century, liberalism had taken divine revelation and “emptied it of all doctrinal significance, and Christianity was treated as the preferable way of life, but not also as a creed.” The result of this devaluation of the biblical revelation was the onslaught of “Dualism in which man’s knowledge of God was always overcast with probability and uncertainty . . . .”
Henry believed that there was no greater issue facing evangelicals than the “controversy over the reality and nature of divine disclosure.” Henry opposed the trends away from the legitimacy of Scripture because his opponents did not look at the intent of the author, made the meaning subjective to experience, and began their search with a faulty view of revelation. In 1979 Henry reported the progress of the opponents to the authoritative nature of Scripture. He notes, “Disbelief now stems from claims that finalities and objective truth simply do not exist; the good and true are declared to be only revolutionary by-products and culturally relative perspectives.” Henry’s ultimate challenge in regards to theological and cultural trends was the issue of the nature of biblical authority and a reformation among Protestantism to return to the “Bible as the sole rule of faith and authentic proclamation.”
For Henry, the major issue in defense of the evangelical witness was the question, “Does God tell the truth or doesn’t he? The evangelical maintains that he does.” Initiating his polemic in favor of scriptural authority and trustworthiness, Henry begins with a defense for the authoritative nature of God, believing “all legitimate authority comes from God.” He notes that at the propositional level, “God is the ultimate reality, so God should be regarded as determinative of his revelation, something which has significance.” Addressing the issue of uncertainty proposed by opponents to Henry’s view, he states, “The Christian faith offers not mathematical speculative certainty, but rather spiritual assurance. Divine authority eliminates the rational gap between probability and certainty.” Defending the rationality of religion, Henry notes that Christianity is indeed a rational religion based on the premise that it is founded in a rational God. Further investigating this premise of divine authority, Henry establishes a clear connection between the indispensability of propositional truth and the authoritative communication of that truth by God. This divinely authoritative dissemination of propositional truth, according to Henry, stands as the historic evangelical confidence in the authority of Scripture.
Bridging from his stance on the authoritative nature of God, Henry takes a step to what he views as a natural transfer to the authoritative nature of Scripture. He states, “The first claim to be made for Scripture is not its inerrancy nor even its inspiration, but its authority.” He is clear to announce the line of demarcation that Scripture is not authoritative for any other reason than its source. He notes, “Standing at the forefront of prophetic-apostolic proclamation is the divine authority of Scripture as the Word of God.” In defending against the attacks on scriptural authority in regards to human authorship Henry interjects, “As merely human formulations, even as formulations of advice, the words of the apostles have no authority and need not be followed; only because God has made them bond slaves and constituted them verbal mouthpieces is what the apostles proclaim binding upon us.” In summation of his link between divine authority and scriptural authority, Henry states that the source of all revelational truth is God.
 According to Mohler, “Henry asserts that the evangelical doctrine of biblical inspiration affirms that the text of Scripture is divinely inspired as an objective deposit of language, thus protecting the verbal character of the revelation; that inspiration is wholly consistent with the humanity of the prophets and apostles; that divine inspiration was limited to the chosen biblical authors; that divine inspiration was not limited by the natural resources of the authors; that Scripture is inspired as a whole and in its parts; and, in conclusion, that God is understood therefore to be the ultimate author of Scripture.” Mohler, in George and Dockery, Theologians of the Baptist Tradition, 289.
 Ibid., 3.
 Carl Henry, Evangelicals and the Brink of Crisis, (Waco: Word, 1967), 15.
 Gregory Allen Thornbury, “Carl F. H. Henry: Heir of Reformation Epistemology,” Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Journal 4 (Winter 2004): 69.
 Carl F. H. Henry, Evangelical Responsibility in Contemporary Theology, (Michigan: Eerdmans, 1957), 9.
 Carl F. H. Henry, “The Concerns and Considerations of Carl Henry,” Christianity Today 25 (March 13, 1981): 19.
 Carl F. H. Henry, Fifty Years of Protestant Theology, (Boston: W. A. Wilde, 1950), 101.
 Carl F. H. Henry, Contemporary Evangelical Thought, (New York: Channel Press, 1957), 7.
 Ibid., 258.
 Carl F. H. Henry, A Plea for Evangelical Demonstration, (Michigan: Baker, 1971), 23.
 Henry, “The Concerns and Considerations of Carl Henry,” 21.
 Carl F. H. Henry, The Protestant Dilemma, (Michigan: Eerdmans, 1948), 46.
 Ibid., 48.
 Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, vol. 2, (Waco: Word, 1976), 7.
 Morris Ashcraft, “Response to Carl F. H. Henry, Are We Doomed to Hermeneutical Nihilism?,” Review and Expositor 71 (Spring 1974): 219.
 Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, vol. 4, (Waco: Word, 1976), 9. Henry notes, “But the circumstance that, in deciding the significance of Scripture, many modern theologians resort to extraneous norms: ecclesiastical tradition, inner experience, philosophical reasoning, socio-cultural acceptability, or the faith-response of the Christian community” 15.
 Ibid., 17.
 Henry, “The Concerns and Considerations of Carl Henry,” 20.
 Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, vol. 4, 8.
 Trueman, 56.
 Henry, Toward Recovering Christian Belief, 59.
 Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, vol. 4, 244.
 Henry, Contemporary Evangelical Thought, 265.
 Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, vol. 4, 27.
 Ibid., 30.
 Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, vol. 1, 228.