Monday, February 01, 2010

Great Article by Richard Mouw

I've tried to get away from reposting what others have posted on their blogs, but this one was too good. The article Carl Henry Was Right in Christianity Today came to my attention by way of Justin Taylor's blog. It caught my attention because it involved 1) Fuller Seminary and Carl Henry, and I'm doing a lot of reading about the two recently, and 2) because it connects with the topic of my ACG last semester, Christ and Culture. It think Henry and I would have agreed substantially, and I find that very surprising. Here's how Mouw, President of Fuller Seminary, starts his article:

"I have an account to settle with Carl Henry. It is too late to personally settle it with him—although I hope the Lord eventually gives me the chance to do that in the hereafter. For now, though, I can at least set the record straight in the pages of this magazine, which Dr. Henry served so capably as Christianity Today's first editor.

The story starts in the fall of 1967 when, as a Ph.D. student in philosophy at the University of Chicago, I received a phone call from Henry. A few weeks before I had sent an essay to him, outlining what I took to be a proper evangelical approach to the sub-discipline of social ethics. Henry told me that he very much liked my piece for its critique of liberal Protestantism's approach to the field, and wanted to publish it. He had only one revision to suggest—a minor one, he insisted. At the point where I said that it was indeed important for the church to on occasion take a stand on some specific question of social justice, he preferred to have me speak of the need for individual Christians to take such a stand."

At first Mouw rejected the revision of his article. Henry pushed Mouw to approve of a statement that would say, in essence, "the church should regularly articulate general principles that bear on social concerns, leaving it up to individuals to actively apply those principles to social specifics." Mouw and Henry eventually came to a 'reluctant' compromise on the wording which replace 'church' with 'Christian'. It was ambiguous enough to pass by both. In the end, the article Mouw wrote and Henry published set forth the case "...that the church can say "no" to things that are happening in the economic and political realms, without mentioning anything about the church legitimately endorsing specific remedial policies or practices."

Now, more than 40 years after the publication of the article, Mouw concedes that his 'youthful convictions' were misguided and Henry was right.

In the article Mouw summarizes five guidelines Henry established to direct his editorial policy while at CT. I think they are wise and helpful to us as we think about how we ought to engage with our culture:

1. The Bible is critically relevant to the whole of modern life and culture—the social-political arena included.
2. The institutional church has no mandate, jurisdiction, or competence to endorse political legislation or military tactics or economic specifics in the name of Christ.
3. The institutional church is divinely obliged to proclaim God's entire revelation, including the standards or commandments by which men and nations are to be finally judged, and by which they ought now to live and maintain social stability.
4. The political achievement of a better society is the task of all citizens, and individual Christians ought to be politically engaged to the limit of their competence and opportunity.
5. The Bible limits the proper activity of both government and church for divinely stipulated objectives—the former, for the preservation of justice and order, and the latter, for the moral-spiritual task of evangelizing the earth.

2 comments:

Mark said...

Nice to see things move the other direction sometimes. For 30 years I've been saying the Church Institutional shouldn't get political, and I've been criticized or at least questioned for saying so by both liberal and conservative evangelicals.

Preach the gospel always. Use words because you have to (cf. Rom. 10:14).

Thanks for posting this!

Dan Waugh said...

Mark,
I don't know if you've read much by they guys out at Westminster Seminary California, but they seem to be leading the charge in recovering the 'two kingdom' model for church life. Michael Horton, Kim Riddlebarger, and R. Scott Clark come to mind especially. I think that's the theme of their main conference this year.