Here is your open thread for January 22, 2020.
Today is the birthday of Sam Cooke:
Graham Kerr, who became famous as the “Galloping Gourmet,” turns 86 years old today. Kerr was a donor to some ministries I used to work for back in the day and I got to meet him a few times. He was, and is, a lovely human being.
Carl F.H. Henry was born 107 years ago today.
You know all those books and articles and columns and blogposts about how the meaning of the word “evangelical” has become so vague and contentious and tarnished that maybe it’d be better to just ditch the word altogether and come up with some new term instead? That’s where Carl Henry was 70 years ago, except with the word “fundamentalist.” After years of trying to contain or control what the word meant for his brand of Christianity he finally gave up, realized it was irredeemably lost, and set about replacing it with a new word: “evangelicals.” Yep.
Henry considered himself a fundamentalist when he wrote The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism in 1947. That book described what he saw as a better kind of fundamentalism, something he set about re-branding as “Neo-evangelicalism.” The “Neo-” bit didn’t stick, but the rebranding was otherwise immensely successful. Henry went on to help found many of the institutional pillars of white [Neo-]evangelicalism — including the National Association of Evangelicals (a National Council of Churches for people who hate the National Council of Churches), Fuller Seminary, the Evangelical Theological Society, and Christianity Today (Christian Century for people who hate Christian Century), where he served as editor from 1956 to 1968.
The parenthetical “for people who hate” jokes there aren’t really jokes. They’re important for understanding what became of Henry’s efforts and his legacy. Carl Henry and Billy Graham and the other prominent “Neo-evangelical” leaders initially set out to distinguish themselves from Bob-Jones-style separatist fundamentalists, but wound up building their identity, instead, in contrast to mainline Protestantism and the “liberal theology” they feared would lead to liberal politics. That became their paramount contrast and thus their paramount concern, which is why the Neo-evangelical project gradually reaffirmed its alliance with the very same fundamentalists it originally sought to distinguish itself from. And that’s why today people like Al Mohler and John McArthur and whichever number Bob Jones we’re on are all counted simply as “evangelicals.”
Anyway, the name Carl Henry may be familiar to readers of this blog thanks to this story: “Five sentences that contain the entire history and explanation of white evangelicalism in America.” (See also: “Rewriting evangelicals’ past to preserve our mistakes.”)
Henry also had an important cameo role in our discussion of “The ‘biblical view’ that’s younger than the Happy Meal.” He wrote a glowing blurb endorsing a 1984 book from InterVarsity Press that presented the same view on abortion that Henry himself and Christianity Today had endorsed in their 1968 special edition on abortion and birth control. The book mentioned the until-then noncontroversial evangelical dogma that the life of a fetus, while valuable as a potential person, was not as valuable as the life of the mother, an actual person. The book was denounced and protested by the direct-mail fundraising outfits of the religious right and ultimately was withdrawn by IVP. Henry fell in line and, from that time until his death in 2003, adhered to the Republican Party platform rather than what he had written, preached, and believed up until then.
Daniel Johnston would have been 59 today.
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more, death thou shalt die.
Talk amongst yourselves.