When I was in seminary, I noticed the definition of the term evangelicalism was becoming muddied. This was not because of my professors—who were adamant about their support of the gospel and the Bible—but rather in the articles and books I was reading. Some books were seeking a watered-down view on inerrancy, while others argued for a less-authoritative view of Scripture. Pastors were promoting new ways of relating to culture, often at the sacrifice of the church’s counter-cultural, Christ-centered identity. While most of these authors claimed to represent evangelicalism, this was not the evangelicalism I had been learning. As one professor put it, when describing a certain author: “He wouldn’t get a job here, and he might not even get an interview.”
Greg Thornbury, the new President of The King’s College in New York City, is on a mission to strengthen the backbone of evangelicalism. In Recovering Classic Evangelicalism: Applying the Wisdom and Vision of Carl F. H. Henry, he relies on the writings of Carl F. H. Henry—theologian, author, and editor of Christianity Today—to provide a path for the future of evangelicalism. Referring frequently to the seminal works of Carl Henry—namely The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism and the massive 6-volume God, Revelation and Authority—Thornbury seeks to apply Henry’s wisdom to contemporary issues facing evangelicalism.
Aside from the introductory and concluding chapters, the book breaks down into four sections, each focusing on an area of importance within evangelicalism: epistemology, theology, inerrancy, and culture. In each, Thornbury highlights the divergent paths currently seen in evangelical circles, then refutes them using quotes from the works of Henry. He also paves the way forward, looking at issues evangelicals must resolve and become united.
It takes a gifted writer and thinker to make complex ideas memorable and easy to comprehend; Thornbury succeeds admirably in this regard. He is able to distill arguments into clear, concise statements. This is helpful in summarizing great swaths of texts from Henry’s God, Revelation and Authority, as well as the challenging views to evangelicalism with which Thornbury is engaging.
While Thornbury serves as an apologist for Henry, he is not uncritical; early on in the book he lists twelve areas of weakness (pages 22–24). At the end of the book, I felt as though this was less a book on Henry and more a book evaluating evangelicalism, often through the lens of Henry. Hopefully this leads to a greater impact in the evangelical community.
While Thornbury writes clearly and uses great pop culture illustrations (like Jurassic Park), he is still a philosophy professor engaging with the writings of a deep-thinking theologian. Prepare for your brain to hurt! In a few short pages, the conversation ranges from the epistemology of Kant to the postliberal theology of Frei to the theo-poetic drama of Vanhoozer. At times these brief overviews of dissidents make the reader feel like they are drowning, with only the most well-read able to follow it all.
Greg Thornbury has done the evangelical community a great service: he has provided a path for the future, so we may avoid being dashed to the rocks of liberal theology and fundamentalism. In this book, he shows that the map of this path is not new, but is found in the oft-neglected writings of Carl Henry.
That is why Recovering Classic Evangelicalism is a must-read for any pastor or Christian thinker concerned for the future of evangelicalism.
- Title: Recovering Classic Evangelicalism: Applying the Wisdom and Vision of Carl F. H. Henry
- Author: Gregory Alan Thornbury
- Publisher: Crossway (2013)
- Format: Paperback
- Rating: 4.5/5