Volume 25 - Issue 2

Admiring the Sistine Chapel: Reflections on Carl F.H. Henry’s God, Revelation and Authority

By Carl Trueman

If the twentieth century ‘evangelical renaissance’ in North America has produced a Michelangelo, that exemplar is surely Carl Henry.2

Such was the verdict of narrative theologian, Gabriel Fackre, on the work and stature of his fellow American evangelical theologian, Carl Ferdinand Howard Henry. Not as well-known on this side of the Atlantic as many of us would like—or think that he needs to be—Henry is perhaps the central intellectual figure of American evangelicalism this century, a position symbolised by the fact that he was the only evangelical selected for extended treatment in the series Makers of the Modern Theological Mind, where he took his place alongside such luminaries as Schleiermacher, Kierkegaard and Pannenberg as those who have exerted profound influence on the shape of various theological traditions.3 Whether Henry is one of the all-time great evangelical theologians might perhaps be open to debate, and it is doubtful if he himself would wish to claim such a position. Henry is above all a man of the big vision, with a keen sense of what is and is not important theological news—a leading North American evangelical once described him to me as ‘a very profound theological journalist’, a comment intended as a compliment to Henry’s instincts and his gifts as a passionate communicator and not as a criticism of his writings. Indeed, Henry’s unerring ability to see the big picture, to focus on issues of real substance, and to communicate the significance of these issues to the theological public is not open to debate. From his first major public work, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (1947) through to his lectures in the eighties and nineties on New Age movements and neo-paganism, Henry has attempted to bring to bear an informed biblical theology on issues which concern evangelicalism from both within and without the camp.

It is not entirely clear what Fackre’s comparison of Henry with Michelangelo is intended to convey—both are, one could argue with some irony, ‘big picture men’ who place God at the centre—but if it is in any sense apt then there can be no doubt about the identity of Henry’s equivalent to the roof of the Sistine chapel: the massive six volume work, God, Revelation and Authority, first published by Word Books between 1976 and 1983 and now reissued in the USA by Crossway and in the UK and Europe by Paternoster Publishing. The work, some 3,500 pages in length, while not a full systematic theology in the manner of, say, a Louis Berkhof or a Wolfhart Pannenberg, is yet a sustained analysis and exposition of the doctrines of God and revelation, issues which lie at the very heart of debates in modern theology. Without doubt it is the most exhaustive evangelical statement on these issues to have been produced in the twentieth century and, upon its publication, marked the pinnacle of Henry’s career as intellectual evangelical leader and spokesperson. Like all theological documents, however, it emerged at a particular point in time, and it is that broader historical context which must first be understood in order to see the full significance of what Henry was doing in his magnum opus.

Henry’s entire work—of which GRA is the greatest single example—must be understood as an attempt to restate conservative Protestant theology in a manner which takes seriously the epistemological concerns of the Enlightenment without surrendering the content and truth-claims of orthodox Christianity. In doing so, Henry defined himself over against theological traditions on both the left and right of the spectrum: on the left, the reduction of theology to reflection upon the religious self-consciousness found in Schleiermacher and his progeny, and the anti-metaphysical trajectory of Kantian theology evident in Ritschl, Herrmann, and, latterly, Barth and the neo-orthodox; on the right, the ‘fundamentalist’ obscurantism of those who denied the relevance of education, learning, or cultural/social/political engagement to the life of the Christian church—a position which had characterised much, though by no means all, of American conservative Protestantism in the twenties and thirties in the wake of the disastrous Scopes’ monkey trial and the equally unfortunate era of Prohibition.

Indeed, it is specifically against this background of fundamentalism that the contribution of Henry must be assessed in terms of its historical significance. As liberalism made inroads into mainstream denominations and seminaries in the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the conservative response took one of two broad forms: that of the fundamentalists, whose cultural roots lay in the revivalism of the nineteenth century and whose theology was drawn primarily from the dispensationalism of the Schofield Reference Bible;4 and that of what one might call the confessional conservatives, epitomised by the theologians of Princeton Theological Seminary, before the 1929 reorganisation, whose theology was at once self-consciously framed in continuity with the confessional tradition of the church and yet who took care to articulate this tradition in a manner at once both biblical and learned.5 The two streams were briefly united in the early decades of the twentieth century in the production of a series of pamphlets published between 1910 and 1915, The Fundamentals (from which fundamentalism as a movement took its name), but the alliance was relatively short-lived. Of the leading theologians of confessional Protestantism, first B.B. Warfield and then J. Gresham Machen, neither adhered to the theology of dispensationalism nor belonged to the cultural milieu of American revivalism.6 Significantly, Machen did not testify at the famous Scopes trial, where a young Tennessee teacher, John T. Scopes; fell foul of the state’s anti-evolution laws and was prosecuted by leading fundamentalist, William Jennings Bryan.7 The defence was led by brilliant lawyer, Clarence Darrow; and, while the outcome was indecisive, Darrow succeeded in making Bryan, and thus the fundamentalist culture to which he belonged, look very silly indeed. With this and the backlash against Prohibition, fundamentalism fell into further disrepute and, in reaction, developed an increasingly obscurantist and siege-like mentality, undergirded by its dispenationalist theology.

In the late 1930s and early 1940s however, a new kind of attitude developed amongst a group of young fundamentalists in reaction to the current obscurantist culture, This ‘new evangelical’ movement sought to assert, against the left, the reasonableness of an intellectual commitment to orthodox Christianity, and, against the right, the need to engage with the wider world, culturally and intellectually, and the futility of simply ignoring the problems raised by Enlightenment thinking as if this in itself would make them simply disappear. Instead, the new evangelicals clearly saw the need to understand the Enlightenment and the world which it had helped to shape, and to respond to it at all levels in an informed and articulate manner. In its quest for a broad-based evangelical consensus based on parachurch activity rather than a specifically ecclesial theology, it was also distinguished from the conservative confessionalism of the Machen tradition, as continued by Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Among the leaders of this movement were E.J. Carnell, Bernard Ramm, George Eldon Ladd, Harold Lindsell, Harold Ockenga, and of course, Carl F.H. Henry himself. In terms of institutions, the movement came to be associated above all with Fuller Theological Seminary in California, founded by revivalist preacher Charles Fuller, supported by Billy Graham, and staffed by those such as Carnell and Henry, who wished to set out the new evangelical agenda: a conservative theology which was at once both biblically faithful and academically rigorous.8

Given this background, Henry’s GRA stands as perhaps the major statement of evangelical epistemology which emerged from the new evangelical movement, designed to demonstrate the coherence of evangelical theology despite the criticisms of its enemies—and indeed, the misguided support of some of its friends. It was intended to serve as a rallying call for evangelicals to think about their faith commitments in the same way that Henry’s ethical works served as a call for evangelicals to act upon those same commitments.

An Outline of the Arguments

Of course a work of this size is not an easy thing to assess in an article of only a few pages, but such a magnum opus demands—and deserves—to be judged as a whole. Before proceeding to some overall observations on the strengths and weaknesses of Henry’s case, it will be useful to provide a broad-brush summary of the overall flow of argument.

The first volume of the series, God Who Speaks and Shows I: Preliminary Considerations is in many ways the most uneven of the series. In terms of its style it is, in parts, like high quality journalism, especially in the earlier sections dealing with the contemporary (i.e. 1970s) cultural scene. Elsewhere, particularly in the latter sections, it reads like a rather heavy philosophical textbook which, I suspect, will tax the patience and the powers of concentration of all but the most dedicated. In addition, this volume is, perhaps the most dated, a fact that derives in large part from Henry’s choice of opponents, a choice inevitably determined by those challenges faced by evangelicals in the sixties and seventies. Thus, the reader is exposed to lengthy discussion of the sixties counter-culture, of the Jesus Movement, and, on a more sophisticated level, the logical positivism of A.J. Ayer. It is indisputable that none of these three are a significant force today—although it must be added that the world we now inhabit is without doubt a legacy of the counter-cultural revolution, albeit domesticated and in some instances, transformed from a revolution to a lucrative marketing opportunity.9 Thus, Henry’s discussion is to an extent, illuminating though perhaps of more historical value than otherwise.

What is significant in this first volume is the emphasis on God’s rational revelation as the epistemological starting point for theology, a point he will expand in the later volumes. Contrary to Kant and the theological trajectory represented by Schleiermacher, Henry asserts that God does make himself known to humanity, and that in a way suited to human capacity and which means that theology is not simply talk about the religious psychology of the individual believer or of the believing community. For Henry, this is what makes revelation rational—not that it can, in some Cartesian sense, be predicted by the autonomous reflection of human beings, but that when God does reveal himself he does it in a way that is intelligible to individuals and communicable from one individual to another. For Henry, the deposit of revelation, the epistemic starting point, is the inspired Scriptures; the instrument for appropriating that revelation is reason—not reason that determines in advance what God can and cannot do but reason which understands what God has done and what he has revealed of himself. Henry’s model in this approach is that of the ‘faith seeking understanding’ tradition of Augustine; and the basic tools are those of logic (non-contradiction and excluded middle), i.e., if God exists, then God does not not exist. This basic commitment provides the tool for understanding all that follows.

The second volume, God Who Speaks and Shows: Fifteen Theses, Part One, moves beyond prolegomenal considerations to the assertion and justification of seven basic theses concerning God’s revelation: one, that revelation is a supernatural initiative, depending entirely upon the sovereign and unilateral action of God; two, that revelation is for the benefit of humankind; three, that God as revealer yet transcends his own revelation; four, that revelation’s unity and coherence is guaranteed by the fact that it is the act of the one living God; five, that revelation is diverse in form, a diversity itself the result of God’s sovereign choice; six, that God’s revelation is uniquely personal in both content and form; and seven, that God reveals himself not just universally in the history of the cosmos and the nations but also redemptively in saving acts within this external history.

The third volume, God Who Speaks and Shows: Fifteen Theses, Part Two, advances the argument with a further three theses: first, that the climactic centre of God’s revelation is His personal incarnation in the person of Jesus Christ of Nazareth; second, that the mediating agent in all of God’s revelation is the second person of the Trinity, the Logos; and third, that God’s revelation ‘is rational communication conveyed in intelligible ideas and meaningful words, that is, in conceptual-verbal form’. This last thesis is one of the most important pieces of Henry’s overall argument, and something to which we will return in a later section.

The fourth volume, God Who Speaks and Shows: Fifteen Theses, Part Three, completes the central section of the work on the nature of revelation by positing five more theses: one, that the Bible is the authoritative conduit and norm of divine truth; two, that the Holy Spirit superintends the communication of divine truth as original inspirer of the Scriptures, then as their illuminator and interpreter; three, that the Spirit, as bestower of spiritual life, enables individuals to appropriate God’s truth saving manner; four, that the church approximates God’s kingdom in miniature; and five, that God will unveil his glory in a crowning revelation of power and judgement, vindicating righteousness and subduing evil. This is by far the longest of the six volumes and contains much of Henry’s extensive engagement with James Barr (in the earlier theses), especially his famous work Fundamentalism and the eschatological materialism of Marxist and liberationist philosophies (in the latter theses). The fifth and sixth volumes, God Who Stands and Stays: Parts One and Two, contain Henry’s doctrine of God, constituting in the first part a defence of orthodox trinitarianism and God’s attributes. Of particular note here is Henry’s defence of God’s timelessness in light of contemporary philosophical assaults on this position. Then, in Part Two, Henry moves from a defence of supernaturalism to discussion of issues such as election, creation, and the saving work of Christ. Readers may be interested to know that on the issue of election, he holds to a broadly Anti-Pelagian position, against both Arminians and neo-orthodox reconstruction of the Reformed position (though, as one would expect with Henry, great emphasis is placed upon the need to understand election in the personal categories appropriate for God, not impersonal categories appropriate for a determinist force). On creation, Henry is clearly anti-evolution, primarily on the basis of its theological and philosophical implications, and noticeably sympathetic to literal six day creationism. The work ends with some reflections on the relationship between Christianity and culture.

The Central Issue

Though the work breaks into three basic sections (Volume I: prolegomena; Volumes II–IV: revelation; Volumes V–VI: the doctrine of God), the central theme, the central purpose of the work as a whole, is the explication of the Christian notion of revelation. This is no coincidence: at the start of GRA II, Henry comments that ‘[n]owhere does the crisis of modern theology find a more critical centre than in the controversy over the reality and nature of divine disclosure’.10 The 3,500 or so pages of GRA are intended as nothing less than a proposed solution to precisely this crisis.

Henry’s basic argument is that our knowledge of God is dependent upon God’s revelation of himself, and that this revelation is dependent upon who God actually is. There is nothing too radical in this: after all, what Christian theologian would not want to argue that there is an intimate connection between who God is and his revelation of himself? In making this point, however. Henry makes crystal clear the important relationship that exists between God, revelation and Scripture—a relationship which has in some quarters been obscured over recent decades—and thus the centrality of a proper doctrine of Scripture to any theological endeavour. After all, the doctrines of God, revelation, and Scripture cannot be dealt with in isolation because beliefs about one stand in close relation to beliefs about the others, a point which cannot be stressed too strongly or too often. Who God is, how he has revealed himself, and how we appropriate that revelation are not really three discrete issues, but three aspects of the one great problem of revelation—and all three aspects must be dealt with in any theology which aspires to the title of ‘Christian’. In the British context in particular, the republication of the work is thus timely and significant: it has become the unofficial vogue in certain scholarly quarters, particularly, though not exclusively, in the area of biblical studies, to dismiss debates about the doctrine of Scripture as essentially an American phenomena which need not concern those of us on this side of the Atlantic. There is some truth in this: the question of the doctrine of Scripture has not been a central point of debate in mainstream academic evangelicalism in Britain; but there are reasons for this that have nothing to do with the intrinsic importance of the question itself. Theological education at English universities has had its basic pedagogical trajectories set by the (until fairly recent) Anglican monopoly of university posts. Thus the curriculum has tended to reflect the concerns of the liberal Anglican broadchurch: a primary focus on biblical studies with comparatively little—if any—attention given to systematic theology and to reflection upon the interrelationship between various traditional doctrinal loci associated with such a discipline. Comparison with theological higher education on the continent, especially the Netherlands, the confessional seminaries in North American Protestantism, and the traditional curriculum in Scottish universities reveals that the dogmatic issues surrounding the relationship between God, revelation, and Scripture are far from being simply an ‘American debate’, even if some of the proposed solutions have come to be associated with particular American theologians, seminaries or organisations. While fear of the ‘American debate’ is understandable—it has often been conducted in an acrimonious and theologically unsophisticated manner, and been far more destructive than constructive—this does not mean it is not important. Abuse of a doctrine does not invalidate it: after all, just because our neighbour happens to commit adultery does not mean that we should abandon the institution of marriage. In this context, one can only hope that Henry’s work will enjoy a wide readership among those seeking to understand the central importance of such doctrines for the theological endeavour as a whole. One may not agree with all of his conclusions, but the importance of the issues he raises cannot be ignored; and the tone in which he conducts the debate is informed and articulate, as he seeks to understand his opponents before critiquing them. One could therefore do a lot worse than use Henry as a starting point for constructive debate: he has plenty of good arguments; and his level-headed, if not always irenic, tone is a model for proper polemical engagement.

Assessing Henry’s Work

Clearly, the sheer size and scope of Henry’s work makes any comparatively brief assessment of strengths and weaknesses both difficult and, to a certain extent, superficial. Nevertheless, a number of points of strength can be identified.

First, this is without doubt the most extensive attempt to explicate and defend the classic conservative evangelical position on Scripture to date. As such, it is a vital touchstone for all who wish to understand or to contribute to the evangelical debate on this vital topic. Many, of course, regard penetration of the secular academy as the acid-test of whether a theologian is successful or not; and, by this criterion, Henry is an abject failure. But he is an abject failure not because he is an idiot but because the very notion that he seeks to defend in the pages of GRA, that of a divinely inspired Bible, is excluded from the horizons of plausibility permitted by the said academy. Evangelicals however, should judge a theologian’s successfulness by his or her fidelity to biblical teaching. By this criterion, I confess to regarding Henry as somewhat more of a success: the connection between God and his Word would seem to be fundamental: if God’s revelation is of himself, then the means and form of that revelation would seem to be crucial to any understanding of who he is.

Second, Henry’s defence of propositionalism is important, particularly in the current climate. This aspect of his work has received short shrift at the hands of his critics who seem, on the whole, either to have misread him or, in some cases, not to have read him at all. To argue that revelation is propositional is not, despite apparent popular opinion, to reduce the Bible to a series of statements of the kind represented by, say, Pythagoras’ Theorem or some other mathematical formulae, This is the charge that is often levelled against Henry and the classic evangelical position by advocates of neo-orthodoxy and by those who press for the importance of the (often very useful) contributions of speech-act theory, In this context, Henry makes several useful observations. First, at a presuppositional level he indicates that, as God is the ultimate reality, so God should be regarded as determinative of his revelation, something which has significance for the adequacy of language to convey divine revelation. Criticising Barth in particular, he makes a point of more general significance:

If God and his revelation are really the basic axioms of Christian truth, then this axiomatic basis, and not some modern theory of linguistics, should finally be accorded sovereignty over revelation.11

What underlies Henry’s point here is his view that the collapse in confidence in language to convey divine realities has less to do with biblical teaching and more to do with an a priori framework which rests on post-Kantian premises concerning the knowability of reality and through which the biblical text is to be understood. In other words, belief in the inadequacy of language in this regard is built upon secular philosophical premises and not upon biblical teaching. Certainly one might add at this point that classic Protestant thought, with its notions of accommodation and its positive appropriation of the medieval Scotist distinction between archetypal and ectypal theology had no problem with the idea of language being an adequate medium for God’s revelation of himself—a position which it shared with the mainstream theological trajectories running from the early church.12 In this context, it is a pity that Henry himself does not make more of the historic discussions on this issue which one finds in the literature of Reformed theology.13

Second, as for propositionalism itself, Henry is emphatic that he does not mean to reduce the content of the Bible to the theological equivalent of geometrical equations. In dialogue with the speech-act philosopher, Nicholas Wolterstorff, he states the following:

Commandments like ‘thou shalt not kill’ are indeed imperatives, as Wolterstorff notes, but their grammatical form does not cancel the fact that revelation is primarily correlated with a communication of propositional truth. Imperatives are not as such true or false propositions; but they can be translated into propositions (e.g., ‘to kill is wrong’) from which cognitive inferences can be drawn.14

Indeed, one might add to Henry’s argument at this point that the individual response to ‘speech-acts’ such as promises and commands depends upon the knowledge of who it is promising or commanding. If the person promising is a liar, or simply incapable of delivering on the promise, then trust in such a promise is profoundly misplaced. That is why the historical sections of the Bible, which reveal to us who God is and how he typically acts, are so crucial—and yet these sections are scarcely susceptible to reduction to the categories of promise, command, consolation, etc. They contain propositions which make historical claims—claims which, if they are not historically true, are little more than pious human meditations on who God should be or who we would like him to be, not reliable accounts of who he actually is.15

On the issue of propositionalism, Henry is no doubt at his most vulnerable when arguing for the univocity of human language about God.16 This is a clear sign of the influence of his mentor, the philosopher Gordon Clark, on his thinking and this very issue was, indeed, one of the factors which caused quite an unpleasant stir in a small American denomination, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, between 1943 and 1948, when Clark applied for ordination in the Philadelphia presbytery. Put simply, the notion of univocity (that, for example, the word ‘good’ can be applied to God and humanity in the same qualitative manner) would seem to be vulnerable to the accusation of reducing God to human dimensions and falling foul of Ludwig Feuerbach’s arguments about the anthropomorphic nature of religion. Again, the issues of accommodation and archetypal/ectypal theology should have come into play at this point, and one is left with a sneaking suspicion that Henry perhaps does not ultimately do justice to the mystery and unknowability of God.17

Finally, of course, it must be acknowledged that Henry’s work is now almost a quarter of a century old. The developments in hermeneutical theory that have taken place over the last twenty years have been dramatic and have immense significance for how the Bible is to be understood. On this point, of course, Henry is inevitably inadequate; yet, for all the talk about speech-acts and reader-response, the importance of the reality of the personal God who speaks behind the phenomenon of Scripture remains crucial to any understanding of what Scripture is; and Henry’s personalism as developed in the doctrines of God and Scripture in the pages of this work, remain of perennial significance. Whatever new ideas secular linguistic philosophy may come up with, these points will remain the fundamental issues which divide those who believe in the God ‘out there’ who has spoken to us and those who believe that the only God ‘out there’ is one we have first put there, and who thus reduce theology to talking to ourselves—traditionally, the first sign of madness. Readers of Themelios are those, I hope, who prefer sanity as an option; and to them, therefore, I commend Henry, warts and all, for careful consideration.

2 Gabriel Fackre, Ecumenical Faith in Evangelical Perspective (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993).

3 See Bob E. Patterson, Carl F.H. Henry (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1983). Henry is also placed alongside G.C. Berkouwer and Helmut Thielicke as representative evangelical theologians in Ray S. Anderson’s article ‘Evangelical Theology’ in David F. Ford (ed.) The Modern Theologians, 2nd edn (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997), 480–98. Both Patterson and Anderson append useful bibliographies of relevant literature. Further discussion of Henry’s theology from a narrative perspective can be found in Gabriel Fackre, The Doctrine of Revelation: A Narrative Interpretation (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997), 153–78.

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4 For good studies of the origins and development of American fundamentalism, see Nathan O. Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989). The work of George M. Marsden is basic to any understanding of this period of American religious history: see, for example, the essays gathered in Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991).

5 A good introduction to the rise and fall of Princeton as a centre of Christian orthodoxy is provided by the two volume history by David B. Calhoun, Princeton Seminary (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1994–96); a useful selection of readings in the theology of orthodox Princeton can be found in Mark A. Noll (ed.) The Princeton Theology, 1812–1921 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983).

6 On Warfield, see the biographical sketch by Samuel G. Craig in B.B. Warfield, Biblical and Theological Studies (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1952), xi–xlviii; also W. Andrew Hoffecker, ‘Benjamin B. Warfield’ in David F. Wells (ed.), Reformed Theology in America (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997), 65–91; on Machen see D.G. Hart, Defending the Faith: J. Gresham Machen and the Crisis of Conservative Protestantism in Modern America (Baltimore: John Hopkins, 1994); also the essay by W. Stanford Reid in Wells, 95–111. Hart’s work is particularly good in explaining the difference between fundamentalism and confessional Protestantism. A forthcoming issue of Themelios is to carry an article by Hart on Machen.

7 Ironically, despite efforts in many conservative quarters today to make six-day creation a, if not the, test of Christian orthodoxy, the view was far from universal among conservative confessional Protestants. The Genesis chronology was not the point at issue in the Scopes’ Trial, and many, such as Warfield and Machen, held highly nuanced views on the issues of creation and evolution; the modern fundamentalist fixation with six day creation has more to do with the impact of Seventh Day Adventist theologians on the wider Christian world than any unified Protestant exegetical tradition: see Ronald L. Numbers, The Creationists (New York: Knopf, 1992).

8 On the history of Fuller Seminary, see George M. Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987). This is a clear account of the seminary’s founding and early years, although the focus on the doctrine of Scripture as the unifying narrative theme is somewhat reductionist and begs some key questions. Undoubtedly, the collapse of an orthodox doctrine of Scripture at Fuller was both sad and significant, but other elements of the story, such as the rise to prominence of the school for missions under Charles Kraft and issues surrounding the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, also represented significant developments within the New Evangelicalism of Fuller as it sought to respond in an articulate manner to the world around. Another book of interest, this time on the psychology of New Evangelicalism as epitomised by one of its most significant (and tragic) leaders, E.J. Carnell, is Rudolph Nelson’s The Making and Unmaking of an Evangelical Mind: The Case of Edward Carnell(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987).

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9 For the ultimate appropriation of revolution by free market capitalism one has only to think of the transformation of that icon of sixties revolution, Che Guevara, into a trademark. On the broader cultural level, one can also cite the example of such events as the Glastonbury Rock Festival, once symbols of youth revolt, now outlets for the bizarre behaviour of frustrated middle-aged bank managers and chartered accountants.

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10 GRA II, 7.

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11 GRA 3, 289.

12 Accommodation is the notion that, when God speaks to humanity, he does so in a form suited to their capacity, as a father might prattle to his child: this does not require that the communication is either inaccurate or inadequate, simply that it is couched in a form accessible to the recipient. Archetypal theology is the knowledge of God which he has of himself, which is, by definition, infinite, exhaustive and perfect; ectypal theology is that knowledge of God which he has made available via revelation to humanity, by definition, finite but fully adequate.

13 The New Evangelical project was, by definition, transdenominational. While this allowed for greater flexibility of organisation, it also meant that rich heritage of confessional theology, allied to a strong ecclesiology, was marginalised. This left the movement without clearly defined boundaries and has led to the chaos of contemporary New Evangelicalism, where few, if any, doctrinal norms now apply to a movement which often is defined more by vague notions of a cultural evangelical self-consciousness than theological commitment.

14 GRA 3, 417.

15 For a critique of evangelical criticism of propositional revelation, see Douglas Groothuis, ‘The Postmodern Challenge to Theology’, Themelios 25:1 (1999), 4–22.

16 See GRA 3, 363 ff.

17 For accounts of the Clark controversy, see D.G. Hart and John Muether, Fighting the Good Fight(Philadelphia: OPC, 1995), 106–115; also John M. Frame, Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought(Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1995), 97–113.

Carl Trueman

Carl Trueman is academic dean, vice president of academic affairs, and professor of historical theology and church history at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.