I first read Carl Henry’s now-classic work, The Uneasy Conscience, when I was in seminary at SBTS. The book was required reading for multiple courses in my program. My copy is only 89 pages, put packed inside is a world of truth about the scope of the Christian message. And don’t let the title throw you, Henry wrote this important volume before evangelicalism emerged from fundamentalism as a distinct movement, which is why he is sometimes called a neo-evangelical.
Though it was first published in 1947, most of Henry’s arguments are just as applicable today as they were at that time. There is probably a lesson there about our perennial struggle of returning to old habits and thought patterns. Regardless, what Henry calls for here is a robust Christian witness in the world. His words are pointed, but careful. His aim was to awaken Christians to the reality that a Christian social ethic is not at odds with the gospel’s call to individual redemption.
For Henry–as for Jesus and the Scriptures–the gospel’s social imperative flows directly out that central message: the world is broken because of sin; the call of Christ on every person is to repent and believe; and redeemed sinners are called to reflect the light of redemption back into the broken world. As the title indicates, accepting the first two statements in this formula while rejecting the third creates an UNEASY CONSCIENCE.
Here are 12 quotes from Henry’s work on the Christian social ethic:
…while we are pilgrims here, we are ambassadors also.”
“It remains a question whether one can be perpetually indifferent to the problems of social justice and international order, and develop a wholesome personal ethics.”
“…evangelical Christianity has become increasingly inarticulate about the social reference of the Gospel.”
“Historically, Christianity embraced a life view as well as a world view; it was socially as well as philosophically pertinent.”
“Whereas once the redemptive gospel was a world-changing message, now it was narrowed to a world-resisting message…of this sort there could come no contemporary version of Augustine’s The City of God.”
[Evangelicalism] “in revolting against the Social Gospel seemed also to revolt against the Christian social imperative.”
[Evangelicalism] “in the main fails to make relevant to the great moral problems in twentieth-century global living the implications of its redemptive message.”
“The ideal Hebrew or Christian society throbbed with challenge to the predominate culture of its generation, condemning with redemptive might the tolerated social evils, for the redemptive message was to light the world and salt the earth.”
“There is no room…for a gospel that is indifferent to the needs of the total man nor of the global man.”
“Calvin felt that the Hebrew-Christian tradition historically involved an articulate statement not only of dogmatics but of the social implications of redemption.”
“The Christian social imperative is today in the hands of those who understand it in sub-Christian terms.”
“If Protestant orthodoxy holds itself aloof from the present world predicament it is doomed to a much reduced role…If the evangelical answer is in terms of religious escapism, then the salt has lost its savor.”