Zachary Albanese, MA student and Henry Center intern
The Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding has a certain allure. Is it the title? The mysterious F. H. that sits in the middle? This might be a plausible reason as to why some are drawn to the Henry Center, but it is not my reason.
It was the Henry Center’s mission statement that initially caught my interest. It focuses on providing theological understanding by bridging the gap between the academy and the church. The goal of the Center is to advance Christian thinking and wisdom throughout all areas of the church’s life and thought. This provocative idea gives us the opportunity to consider afresh the specifics of the academy and the specifics of the church, and how we can bring them into a dialogue that “makes a difference in the academy, in our churches, and in the secular world.” But why is there a gap between the two?
It seems that in many church settings, ‘theology’ is a forbidden word; to many pastors and lay believers it suggests impractical head knowledge, arrogance, all theory and no practice. Somehow in one’s study of God, one’s theology, there is this lack of enjoying God – reducing God to a mere set of facts or doctrines. But if there is a theology that lessens one’s enjoyment for God or detracts from truly knowing God, I would argue that such theology is really no theology at all. J. I. Packer helps clear up an understanding of theology: “Our aim in studying the Godhead must be to know God himself better. Our concern must be to enlarge our acquaintance, not simply with the doctrine of God’s attributes, but with the living God whose attributes they are. As he is the subject of our study, and our helper in it, so he must himself be the end of it. We must seek, in studying God, to be led to God” (Knowing God, p. 23).
I understand why there are those who are leery or uncertain of academia when it comes to God. They are against theology that is impractical, theology that is more interested in scholarly debate than in following God. And I agree. As Packer said, theology “is the most practical project anyone can engage in. Knowing about God is crucially important for the living of our lives” (Knowing God, pp.18-19). I therefore understand why there are those who seek and hunger to further understand the things of God. A good seminary provides that kind of refuge. The truth of the matter is that all believers should hunger to know their Creator. He nourishes our starving souls. He is our living water as we wander in the desert of life. And if this is so, then why aren’t all believers expected to jump into academia?
The function of the church is to provide for all these mentioned necessities. The Christian should be sufficiently educated by weekly worship, fellowship with other believers, Bible study, discipleship, watching and learning from more mature believers, and so on. In the ideal setting, the need for the academy would diminish. In our current setting, however, God can and does use the academy for the edification of the church. If seminaries are properly focused on Christ, his word, and the tradition of confessional orthodoxy, they can be a genuine aid and not a hindrance to the flourishing of churches.
The mission of the Henry Center thus seeks to bridge this difference, between the church and the academy, but also by extending that bridge to the secular world, making theology relevant and intelligible to the ‘practical’ person. Through the promotion of gospel-centered living and thinking, the Henry Center helps demonstrate that it is impossible to separate theology from the deepest matters of the heart.