Evangelical Affirmation Consultation (Chicago, 1989)

The “Evangelical Affirmations” consultation, jointly sponsored by Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and the National Association of Evangelicals, united over 600 evangelical scholars, pastors and “outstanding lay leaders” to clarify and reaffirm the essentials of Evangelical identity.  Among the registered participants included names like James Packer, David Wells, Don Carson, Bill Hybels, and Jerry Falwell. Collectively, the consultation’s delegates produced a public document, “The Evangelical Affirmations,” and also published a book based on the lectures and responses (pictured right).


Context: Placing “Evangelical Affirmations”

As both Chuck Colson and Carl Henry affirm in the opening minutes of their lectures, the once promising Evangelical movement had begun to fall into disrepute by the late 70’s. To be sure (both affirmed),  this was in-part due to the secular media (stereotyping and characterizing) and its disdain for both Christian supernaturalism and exclusivity. However, it was also due to public scandals and internal divisions. Thus, the once promising movement that gained momentum in the 1940’s and climaxed with Newsweek Magazine declaring 1976 “The Year of the Evangelicals” had begun back-sliding. Was it worth recovering, though? And if so, under the same name?  according to what essentials? From this historical situation emerged the decision to host an “Evangelical Affirmations” consultation. It’s  purpose: to reaffirm evangelical identity in the midst of “woeful cognitive and ethical confusion.” Henry presented one of the ten plenary lectures.


Carl Henry: “Who Are Evangelicals?”

Carl Henry, addressing the “confusion” that persists over “precisely what being an evangelical means,” turns not to the many historical and contextual suggestions that then (as now) abound, but rather offers a theological account grounded “deep in the bedrock of the Greek New Testament.” After touching only briefly on the necessity and priority of Christ’s atoning work, the bulk of this lecture addresses the origin, necessity, and proper understanding of the doctrine of inerrancy for Evangelical identity, as well as certain modernist accommodations and aberrations (even within the Evangelical camp). Showing theological acumen, contextual savy, rhetorical sophistication, and prophetic insight, Henry in this 45 minute lecture persuasively argues not merely for the importance of the doctrine of inerrancy, but also the presuppositions of those who contend against it.

This lecture is a must-listen for those who have been taught that the doctrine of inerrancy arises from a Modernist emphasis on rationalism, empiricism, and propositionalism. Such a tendency is already anticipated and criticized in this lecture. Henry’s doctrine, however, rests on wholly different grounds, precisely in his theistic and supernaturalist understanding of the world and God’s relationship to it.



“The largely humanistic media treat any and all religion merely as a private concern, an optional commitment, and view biblical theism in particular as cognitively outmoded.”

“Televangelistic improprieties and charismatic or Pentecostal nuances aside, what is most at stake in the current caricature of evangelicals is a philosophical struggle that pits modern naturalism against biblical supernaturalism and ranges in colossal conflict the theistic and materialistic views of man and the cosmos.”

“Something remains to be said for a more positive statement that focuses on the truthfulness and trustworthiness of Scripture consonant with its diverse genres, rather than defensively on inerrancy. The problem with the term inerrancy is not simply that its very prefix conveys a negative meaning, but that it too readily accommodates a shift of emphasis from the comprehensive truth of Scripture to the defense of isolated components supposedly on empirical grounds. In consequence, a deductive derivation of inspiration and inerrancy from the living God as the primary theological axiom is replaced by an inductive approach to Scripture. The inerrancy of Scripture—and not its divine authority and inspiriation—then is declared the first and most important statement to be made about Scripture.”

“The critically-altered approach to Scripture reflects a rationalistically transformed view of the supernatural and of the world, one whose presuppositions readily control the methodology.”

“The insistence that Scripture is inerrant is no doubt appropriate to an embattled and beleaguered church, one that seeks to stave off retreat by resisting aggressive higher criticism. But thereby it condemns itself to the task of apologetics as its main activity, and moves from admittedly flawed texts to unavailable autographs rather than from divinely-given originals to dependent copies; it leaves revealed theology and its implications too far in the background and, worse yet, encourages recasting of dogmatics itself along empirico-inductive lines. As the ensuing apologetic debate proceeded, evangelical countermoves dwarfed the basic connection of the supernatural with the revelatory status of Scripture. Defense of scriptural inerrancy has an unfruitful prospect if interpretation leaves unchallenged the organic unity of all history grasped only in terms of anti-miraculous relationships.”

“To be an Evangelical is therefore not simply to champion biblical inerrancy, rather than papal infallibility or empirical finality. It is to have a theistic megaview that yields a distinctive role for the bible as the literary corpus in which the self-revealing God of Judeo-Christian theology expounds his nature and plan for humanity and the nations. An abstracted emphasis on inerrancy readily sacrifices an awareness that two competing worldviews underlie the conflict over the bible. Its attempt to rescue particular disputed passages may even unwittingly obscure a necessary challenge to anti-supernaturalist presuppositions that already implicitly assure a critical victory by correlating literary analysis with disbelief in the miraculous. An anti-supernatural bias inevitably involves  a secular misperception of inspiration and accommodates a devaluation of the text.”


Note: Henry’s talk, following upon Kenneth Kanzter’s opening words, begins at 13:20 and ends at 56:45, followed by Nathan Hatch’s response.
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