Liberal and conservative: Misguided views on the kingdom
Russell Moore writes that Carl F. H. Henry’s 1947 book The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism “just might be the road-map for the future of American Christianity. “
From Moore to the Point:
Just after World War II, Henry, then a young rising star in the Christian firmament, issued a jarring manifesto calling for a theologically-informed and socially-engaged evangelicalism. Henry warned that American Christianity, on the Right and on the Left, was headed for irrelevance, toward being the equivalent of a wilderness cult. His agenda wasn’t simply an updating of style and presentation (although he had written a book on church publicity). The issues at root were about misguided views on the kingdom of God.
He was right. And he still is.
Henry was concerned about two fronts: detached fundamentalism and social gospel liberalism. The liberals, Henry insisted, had replaced the gospel with a political program. Instead of seeing the primary mission of the church in terms of God’s reconciling work in Christ to forgive sins, the liberals were busy grinding out policy papers on nuclear policy. Liberals saw the kingdom as a program for public righteousness, often enacted legislatively.
At the other extreme, though, Henry warned, conservatives over-reacted to the social gospel. They spoke of the kingdom of God, but acted as though it were wholly future. These conservatives embraced an otherworldly vision of salvation, that was mostly about getting souls to heaven at death. They held to an inordinately spiritual vision of the church, in which the church’s mission was about merely “spiritual” matters such as evangelism and addressing personal morality.
By severing social concerns from the gospel, the conservatives had, Henry warned, conceded these issues to liberal Protestants and, ultimately, to their more radical successors. Neither side, Henry argued, understood the “already” and “not yet” tension of the kingdom of God, a tension that was about more than how we view the last things. It is about also how we see salvation and the church.
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