At 73, the Rev. Carl F.H. Henry can look back on a career that includes key roles in founding two institutions that for more than 30 years have given an intellectual anchor to evangelical Protestantism in this country: Fuller Theological Seminary and the fortnightly journal, Christianity Today.
That's reason enough for any man to write his autobiography. Henry's, called "Confessions of a Theologian," was launched this week in several events surrounding the Christian Bookseller's Convention.
"I wrote 'Confessions of a Theologian' because I thought it was time to tell the story," Henry told a group gathered in his honor by Charles Colson and his Prison Fellowship, on whose board Henry serves.
"I've lived through about 50 years of the evangelical movement," said Henry, who was 20 and working on a Long Island weekly newspaper when he was converted and decided to train for full-time Christian service.
Being an evangelical then "was very different from what you have today . . . . It was a very lonely life," he told the gathering Wednesday evening at the Prison Fellowship's Reston headquarters.
Evangelical churches then "were in a bare minority," he said. "The first churches in any city had gone modern. What you heard in most mainline churches were book reviews or ethical homilies" instead of Gospel preaching, he said.
The old Federal Council of Churches, precursor of the National Council of Churches, "was always on the left" on social issues, "as if that was the only point of view . . . and they presumed to speak for all the churches," Henry said.
If Henry is critical of mainline ecumenical churches, he makes no effort to gloss over shortcomings of the evangelical movement, some of which have deeply affected his own life.
The most interesting part of his autobiography is the inside view it gives of the dynamics of Christianity Today's founding in 1956 and the tensions and pressures that resulted in his dismissal as editor 10 years later.
CT, as its fans like to call it, was envisioned as an evangelical counterpart to mainline Protestantism's intellectual weekly, the Christian Century. It is one of the ironies of Henry's book that he is so critical of the mainline churches while repeatedly holding up the Christian Century as the measuring stick for Christianity Today, long after the latter achieved a status and identity of its own.
According to Henry, Christianity Today was conceived in a Christmas Day, 1954, conversation between evangelist Billy Graham and Graham's father-in-law, Dr. Nelson Bell, a medical missionary uprooted from China by the Maoist revolution there. Their vision, Henry writes, was of "an evangelical magazine rivaling the Christian Century."
They turned for financing to industrialist J. Howard Pew, who shared many of Bell's theological and political views. Pew's money not only got the magazine off the ground but for a number of years made it possible to send free subscriptions to clergy throughout the country.
In 1956, Henry, who had by then been at Fuller for nine years, was recruited as editor, with Bell as executive editor and chief liaison to both Pew and Graham.
After months of planning and preparation -- and a bitter battle with the new magazine's board of directors over editorial control -- the first issue came off the press in October 1956. It thrived under Henry's editorship, and quickly became recognized as a serious journal of theological throught, albeit with an acknowledged evangelical bias.
But Henry admits in his "Confessions" that CT sat out the most critical social movement of those years, the civil rights struggle, as did most of evangelicalism.
As a very influential board member as well as a continuing financial supporter, Pew was adamantly opposed to any linking of religion and social issues and invested not a little energy attacking the National and World Councils of Churches for their social programs.
In his detailing of Pew's differences with him over these matters, Henry does not make clear the extent to which they played a role in the "bombshell" of a letter he received from Harold J. Ockenga, board chairman, in July 1967: "The executive committee agreed unanimously to relieve you of all editorial responsibility not later than July 1, 1968."
So stunned was Henry by the letter that he wrote back "asking in effect whether Ockenga was telling me circuitously that I had been fired," he recalls in the book.
He was indeed, though Ockenga, when he finally responded nearly a month later, said the action was merely a response to "your desire . . . to return to the academic field." An eventual return to academia was an option Henry had kept before him, he said, but he had no specific plans.
"After 10 years of service, my relationship to the magazine was not only summarily ended without consultation or reason, but in the absence of a resignation and without agreement on public announcement," the stricken Henry wrote Ockenga.
Furthermore, he charged, "information was leaked to some Christian leaders" before Henry received the dismissal letter, which "was not even marked confidential, and was opened and read by secretarial staff before it came to me."
In the end, contending that "the well-being of Christianity Today is more important than my immediate future," Henry yielded and left a year later, as stipulated, and his name was erased from the masthead even though he continued to write a monthly page. It was not until early this year that Henry's name was restored to the masthead as "founding editor," together with the list of those who succeeded him.
Since 1973, Henry has been lecturer-at-large for World Vision International, traveling, speaking, teaching and writing 30 books, though he is probably best known, even today, as founding editor of Christianity Today.
He made no reference, in his remarks at the Prison Fellowship gathering, to the CT years. But in summing up his career he said: "I still have the stars in my eyes that I had 50 years ago as a young newspaperman who came to Christ."