Theologian Carl F. H. Henry claimed, “The closest approximation of the Kingdom of God today is the Church, the body of regenerate believers that owns the crucified and risen Redeemer as its head.” (Henry, The God Who Shows Himself, 88) Henry is widely acknowledged for his contributions to the neo-evangelical understanding of the doctrine of Scripture and its social implications, but few have examined Henry’s theology of the local church or his contribution to the discipline of Missiology. Missiologist David Hesselgrave claimed that Henry was not “principally” a missiologist, but his view of the local church as the loci of the Kingdom of God provides an “outstanding contribution” to the discipline. (Hesselgrave, What Happens When Apostles Disagree?, 194) For Henry, God’s plan was more than personal evangelism. He had a clear understanding of the role of the local church and its place in bringing redeemed people into God’s mission as a corporate endeavor.
This paper is a summary of a chapter of a recently defended dissertation that contends that Henry should be considered a missional theologian. The paper focuses on Carl F. H. Henry’s understanding of conversion as a piece of his missional theology. Though well-known as an evangelist, Henry’s view of conversion is broader than the moment of faith and the act of personal witnessing. Three key elements of Henry’s theology of conversion stand out in his works. First, Henry emphasized a risen Savior – “Jesus of Nazareth” as the incarnate Word of God. Henry saw the purpose of mission originating with the triune God who reveals Himself in the person and work of Jesus Christ. This God has spoken to mankind in nature, but in a special way through the Scriptures which tell of the second person of the Trinity, the divine Son of God. The only authoritative witness to the incarnate Word of God is the preserved written Word of God. Second, Henry believed in a regenerate community. When someone comes to know Jesus through personal repentance and trust, the entire person is brought into fellowship with God and His people. This begins a lifetime of dependence upon Christ where the entire worldview is brought in submission to His lordship. This transformation occurs within the local church as the community both preserves and proclaims the true gospel. Third, Henry held to a redeeming message. Gospel proclamation is not the task of the individual Christian alone, but of the community of believers on mission together. Henry reminds individual Christians they are not “God’s shock troops, serving as the first line of attack.” (Henry, Facing a New Day in Evangelism, 11-12) Rather, it is “the Lord Himself” who initiates the missio Dei in coming to fallen humanity and gives eschatological urgency to the church. With these three perspectives in harmony, this paper will synthesize Henry’s theology of conversion and present him as a worthwhile contributor to the discipline of missiology.