Theologically, this period of 30 years has been strange and turbulent. It began with a small evangelical movement and dominant theological figures; it is ending with a large evangelical movement and few established thinkers. Between then and now lie the decades that belonged to Barth, Brunner, Bultmann, Tillich, and the Niebuhrs, giants whose voices are now stilled and whose influence has faded. Their successors could well have come from the evangelical world, but a vigorous, creative evangelical theology has not appeared to seize this moment.

Thirty years ago leadership was provided either by those who articulated a characteristically different way of evangelical thinking—such as Cornelius Van Til, Gordon Clark, John Murray, and J. Oliver Buswell—or who symbolized its growing ability to play on the same academic turf as everyone else—such as E. J. Carnell and Bernard Ramm. Thus were the seeds of discord unwittingly sown, seeds that have now produced deep internal disarray, for the responsibilities to Athens (the academy) and Jerusalem (the people of God) have become loyalties that are often in fierce competition with one another.

The laity 30 years ago was more doctrinally conscious and theologically literate than it is today. Indeed, the combined effects of “relational theology,” charismatic experience, and the self movement might have eliminated theological interest altogether but for a group of remarkable—and remarkably patronized—popularizers: C. S. Lewis, whose pungency kept evangelicals thinking; Francis Schaeffer, who kept alive the reality of a Christian world view; Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who showed that theology could and should be preached; John Stott, whose seminal writings have shown how wholesome the Bible can be; and J. I. Packer, whose Knowing God in particular demonstrated that beneath all the evangelical fizz there is a deep spiritual hunger.

In the absence of fresh systematic writing from America, translated imports, such as G. C. Berkouwer and Helmut Thielicke, have taken on special significance, as have reprints from the Reformation period onward. Dictionaries have had to take up the slack, too, such as Colin Brown’s The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology and, most recently, Walter Elwell’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology.

In this period of fragmentation, when there has been little corporately owned theological understanding, particular issues have taken on a life of their own, often following erratic and even bizarre courses. Most troublesome have been the debates about Scripture (and inerrancy), women (and ordination), and evangelical commitment (and who may and may not be considered in the movement).

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Some theologies, however, have been written. Donald Bloesch’s Essentials of Evangelical Theology is a good update on key themes; Millard Erickson’s recent three volumes of Christian Theology is also an able contribution. But pride of place must go to Carl Henry’s six volumes, God, Revelation and Authority. It is a powerful, vigorous assertion of an orthodoxy whose toughness and stringency are precisely what evangelicalism needs to hear but apparently has been unwilling to read. That says only a little about Henry (whose style unfortunately does oscillate between being racy and being Teutonic) and much about evangelicalism.

It also raises an interesting question. There are rumors of various systematic theologies in the works. The time is undoubtedly ripe for theologians to capitalize on the rich harvest of biblical studies of recent decades, the maturing awareness of evangelical responsibility in culture and society, and the absence of serious competitors in the wider theological world. But if these theologies are written, will anybody read them?

This is a question of overall survival for twentieth-century evangelicalism. Given the pressures it must face, both from academia and our secular culture, it can hardly perpetuate itself intact if it reduces itself to being merely “born-again religion,” sheared of a doctrinal structure, ethical seriousness, and a comprehensive world view.

By David F. Wells, Andrew Mutch Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Carl F. H. Henry

The theological moorings of contemporary evangelicalism are anchored in the works of Carl F. H. Henry, whose contributions to Christian thought and interpretation are of unrivaled stature. Henry’s conversion at age 20 was followed by intensive study at Wheaton College and Northern Baptist Theological Seminary. From 1947 to 1956, he served on the faculty of the newly established Fuller Theological Seminary. And for the next 12 years, he was editor of CHRISTIANITY TODAY, establishing a fortnightly journal counterpoised against the more liberal Christian Century. His greatest written contribution to evangelical theory and application is his six-volume God, Revelation and Authority.

He continues, at age 73, to teach and lecture worldwide to serious students of theology. He has sought to shape and encourage coordinated evangelical initiative. In his autobiography, Confessions of a Theologian, Henry writes, “The coming decade of decision will be marked either by evangelical penetration of the world, or by the world’s penetration of the evangelical movement.”

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Bernard L. Ramm

In the 1950s, barely more than two decades after the infamous Scopes trial, American evangelicals remained confused and anxious about the relation of their faith to science. Bernard L. Ramm’s Christian View of Science and Scripture was instrumental in assuring them the Bible and biology were compatible.

Ramm has been a particularly prolific theologian, writing more than 15 books on apologetics, biblical interpre tation, and specific doctrines such as sin and Christology. He continues to be out in front of evangelical thought, though it remains to be seen whether evangelicalism will follow the pro-Barthian lead of his recent After Fundamentalism as it so appreciatively followed his earlier writing.

J. I. Parker

James Innell Packer’s student interests at Oxford University signaled the mix of personal traits that would distinguish him as a thinker and writer years later. He enjoyed the warm emotional rewards of playing jazz clarinet with the “Oxford Bandits.” But he studied the cerebrally demanding disciplines of Latin and Greek.

Packer’s early books included “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God and Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. They initiated his rigorous defense of biblical inerrancy and revealed his indebtedness to the Puritan articulation of the faith. But it was Knowing God, published in 1973, that combined intellectual depth and a pastoral sensitivity for the demands and joys of daily experience. The book proved that vital, straightforward theology could be written to a wide readership.

Packer currently maintains a heavy lecturing schedule, speaking both to lay audiences and fellow theologians.

Frederick Fyvie Bruce

In 1951 the Tyndale Press published Scotsman F. F. Bruce’s The Acts of the Apostles: Greek Text with Introduction and Commentary. According to I. Howard Marshall of the University of Aberdeen, the appearance of this book marked “the decisive date in the revival of evangelical scholarship and in its recognition by other scholars.”

Before this time Bruce had taught at Sheffield University and divided his writing between essays for scholarly journals and more popular books for the Inter-Varsity Press. He later taught at the University of Manchester and served (remarkably) as president of both the Society for Old Testament Study and the Society for New Testament Studies. His influence spread abroad through his many books (in the 1970s alone, he published more than 500 books and articles) and his role as editor of major reference materials such as the New International Commentary on the New Testament.

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Gleason L. Archer

Gleason Archer’s A Survey of Old Testament Introduction is familiar territory to thousands of seminarians and Bible-college students. Seventy-six thousand copies have been sold to English-speaking students; the book has been translated into French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian, as well.

Now professor emeritus at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Archer taught full-time at Trinity and at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Archer, who earned degrees in classics, comparative literature, law, and divinity, including a Ph.D. from Harvard Graduate School, is an avid coin collector, who specializes in ancient Greek, Roman, and oriental coins.

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