Carl F. H. Henry on A. H. Strong

Henry’s dissertation at Boston University, entitled Personal Idealism and Strong’s Theology, was worked into this volume which maintains its scholarly style. It was fitting that Henry, the Baptist, would write a dissertation on the Baptist theologian, A. H. Strong. This book entails a correlation of Strong’s ethical monism with the personal idealism of the sort prevalent at Boston University during the tenure of Borden Parker Bowne. Personal idealism of the Bowne variety, however, is commented upon very little. Instead, a description of Strong’s ethical monism ensues from Henry’s pen. It can be argued that Strong’s ethical monism shares important affinities with Bowne’s personal idealism. Strong’s monism combines with the idealism in which Christ becomes the nexus for the personalities which make up reality.

In actuality, Henry spends most of his text describing Strong’s ethical monism, where it shows up in his corpus, and how it is worked through the various strands of Strong’s doctrinal thought. Strong held, somewhat paradoxically, that God is the constituent ground of everything observable and known to exist, material and immaterial, but that God exceeds this as well, making him also transcendent. Strong’s believes that Christ’s connection with humanity antedates his incarnation, beginning at Creation. Thus, Christ as God of the universe has been suffering with the sin of mankind ever since the fall.

Henry’s method of investigation is simple enough. First he traces the evolution of Strong’s theology up to his conception of monism in 1894 (Henry 95). Then Henry examines the remaining extant corpus of Strong highlighting anything that Strong says about monism and idealism. Especially helpful is Henry’s analysis of the editions of Strong’s Systematic Theology and the seminal works on monism found in Christ and Creation and Philosophy and Religion.

Toward the end Henry records the reaction to Strong’s monisim. It was not well recieved by liberal or conservative. To the liberal he did not go far enough in imposing the idealism over his view of reality as Bowne had done. To the conservative, Strong’s insistence on monism raised suspicions of a form of pantheistic liberalism. The old Calivinistic orthodoxy of Princeton and Caspar Wistar Hodge did not sit well with Strong’s novel ideas.

In the end, Henry himself doubts whether Strong’s monism is compatable with orthodox Christianity (Henry 228-229). He concludes that: (1) Strong’s monism went beyond the bounds of orthodoxy by proposing a new method and means of knowledge; (2) Strong only partially subscribed to the principle of knowledge, thus incurring the doubts of both liberal and conservative. (3) Strong’s own writings suggest the influence of Ezekiel A. Robinson, Hermann Lotze, and Borden Parker Bowne; (4) Strong’s odd mixture of liberal ideas and orthodox ideas placed his “ethical monisim” in both the orthodox realm and the personal idealist realm, but not without discontinuities with both of them; (5) Bowne’s personal idealism moved farther away from orthodox bibliology than Strong because Strong did not incorporate as radical an immanentalism as Bowne; (6) Strong insisted on an orthodox trinitarianism which put him at odds with the personal idealistic school; (7) Strong’s orthodoxy kept him from fully embracing the outcome of his monism. This is evident in his view of the atonement in which he espouses both substitution and sharing as the ground of the atonement.

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