During World War I, J. Gresham Machen worked with the YMCA behind the lines in France. From the conclusion of Letters from the Front: J. Gresham Machen’s Correspondence from World War I, ed. Barry Waugh (2012), we have the following paragraph on the influence World War I had on Machen.
War provides an opportunity for people to do things that they would never choose to do on their own. Though J. Gresham Machen’s service was that of a non-combatant, he was still faced with conditions that required a considerable ability to adapt to dangerous and culturally different situations. In France, Machen worshipped God as he had the opportunity in churches and special services. Surely, he would rather have been home in a Presbyterian
…[T]here must be a renewal of Christian education. The rejection of Christianity is due to various causes. But a very potent cause is simple ignorance. In countless cases, Christianity is rejected simply because men have not the slightest notion of what Christianity is. An outstanding fact of recent Church history is the appalling growth of ignorance in the Church. Various causes, no doubt, can be assigned for this lamentable development. The development is due partly to the general decline of education–at least so far as literature and history are concerned. The schools of the present day are being ruined by the absurd notion that education should follow the line of least resistance, and that something can be “drawn out” of the mind before anything is put in. They are also being ruined by an exaggerated emphasis on methodology at the expense of content and on what is materially useful at the expense of the high spiritual heritage of mankind. These lamentable tendencies, moreover, are in danger of being made permanent through the sinister extension of state control. But something more than the general decline in education is needed to account for the special growth of ignorance in the Church. The growth of ignorance in the Church is the logical and inevitable result of the false notion that Christianity is a life and not also a doctrine; if Christianity is not a doctrine then of course teaching is not necessary to Christianity. But whatever may be the causes for the growth of ignorance in the Church, the evil must be remedied. It must be remedied primarily by the renewal of Christian education in the family, but also by the use of whatever other educational agencies the Church can find. Christian education is the chief business of the hour for every earnest Christian man. Christianity cannot subsist unless men know what Christianity is; and the fair and logical thing is to learn what Christianity is, not from its opponents, but from those who themselves are Christians.That method of procedure would be the only fair method in the case of any movement. But it is still more in place in the case of a movement such as Christianity which has laid the foundation of all that we hold most dear. Men have abundant opportunity to-day to learn what can be said against Christianity, and it is only fair that they should also learn something about the thing that is being attacked.
From J. G. Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, Eerdmans, 1923, pp. 176, 177.
[The family] is being pushed more and more into the background. It is being pushed into the background by undue encroachments of the community and of the state. Modern life is tending more and more toward the contraction of the sphere of parental control and parental influence. The choice of schools is being placed under the power of the state; the “community” is seizing hold of recreation and of social activities. It may be a question how far these community activities are responsible for the modern breakdown of the home; very possibly they are only trying to fill a void which even apart from them had already appeared. But the result at any rate is plain–the lives of children are no longer surrounded by the loving atmosphere of the Christian home, but by the utilitarianism of the state. A revival of the Christian religion would unquestionably bring a reversal of the process; the family, as over against all other social institutions, would come to its rights again.
–J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, Eerdmans, 1923, p. 154.
The October 2012 issue of New Horizons, the denominational magazine of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church devotes its issue to various articles related to the history of Presbyterianism. In addition to articles about Charles Hodge and Geerhardus Vos, there is an article entitled “Faith and Learning: the Heritage of J. Gresham Machen” by Katherine VanDrunen. VanDrunen wrote her PhD dissertation at Loyola at Chicago about Machen’s familial ancestors and draws upon that to provide a fascinating look at the education and biblical instruction Machen received from his formative years through his graduating first in his class at John Hopkins.
This excerpt from Machen’s Education, Christianity & the State reminds us that philosophical questions are important to Christians, and that philosophy is inherent in the Bible, from the account of the creation of the world forward.
What a world in itself the Bible is, my friends! Happy are those who in the providence of God can make the study of it very specifically the business of their lives; but happy also is every Christian who has it open before him and seeks by daily study to penetrate somewhat into the wonderful richness of what it contains.
A man does not need to read very long in the Bible before that richness begins to appear. It appears in the very first verse of the Bible; for the very first verse sets forth the being of God: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”
We are told today, indeed, that that is metaphysics, and that it is a matter of indifference to the Christian man. To be a Christian, it is said, a man does not need at all to settle the question how the universe came into being.
Since I discovered some interesting discussions at Baylyblog.com, I thought I would mention one that has particular relevance to Machen. In “A Primer on Two-Kingdom, Spirituality of the Church, Redemptive-Historical Evasions…,” from Feb. 2010, the Baylys discuss D. G. Hart’s two books Defending the Faith (a biography of J. G. Machen) and Fighting the Good Fight (a history of the OPC). A couple of excerpts: Read more…
A friend referenced a comment on an old post (2006) at baylyblog.com by Fr. Bill Mouser, which contains some interesting thoughts on the path toward theological liberalism in denominations. The post concerned indications of liberalism in the chapel program at Covenant College, but the comment is more broadly applicable. Evidently, a large part of the problem is academic elitism at seminaries and ecclesiastical colleges, without sufficient oversight by the denomination. Read more…