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Richard Gamble on Christianity and Liberalism

Machen wrote, “The liberal believes that applied Christianity is all there is of Christianity, Christianity being merely a way of life.” From Richard Gamble’s book The War for Righteousness:

From Princeton Theological Seminary in 1923, J. Gresham Machen fired another salvo at Protestant liberalism in his Christianity and Liberalism, which Walter Lippmann later called “the best popular argument produced by either side in the current controversy.” Machen acknowledged the dramatic changes that had swept the world in the past hundred years, and he agreed with the liberals’ assessment of the basic question facing Christianity in the contemporary world, namely, “What is the relation between Christianity and modern culture; may Christianity be maintained in a scientific age?” From this point on, however, he disagreed sharply with the progressive clergy. It was one thing to admit that the world was changing, but quite another to say that Christianity had to change along with it.

Machen proposed that liberalism had not rescued Christianity at all but rather had substituted something alien in its place. Liberalism had constructed an entirely new religion that diverged from the historic faith in every basic doctrine, from the nature of God and man, to the Bible, Christ, salvation, and the church. He rejected liberalism’s view of God’s immanence, its tendency to identify sin everywhere but within the human heart, and its fondness for statist collectivism. At the root of the problem he found liberalism’s penchant for making Christianity a means to another end, for putting “applied Christianity” above more fundamental concerns. He granted the need for Christian influence in the world but lamented that “the liberal believes that applied Christianity is all there is of Christianity, Christianity being merely a way of life.” Of its global aspirations, Machen complained that “the missionary of liberalism seeks to spread the blessings of Christian civilization (whatever that may be), and not particularly interested in leading individuals to relinquish their pagan beliefs.” At the heart of the debate was the definition of Christianity’s fundamental mission in the world.

From The War for Righteousness by Richard M. Gamble, pp. 249-250, ISI Books

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Machen’s Childhood

Randy Oliver’s biography of J. Gresham Machen helps provide some context to Machen’s theological convictions:

“I have finished Mathu, and nearly finished Mark, and then I am going to begin at the very biginning of the whole bible…It seems to me that on Sunday I can never get a nuf of my catercisum.”
– J. Gresham Machen, age 7

John Gresham Machen, the second of three sons, was born in Baltimore, Maryland on July 28, 1881. His father Arthur W. Machen was fifty-five years of age when Gresham was born. Mr. Machen was a Virginia-born, Harvard-trained lawyer. The elder Machen’s tastes and interests were rooted in the classical tradition of the old South. He read the works of Horace, Thucydides, and Caesar, as well as Read more…

Categories: JGM's Life

Why Did Machen Never Marry?

I was curious as to why J. Gresham Machen never married. Apparently, he came close, but the woman was a unitarian, so the relationship never moved beyond a romantic attraction. See more here, at Triablogue.

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Machen and Creation in Six Days

J. Gresham Machen was apparently not a six-day creationist. Dr. John Byl at the bylogos blog has written an interesting assessment of the issues surrounding Machen’s and B.B. Warfield’s acceptance of non-literal views of Genesis. Most of the discussion is on Warfield’s ideas about “theistic evolution,” but Machen apparently concurred. In The Christian View of Man
(1937 – a quick review here), Machen wrote, “It is certainly not necessary to think that the six days spoken of in that first chapter of the Bible are intended to be six days of twenty four hours each. We may think of them rather as very long periods of time.” Westminster Theological Seminary, the seminary that Machen founded, holds today to that view.

Dr. Byl also mentioned an article from January 2000 by Machen scholar D.G. Hart and John Muether in which the authors state that Warfield’s and Machen’s views “offer a better opportunity for credibly engaging the scientific community and meaningfully defending the truth of Christianity than the one now promoted by scientific creationists.” I hope that this does not mean what it appears to imply–that our interpretation of the Bible should be influenced by what would be palatable to scientists or make apologetics less daunting. Regardless of one’s view on creation, this would be a dangerous hermeneutic.

Dr. Byl concludes,

“…one cannot argue that, since Warfield and Machen were orthodox, we should accept all their teaching. I think it fair to say that Warfield and Machen were generally soundly Reformed. They were great theologians from whom there is still much to learn. Nevertheless, regretfully, they did depart from Scripture in their treatment of evolution. Hence some of their teaching is non-Reformed.”

This is a matter of current relevance for Protestants standing in Machen’s theological tradition. In another post, Dr. Byl points to two articles from 2010, one by a PCA author and the other by an OPC author, objecting to young-earth creationism. The OPC author, according to Dr. Byl, “contemptuously dismisses creationists as ‘preachers in lab coats,’ ‘charlatans,’ and ‘a caricature of religion.'” Dr. Byl notes,

“…waffling on the Bible to appease mainstream science is futile. The wiser strategy is to firmly uphold the Sola Scriptura of the Westminster Confession, proclaiming all that the Bible teaches. Christian faith is undermined not by biblical consistency but, rather, by unbiblical compromise.

“And if that causes us to lose credibility in the eyes of the worldly intelligentsia, so be it.”

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