Christian scholarship is necessary to the preacher, and to the man who in whatever way, in public or in private, endeavours to proclaim the gospel to his fellow-men, in at least three ways.
In the first place, it is necessary for evangelism. In saying so, I am perfectly well aware of the fact that I am putting myself squarely in conflict with a method of religious work which is widely prevalent at the present time. Knowledge, the advocates of that method seem to think, is quite unnecessary to faith; at the beginning a man may be a Fundamentalist or a Modernist, he may hold a Christian view or an anti-Christian view of Christ. Never mind; he is to be received, quite apart from his opinions, on the basis of simple faith. Afterwards, indeed, he will, if he has really been converted, read his Bible and come to a more and more correct view of Christ and of the meaning of Christ’s death. If he does not come to a more and more correct view, one may perhaps suspect that his conversion was not a real one after all. But at the beginning all that is thought to be unnecessary. All that a man has to believe in at the beginning is conversion: he is saved on the basis of simple faith; correct opinions about God and Christ come later.
With regard to this method, it may of course be said at once that the “simple faith” thus spoken of is not faith at all; or, rather, it is not faith in Christ. A man cannot trust a person whom he holds to be untrustworthy. Faith always contains an intellectual element. A very little knowledge is often sufficient if a man is to believe, but some knowledge there must be. So if a man is to trust Christ he must know something about Christ; he may know only a very little, but without some knowledge he could not believe at all.
What these advocates of a “simple faith” which involves no knowledge of Christ really mean by “simple faith” is faith, perhaps; but it is not faith in Christ. It is faith in the practitioners of the method; but it is not faith in Christ. To have faith in Christ one must have knowledge of Christ, however slight; and it is not a matter of indifference whether the opinions held about Christ are true or false. (J. Gresham Machen, Education, Christianity & the State, pp. 16-17)
This post is the second of a series of excerpts from chapter 2 of J. Gresham Machen’s book Education, Christianity & the State, “The Importance of Christian Scholarship.” This chapter is a compilation of addresses given at the Bible League meetings in Westminster, London, on June 17, 1932. Page references are from the 1987 Trinity Foundation edition of this book.