The Importance of Christian Scholarship (III)

This excerpt from Machen’s Education, Christianity & the State deals with what today would be called “head knowledge” and “heart knowledge.” Machen argues here and in last week’s post that saving faith cannot exist without some modest degree of intellectual understanding of the gospel.

…[I]s this modern anti-intellectualistic view of faith in accordance with the New Testament? Does the New Testament offer a man salvation first, on the basis of a psychological process of conversion or surrender–falsely called faith–and then preach the gospel to him afterwards; or does the New Testament preach the gospel to him first, set forth to him first the facts about Christ and the meaning of His death, and then ask him to accept the One thus presented in order that his soul may be saved?

That question can be answered very simply by an examination of the examples of conversion which the New Testament contains.

Three thousand were converted on the day of Pentecost. They were converted by Peter’s sermon. What did Peter’s sermon contain? Did it contain merely an account of Peter’s own experience of salvation; did it consist solely in exhortation to the people to confess their sins? Not at all. What Peter did on the day of Pentecost was to set forth the facts about Jesus Christ–His life, His miracles, His death, His resurrection. It was on the basis of that setting forth of the facts about Christ that the three thousand believed, confessed their sins, and were saved.

Paul and Silas were in prison one night at Philippi. There was a miracle; the prisoners were released. The gaoler was impressed and said, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul and Silas said; “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” Did the gaoler believe then and there; was he saved without further delay? I think not. We are expressly told that Paul and Silas, after that, “spake unto him the word of the Lord.” Then and not till then was he baptised, and I think we are plainly to understand that then and not till then was he saved.

Our Saviour sat one day by the well. He talked with a sinful woman, and laid His finger upon the sore spot in her life. “Thou hast had five husbands,” He said; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband.” The woman then apparently sought to evade the consideration of the sin in her own life by asking a theological question regarding the right place in which to worship God. What did Jesus do with her theological question? Did He brush it aside after the manner of modern religious workers? Did He say to the woman: “You are evading the real question; do not trouble yourself about theological matters, but let us return to the consideration of the sin in your life.” Not at all. He answered that theological question with the utmost fulness as though the salvation of the woman’s soul depended on her obtaining the right answer. In reply to that sinful woman, and to what modern religious workers would have regarded as an evasive question, Jesus engaged in some of the profoundest theological teaching in the whole New Testament. A right view of God, according to Jesus, is not something that comes merely after salvation, but it is something important for salvation.

The Apostle Paul in the First Epistle to the Thessalonians gives a precious summary of his missionary preaching. He does so by telling what it was to which the Thessalonians turned when they were saved. Was it a mere programme of life to which they turned? Was it a “simple faith,” in the modern sense which divorces faith from knowledge and supposes that a man can have “simple faith” in a person of whom he knows nothing or about whom he holds opinions that make faith in him absurd? Not at all. In turning to Christ those Thessalonian Christians turned to a whole system of theology. “Ye turned to God from idols,” says Paul, “to serve the living and true God; and to wait for His Son from heaven”–there is Christology. “Whom He raised from the dead”–there is the supernatural act of God in history. “Even Jesus”–there is the humanity of our Lord. “Which delivereth us from the wrath to come”–there is the Christian doctrine of sin and the Christian doctrine of the Cross of Christ.

So it is in the New Testament from beginning to end. The examples might be multiplied indefinitely. The New Testament gives not one bit of comfort to those who separate faith from knowledge, to those who hold the absurd view that a man can trust a person about whom he knows nothing. What many men despise today as “doctrine” the New Testament calls the gospel; and the New Testament treats it as the message upon which salvation depends. (J. Gresham Machen, Education, Christianity & the State, pp. 17-20)

This post is the third 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.

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