This excerpt from Machen’s Education, Christianity & the State notes the virtues of honest acknowledgement of differences among debaters, in place of a pretense of agreement.
But in defending the faith against the attack upon it that is being made both without and within the Church, what method of defence should be used?
In answer to that question, I have time only to say two things. In the first place, the defence, with the polemic that it involves, should be perfectly open and above board. I have just stated, that I believe in controversy. But in controversy I do try to observe the Golden Rule; I do try to do unto others as I would have others do unto me. And the kind of controversy that pleases me in an opponent is a controversy that is altogether frank.
Sometimes I go into a company of modern men. A man gets up upon the platform, looks out benignly upon the audience, and says: “I think, brethren, that we are all agreed about this”–and then proceeds to trample ruthlessly everything that is dearest to my heart.
When he does that, I feel aggrieved. I do not feel aggrieved because he gives free expression to opinions that are different from mine. But I feel aggrieved because he calls me his “brother” and assumes, prior to investigation, that I agree with what he is going to say. A kind of controversy that pleases me better than that is a kind of controversy in which a man gets up upon the platform, looks out upon the audience, and says: “What is this? I see that one of those absurd Fundamentalists has somehow strayed into this company of educated men”–and then proceeds to call me by every opprobrious term that is to be found in one of the most unsavoury paragraphs of Roget’s Thesaurus. When he does that, I do not feel too much distressed. I can even endure the application to me of the term “Fundamentalist,” though for the life of me I cannot see why adherents of the Christian religion, which has been in the world for some nineteen hundred years, should suddenly be made an “-ism,” and be called by some strange new name. The point is that that speaker at least does me the honour of recognizing that a profound difference separates my view from his. We understand each other perfectly, and it is quite possible that we may be, if not brothers (I object to the degradation of that word), yet at least good friends. (J. Gresham Machen, Education, Christianity & the State, pp. 30-31)
This post is the ninth 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.