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.
J. Gresham Machen’s contest against theological liberals was not a contest against political involvement per se, though political action among professing Christians had become almost synonymous with “social gospel” liberalism. Machen was also opposed to the pietistic retreat of fundamentalists from political affairs. Though Machen was not a fundamentalist in the pietistic sense, his commitment to the inerrancy of the Bible and confessional orthodoxy put him in that category as far as the theological liberals were concerned. He had therefore become the de facto intellectual leader of conservative fundamentalists by the time of his death in 1937. Gary North explains the political vacuum existing among fundamentalists in the mid 20th century in this selection from the essay “The Intellectual Schizophrenia of the New Christian Right”: Read more…
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.”