Barry Waugh has edited a new book of letters written by J. Gresham Machen during World War I. The book is entitled Letters from the Front: J. Gresham Machen’s Correspondence from World War I. Waugh sat down recently with Camden Bucey and Jeff Waddington at Reformed Forum’s Christ the Center for an interview devoted to his book. Together they discuss Machen’s service as a YMCA secretary in France during WWI, the content of the letters, why Machen served, and how he sought to relate to French culture. You can listen by clicking here.
I came across a copy of Edward John Carnell’s book The Case for Orthodox Theology (1959). Chapter 8, “Perils,” is worth a lengthy discussion, as it contains a criticism of J. Gresham Machen for his defiance of the church courts in the course of his battles with modernism in the Presbyterian church. Following is an excerpt from the chapter, and a few thoughts from others on the problems of Carnell’s position. This is important because it deals with the overarching question of how the Christian is to handle official ties to those who claim the name of Christ but deny the essence of the gospel. In a broader sense, this is relevant to the right of withdrawal from any institution that has authority.
In the context of a discussion of the difficulty of the relationship of culture and Christianity, J. G. Machen mentions the problem that arises when religion is studied using the intellectual tools applied to the study of other aspects of culture, such as science or history. He then writes,
This problem may be settled in one of three ways. In the first place, Christianity may be subordinated to culture. That solution really, though to some extent unconsciously, is being favored by a very large and influential portion of the Church today. For the elimination of the supernatural in Christianity–so tremendously common today–really makes Christianity merely natural. Christianity becomes a human product, a mere part of human culture. But as such it is something entirely different from the old Christianity that was based upon a direct revelation from God. Deprived thus of its note of authority, the gospel is no gospel any longer; it is a check for untold millions–but without the signature at Read more…
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…
This excerpt from Machen’s Education, Christianity & the State reminds us that truly edifying preaching is based on the rich content of the Bible–and that study of the Bible is a suitable specialty to be developed in seminaries.
One thing that impresses me about preaching today is the neglect of true edification even by evangelical preachers. What the preacher says is often good, and by it genuine Christian emotion is aroused. But a man could sit under that kind of preaching for a year or ten years and at the end of the time he would be just about where he was at the beginning. Such a lamentably small part of Scripture truth is used; the congregation is never made acquainted with the wonderful variety of what the Bible contains.
This excerpt from Machen’s Education, Christianity & the State points to the importance of doctrinal teaching and preaching. Exhortation, he says, has unfortunately taken the primary place.
We have been discussing today the uses of Christian scholarship. It is important… for evangelism; it is important, in the second place… for the defence of the faith. But it has still another use. It is important, in the third place, for the building up of the Church.
Two Reasons for the Christian School
J. Gresham Machen
The Christian school is to be favored for two reasons. In the first place, it is important for American liberty; in the second place, it is important for the propagation of the Christian religion. These two reasons are not equally important; indeed, the latter includes the former as it includes every other legitimate human interest. But I want to speak of these two reasons in turn.
In the first place, then, the Christian school is important for the maintenance of American liberty.
We are witnessing in our day a world-wide attack upon the fundamental principles of civil and religious freedom. In some countries, such as Italy, the attack has been blatant and unashamed; Mussolini despises democracy and does not mind saying so. A similar despotism now prevails in Germany; and in Russia freedom is being crushed out by what is perhaps the most complete and systematic tyranny that the world has ever seen.
But exactly the same tendency that is manifested in extreme form in those countries, is also being manifested, more slowly but none the less surely, in America. It has been given an enormous impetus first by the war and now by the economic depression; but aside from these external stimuli it had its roots in a fundamental deterioration of the American people. Gradually the people has come to value principle less and creature comfort more; increasingly it has come to prefer prosperity to freedom; and even in the field of prosperity it cannot be said that the effect is satisfactory.
The result of this decadence in the American people is seen in the rapid growth of a centralized bureaucracy which is the thing against which the Constitution of the United States was most clearly intended to guard.
This is an excerpt from “The Necessity of the Christian School” by Machen (1933).