In the early 1920s, when J. Gresham Machen was in the thick of the battle for the orthodox Christian doctrines in the Presbyterian Church and Princeton Seminary, he faced frustrating and damaging opposition from moderates, which Machen referred to as “indifferentists.”
Machen wrote Christianity and Liberalism in response to liberals like Harry Emerson Fosdick. Fosdick objected to the conservative “Five Point Deliverance” of 1910, a PCUSA statement requiring new ministers to adhere to the Westminster Confession of Faith and specific points of orthodox doctrine, which included the inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth of Christ, substitutionary atonement, the miraculous works of Christ, and Christ’s bodily resurrection. Allowing attacks like Fosdick’s to go unchallenged threatened to replace the truth of Scripture with a false gospel, and yet the indifferentists preferred to preserve a superficial peace. In Stephen Nichols’ J. Gresham Machen: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought, he writes:
Continue reading ““Indifferentists” and the Destruction of the Presbyterian Church”
In “Taking up Machen’s Torch: An Archetype for Christian Libertarians,” Kerry Baldwin explains how Machen stood against both the political right and political left. He “staunchly opposed ideas that jeopardized the proper roles of Christian faith and civil governance and so opposed these two movements in both realms of church and state.” From this enlightening article:
Theologically, Machen distanced himself from fundamentalism’s political, eschatological, and revivalist tendencies. Against the right, he opposed prohibition, protestant character education and Bible reading and prayer in public schools. Machen recognized that Bible reading in schools would strip Christianity of its doctrine and therefore should not be done in schools at all. Stripping doctrine would result in diluting doctrinal issues. This would inevitably arise through the standardization of education. Machen knew state control of education was bad enough, but to “put God in the schools” was to sterilize the Gospel.
Continue reading ““Taking up Machen’s Torch: An Archetype for Christian Libertarians””
Since I discovered some interesting discussions at Baylyblog.com, I thought I would mention one that has particular relevance to Machen. In “A Primer on Two-Kingdom, Spirituality of the Church, Redemptive-Historical Evasions…,” from Feb. 2010, the Baylys discuss D. G. Hart’s two books Defending the Faith (a biography of J. G. Machen) and Fighting the Good Fight (a history of the OPC). A couple of excerpts: Continue reading “Two-Kingdom Theology”
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.
Continue reading “Machen, the Fundamentalist Mentality, and Separation”
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”: Continue reading “The Fundamentalist Political Vacuum of the Mid-20th Century”
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.
Continue reading “The Importance of Christian Scholarship (IX)”
In an article in The Presbyterian Guardian, J. Gresham Machen wrote on the problems of terms commonly used to describe the historic Christian faith. Here are a few excerpts:
Many years ago, …some brilliant person said: “Orthodoxy means ‘my doxy’ and heterodoxy means ‘the other man’s doxy’.”
The unknown author of that famous definition–unknown to me at least–may have thought that he was being very learned. Knowing that the Greek word “heteros,” which forms a part of the English word “heterodoxy,” means “other,” he built his famous definition around that one word, and “heterodoxy” became to him “the other man’s doxy.”
Continue reading “Machen on Orthodoxy”
Zac Wyse at the After Darkness, Light blog mentions this little anti-fundamentalist gem from Machen: “The fellows are in my room now on the last Sunday night, smoking the cigars and eating the oranges which it has been the greatest delight I ever had to provide whenever possible. My idea of delight is a Princeton room full of fellows smoking. When I think what an aid tobacco is to friendship and Christian patience, I have sometimes regretted that I never began to smoke.” Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir, 1987, p. 506.
And then there is this wonderful little commentary on the propensity of conservative Protestants (and others) to light up, from Rodney Clapp: “The Nicotine Journal.” Among the names: Bonhoeffer, Spurgeon, C.S. Lewis, Tolkein….