Even though his religious identity as a champion of strict confessionals and Presbyterian procedures had become clearer during the missions controversy of the 1930s, Machen still held considerable appeal for a broad range of fundamentalists who otherwise would have been repelled by his Presbyterian particularism. Despite the fact that Machen himself was not drawn into the fray over evolution, the high view of the Bible’s truthfulness that was implicit in his defense of Christian supernaturalism appealed powerfully to anti-evolutionists who believed that modern science denied divine intervention into the natural order. His insistence that Christianity was first and foremost a message to the individual soul won support from many who suspected that the older denominations had abandoned evangelicalism for social reform. And, in a movement that thrived on controversy, Machen’s willingness to challenge church officials pleased fundamentalists who rarely let denominational loyalty hamper the cause of evangelicalism.
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”→
“It’s an overview of J. Gresham Machen’s views on the state. He was staunchly anti-state and anti-war. Yet, as a solid Christian theologian he didn’t see how those things conflicted with his faith at all. To the contrary, he saw them as a compliment. This is a very good lecture and worth your time to listen to. If you don’t know Dr. Ritenour’s work, he’s very good. He’s a professor of economics at Grove City College, a Christian liberal arts college in Pennsylvania.”
This excerpt from Machen’s Education, Christianity & the State argues that revivals are born in controversies, and that “positive preaching” neglects the obvious polemics of the Bible.
Again, men say that instead of engaging in controversy in the Church, we ought to pray to God for a revival; instead of polemics, we ought to have evangelism. Well, what kind of revival do you think that will be? What sort of evangelism is it that is indifferent to the question what evangel is it that is to be preached? Not a revival in the New Testament sense, not the evangelism that Paul meant when he said, “Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel.” No, my friends, there can be no true evangelism which makes common cause with the enemies of the Cross of Christ. Continue reading “The Importance of Christian Scholarship (VIII)”→
Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, in Greenville, SC, is hosting a conference on Old Princeton Seminary, A Commemoration of Princeton (1812-2012), March 13-15. Many excellent speakers will be giving talks, including:
Dr. Tony Curto
Dr. James Garretson
Dr. Darryl Hart
Dr. Paul Helseth
Dr. Joseph Pipa
Dr. Benjamin Shaw
Dr. Carl Trueman
Dr. C.N. Willborn
Dr. Fred Zaspel
J. G. Machen fans may be particularly interested in Darryl Hart’s talk Thursday, “Machen and the End of Old Princeton.”
From GPTS’s page:
Praised, maligned, and misunderstood, the effects of Old Princeton Seminary have towered over theological discussion for a century. From the time God raised up this school in 1812 until 1929, the Princeton theologians were the stalwarts of experimental, Calvinistic theology. The founders of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary consciously adopted the Princeton Plan as the foundation of instruction for the seminary. Therefore, it is our pleasure to devote our 2012 Spring Theology Conference (the 200th anniversary of Princeton’s founding) to an assessment of Princeton and the practical lessons for the church today. Our aim is to shape the discussion in a practical way that will benefit all who attend.
‘From 1812 to 1929, Princeton Theological Seminary represented a coherent, continual effort to teach and practice what the Princetonians believed was historic Reformed Christianity… They taught theology as they found it in the Bible, and as they received it from Augustine, Calvin, Turretin, and, especially, the Westminster Standards. Their lives proved that they were not only scholars teaching the faith-they were Christians living it.’
~ David B. Calhoun ~
Be sure to sign up early for this popular annual conference and save. Early Bird registration cut-off is Monday, February 13th, 2012.
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.”
Machen hired the Dutch Reformed scholar Cornelius Van Til to teach at Westminster Seminary, and defended him against the complaints of the more fundamentalist American Presbyterians. Van Til contributed significantly to the improvement of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and American Calvinism in general. Among other things, Van Til helped move at least some American Protestants away from their functional deism in civic matters. The Christian faith has implications for the world in which the Church works, and Van Til would not sacrifice a Reformed Christian apologetic to gain mainstream acceptability. For those in the fledgling OPC who wanted to maintain ties with traditional American fundamentalism–characterized by a comfortable public deism, Arminian revisions to the WCF, total abstinence on alcohol–this was a difficult position to accept.
A majority of presbyteries in the PCUSA have voted to allow the ordination of practicing homosexuals, replacing the 1996 language:
….Those who are called to ordained office in the church are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.
Standards for ordained service reflect the church’s desire to submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life (G-1.000). The governing body responsible for ordination and/or installation shall examine each candidate’s calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability for the responsibilities of office. The examination shall include, but not be limited to, a determination of the candidate’s ability and commitment to fulfill all requirements as expressed in the constitutional questions for ordination and installation (W-4.4003). Governing bodies shall be guided by Scripture and the confessions in applying standards to individual candidates.
The pastoral letter from the General Assembly stated, “persons in a same-gender relationship may be considered for ordination and/or installation as deacons, elders, and ministers of the Word and Sacrament within the PC(USA).”
I hope no one is shocked. The PCUSA hasn’t been holding to confessional standards for a very long time. This simply adds a degree of consistency to the PCUSA’s other practices.
Apart from denominational rulings, though, one would hope for integrity among the individual elders, deacons, and members within the church. Agree with the historic standards, or don’t, but don’t try to justify theological liberalism from a conservative confession, or try to cram your conservative self into a theologically liberal congregation. Be honest and admit the inconsistency. As I’ve posted earlier, Machen’s own doubts about his ability to hold to theological standards of Presbyterianism with integrity led him to delay his own ordination into the Presbyterian church. Even the atheistic H.L. Mencken appreciated Machen’s willingness to hold to theological standards (beliefs which Mencken found abhorrent) instead of caving in to the demands of the surrounding culture.