Monday, May 14, 2012

Christianity and Liberalism by Machen Review

Christianity and Liberalism by Machen

Christianity and Liberalism was written in 1923 by John Gresham Machen who was a Professor of New Testament at Princeton Seminary at the time. Machen is considered the last of the great Princetonian theologians before the very thing Machen wrote against, liberalism, took over the seminary. As one can surmise from the title of the book, Machen's chief subject is Liberalism, and how it affects Christianity. One could also surmise further from the title that Machen does not consider Liberals Christians, as Christianity is shown as one category, and Liberalism another. As Machen himself states when describing the book, “Liberalism on the one hand and the religion of the historic church on the other are not two varieties of the same religion, but two distinct religions proceeding from altogether separate roots” (Machen qtd. by Piper).

The book is broken up into an introduction and six other chapters which each deal with a topic of difference between Christianity and Liberalism. Those are Doctrine, God and Man, the Bible, Christ, Salvation, and finally the Church. But before we analyze some of his arguments, what exactly was the Liberalism that Machen fought so hard against? It is said that we are presently in the Post-modern period, but in 1923 the prevailing idea of the day was Modernism, the very doctrine we have supposedly moved beyond.

According to Machen, the philosophy of Modernism was a response to Modernity, or what was going on at that time (Piper). His generation had witnessed the Industrial Revolution, which had quickly changed and improved society greatly (Piper). In reaction, people started believing that the past had little to offer, the question of truth was soon replaced with the question of what worked, and skepticism of all supernatural soon took hold (Piper). When translated into Christianity, Modernism or Machen's Liberalism became skeptical of all miracles, including the Resurrection. Liberalism had a very low opinion of doctrine in general (which, ironically, is a doctrine in itself). Liberalism regarded man as good overall, Christ as a great moral teacher, and God as only a God of shallow love, who didn't hold much against anybody.

Liberalism's rally cry, gathered from Machens repeated attacks on it, was Christianity is a way of life, not a doctrine. The historicity of the life of Christ and the early church mattered little, and thus the Bible did not hold much water. This was what Machen cried out against. In each chapter, he argued against the common points made by the Liberals and at the end, delivered quite a conclusion which will be focused on for the remainder of this paper.

Machen's last chapter dealt with the Church. In it, among other things, Machen decries the dishonesty of many of the Liberals he had encountered. Machen gave the example that many would sign doctrinal statements yet preach anti-doctrine (Machen 153). Machen bid such people to simply leave the creedal churches and start a new church, where they could teach whatever they wanted to teach in the open (152). However, like today, the Liberals were content in staying in the church regardless of Creed and slowly took control. This was happening in Machen's own Presbyterian Church of America. For he questions the supporting of the Missions board who were, on one hand, sending out Christians to spread the Gospel, while on the other sending out Liberals to spread the Anti-gospel (155).

A few pages later, Machen asks the important question of what is the church to do now, given its present infestation of Liberals? He gives four answers – encouragement of those struggling against the intellectual attack, harder examinations of candidates for leadership, leaders should display their loyalty to Christ, and most importantly, the renewal of Christian education (157-9). If these measures should not find success, Machen offhandedly mentions the possibility of forming new churches (161).

Machen wrote this all in 1923. In 1929, Machen decided that Princeton had finally been overcome by the Liberals, so he left and formed his own seminary, Westminster (Piper). In 1933, Machen founded an independent Missions board in response to the main mission board sending out liberals (Piper). In 1935, the Presbyterian Church of USA found Machen guilty of insubordination and he was stripped of his ordination because he had founded the new mission board. Machen then started his own denomination, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, which, sixty years later, had only 19,000 members (Piper).

As one can tell, Machen held true to his belief's and took this subject very seriously. Fast forward almost ninety years later. Have things gotten any better? I personally came out of the ELCA Lutheran Church as a kid, the largest Lutheran organization and seventh largest religious organization in America. The rumor these days (which Wikipedia confirmed) is that ELCA is ordaining open gay pastors (officially passed in 2009) and that they no longer subscribe to biblical inerrancy. Alas, the very organization that Machen was “subordinate” to, the PCA, the largest Presbyterian body, voted in 2010 to approve the ordination of homosexuals as well, though there are still a few things that need to be done to finalize it. Janet Edwards might be a good symbol for the PCA.

A descendent of Jonathan Edwards, Dr. Janet Edwards was brought before the PCA in 2005 when it was announced that she had not only officiated for a lesbian marriage ceremony (which was against PCA's policy at the time) but had incorporated Buddhism into the ceremony as well (Silverstein). Dr. Edwards was acquitted though she was completely open about performing what she was charged with (Silverstein). Recently, she came out as a bisexual, and she is now being considered as a moderator at this years General Assembly (“Rev. Janet”).

Such is the dismal fall for Machen's church. I have only become recently aware of the majority of Protestantism's departure from orthodoxy. Ecumenism has been a topic of interest for my lately and I was looking into the Catholic's response to it. I read on Wikipedia that Roman Catholics has been in discussion with Anglicans about bringing them back into the fold. However, due to the Anglican's liberalism (specifically their ordination of women and ordination of open homosexuals), the Catholic church has pulled away, viewing Protestants as too liberal and have now turned to reconciling with the Greek Orthodox Church. Can you believe that? Catholics overall assessment of Protestantism was that it was liberal. I had known parts of Protestantism was going downhill, but it now seems that that is the way of the majority. I hear Europe is already there. With such a report, what are we to do?

I believe we need more voices to speak up against such false prophets. We need men and women of courage to bear the scorn of society and now fellow so-called “Christians” and be steadfast, loyal to Christ and Christ alone, not willing to sway with the times and culture. I want to end with the last paragraph of Machens,' as it demonstrates the direness of the situation:

Weary with the conflicts of the world, one goes into the Church to seek refreshment for the soul. And what does one find? Alas, too often, one finds only the turmoil of the world. The preacher comes forward, not out of a secret place of meditation and power, not with the authority of God's Word permeating his message, not with human wisdom pushed far into the background by the glory of the Cross, but with human opinions about the social problems of the hour or easy solutions of the vast problem of sin. Such is the sermon. And then perhaps the service is closed by one of those hymns breathing out the angry passions of 1861, which are to be found in the back part of the hymnals.
Thus the warfare of the world has entered even into the house of God, and sad indeed is the heart of the man who has come seeking peace. Is there no refuge from strife? Is there no place of refreshing where a man can prepare for the battle of life? Is there no place where two or three can gather in Jesus' name, to forget for the moment all those things that divide nation from nation and race from race, to forget human pride, to forget the passions of war, to forget the puzzling problems of industrial strife, and to unite in overflowing gratitude at the foot of the Cross? If there be such a place, then that is the house of God and that the gate of heaven. And from under the threshold of that house will go forth a river that will revive the weary world (Machen 162-3).

Works Cited

"Rev. Janet Edwards Is Fifth Moderator Candidate." - News & Announcements. Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 5 Mar. 2012. Web. 14 May 2012. < moderator-candidate/>.

Machen, J. Gresham. Christianity and Liberalism. New York: Macmillan, 1923. PDF.

Piper, John. "J. Gresham Machen's Response to Modernism." Desiring God. Web. 13 May 2012. <>.

Silverstein. "Pittsburgh Minister Janet Edwards Headed Back to Court over Same-sex Wedding Ceremony." Presbyterian Outlook. Aug. 2008. Web. 13 May 2012. < analysis3/1-news-a-analysis/7804-pittsburgh-minister-janet-edwards-headed-back-to-court-over-same- sex-wedding-ceremony.html>.

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