J. Gresham Machen is not a well-known name, but this blogger thinks he is well worth reading. Our book for review today is his seminal ‘Christianity and Liberalism’, where this American theologian argues the central and crucial case that Liberal Christianity is not just a watered down form of real Christian faith, but a different religion altogether. Originally written/published in 1923, it is now available easily via Amazon, and still packs a punch today. This edition comes with a helpful introductory foreword from Carl Trueman.
In order to understand ‘Christianity and Liberalism’, one must understand a little of Gresham Machen’s own career. Machen was the Professor of New Testament at Princeton Seminary between 1906 and 1929, and a Presbyterian. As he and others grew concerned about the increasing liberalising of the Presbyterian church, he and a small group left to found the ‘Orthodox Presbyterian Church’, which held strongly to the Westminster Confession. One of the key fruit of this move was Machen’s founding, with others, of the Westminster Theological Seminary (natty naming there), which to this day teaches an Orthodox, Evangelical Presbyterianism.
At the heart of what Machen did and lived, and alluded to above, was his understanding that the thing which calls itself ‘liberal Christianity’ is, in fact, another religion altogether. Whilst part of his opinion may well have been shaped by his life experience, Machen makes a compelling and clear argument that what he (and others) were reacting against at the time was another faith: one that rejected the historical reality of the Resurrection of Jesus, among other things. Machen’s stand, and principles, were focused on the position that establishing the central importance of Scripture was a vital part of Orthodox Christianity. Thus, in this slim book he compares the positions of Orthodoxy and Liberalism on key topics, such as the Bible, Christ, Salvation, and the Church.
Whilst the debates are different today, there are still many churches which are ‘mixed’, in that they contain ‘liberals’, ‘conservatives’, ‘traditionalists’, and so on. This goes not just for the historical denominations – such as the Anglicans – but for newer movements, too. The issue is less around the central issues of the faith, at least explicitly, but around more culturally tense flash-points, like sex, gender and so on. Yet the underlying principles are the same. Machen has something of a prophetic insight into the fundamental differences between a religion based on man’s conviction and the Christianity based on God’s revelation, in Jesus Christ and the Bible. This makes this slim volume valuable and thought-provoking reading even today.
J. Gresham Machen is long unto glory – but the institution he was so instrumental in founding is still going strong. Only this weekend I was chatting to a friend of mine, a Gospel-focused young man with a new family, who is heading to Westminster to train. And on a daily basis we can read, often unfortunately thanks to the Internet, that there are many who claim the name ‘Christian’ and title of leader, yet who deny the uniqueness of Christ, and the reality of his life and resurrection, let alone the way of living that he opened up as being true and good and beautiful. I think that Machen’s book is worth reading, especially for theology students and church leaders. Recommended.