Christianity and Liberalism Paperback – 1 Dec 1923
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About the Author
John Gresham Machen (1881 – 1937) was an American Presbyterian theologian in the early 20th century. He was the Professor of New Testament at Princeton Seminary between 1906 and 1929, and led a conservative revolt against modernist theology at Princeton and formed Westminster Theological Seminary as a more orthodox alternative. As the Northern Presbyterian Church continued to reject conservative attempts to enforce faithfulness to the Westminster Confession, Machen led a small group of conservatives out of the church to form the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. When the northern Presbyterian church (PCUSA) rejected his arguments during the mid-1920s and decided to reorganize Princeton Seminary to create a liberal school, Machen took the lead in founding Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia (1929) where he taught New Testament until his death. His continued opposition during the 1930s to liberalism in his denomination's foreign missions agencies led to the creation of a new organization, The Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions (1933). The trial, conviction and suspension from the ministry of Independent Board members, including Machen, in 1935 and 1936 provided the rationale for the formation in 1936 of the OPC. Machen is considered to be the last of the great Princeton theologians who had, since the formation of the college in the early 19th century, developed Princeton theology: a conservative and Calvinist form of Evangelical Christianity. Although Machen can be compared to the great Princeton theologians (Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, A. A. Hodge, and B. B. Warfield), he was neither a lecturer in theology (he was a New Testament scholar) nor did he ever become the seminary's principal. Machen's influence can still be felt today through the existence of the institutions that he founded—Westminster Theological Seminary, The Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. In addition, his textbook on basic New Testament Greek is still used today in many seminaries, including PCUSA schools. Asked how to say his name, he told The Literary Digest, "The first syllable is pronounced like May, the name of the month. In the second syllable the ch is as in chin, with e as in pen: may'chen. In Gresham, the h is silent: gres'am." --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Top customer reviews
"Presenting an issue sharply is indeed by no means a popular business at the present time....Clear-cut definition of terms in religious matters, bold facing of the logical implications of religious views, is by many persons regarded as an impious proceeding...But with such persons we cannot possibly bring ourselves to agree. Light may seem at times to be an impertinent intruder, but it is always beneficial in the end. The type of religion which rejoices in the pious sound of traditional phrases, regardless of their meanings, or shrinks from "controversial" matters, will never stand amid the shocks of life. In the sphere of religion, as in other spheres, the things about which men are agreed are apt to be the things that are least worth holding; the really important things are the things about which men will fight."
Machen was an extremely clear writer! and thinker. His insight with regard to the battle of orthodox Christianity in the liberal context of the 20's is of tremendous relevance for modern Christians of all stripes concerned about the loss of substance, meaning, theology, etc, in the contemporary church. After reading Christianity & Liberalism, you'll definately want to order his other classic, What Is Faith (1925).
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Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism should be read by all concerned Christians today because the same problems that Machen faced in 1923 are still with us today. The term “liberalism” should not be taken in a present day political sense, but rather in a theological sense. Machen’s book was essentially a response to a sermon by Harry Emerson Fosdick, entitled “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” in which he labeled fundamentalism divisive and intolerant. Fosdick viewed them as backwards thinkers, quite out of step with modern thinking, so he proposed a more tolerant and more modern approach to the Bible. He argued centered on three topics primarily, Christ’s virgin birth, the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, and Christ’s second coming. In his sermon, he argues that the church is big enough for both conservative and liberal views. However, the liberal views are confusing at best, and heretical at worst. For instance, he states that the virgin birth was not a historical event, and that it was merely a way to show that Christ was unique. He states that the biblical writers “phrased it in terms of a biological miracle that our modern minds cannot use.” He applies the same line of arguments to the inerrancy of the Bible and the atonement. He ends his sermon with two points: one, Fosdick calls for a spirit of tolerance and Christian liberty, and second, he rebukes the church for quarreling over such petty matters when “the world is dying of great needs.” Over doctrinal verity and precision, Fosdick preferred personal piety and devotion and tolerance.
Machen did not deny that Fosdick could hold these views, but he insisted that they were not Christian, and should not be called such. Christianity was not first and foremost a life, but a doctrine, and from that doctrine followed life. To Machen, these were not little matters to be pushed to the background, but fundamental to the Christian faith. Machen did not disagree with the need for piety and devotion, but if doctrine did not matter, then to what end and to whom were we supposed to be devoted? If doctrine did not matter, and Christ’s death and sacrifice did not remove sin, then what was He doing on the cross? Machen held that when Fosdick brushed aside doctrine, he was destroying the very center of Christianity. Christianity that was not built on doctrine was living on borrowed time, and would soon degenerate into mere moralism. In the first chapter of his book, Machen stressed that there were two separate systems vying for the church: “the great redemptive religion which has always been known as Christianity” on the one hand, and on the other hand “a totally diverse type of religious belief, which is only the more destructive of the Christian faith because it makes use of traditional Christian terminology.” Essentially, Christianity is basically supernatural, from God, while liberalism elevates man and lowers Christ, and is basically a natural religion. He makes his argument in the next six chapters of the book examining six major doctrines of the church: doctrine, God and humanity, the Bible, Christ, salvation, and the church.
Christianity and Liberalism is a must-read classic, not simply for historical purposes, but because it addresses issues that are prevalent today. Fosdick was the grandfather of the seeker sensitive movement of Schuller and Warren. The view that doctrine doesn’t matter and that all we need is Jesus pervades the modern evangelical church. Many pastors, churches, and Christians use Christian terminology that is devoid of Biblical and orthodox meaning. Seeker-sensitive liberalism appeals to man, whether modern or not, because it addresses our fundamental sin, pride. Liberalism allows man to save himself using the example of Christ, rather than depending on him for our very lives. The issue may even be more pressing today, because at least in Machen’s time people still had some knowledge of Biblical doctrines and of the Bible itself. Today, however, after nearly 100 years of fluffy preaching and anti-intellectual and anti-doctrinal mamby-pamby, most people in our churches don’t even know what to believe and why.
Read this book and it will change your world. Preach this and people will call you intolerant, narrow, and divisive. Great. Christianity is what it is. Being steadfast and faithful to the Word of God and to the doctrines it contains is not popular, but it is the difference between life and death. Jesus, Peter, and Paul were not tolerant or broad-minded when it came to what Christianity was (and is) and why it was necessary to believe certain things. Too many people today who call themselves Christians believe that they are believers and love Jesus. The problem is that they don’t hold to what the Bible states, and they believe in a Jesus that is not Biblical. Machen makes this clear.
The text gives an excellent definition of liberalism vs. Fundamentalism--Machen calls for the liberals to leave the conservative churches and start their own denominations and churches--that did not happen and most conservatives were timid enough to co-exist with the liberals--Machen separated himself from Princeton Seminary and started his own school: Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, PA--he then left the Presbyterian denomination and started a Conservative Presbyterian denomination--J. Gresham Machen was a great man of God who stood for the truth of the Bible and separated himself from people who would not do the same--must reading for everyone interested in the difference between Conservative Fundamentalism and Liberalism--
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