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Entries in Machen (3)


Reading Through the Classics - Week 4

For the next number of weeks, I will be joining with others at Challies.com, as we read and share observations from the book Christianity and Liberalism, by J. Gresham Machen.

This week's chapter, entitled "The Bible" discusses the liberal view of Scripture.  Machen opens pondering the source of the Christian message:  "The Christian message has come to us through the Bible.  What shall we think about this Book in which the message is contained?"

Machen discusses the alternatives that liberals come up with in their approach to faith.  Whether it is a focus on Christian experience over belief or questioning the plenary inspiration of Scripture, Machen confirms that liberals stray from confessional Christianity when they do not have a proper understanding of the doctrine of Scripture.

I like how he ends the chapter:

The Christian man, on the other hand, finds in the Bible the very word of God.  Let it not be said that dependence upon a book is a dead or an artificial thing.  The Reformation of the sixteenth century was founded upon the authority of the Bible, yet it set the world aflame.  Dependence upon a word of man would be slavish, but dependence upon God's Word is life.  Dark and gloomy would be the world, if were were left to our own devices, and had no blessed Word of God.


Reading Through the Classics - Week 3

For the next number of weeks, I will be joining with others at Challies.com, as we read and share observations from the book Christianity and Liberalism, by J. Gresham Machen.

In this week's reading, Chapter 3, "God and Man," Machen discusses how liberals view God and man.  He considers these "two great suppositions of the gospel," and are therefore not to be taken lightly.

He discusses that the liberal, instead of knowing God, wanted God to be something that was more felt.  The liberal, if he did seek to know God preferred to know him through the person of Jesus.  He answers that with this:

But, as a matter of fact, when men say that we know God only as he is revealed in Jesus, they are denying all real knowledge of God whatever.  For unless there be some idea of God independent of Jesus, the ascription of deity to Jesus has no meaning.  To say, "Jesus is God," is meaningless unless the word "God" has an antecedent meaning attached to it. (p. 48)

Machen also discusses the idea of God as a universal Father.  He emphasizes that God is indeed the father of all in that He created mankind, but he also stresses the fact that those who are redeemed know the Father in a different, deeper way:

Ordinarily, the lofty term "Father" is used to describe a relationship of a far more intimate kind, the relationship in which God stands in the company of the redeemed. (p. 53)

I thought that discussion of universal Fatherhood was interesting, in light of the fact that I have on and off been slogging my way through John Owen's The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, which addresses the error of universal salvation.  Again, we have re-current themes of error appearing throughout Church history.

He concludes the chapter by addressing the different views of man.  The liberal view, of course, downplays the sin nature of man:

At the very root of the modern liberal movement is the loss of the consciousness of sin. (p. 55)

That is not unfamiliar to us today, where even the mention of the word "sin" can cause an uncomfortable silence. It's not sin; it's "sickness," or "weakness," or "brokenness."  Machen talks about why sin is downplayed, and he attributes it to the culture of his time (the book was first published in 1923).  Machen makes this interesting comment as he talks about this loss of consciousness:

 The change is nothing less than the substitution of paganism for Christianity as the dominant view of life.  Seventy-five years ago, Western civilization, despite inconsistencies, was still predominantly Christian:  to-day it is predominantly pagan. (p. 56)

I wondered what he would think of things today.  We tend to look back to Machen's time and think things were so much better back then.  I wonder what kind of insight a Christian historian could provoide.  So many of the problems in the Church today are woven in throughout the fabric of Christianity over long periods of time; I think paganism has always been a factor in some measure.

Machen also ponders about how to convict people of sin, and reminds the reader of this:

The more one observes the condition of the Church, the more one feels obliged to confess that the conviction of sin is a great mystery, which can be produced only by the Spirit of God.  Proclamation of the law, in word and in deed, can prepare for the experience, but the experience itself comes from God.  When a man has that exprience, when a man comes under conviction of sin, is whole attitude toward life is transofmred; he wonders at his former blindness, and the message of the gospel, which formerly seemed to be an idle tale, become not instinct with light.  But it is God alone who can produce the change. (p. 58)


Reading the Classics Together, Week Two

For the next number of weeks, I will be joining with others at Challies.com, as we read and share observations from the book Christianity and Liberalism, by J. Gresham Machen.

This week's chapter was called simply, "doctrine," and as I am sure others have seen, it sounds an awful lot like it could be written today.  If you read dead theologians long enough, you see repeated themes, and the confirmation that there truly is nothing new under the sun.

Machen discusses the liberal's aversion to doctrine, opening up the chapter pondering the question is of whether Christianity is a doctrine or a life?  Of course, he proceeds to answer that it is indeed a doctrine, but a doctrine that affects the life.  He highlights many of the liberal tendencies to downplay doctrine in favour of highlighing things on the periphery.  At one point, he talks about the preference of liberals to prefer to abandon theology in favour of simply living by the Golden Rule as found in the Sermon on the Mount.  Machen ably demonstrates that the Sermon on the Mount, contrary to what many think, is theology.  He points out that no one can follow the Sermon on the Mount unless he has been changed by the work done on the cross, and that is a theological matter.  This reminded me very much of Dr. Lloyd-Jones's book Studies on the Sermon on the Mount.  In fact, much of this chapter's focus can be heard in much of Dr. Lloyd-Jones's writing.  Clearly, he saw the problems discussed by Machen.

I liked this passage, where Machen discusses what is at the heart of rejecting doctrine:

As a matter of fact, however, in the modern vituperation of "doctrine," it is not merely the great theologians or the great creeds that are being attacked, but the New Testament and our Lord Himself.  In rejecting doctrine, the liberal preacher is rejecting the simple words of Paul, "Who loved me and gave Himself for me," just as much as the homoousion of the Nicene Ceed.  For the word "doctrine" is really used not in its narrowest, but in its broadest sense.  The liberal preacher is really rejecting the whole basis of Christianity, which is a religion founded not on aspirations, but on facts.  Here is found the most fundamental difference between liberalism and Christianity - liberalism is altogether in the imperative mood, while Christianity begins with a triumphant indicative; liberalism appeals to man's will, while Christianity announces, first, a gracious act of God.