Theological liberalism is an attempt to modernize the Christian faith and “bring it up to the times.” At the turn of the 20th century, this often took the shape of folks denying things like Christ’s bodily resurrection or the virgin birth. Today it might take the form of certain churches wanting to revise the Bible’s teaching on sexual ethics. But in both cases, the strategy is to save Christianity by making it more acceptable to culture. In this classic from 1923, J. Gresham Machen argues that such theological liberalism is not merely a new approach to Christianity; instead, it’s not Christianity at all.
I recently tweeted,
…still as relevant as ever, if not more and more by the day. Seriously, all Christians should read this short, profoundly insightful book
— Kirk E. Miller (@KirkMiller_) August 9, 2015
Rajkumar Luke responded,
— Rajkumar Luke (@rajkumarluke) August 10, 2015
What a great find! So I thought I’d share.
As contemporary Christian continues its debate over homosexuality and (so-called) same sex marriage, my mind keeps drifting back to one of my favorite books of all time, Christianity and Liberalism (originally published in 1923) by J. Gresham Machen, one of my favorite authors of all time. (See my review of this book here.) This ‘Christian’ position in support of same-sex marriage as Christian is merely one manifestation of an ever present liberalism to which Machen’s words are as relevant as the day he originally wrote them.
If you haven’t yet read this book, please do yourself a favor and do so immediately. But in the meantime, allow me to share with you some snippets that I think exemplify this current relevance.
On standing for and proclaiming the truth.
The type of religion which … shrinks from “controversial” matters, will never stand amid the shocks of life. In the sphere of religion, as in other spheres, the things 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. (1-2)
The things that are sometimes thought to be hardest to defend are also the things that are most worth defending. (8)
J. Gresham Machen, at this point in my life, is probably my favorite author. Last year around this time I read his book Christianity and Liberalism. It was great. The purpose of his book was to identify liberalism (Liberal Christianity) and Christianity (Christianity that holds to the historic Christian doctrines) as two distinct religions. At one point in the book he states,
Admitting that scientific objections may arise against the particularities of the Christian religion . . . the liberal theologian seeks to rescue certain of the general principles of religion, of which these particularities are thought to be mere temporary symbols, and these general principles he regards as constituting “the essence of Christianity.” . . . As a matter of fact . . . what the liberal theologian has retained after abandoning to the enemy one Christian doctrine after another is not Christianity at all, but a religion so entirely different as to belong in a distinct category.
This is a paper I wrote my Junior year, spring semester of 2011, at Maranatha Baptist Bible College for a class entitled “Fundamentalism.” This is a narrowly focused biography of one of my heroes, J. Gresham Machen, specifically on how his actions made him a leader in the separatist movements during his day.
Machen was definitely a leader in Fundamentalism’s separatist withdrawal from liberal and modernistic ecclesiastical institutions in the 1930’s. His militancy against liberalism and those who made friends with liberals characterized the latter half of his life. He split from the Presbyterian Church to establish a pure Presbyterian denomination. He faced the difficulties of beginning a new mission board after condemning the Presbyterian board of its liberalism. He made an exodus from the moderate infested Princeton to found Westminster Theological Seminary. And lastly, his writing of Christianity and Liberalism set the doctrinal foundation for his separation. He chose the difficult path of honest devotion to the purity of orthodox doctrine by rejecting the popular path of what appeared to be unity but was truly dishonest partnership. He was certainly a man whom many found themselves able to follow in Fundamentalism’s fight of separation, and is an exemplary role model for separatists today.
* Originally posted on former blog, I’m Calling Us Out.