Theologian Thursday | John Gresham Machen

Many clamor to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook on Thursday to reveal nostalgic old pictures of themselves and their friends. Being the reminiscent type, we at CBD would like to introduce you to some of our old friends. On Thursdays, we’ll introduce you to a theologian. These throwback posts are meant to help Christians experience the legacy that has been left to us to learn from and build upon. If you like this or learned something, let us know!

Most people today want a sense of direction or purpose, let’s face it we live in a confused time. Not only the world, but the people in the pew seem just as confused. It is just as Paul describes when he admonishes the Ephesian church to hold fast to the gospel, “so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” So when we have individuals who lead with vigor and truth, they are a beacon of light. One man who was a great gift to the Church was John Gresham Machen (1881-1937.)

    When Machen was beginning his career and ministry the denomination he belonged to was in turmoil. German high criticism had been leaking in for a long time, and was starting to take control of the denomination. Machen, who studied at Marburg, the bastion of german liberal theology, was a professor of New Testament at Princeton where he wrote a scathing critique of liberal theology. This book was entitled Christianity and Liberalism, and is arguably one of the most important books written in the 20th century. Just look at the title of the book! He makes a definitive distinction between liberal theology and conservative theology.

    One of the sharpest distinctions that Machen makes is how the events of the Gospel, and our theological heritage are anchored in history. Dr. Machen makes that point masterfully here in Christianity and Liberalism,

 “From the beginning, the Christian gospel, as indeed the name “gospel” or “good news” implies, consisted in an account of something that had happened. And from the beginning, the meaning of the happening was set forth; and when the meaning of the happening was set for then there was Christian doctrine. “Christ died”– that is history; “Christ died for our sins”– that is doctrine. Without these two elements, joined in an absolutely indissoluble union, there is no Christianity.

    Ringing through the halls of our Church’s history the words of Machen still reside with great power and force today. For me, Machen has been so impactful because he constantly reminds me to take comfort in the gospel. He was not only a phenomenal scholar who wrote a Greek Grammar, still used in many seminaries, but wrote a book on the apostle Paul, and an Introduction the the New Testament, and in addition was a great churchmen. This is what we can learn from a man like Machen, how to love the Lord with you mind and your hands. He was a scholar through and through, but he never relieved himself of the task of preaching, for the sake of his beloved denomination.

    When Dr. Machen had passed away there was a great sorrow among those who knew Dr. Machen, he was leaving behind a brand new denomination and seminary. There was also sorrow among those who opposed him. Pearl S. Buck, a woman that Machen had defrocked said in an obituary she wrote on his behalf stated, “J.G. Machen was worth one hundred of his fellows.” This is a large statement considering the controversy surrounding these two scholars. John Machens legacy are hard shoes to fill, and leaves us to consider our place in the Church of Christ, but his dying words sent in a telegram to his dear friend John Murray, are ones that we can continue to reflect on “So thankful for the active obedience of Jesus Christ, no hope without it.”

5 Books by John G. Machen

  1. Christianity and Liberalism, Revised
  2. The Christian View of Man
  3. The Origin of Paul’s Religion
  4. New Testament Greek for Beginners
  5. What is Faith?

3 Books About John G. Machen

  1. Defending the Faith: J. Gresham Machen and the Crisis of Conservative Protestantism in Modern America
  2. J. Gresham Machen
  3. What Is Christianity? Notable Addresses from a Noble Defender of the Faith

Author: Andrew Keenan  

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