Throwback Theology: J.Gresham Machen, Christianity, and Liberalism

John Gresham Machen (1881-1937)  was the founder of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, and one of the most important Christian thinkers in the 20th century. This Baccalaureate address is one of the lectures that was a precursor to Machen’s famous Christianity and Liberalism. The address was given at Hampden-Sydney College on June 9, 1929. These words cannot be any more pertinent for today’s reader.

 machenIt is a serious step, in these days, even from the worldly point of view, to become a Christian. There was a time, not so very long ago, when the faithful Christian was supported by public opinion or at least by the united opinion of the visible church. But that time has gone by. The man who today enters upon the Christian life is enlisting in a warfare against the whole current of the age.

Of Course the conflict can be avoided. It can be avoided if the one who professes Christianity adapts his message to the desires of those who are about him, if he examines various types of religious experience—attested by the Bible regarded as a religious classic, and attested also by the conditions that now prevail—if he examines various types of religious experience and chooses that one which he thinks best adapted to the modern world. There is certainly no offense in such a Christianity as that. It causes no more disturbance than is caused to a stream by a chip that floats downward with the current. But very different is the case if the Christian proclaims without fear or favor the gospel that is contained in the Word of God. A Christian who proclaims such a gospel is bound to face the opposition not only of the world but increasingly, I fear, of the church.

I cannot tell you that the sacrifice will be light: it is a serious thing to stand against the whole current of an age: it is a serious thing to be despised and hated by the generality of one’s fellow men. Yet that is increasingly the lot of the true Christian today. He will not, indeed, be inclined to complain; for he has something with which all that he has lost is not worthy to be compared; and he knows that despite temporary opposition the ultimate future belongs to him and to his Lord. But for the present he is called upon to endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. It can hardly be said that unworthy motives of self-interest can lead a man to enter into a calling in which he will win nothing but reproach.

– John Gresham Machen

The rest of this address can be found in Dr. Stephen Nichols, J. Gresham Machen’s The Gospel in the Modern World and Other Short Writings.


Throwback Theology is a blogging segment of classic sermons, books and articles by some of Christianity’s greatest thinkers. I hope this will encourage you and challenge you to think more deeply about our great God.

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Recommended Resources: D.A. Carson on the Parables of Jesus

The parables of Christ have been hotly debated since the 1st century, with questions like what’s the difference between a parable and an allegory? In this video D.A. Carson sheds a great deal of light on this controversial topic! Most Christians today seem to be ignorant of the fact that there is a hot debate on how to define what a parable might even be. This video helped me grapple with the debate, which tends to foster liberal ideas, yet Carson was able to maintain his evangelical sensibilities. Carson uses the question “why did Jesus speak in parables?” to tailor his definition of what a parable is. This is a long video but persevere it is worth your time! Leave comments, I would love to start a discussion on this topic.

Recommended Resources are posts devoted to videos, blogs, articles, and sermons that have helped me think through some more difficult topics. This segment of the blog is to develop fodder for thoughtfulness in deeper content issues.

Throwback Theology: Charles Spurgeon on Suffering & Trials

Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) is one of the most prolific preachers in Christianity. His sermons are a great mix of theology and poetry. Spurgeon was a master of words and distinguished preacher. He also knew a great deal about facing trials and suffering. His life was just as much a testimony to the type of preaching he exposited. Consider the words of Charles Spurgeon.

“You may think, my dear brethren and sisters, that you have been tried more than others; but it is only your wspurgeonant of knowledge of the trials of others which leads you to imagine that your own are unique. There are many others, besides yourself, in the furnace, and in quite as hot a part of it as that in which you are now placed. Note what Paul says: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man.” It is a human temptation, not a superhuman one, which has assailed you; that is to say, one which can be withstood by men,—not one that must inevitably sweep them away. You have never been tempted with an angelic temptation. Satan has tempted you, young man, but not with the same temptation with which he allured the angels who kept not their first estate. There may be other orders of intelligence, for whom there are other forms of temptation, because their intellects are superior to yours; but God has allowed you to be assailed in a way which is suitable as a test to you as a man. The trials, that have come upon you, have been moderated to your capacity as a man. The Lord knows that you are but animated dust, so he has not permitted you to be treated as if you were made of steel or iron. He has himself dealt with you as an earthen vessel,—a thing of clay in which he has caused life to dwell. He has not broken you with his rod of iron, as he would have done if he had smitten you with it.
“But I am very sorely tempted,” saith one. Yes, perhaps you are; but the Lord has given you the history of the children of Israel in the wilderness, to let you see that you have not been tempted more than they were. “Ah!” says another, “but I find myself placed in a very peculiar position, where I am greatly tried. I have to labour hard, and I have much difficulty in earning my daily bread, and I am beset with trials of many kinds.” Well, dear friend, even though what you say is perfectly true, I am not certain that your position is any more likely to bring temptation than was that of the children of Israel in the wilderness. “Ah!” you say, “but they had not to work to earn their bread. The manna came to them every morning, and they had only to gather it, and to eat it. They were not engaged in commercial transactions, there were no markets in the desert,—no Corn Exchange, no Stock Exchange, no Smithfield, no Billingsgate,—no taking down the shutters in the morning, and putting them up again at night, and going a great part of the day without any customers. They were separated from all other nations, and were in a peculiarly advantageous position.” Yet, dear friends, you need not wish to be placed in such a position, because, advantageous as it was, in some respects, the Israelites there were evidently tempted to all sorts of sins, and fell into them very grievously. Having often read the story of their forty years’ sojourn in the wilderness, you know their sad history. With so favourable a position granted to them, under the Lord’s own special guardianship, and enriched with many choice mercies, we might have expected that they would have been free from temptation;—or, at any rate, that they would not have fallen into its snare; yet it was not so, for the devil can tempt in the wilderness quite as well as in the city, as we know from the experience of Christ himself. The devil would tempt you even if your bread was given to you every morning, instead of your having to earn it; he would tempt you if you had no business to attend to, and never had to go into the world to meet with your fellow-men. In fact, the story of the Israelites teaches me that it is best for you to work, and best for you to be poor, and best for you not to make money as fast as you would like, and best for you to be surrounded by cares of various kinds. I think I judge rightly that the people of God, the saved ones, do not fall into such gross sins as the Israelites did in the wilderness; so that the saints’ position, though it may appear worse than that of Israel, is really better.”

 

– Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, Vol. 50, 578-579


Throwback Theology is a blogging segment of classic sermons, books and articles by some of Christianity’s greatest thinkers. I hope this will encourage you and challenge you to think more deeply about our great God.

Book Review: The God Who Became Human

Today, Credo Magazine published my review of Graham Cole’s book The God Who Became Human: A Biblical Theology of the Incarnation on their blog. Dr. Graham Cole is the Anglican Professor of Divinity at Beeson Divinity school. This book utilizes both a systematic and exegetical skill set. The reason that is so important is because Cole tries to find balance in understanding the incarnation. Although an academic piece, Cole writes in a way that keeps the book very hands on and accessible.

This book would be a great book to read through before the Christmas season hits. I read this book around that time last year and found it to really deepen my appreciation of Christmas and ultimately the Gospel. Any pastor or serious student of the Bible ought to have this book on their shelf.

Credo Magazine is an online magazine founded by Matthew Barrett. It is a ministry devoted to producing content to equip pastors and lay people. They are always seeking to put the best content and resources out for their readers. I have found this ministry to be helpful for my thinking in many areas. I am thankful for the work they are doing and the perspective they bring to the many other magazines and blogs out there. Credomag definitely stands out in a unique way.

 

Recommended Resources: Miles Van Pelt’s Advice to Students

I am of the persuasion that the Biblical languages and education are imperative to continue to grow in the knowledge of the Lord. Dr. Miles Van Pelt has some helpful insight into how to keep up with the biblical languages once you have learned them. The study of Biblical languages is not a membership card to pure exegesis. They are a tool and give great insight into the world the Biblical authors were living in. We should cherish God’s word in the original languages, as well as our translations. Allow Dr. Van Pelt to encourage your desire for a deep and diligent understanding of God’s word.

Recommended Resources are posts devoted to videos, blogs, articles, and sermons that have helped me think through some more difficult topics. This segment of the blog is to develop fodder for thoughtfulness in deeper content issues.

Why You Do Not Need to Feel “Safe” Asking Questions

A couple of months back, Peter Enns began a blogging series on Patheos entitled ““Aha” Moments: biblical scholars tell their stories” This 16 part series has a variety of scholars talking about moments in their lives/ careers when they decided something they had always believed in was wrong. Whether that might be the inerrancy of Scripture or women in ministry, these scholars bring up some serious issues that are not just felt by scholars but also laypeople. Michael Kruger on his blog “Canon Fodder” started a series, unfortunately much shorter, called ” Does the Bible Ever Get it Wrong? Facing Scripture’s Difficult Passages.” He has top -notch conservative scholars respond to some of the more academic questions proposed by Enn’s blog.

Here is what I take from this short interaction between Enns and Kruger, two men who are undoubtedly brilliant thinkers and I believe they are genuinely concerned with truth and Christianity. Christian fundamentalism and modernistic sensibilities have crippled our ability not only to think, but also to ask questions.No-Questions-400

When I was reading through posts from the “aha moments” series I began to sympathize with these people even though I did not draw the same conclusions. A majority of them said that they had been too afraid to ask questions, and that they did not want to buck up against the norm because they were taught questioning and doubting was a bad thing. Any time people are afraid to ask questions we have stopped educating them and have begun indoctrinating them, and it is this exact type of educational climate that they had described in their experience.

This is a big problem! What type of environment has the church built where people are afraid to ask questions? Luther once said “Knowledge and doubt are inseparable to man. The sole alternative to ‘knowledge-with-doubt’ is no knowledge at all. Only God and certain madmen have no doubts!” Unlike Luther, modernism has sought absolute certainty in the realm of what we can know. I think this has caused people to assume that if they become critical or skeptical of key doctrine then they can’t be Christians. As long as we do not begin to affirm these doubts in which we begin to contradict the Scriptures, we are welcome to have these doubts. Reconsider what Luther has told us: “Only God and certain madmen have no doubts.” For a man who led his whole life by the conviction of His heart in the turmoil that he faced, I would say he is a valuable source for this advice.

We ought to welcome questions of any kind and stop treating doubt and skepticism like someone is having an intellectual temper tantrum. That just doesn’t work. There have been times when I have gone weeks and months prayerless because I have a major concern with some theological issue, and do not bother to ask my question. “What will they think of me if I ask that?” “Am I still a Christian if I ask that?” Not asking my question ended up being more toxic than if I would have avoided my fear of people. I see three things we gain if we just stop being afraid and start asking our hard questions.

First, if we allow people to ask us questions it forces us to know what we are talking about. This result in and of itself has a couple of crutches though. If we are to hone the ability to answer people’s questions then that means we must be devoted to prayer and the study of Scripture. What good is it if we have open communication but nobody has the answers we are looking for because the Christian community is too dull? As Christians we must study the scriptures diligently. This is the essence of 1 Peter 3:15, ” But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess” (NET Bible). This is not exclusive to apologetics for atheists and agnostics but Christians as well. This is one way we can love our neighbors.

Second, by being good stewards of our minds and hearts we are then able to help and guide people to a deep gratitude and affection for Christ. Answering a question for someone and creating an environment where people feel comfortable to ask those tough questions might be the push they need.

I was taking a class on the parables of Jesus, my first graduate level class with a great professor and an even better friend. We started the class with the historical critical methods and one of the first things we talked about was the discrepancy among scholars for a clear definition of a parable. I became so rattled with doubt about the historical veracity of scripture that I became depressed and angry. “If we can’t even tell what a parable is, how can we know anything about so-called ‘parables’?” Seemed like a fair question at the time. This was just one of the many concerns I raised in class. If I had not been able to ask my professor my questions in great detail I would have been left to stew in doubt and uncertainty.

If we take time to talk with people about their questions, doubts, skepticism and uncertainties surrounding Scripture we may just be doing the work of the Church. This is what is meant by the author of Hebrews when he writes, “And let us take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works,”(10:24). That is enough incentive. Although these are great consequences of asking questions, this still is only a shadow of the greatest benefit.

Finally, all questions lead to one common goal; one end, because questions do not have any intrinsic value apart from the goodness of Christ. Every question that we have or someone might ask leads us to a deeper knowledge of God. If this is true what are we so afraid of questions for? If knowledge leads to questions, and questions leads to answers in some way, and God is the origin of all truth should Christians not be the most inquisitive people on the planet? Shouldn’t Christians want to know everything they can, knowing their limited, to have deep and rich love for Christ? It would seem to me that the Church should not be afraid of questions but breed questions. Just because we ask questions and are not certain about every last detail does not change the validity of Christianity’s objective truth claims.

At the end of the day we need to be humble enough to ask questions and let people ask their questions. Nobody asks stupid questions, the questions you think are stupid are just the questions you are too impatient to answer.