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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