Dr. J. Gresham Machen On Christianity And Modernism Or Liberalism
(“Exploring Avenues Of Acquaintance And Co-operation”)
By Chalmers W. Alexander
[THE SOUTHERN PRESBYTERIAN JOURNAL 8.15 (1 December 1949): 7-8.]
This is the tenth in the series of articles by Chalmers W. Alexander under the heading, “Exploring Avenues of Acquaintance And Co-operation.” This is an informative new series of articles written by one of the most able laymen in the Southern Presbyterian Church.
Modernism or Liberalism is not a present-day, up-to-date form of Christianity. It is not, in fact, a form of Christianity at all.
Modernism or Liberalism is a religion which is separate and distinct and different from Christianity, just as Mohammedanism and Buddhism are separate and distinct and different from Christianity.
Christian Terms Are Used
The Modernists or Liberals have borrowed many of the traditional words and terms and expressions which the historic Christian Church and the Bible-believing Christians have been using since the first century. Such words as “God,” “belief,” “faith,” “grace,” “atonement,” “redemption,” and “resurrection,” for instance, are examples.
Christian Ideas Are Not Conveyed
But the ideas and conceptions which the Modernists or Liberals intend to convey, when they use these traditional words and terms and expressions, are radically different from the ideas and conceptions which the Bible-beliving Christians have in mind when they use them.
As a simple illustration of what is meant by this, take the word “God.” The Modernists or Liberals use that term, and the Conservatives also use that term. Both state that they worship “God,” but the term does not mean the same thing to the two different groups. The extremely liberal Christian Century recognized this fact, and once stated that the Fundamentalists (or Conservatives) and the Liberals (or Modernists) do not worship the same god.
It was due to the fact that the Modernists or Liberals have borrowed so many of the traditional terms and expressions which the Bible-believing Christians have always used that the Christians were slow in recognizing that Christianity and Modernism or Liberalism are not one and the same religion at all.
Dr. Machen’s Achievement
The man who did the most in this century to show clearly that Modernism or Liberalism is not a form of Christianity, but is in reality a form of unbelief from the Christian viewpoint, was Dr. J. Gresham Machen, the world-famous New Testament scholar.
In this connection, that unusually able theologian with the razor-keen mind, Dr. William Childs Robinson, Th.D., of our Columbia Theological Seminary, once wrote: “For his uncompromising testimony that ‘Liberalism’ was radically different from Bible Christianity, Machen suffered.”
And Dr. Clarence E. Macartney, the great Conservative minister who is the Pastor of the famed First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburg, and who was once the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Northern Presbyterian denomination, remarked:
“More than any other man of our generation, Dr. Machen tore the mask from the face of unbelief which parades under the name of Modernism in the Christian church.”
The able Editor of Christianity Today, Dr. Samuel G. Craig, writing at the time of Dr. Machen’s death in 1937, stated:
“The greatest service that Dr. Machen has rendered the cause of Christ—and for which in our judgment he will longest be remembered — was due to the clarity with which he perceived and the vigor with which he unanswerably maintained that what passes under the name of Modernism or Liberalism is not Christianity at all but rather a religion of a radically different sort. He was not the first to perceive this—it found clear expression, for instance, in Abraham Kuyper’s lectures (the Stone Lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary) on Calvinism delivered in 1898—but no one in the English speaking world has done as much as Dr. Machen to open the eyes of Christians to the fact that an enemy within the gates was commending to their attention a type of religious belief that is diametrically opposed to Christianity at all principal points and that is all the more dangerous because it makes use of traditional Christian terminology. He gave fullest and most adequate expression to this basic conviction in Christianity and Liberalism — a book that has lost none of its significance since it was published in 1923.”
The Best Book On The Subject
And in commenting on this book by Dr. Machen, Walter Lippmann, one of the nation’s most respected commentators and critics, who is not himself a professing Christian, wrote:
“There is also a reasoned case against the Modernists. Fortunately, this case has been stated in a little book called Christianity and Liberalism by a man who is both a scholar and a gentleman. The author is Professor J. Gresham Machen of the Princeton Theological Seminary. It is an admirable book. For its acumen, for its saliency, and for its wit this cool and stringent defense of orthodox Protestantism is, I think, the best popular argument produced by either side in the current controversy. We shall do well to listen to Dr. Machen . . . The Liberals have yet to answer Dr. Machen when he says that ‘the Christian movement at its inception was not just a way of life in the modern sense, but a way of life founded upon a message. It was based, not upon a mere program of work, but on an account of facts.’ It was based on the story of the birth, the life, the ministry, the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”
A Book Every Christian Should Read
I personally know of no book, aside from the Holy Bible itself, that Southern Presbyterians need to read at the present time as much as they need to read Christianity and Liberalism, by Dr. Machen. The book costs $2.50 and it is only 189 pages in length. It can be ordered direct from the Southern Presbyterian Journal Company, Weaverville, N.C., postage free. I earnestly urge and implore, with all of the emphasis at my command, that every Christian who reads these lines immediately order this volume and read it carefully.
The fact that Dr. Machen, the great Bible-believing Christian scholar was kicked out of the ministry of the Northern Presbyterian Church in 1936 while Dr. Henry Sloane Coffin, one of America’s most noted Modernists, was honored by being elected Moderator of the General Assembly of that denomination in 1943, indicates, as nothing else could indicate, how firmly Modernism or Liberalism has become entrenched in high places in that church.
What shall every Southern Presbyterian, as a Bible-believing Christian who clings to historic Christianity as it is revealed in the Holy Bible and as it is summarized in the Westminster Confession of Faith and in the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, say with reference to the proposed union with the heresy-tainted Northern Presbyterian Church, which has permitted Modernism or Liberalism to flourish so vigorously in its very midst?
Thou Shalt Say, No!