“Christianity and Liberalism” and Hermeneutical Presuppositions

Before the liberal even opens the Bible to see what it says, he is committed in principle to explaining away its miracles.

The differences between Christianity and liberalism continue to propagate in biblical studies, and are, if anything, more pervasively influential than in Machen’s day. The hermeneutical presuppositions of liberalism are the presuppositions of modernity and secularity—a vision of a world that consists of matter and human beings without the presence and activity of God.


In the sphere of religion, in particular, the present time is a time of conflict; the great redemptive religion which has always been known as Christianity is battling against a totally diverse type of religious belief, which is only the more destructive of the Christian faith because it makes use of traditional Christian terminology. —Machen, Christianity and Liberalism

At the time that J. Gresham Machen wrote his groundbreaking book, Christianity and Liberalism, many people had foggy ideas about the nature of Christianity. On the surface, it seemed that liberalism offered merely one more variation on the general theme of Christianity. And indeed, that was how liberals considered themselves. They thought they were working within the framework of Christian faith in order to bring it up to date. They tried to display more clearly and accurately its essential features, while discarding doctrines that modern thinking had shown to be obsolete.

Machen’s examination dug down to the religious root. At the root, said Machen, we have two different religions: Christianity and liberalism. The one contradicts the other at many crucial points.

Machen did not focus his examination primarily on hermeneutics, but his book has implications for the subject. The two religions produce two distinct sets of hermeneutical presuppositions; this difference in turn produces widespread differences in interpreting the individual texts of the Bible, and in shaping overall thinking on any given topic. These differences remain with us today, which is why Machen’s book still has relevance, specifically for our study of hermeneutics, God, and history.

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