Machen and Scholarship

For a man who was renowned as an apologist of Reformed orthodoxy, it is worth noting that his first argument is evangelistic.

Humility was the first thing evident in Machen’s approach. He began by saying, “it is no doubt unfortunate that the person who speaks about this subject should have so limited an experimental acquaintance with the subject, about which he is endeavoring to speak.” Of course, Machen could be accused of false modesty here. But it should be noted that while Machen’s defense of the faith—in both his writings and interactions with others—could be harsh in tone, a genuinely irenic spirit permeated these lectures.

 

Machen’s life was remarkably busy. Along with his regular labors at Westminster Theological Seminary and in the church, he accepted many invitations to speak and teach. One such invitation came to him from the Bible League of Great Britain, where he spoke on multiple occasions. First, in 1927, he presented three lectures that were focused on what the Bible teaches about Jesus. Then, in June of 1932, Machen again spoke at the same organization—this talk was subsequently published in a pamphlet titled, “The Importance of Christian Scholarship.” In these lectures, Machen challenged his audience to consider the role that Christian scholarship plays in the growth of the gospel. His message is as relevant today as it was then.

By 1933, Machen had a well-established reputation as a major New Testament scholar who frequently tackled controversial topics, such as the authority of Scripture, the virgin birth of Christ, and the claims of Paul’s theology. He was unafraid to speak plainly to those with whom he disagreed, a fact that is strongly evidenced in Christianity and Liberalism. But this kind of posture required scholastic credibility. So, what was Machen’s approach to scholarship? The addresses he gave at the Bible League provide a number of insights.

In these talks, Machen argued that the spirit of the age encouraged people to be skeptical, to question anything and everything. This phenomenon placed a heavy strain on Christianity, which places a high value on facts, evidence, and truth. No conservative Christian would have argued that truth should not be defended; the question was, how should it be done?

Humility was the first thing evident in Machen’s approach. He began by saying, “it is no doubt unfortunate that the person who speaks about this subject should have so limited an experimental acquaintance with the subject, about which he is endeavoring to speak.” Of course, Machen could be accused of false modesty here. But it should be noted that while Machen’s defense of the faith—in both his writings and interactions with others—could be harsh in tone, a genuinely irenic spirit permeated these lectures.

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