Machen, Confessionalism, and Seminary Education

For Reformed and Presbyterians, J. Gresham Machen stands as both a fine advocate of the creeds and confessions and a tragic victim of the failure of sound preaching in the church.

Machen’s book, Christianity and Liberalism, remains a hard-hitting and concise summary of the issues at stake between supernatural Christianity and its liberal counterfeit.  And his own career is tragically ironic: prosecuted by a church for breaking church law by a denomination that had signally failed to prosecute others for lethal deviations for theological orthodoxy.

 

In our ongoing discussion of the doctrine of God, it is worth reflecting on the fact that a church needs two things to be confessionally healthy: a sound form of words (a creed or confession); and a form of government by which the content of this can be preserved from generation to generation.  Positively, that means an eldership which promotes sound preaching and teaching; negatively, an eldership which disciplines those who deviate from the same.

For Reformed and Presbyterians, J. Gresham Machen stands as both a fine advocate of the former and a tragic victim of the failure of the latter.  His book, Christianity and Liberalism, remains a hard-hitting and concise summary of the issues at stake between supernatural Christianity and its liberal counterfeit.  And his own career is tragically ironic: prosecuted by a church for breaking church law by a denomination that had signally failed to prosecute others for lethal deviations for theological orthodoxy.

Central to Machen was his experience at Princeton Theological Seminary.  When the Seminary was reorganized in 1929, he left to form Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.  Westminster, unlike Princeton, was not a denominational seminary.  Machen was convinced the denomination had pulled Princeton down, and he was gravely concerned that the changes to its governance would ultimately lead to its being populated by professors, “who consent to conform to the opinions of the party dominant for the moment in the councils of the Church.” In order to avoid being subject to the whims of denominational drift, he established Westminster with an independent board of trustees.

Read More