Machen’s God-Centered Vision

The structure of the modernism of Machen’s day is not too different from the postmodernisms of our day.

In some churches the triumph of modernism is complete. But it is still a menace at the door of all our churches and schools and agencies. One of our great protections will be the awareness of stories like Machen’s — the enemy he faced, the battle he fought, the weapons he used (and failed to use), the losses he sustained, the price he paid, and the triumphs he wrought. If we do not know history, we will be weak and poor in our efforts to be faithful in our day.

 

Gresham Machen wielded his powers against modernism as an historian and as a student of the New Testament. He argued on historical grounds that from the beginning the church was a witnessing church (Acts 1:8) and a church devoted to the apostles’ teaching. In other words, her life was built on events without which there would be no Christianity. These events demanded faithful witnesses who tell the objective truth about the events, since they are essential. Moreover, the life of the church was built on the apostles’ teaching (Acts 2:42), the authoritative interpretation of the events. Thus Machen’s response to modernism stands: it is not a different kind of Christianity — it is not Christianity at all. The foundational truths have been surrendered; or worse, the concept of truth has been surrendered to pragmatism, so that even affirmations are denials, because they are affirmed as useful and not as true.

The structure of the modernism of Machen’s day is not too different from the postmodernisms of our day. In some churches the triumph of modernism is complete. But it is still a menace at the door of all our churches and schools and agencies. One of our great protections will be the awareness of stories like Machen’s — the enemy he faced, the battle he fought, the weapons he used (and failed to use), the losses he sustained, the price he paid, and the triumphs he wrought. If we do not know history, we will be weak and poor in our efforts to be faithful in our day.

Our hope for the church and for the spread of the true Gospel lies not ultimately in our strategies but in God. And there is every hope that He will triumph. But when we step back now and look at Machen’s life and work, what can we learn for our day?

First, Machen’s life and thought issues a call for all of us to be honest, open, clear, straightforward, and guileless in our use of language. He challenges us, as does the apostle Paul (2 Cor. 2:17; 4:2; Eph. 4:251 Thess. 2:3–4), to say what we mean and mean what we say, and to repudiate duplicity, trickery, sham, verbal manipulating, sidestepping, and evasion. Machen shows us that such dishonesty is not new and that it is destructive to the church and the cause of Christ.

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