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gresham machen

July 07, 2011

Christianity and Liberalism
Today we come to our second-to-last reading of Gresham Machen’s classic work Christianity & Liberalism. I will say from the outset that I found this a particularly strong chapter—probably the best so far. Let me allow Machen to provide its context:

It has been observed thus far that liberalism differs from Christianity with regard to the presuppositions of the gospel (the view of God and the view of man), with regard to the Book in which the gospel is contained, and with regard to the Person whose work the gospel sets forth. It is not surprising then that it differs from Christianity in its account of the gospel itself; it is not surprising that it presents an entirely different account of the way of salvation. Liberalism finds salvation (so far as it is willing to speak at all of “salvation”) in man; Christianity finds it in an act of God.

June 30, 2011

Reading Classics
Today we come to another of our readings in Gresham Machen’s classic work Christianity & Liberalism. By this point Machen has already noted 3 points of difference between liberalism and Christianity: their message, their view of God and man, and their understanding of the Bible. With differences of this magnitude, it is not at all surprising that they differ drastically in the message they teach. But before he can consider the message, Machen needs to consider the Person upon whom the message is based. And that leads us to this chapter which is titled simply “Christ.”

He begins with Paul, showing the way Paul regarded Jesus. He “clearly stood always toward Jesus in a truly religious relationship. Jesus was not for Paul merely an example for faith; He was primarily the object of faith. The religion of Paul did not consist in having faith in God like the faith which Jesus had in God; it consisted rather in having faith in Jesus.” Jesus was not just a great example to be followed. “The plain fact is that imitation of Jesus, important though it was for Paul, was swallowed up by something far more important still. Not the example of Jesus, but the redeeming work of Jesus, was the primary thing for Paul.” 

This is true of his contemporaries as well; many others regarded Jesus as the object of faith. “Evidently in making Jesus the object of religious faith—the thing that was the heart and soul of Paul’s religion—Paul was in no disagreement with those who had been apostles before him.” The facts can only be denied with real ignorance. “The whole of early Christian history is a hopeless riddle unless the Jerusalem Church, as well as Paul, made Jesus the object of religious faith. Primitive Christianity certainly did not consist in the mere imitation of Jesus.”

Was this kind of faith in Jesus justified by what Jesus himself taught? Absolutely; Machen has already made it clear that Jesus presented himself as Savior. Machen also makes the interesting point that Jesus did not invite confidence by minimizing his work. “He did not say: ‘Trust me to give you acceptance with God, because acceptance with God is not difficult; God does not regard sin so seriously after all.’ On the contrary Jesus presented the wrath of God in a more awful way than it was afterwards presented by His disciples.” It was this supposedly mild-mannered Jesus who spoke of the horror of outer darkness and everlasting fire. What Jesus taught about God can rightly bring us to despair rather than hope. Trust and hope come only when following God’s way of salvation through Jesus.

June 09, 2011

Reading Classics
Today we come to our second reading in Gresham Machen’s classic book Christianity & Liberalism and just for the occasion I’ve got a nice new banner graphic (isn’t it pretty?). Our reading assignment for this week was the second chapter which is titled simply “Doctrine.” 

I know that many of the people who will read this blog post are not participating in the Reading Classics program, so I’d like to give you something to chew on. To that end I am going to post an excerpt from the chapter that I think you will find interesting. But first, let me give a bit of context. Some time ago I reviewed Brian McLaren’s book A New Kind of Christianity and expressed, as have so many others, that his arguments were answered back in the early twentieth century. What McLaren declares as new is simply Liberalism under a new name.

In this chapter Machen touches upon couple of overused sentiments about Christianity that have existed far longer than we may have thought: that Christianity is life rather than doctrine and that experience is more important than creeds. And with that in mind, read what Machen says about the Liberalism of his day. This could just as easily be said of what many hold to be Christianity today. 

Even if it were an attack not upon the Bible but only upon the great historic presentations of Biblical teaching, it would still be unfortunate. If the Church were led to wipe out of existence all products of the thinking of nineteen Christian centuries and start fresh, the loss, even if the Bible were retained, would be immense. When it is once admitted that a body of facts lies at the basis of the Christian religion, the efforts which past generations have made toward the classification of the facts will have to be treated with respect. In no branch of science would there be any real advance if every generation started fresh with no dependence upon what past generations have achieved. Yet in theology, vituperation of the past seems to be thought essential to progress. And upon what base slanders the vituperation is based! After listening to modern tirades against the great creeds of the Church, one receives rather a shock when one turns to the Westminster Confession, for example, or to that tenderest and most theological of books, the “Pilgrim’s Progress” of John Bunyan, and discovers that in doing so one has turned from shallow modern phrases to a “dead orthodoxy” that is pulsating with life in every word. In such orthodoxy there is life enough to set the whole world aglow with Christian love.

As a matter of fact, however, in the modern vituperation of “doctrine,” it is not merely the great theologians or the great creeds that are being attacked, but the New Testament and our Lord Himself. In rejecting doctrine, the liberal preacher is rejecting the simple words of Paul’ “Who loved me and gave Himself for me,” just as much as the homoousion of the Nicene Creed. For the word “doctrine” is really used not in its narrowest, but in its broadest sense. The liberal preacher is really rejecting the whole basis of Christianity, which is a religion founded not on aspirations, but on facts. Here is found the most fundamental difference between liberalism and Christianity—liberalism is altogether in the imperative mood, while Christianity begins with a triumphant indicative; liberalism appeals to man’s will, while Christianity announces, first, a gracious act of God.

August 14, 2009

The editorial schedule around here has been a bit out of whack this week, leaving “Reading Classics Together” to get pushed from Thursday to Friday. Please accept my apologies (those of you who were expecting it yesterday). So though we’re a day late, still we come to chapter eight, “The Evils of a Murmuring Spirit.” Here Burroughs turns from the positive (the excellence of contentment) to the negative (the evil of a murmuring spirit).

Summary

This is another good chapter, though for some reason it didn’t grab me quite as much as the last couple. Still, there was a lot of great content there. Burroughs offers five explanations for why a murmuring spirit, or a lack of contentment, is a great evil. He says, “When you hear of a duty that you should perform, you might labour to perform it, but first you must be humbled for the lack of it. Therefore I shall endeavour to get your hearts to be humbled for lack of this grace.” And humble us, he does.

First, this murmuring and discontentedness of yours reveals much corruption in the soul. He offers this solemn warning: “As contentment argues much grace, and strong grace, and beautiful grace, so murmuring argues much corruption, and strong corruption, and very vile corruptions in your heart.” Worldly men, he says, think that the greatness of an affliction is what makes their condition miserable when really it is the murmuring heart that brings misery. “When you are troubled for this affliction you need to turn your thoughts rather to be troubled for the murmuring of your heart, for that is the greatest trouble. There is an affliction upon you and that is grievous, but there is a murmuring heart within and that is more grievous.”

Second, the evil of murmuring is such that when God would speak of wicked men and describe them, and show the brand of a wicked and ungodly man or woman, he instances this sin in a more special manner. Here he turns to Jude to show how murmuring is a particularly offensive sin before God. “God will look upon you as ungodly,” says Burroughs, “for this sin as well as for any sin whatever.”

Third, God counts it rebellion. There is a contentedness in worship and thus there must be rebellion in a lack of contentedness. “Will you be a rebel against God? When you feel your heart discontented and murmuring against the dispensation of God towards you, you should check it thus: Oh, you wretched heart! What, will you be a rebel against God? Will you rise in rebellion against the infinite God? Yet you have done so. Charge your heart with this sin of rebellion.”

Fourth, it is a wickedness which is greatly contrary to grace, and especially contrary to the work of God, in bringing the soul home to himself. Burroughs says plainly, “I know no disorder more opposite and contrary to the work of God in the conversion of a sinner, than this is.” Here he gets into what seems a little bit like an excursus, giving six answers to this question: what is the work of God when a brings a sinner home to himself? I really enjoyed this quote, which was the highlight of the section: “This is the work of God in the soul, to disengage the heart from the creature, and how contrary is a murmuring heart to such a thing! Something which is glued to another cannot be taken off, but you must tear it; so it is a sign your heart is glued to the world, that when God would take you off, your heart tears. If God, by an affliction, should come to take anything in the world from you, and you can part from it with ease, without tearing, it is a sign then that your heart is not glued to the world.”

Fifth, murmuring and discontent is exceedingly below a Christian. He shows that murmuring is below the relation of a Christian, that it is below the high dignity God has put upon him, it is below the spirit of a Christian, it is below the profession of a Christian, it is below that special grace of faith, it is below those helps that a Christian has more than others have, it is below the expectation that God has of Christians and, finally, it is below what God has had from other Christians. “Read the latter part of the eleventh of the Hebrews, and you will find what great things God has had from his people. Therefore not to be content with smaller crosses must needs be a great evil.” Quite right!

Next Week

Just keep on keeping on. Next week we’ll read chapter nine.

Your Turn

The purpose of this program is to read these classics together. So if there is something you’d like to share about what you read, please feel free to do so. You can leave a comment or a link to your blog and we’ll make this a collaborative effort.
January 17, 2005

Amazing GraceAs promised, I bring to you today the bonus January giveaway. Each month, for as many months as I can convince authors to sign and send their books to me, I will be giving away two copies of a Christian book autographed by the author. Yesterday I was able to give away two copies of Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey. I had intended to do only one per month and to give away only autographed books, but am pleased to be able to offer something different just this once. This giveaway is sponsored by Monergism Books.

There are two equal prizes for this bonus giveaway; each is one copy of Amazing Grace: The History & Theology of Calvinism. Rich in graphics, dramatic vignettes, and biblical analogies, Amazing Grace — The History and Theology of Calvinism features many of the finest reformed thinkers and pastors of our time: Dr. R.C. Sproul, Dr. D. James Kennedy, Dr. George Grant, Dr. Stephen Mansfield, Dr. Thomas Ascol, Dr. Thomas Nettles, Dr. Roger Schultz, Pastor Walt Chantry, Dr. Joe Morecraft, Dr. Ken Talbot, Pastor Walter Bowie and Dr. R.C. Sproul, Jr.

This two DVD set is more than theology. It is “a balanced, well-crafted, stimulating video presentation of the biblical faith.” It is suitable for your personal video library, for group Bible study or for a church or school library. The set retails for $29.95 (+ shipping). This is your chance to get it for free!

To learn more about this video, click here.

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December 23, 2003

This is a song I found while digging around the Internet and is a pretty funny parody of Arminian theology. Unfortunately I did not record where I found it so can not cite it.

To the tune of Amazing Grace.

Arminian “grace!” How strange the sound,
Salvation hinged on me.
I once was lost then turned around,
Was blind then chose to see.

What “grace” is it that calls for choice,
Made from some good within?
That part that wills to heed God’s voice,
Proved stronger than my sin.

Thru many ardent gospel pleas,
I sat with heart of stone.
But then some hidden good in me,
Propelled me toward my home.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Because of what we’ve done,
We’ve no less days to sing our praise,
Than when we first begun.

(With apologies to John Newton)