Reformation Books: Christianity and Liberalism
In 2007 I came back from a year in Madagascar as a changed man. I’d seen living faith in the people I met. I’d had the chance to devote myself to studying the scriptures without the distractions of modern British life. I came to realise that I was falling far short of what I should be, not only as a minister, but as a Christian.
On my return I came across two books that God used to continue this unsettling, yet vital, experience. The first of these was The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter (to be reviewed at a later date), and the second was Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen.
Machen was an American Presbyterian NT scholar who led the fight against modernism in his denomination. He was disciplined by the Presbyterian Church for establishing an independent missions board and founded the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He was also a founder of Westminster Theological Seminary after the reorganisation of Princeton.
Christianity and Liberalism’s main thesis is that the liberal, modernist beliefs that were coming to the fore in the churches were not another strand of Christianity but were the expression of a totally different religion. This sounds like a harsh judgement but in this book Machen defends his thesis with panache.
Although an accomplished academic this book is written with the layman in mind. Machen shows the difference between Christianity and Liberalism in six areas: Doctrine, God and Man, The Bible, Christ, Salvation and The Church.
In each of these areas he details the main areas of disagreement between the two systems. If nothing else, he shows that the disagreements and misunderstandings that happen between evangelical and liberal people occur because of different presuppositions on these areas.
Here is a typical quote. He is facing the argument made that Christianity should not worry over much about doctrine but should be a “way of life”:
The Christian movement at its inception was not just a way of life in the modern sense but a way of life founded upon a message. It was based, not upon mere feeling, not upon a mere program of work, but upon an account of facts. In other words it was based upon doctrine.
This little book, written in the 1920s, still has great relevance for us in the URC today. Is the Christian religion a revealed religion? Are there objective facts that must be preached? Or are we free to create a new system, more amenable to the modern mind?
This book is a must read. It would be a fine use of the URC’s budget to buy every minister Machen’s volume. It was a great help to me, I pray it will be for you too.