David Westerfield

Theology, Culture, Technology, Reviews, and Other Commentary

Tag: J. Gresham Machen

The Antipathy at the Root of Theological Liberalism Doesn’t Fall Far From the Tree

Penal substitution is under fire, has been for quite some time. But not just from the PCUSA. HT @Mheerema.

The Alabama Baptist (Bob Terry): “Why Disagree About the Words of a Hymn?” http://www.thealabamabaptist.org/print-edition-article-detail.php?id_art=28401&pricat_art=10

Some popular theologies do hold that Jesus’ suffering appeased God’s wrath. That is not how I understand the Bible and that is why I do not sing the phrase “the wrath of God was satisfied” even though I love the song “In Christ Alone.”

One well-known Baptist theologian said it clearly: “Reconciliation is not the appeasement of God. It is God’s own work in restoring man to proper relationship with Himself.”

In response:

Does This Sound Familiar My Evangelical Friends?

This is an excerpt from J. Gresham Machen, in his excellent concise work Christianity and Liberalism, chapter 2, first published in 1923. It is amazing how words from the past apply in the same manner to today’s evangelical movement. If the practice of our faith consists merely in our feelings, emotions and experience without knowing any spiritual knowledge or substance of our faith, it becomes non-moral, as Machen argues.

DISCLAIMER: this is not speaking of modern political liberalism, but rather modernist theological liberalism. However, it aptly applies to our day’s evangelical movement.

[Liberalism] is opposed to Christianity, in the first place, in its conception of God. But at this point we are met with a particularly insistent form of that objection to doctrinal matters which has already been considered. It is unnecessary, we are told, to have a”conception” of God; theology, or the knowledge of God, it is said, is the death of religion; we should not seek to know God, but should merely feel His presence.

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Thankful For the Active Obedience of Christ

J. Gresham Machen on the Active Obedience of Christ:

“Do you see? Christ has passed the test. He has earned the reward. Heaven has been secured by his perfect obedience to God’s law. And he did not do all this for himself as if he needed to earn heaven for himself. He did all this for his people – even for you, O believer! On your behalf, he actively obeyed, thereby saving you and placing you beyond the possibility of ever becoming unrighteous again. Your status is secured eternally – what a great hope!” So when you comprehend the full obedience of Jesus Christ – both active and passive – you understand why Dr. Machen had such great hope as he lay upon his deathbed. In his own words, “How gloriously complete is the salvation wrought for us by Christ! Christ paid the penalty, and He merited the reward. Those are the two great things that He has done for us.” No hope without it! Complete hope with it!”

The Active Obedience of Christ – Wayne Grudem:

“If Christ had only earned forgiveness of sins for us, then we would not merit heaven. Our guilt would have been removed, but we would simply be in the position of Adam and Eve before they had done anything good or bad and before they had passed a time of probation successfully. To be established in righteousness forever and to have their fellowship with God made sure forever, Adam and Eve had to obey God perfectly over a period of time. Then God would have looked on their faithful obedience with pleasure and delight, and they would have lived with him in fellowship forever.

For this reason, Christ had to live a life of perfect obedience to God in order to earn righteousness for us. He had to obey the law for his whole life on our behalf so that the positive merits of his perfect obedience would be counted for us. Sometimes this is called Christ’s “active obedience,” while his suffering and dying for our sins is called his “passive obedience.” Paul says his goal is that he may be found in Christ, “not having a righteousness of [his] own based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil. 3:9). It is not just moral neutrality that Paul knows he needs from Christ (that is, a clean slate with sins forgiven), but a positive moral righteousness. And he knows that that cannot come from himself, but must come through faith in Christ. Similarly, Paul says that Christ has been made “our righteousness” (1 Cor. 1:30). And he quite explicitly says, “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19).”

Confusing the Effects of the Gospel With the Gospel (MP3)

This was a talk Mark Dever gave at the T4G conference this past year that is relevant to many discussions, postings and conversations I’ve been having lately with many different people in person and on the internet. To sum this whole thing up, Dever says at the beginning of this talk, “People try to improve the Gospel. But in improving the Gospel they end up losing it.”

Improving the Gospel (MP3) – Mark Dever

And while this is a legitimate concern I share in seeing the quick descent of much of evangelicalism, we who would criticize those we see as doing some of the very things Dever speaks of must be careful how we 1) come across to those we are in disagreement with, 2) how we say things, 3) that we don’t let such a concern distract us from the cause of the Gospel itself by being absorbed in finger pointing, 4) use wisdom when approaching  these situations, and finally 5) think carefully before you hit the send button about what you’re saying and how you’re saying it (Ben Davis).

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Christianity and Liberalism Written by J. Gresham Machen – A Review

Written in 1923, Machen addresses a system encroaching upon the church that would bring about the sure eclipse of the very Gospel itself within the 20th century. It is important to note from the outset that this liberalism is not at all the same as modern political liberalism, but is rather theological liberalism. In his day, J. Gresham Machen, at great cost to himself, fought against the theological and doctrinal accommodation of the scientific culture within the church, who were denying miracles and the supernatural based upon empirical scientific evidence. Despite many of his “brethren” in the day, he held out that we must adhere to the divine, supernatural nature of all that Christianity entails or else forfeit the Gospel itself: the divine inerrancy of the Scriptures, the nature and qualities of both God and man, that salvation is a supernatural work of God, that real people with real sins were atoned for by the blood of Christ, the human and divine natures of Christ, amongst many things that set Historic Christianity apart from all other religions devised by man out in the world.

The thinking of the forerunners of theological liberalism went like this, “In order to reach the scientifically enlightened culture we live in, it is not important to hold to a literal virgin birth, a literal resurrection, atonement through the cross, or any miracles really at all, mainly because these events cannot be empirically proven through scientific analysis and methods; we believe these things personally, but it is not important to hold to these things in light of science.” Because the church was increasingly falling prey to this and in danger of apostatizing from the Gospel itself as a result, Machen wrote this book in response and fought vigorously for the truth of the Scriptures, Orthodoxy, and Historic Christianity. While it is definitely possible the intentions of the original liberals were good in trying to reach a culture with Christ that had scientific empirical evidence as a presupposition when coming to the spiritual/supernatural statements of Christianity, the followers in its wake have basically denied Christianity of any supernatural and divine quality (which is how lives are effectually changed, i.e. God creates in people something that was not there through the cross of Christ). Theological liberalism essentially renders Christianity just another choice of moralistic religions, that we are all “basically good,” and can morally reform ourselves outside of God, amongst a host of other religions saying the same thing in principle.

I believe it is deeply and vastly important for modern believers in the Gospel to read this book, because there is a movement underway in our culture that is doing the same things as liberals of the early 20th century. The liberalism of the 20th century addressed the Modern era, and now the Emerging church (or new liberalism) addresses the postmodern era. With modernism there was scientific certainty; with postmodernism, there is total uncertainty and skepticism, and this has translated into the realm of spirituality (i.e. “we can’t really know anything for sure concerning who God is, what He’s like,” etc). While times have changed (philosophical/cultural thinking) and even science itself (there is increasing ambiguity concerning the very nature of particles and waves in the scientific community, i.e. what scientists thought they knew for sure in the 20th century concerning matter, anti-matter, and laws of physics, they are not so sure about now, based greatly upon quantum mechanics – so miracles and the supernatural are no longer deemed as impossible scientific propositions), the premise is the same in both ages: adopt the culture with its thinking, belief structure, and presuppositions in order to win the culture for Christ. Make Christianity attractive by bringing in the thinking of the world around us.

Sounds good right? I mean, at least on a surface level, the intention may be good, which is win people for Christ! But is it effective in the long run? As John Piper properly notes in an introduction to a sermon he preached, “If you adjust your doctrine to fit the world in order to attract the world, sooner or later the world realizes that they already have what the church offers. That was the story of much of mainline Protestantism in Europe and America in the 20th century. Adjust your doctrine – or just minimize doctrine – to attract the world, and in the very process of attracting them, lose the radical truth [the Gospel itself] that alone can set them free.”

In order to accommodate a postmodern culture in which we live, the Emerging Church has brought down doctrinal walls in order to win the culture. However, as history shows, this does not work. This movement will ultimately wind up blocking people from seeing, believing in, and enjoying the true Christ of the Scriptures (as opposed to the Jesus made in their own image and likeness), for which they will be held accountable before His White Throne judgment (may God have mercy on us all on that day). Emergents have themselves adopted postmodern thought within a “new” system of Christianity, that you cannot really know anything for sure, so there is no need to be dogmatic on doctrine. And in addition to this, they have in many cases totally redefined the Christian message altogether, where it is no longer distinguishable from that of other religions with their pseudo-pietistic, works-based approach to God. As with the liberalism in the 20th century that Machen addressed in this book, the Emerging Church will surely bring about the very eclipse of Christ and the Gospel (the good news of redemption!) itself in the 21st century. The Emerging Church is just version 2.0 of the theological liberalism of the 20th century. May we learn from history and glorify Jesus by adhering to His infallible Word, even if people hate us!

“But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” – 1 Corinthians 1:23-34

If you want to read this book right now, go here (PDF):
http://reformedaudio.org/audio/machen/Machen%20-%20Christianity%20&%20Liberalism.pdf

Audio biography of J. Gresham Machen by John Piper (MP3):
http://www.desiringgod.org/media/audio/conferences/bcp1993/19930126_piper_machen.mp3

John Piper’s sermon on Romans 9:1-5:
http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/my-anguish-my-kinsmen-are-accursed

Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith – Review by Dale Van Dyke:
http://www.westerfunk.net/theology/articles/velvetelvis/

Quote by J. Gresham Machen in 1923

If Christ provides only a part of our salvation, leaving us to provide the rest, then we are still hopeless under the load of sin. For no matter how small the gap which must be bridged before salvation can be attained, the awakened conscience sees clearly that our wretched attempt at goodness is insufficient even to bridge that gap. The guilty soul enters again into the hopeless reckoning with God, to determine whether we have really done our part. And thus we groan again under the old bondage of the law. Such an attempt to piece out the work of Christ by our own merit, Paul saw clearly, is the very essence of unbelief; Christ will do everything or nothing, and the only hope is to throw ourselves unreservedly on His mercy and trust Him for all.

J. Gresham Machen in Christianity and Liberalism, Chapter 2, p.24-25 (1923)

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