‘Christianity and Liberalism’ at 100
Machen notes how liberal Christians ignore what the Bible clearly notes as sin (see how timely it is?) when he writes, “Without the consciousness of sin, the whole of the gospel will seem to be an idle tale. But how can the consciousness of sin be revived? Something no doubt, can be accomplished by the proclamation of the law of God, for the law reveals transgressions. The whole of the law, moreover, should be proclaimed.”
I don’t remember how it came to my attention, but last summer, I downloaded the audiobook of J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism. I know, I know; it’s not exactly breezy summer reading (or listening), but I definitely don’t regret it. It’s worth pointing out that this year is the 100th anniversary of this landmark work.
Machen, an evangelical scholar at Princeton, wrote Christianity and Liberalism because he believed that “the chief modern rival of Christianity is Liberalism.” The book stemmed from the rising tide of liberal theology that was only growing in the early 1920s. Machen saw how liberalism was seeping into his beloved Princeton Theological Seminary, and that phenomenon alarmed him. He and others would go on to found Westminster Theological Seminary a few years later in an attempt to counter the liberalism at Princeton with biblical orthodoxy.
It’s astonishing how timely Machen’s words are a century later. In Christianity and Liberalism, “Machen combats liberal theology that crept into the once conservative Princeton Seminary with surgeon-like precision,” writes blogger Kevin Halloran. “His main thesis being that liberal Christianity is diametrically opposed to true, biblical Christianity.”
Halloran adds that Machen “destroys liberal thought with Scripture and logic while calling all men to true faith in the Savior and biblical faithfulness.”
I read or listen to a lot of books about theology, Bible scholarship, and Christian living, but few books have stopped me in my tracks the way this one did. I found myself stopping the audio on my iPhone plenty of times and just going, “Wow.” In so many ways, it seemed like Machen was writing this book today, even though the style fits the writing of 100 years ago.
Machen reminds his readers that it’s important for Christians to know what Christianity truly is. “Christianity cannot subsist unless men know what Christianity is; and the fair and logical thing is to learn what Christianity is, not from its opponents, but from those who themselves are Christians,” he writes.
He also notes that the modern age — in 1923 just as in 2023 — tries to make sense of how Christian faith fits into the culture. “What is the relation between Christianity and modern culture; may Christianity be maintained in a scientific age?” Machen writes. “It is this problem which modern liberalism attempts to solve.”
He notes how liberal Christians ignore what the Bible clearly notes as sin (see how timely it is?) when he writes, “Without the consciousness of sin, the whole of the gospel will seem to be an idle tale. But how can the consciousness of sin be revived? Something no doubt, can be accomplished by the proclamation of the law of God, for the law reveals transgressions. The whole of the law, moreover, should be proclaimed.”