As we press on in the Christian life, as we advance from spiritual infancy to spiritual maturity, we find joyfulness increasing even when our comforts are decreasing. We find ourselves cheerful in trials, content in persecution, submissive even when we meet with sore disappointment. Things that may have seriously disturbed us in former days are powerless to derail or severely distress us in our later days.
Infants are easily discontented. They cry when hungry, they cry when tired, they cry when uncomfortable, they cry when afraid. It often seems they cry for no reason at all! Toddlers are perhaps a little better, but they are still quick to fuss and complain, still quick to express every little sorrow and every minor dissatisfaction. It is only age and maturity that eventually allows children to endure discomfort without whining, tantrums, and hysterics.
If all of this wasn’t bad enough, children also fuss and protest when their parents correct their behavior—even behavior that might harm or kill them. Many a child has screamed and protested when their parents have scooped them into their arms just before they toddled into traffic or plunged into a pool. The Bible simply states what’s patently obvious when it insists “folly is bound up in the heart of a child.”
It’s not for nothing that the Bible describes Christians as children. We enter the Christian life as spiritual infants who act the part. We are immature and unformed. Like children, we are quick to grumble when we encounter difficult circumstances, quick to murmur when providence fails to grant what we desire. We may not quite demand that we be carried to heaven on Isaac Watt’s “flowery beds of ease,” but we may still gripe and moan when called to face a foe, to bear a cross, or to endure a thorn.
But time brings maturity. This maturity comes about in a few different ways.
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By Gregg Allison — 5 months ago
In the face of the liberal peril, what should evangelicals do? A first step is to “encourage those who are engaging in the intellectual and spiritual struggle” (146–47). The intellectual battle must consist of both articulating and defending Christianity. Against those who focus solely on the propagation aspect, Machen suspects an anti-intellectualism underlying this approach, which he decries. While granting that the proclamation of the gospel might have sufficed historically, given the juncture in which the church currently finds itself, Machen opines that “the slightest avoidance of the defense of the gospel is just sheer unfaithfulness to the Lord” (147).
Part 1: Historical Context and Summary of Machen’s Argument
To give a brief sketch of the historical context in which Machen addressed the church, I focus on two leading proponents of the type of liberalism against which Machen battled—namely, Adolph von Harnack and Albrecht Ritschl.
Adolph von Harnack’s Husk and Kernel
In his What is Christianity?, Adolph von Harnack decried Christianity as an institutionalized religion of dogma, an institutionalization and dogmatization that had corrupted the early church as evidenced by its councils and creedal formulations. In its place, he advocated a religion of the heart: the way of life that Jesus himself had taught. His method in arriving at this liberal articulation of Christianity was that of distinguishing between the “kernel” and the “husk”: the kernel being the permanent, pure essence of Christianity, and the husk being its temporal/ historical, (often) corrupted expression. As von Harnack presented the kernel, “In the combination of these ideas—God the Father, Providence, the position of men as God’s children, the infinite value of the human soul—the whole gospel is expressed” (Lecture 4).
Amalgamating these ideas, von Harnack’s liberalism consisted of three tenets. First, “the kingdom of God and its coming” (Lecture 3). Specifically, “The kingdom of God comes by coming to the individual, by entering into his soul and laying hold of it. True, the kingdom of God is the rule of God; but it is the rule of the holy God in the hearts of individuals. God Himself is the kingdom. It is . . . a question of . . . God and the soul, the soul and its God” (Lecture 3). The flavor of a de-institutionalized and non-dogmatic, subjective Christianity is well pronounced.
Second, “God the Father and the infinite value of the human soul” (Lecture 4). This tenet set the stage for von Harnack’s affirmations of (1) the Fatherhood of God, a principle he affirms is true of all human beings everywhere, not just of Christians in their churches; and, flowing from it, (2) the brotherhood of all humanity, again a principle that he would not restrict to followers of Jesus Christ. Because God the Father unites to himself all human beings as his children, the infinite value of their “ennobled” soul is underscored (Lecture 4).
Third, “the higher righteousness and the commandment of love” (Lecture 4). According to von Harnack, Jesus’s constant denunciation and overturning of the Jewish religion of his day established Christianity as an ethical religion freed of “self-seeking and ritual elements” that could be reduced ultimately “to one root and to one motive—love” (Lecture 4). Such love “must completely fill the soul; it is what remains when the soul dies to itself. In this sense of love is the new life already begun. But it is always the love which serves, and only in this function does it exist and live” (Lecture 4). Accordingly, this third tenet
combines religion and morality. It is a point which must be felt; it is not easy to define. In view of the Beatitudes, it may, perhaps, best be described as humility. Jesus made love and humility one. . . . In Jesus’ view, this humility, which is the love of God of which we are capable . . . is an abiding disposition towards the good, and that out of which everything that is good springs and grows. (Lecture 4)
Christianity as a moralistic religion of humble love is emphasized.
In his summary, von Harnack offers “the three spheres which we have distinguished—the kingdom of God, God as the Father and the infinite value of the human soul, and the higher righteousness showing itself in love—coalesce; for ultimately the kingdom is nothing but the treasure which the soul possesses in the eternal and merciful God” (Lecture 5).
Albrecht Ritschl’s Lived Faith
Similar to von Harnack, in The Christian Doctrine of Justification and Reconciliation, Albrecht Ritschl bemoaned the traditional exposition and understanding of “the Christian faith [as] some imperfect form of theology, that is, some system of ideas of God and humanity” that is far removed from religious self-consciousness—particularly that of the original/apostolic Christian community (3)—and worship of God (210–11). For Ritschl, Christianity is not a doctrinal system, but a lived faith in community.
Like von Harnack’s focus on the kingdom of God as love, Ritschl emphasized “the Christian idea of the Kingdom of God, which [is] the correlate of the conception of God as love, denotes the association of mankind—an association both extensively and intensively the most comprehensive possible—through the reciprocal moral action of its members” (284). Emphasizing “the community,” Ritschl distinguished between the church and the kingdom:
The self-same subject, namely, the community drawn together by Christ, constitutes the Church in so far as its members unite in the same religious worship, and, further, create for this purpose a legal constitution; while, on the other hand, it constitutes the Kingdom of God in so far as the members of the community give themselves to the interchange of action prompted by love. (290)
By the community’s loving action comes about the revelation of the truth that God is love: “The creation of this fellowship of love among men, accordingly, is not only the end [purpose] of the world, but at the same time the completed revelation of God Himself, beyond which none other and none higher can be conceived” (291). The church, the kingdom of God, and love are interwoven as the summum bonum of existence, and this supreme good is known by the people of the community not rationally or dogmatically, but only as they relate to it.
Faith in God’s providence is an essential feature of Ritschl’s agenda:
For that unified view of the world, the ruling idea of which is that of the supramundane [spiritual, heavenly] God, Who as our Father in Christ loves us and unites us in His Kingdom for the realization of that destiny in which we see the final end [purpose] of the world, as well as the corresponding estimate of self, constitutes the realm within which come to be formed all such ideas as that all things and events in the world serve our good, because as children of God we are objects of His special care and help. (617–18)
To members of the community, God promises to his providential care, which they know not theoretically but by personal experience (618).
In summary, both von Harnack and Ritschl proposed a liberal form of Christianity that (1) distanced itself from doctrine and institutionalism and re-envisioned it as living the way of Jesus; (2) conceptualized God as Father of all human beings (in the same way he is Father of Christians); (3) focused on the kingdom of God as his rule in human hearts and as related to the idea of God as love; (4) prioritized human experience over objective norms like Scripture and theology; (5) emphasized the common community or brotherhood of all human beings, whose souls are of infinite value; (6) appealed to the providence of God and his particular care for all human beings for their good; and (7) highlighted moralistic religion and the ethic of love.
This brief sketch of two leading theologians provides some of the context into which Machen stepped and directed his Christianity and Liberalism.
Machen’s Response to von Harnack and Ritschl
Specifically, in his seventh and final chapter, Machen treats the church. While affirming that both Christianity and liberalism are “interested in social institutions” (133), Machen underscores the significant difference between the two religions’ notion of sociality. Reflecting the sentiments of P. T. Forsyth—“the same act which sets us in Christ sets us also in the society of Christ. . . . It puts us into a relation with all saints which we may neglect to our bane but which we cannot destroy”—Machen insists, “When, according to Christian belief, lost souls are saved, the saved ones become united in . . . the brotherhood of the Christian Church” (133). For Machen, this is a far cry from “the liberal doctrine of the ‘brotherhood of man’ . . . that all men everywhere . . . are brothers” (133).
Nuancing his statement, Machen acknowledges that such a doctrine contains some truth: in the sense of creation, all human beings are creatures of the one Creator and are of the same nature. Accordingly, Christianity “can accept all that the modern liberal means by the brotherhood of man” (133). But Machen points to a different “Christian” notion of brotherhood: in the sense of salvation, only those who are rescued from sin by Jesus Christ constitute “the brotherhood of the redeemed” (134).
By Morgan Dix — 2 months ago
Let us consider that it is far better to suffer than to be disgraced; that it is better to strive against evil than to succumb to it effetely; that loyalty and unity of heart are virtues for which no transient prosperity could make up to us if haply they were lost; that when the soul of a people moves as it does, thank God today with one strong impulse toward that which is just and right, that our soul is growing every hour to true nobility and to the worthiness of its mission.
The following excerpts were selected from a sermon preached by Morgan Dix just a few days after the beginning of the Civil War in April 1861. Considering the turmoil presently found in our stormy social and political climate, both here and abroad, it seems fitting that these words might likewise find some resonance in our day. — Editor.
The Way of God in the Storm
“The Lord hath His way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of His feet,” saith the prophet (Nahum 1:3). And the way of the Lord, whether it be in the whirlwind or in the summer’s breeze, in the storm or in the fair weather, is a way of justice, of mercy, and of truth. If a storm arises and blows, be it lighter or heavier, we need not fear if we know that the way of the Lord is there. Even in the whirlwind and in the storm “let the people praise Thee, O God, yea, let all the people praise Thee” (Psalm 67:5).
Storms are not the worst and greatest evils. Ask the sailor which he will choose, a mere storm or the dead calm of windless waters; and do not doubt his reply. Ask the wretched inhabitant of some pestilential climate, on which the stillness of the curse lies heavy day after day, what he would give for a storm from the cool, healthy north to blow upon the fever swamps and drive the destroyer from before it.
Yes, brethren, the words of the prophet are true, and the way of the Lord is in the storm. The storm is His minister of mercy and benefit, though in a rough, fierce way of its own. The storm does us good service in keeping the equilibrium among the elements, and it ministers beneficial discipline in its time — just as God appoints. This is the mission of the stormy wind and tempest in the firmament above: angry of face, but full of benefit and good; stern and sharp, but profitable also.
And that which is true in the firmament is just as true beneath it. Here, upon the way of this life, rises storm after storm. Here, also, the winds blow and beat upon the earthly house of this tabernacle. Here are blast and tempest along the way of each man, and of each community, and of all the nations upon earth. But the way of God is in them here below as well as up there over our heads.
Here, likewise, the clouds of strife and struggle are the “dust of His feet.” Here, also, have storm and tempest found their needful place and their healthful mission. It is so with them all. All are but God’s means of castigation which we need, and of advancement of which we have when we have been deemed worthy. This is true of the storms of life, whether they eddy in a narrow radius around one man, or around each one of us in his turn; or whether they gather into notable volume around some whole community; or whether, lastly, they expand to the compass of the round cyclone, and getting leverage below, through the strong arms of the earthquake, where it might shake the mighty nation and the ancient and honorable people to its center.
Finding the Virtue in the Storm
It is not the part of men to fly from the storm every time it falls upon them, but to look it full in the face; to search amid its folds and its rising fury for the mysterious way of the Lord which is surely therein. And, by doing so, to draw from it the virtue and the strength which are lodged there; thus rising, with added security from the temporary shock, to be taught by the event and gain a reverence and fear of the Lord.
Brethren, there is a deep and divine philosophy, crystallized into visible shape in nature, illustrated in all the inner history of man, and assented to by the convictions of the heart wherever that heart beats. It is a teaching, one and the same for every place, every age and every time. This philosophy runs thus: that all things are purified by trial. “Every one,” saith our Lord, “shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt” (Mark 9:49, KJV).
The whirlwind and the storm must come; and men must meet them. There is no exemption from this law; and the philosophy of which we speak is probably the simplest and the most universal that ever was taught. Advancement and honor come by the pathway of trial.
By Bruce A. Little — 2 years ago
Written by Bruce A. Little |
Monday, April 18, 2022
When individual Christians do involve themselves in cultural matters, they end up merely following the world and add nothing distinctively Christian to the issue except maybe on an obvious moral issue. So, in every way the Christian voice, if not lost, is very diluted, limp and the witness of Christ is muted. When or if Christians speak to the cultural corruption around them, there ought to be something that clashes with what the world is doing. The clash is in the difference between what informs the Christian’s mind and what informs the voice of the world.
Recently I was reading a brief essay by Sir Roger Scruton titled “The Pestilence of Pulpit Politics”. He speaks to the matter of the politics of religious leaders. The context of Sir Roger’s remarks focuses on a meeting of Roman Catholic bishops in the UK during the early 1980s. At that time, bishops were encouraged to get more involved in cultural affairs. Although Scruton’s remarks are directed to this group of RC bishops, his comments apply equally to the evangelical leaders in the Protestant tradition. He writes:
“We must remember that a certain kind of politics is, for a priest, an easy way out. It is far more agreeable to exalt oneself through compassion for what is anonymous and abstract–the working class, the victims of capitalist oppression, the Third World—than to work humbly in the ways of charity, which obliges us to help those concrete, knowable and often unlovable individuals whom Providence has placed in our paths. Not only is it more agreeable, it is also more gratifying to the ego. The attention of the world is more readily captured by the man with a cause than by the man who merely attends to his duty. There lies the origin of the modern heresy, which sees true religion in large-scale worldly enterprises and which exhorts us to fight oppression in Chile, racism in South Africa or nuclear weapons at home—in short, to perfect the unfinished work of Providence—rather than to save our own souls.”
Any evangelical watching with a modicum of insight witnesses this very same mischief-making in leaders in the evangelical world where having a cause overtakes the pursuit of godliness. In fact, in many cases, leaders think that having a cause is doing one’s duty. There is a convoluted notion that the church must be engaged in cultural causes as the way to demonstrate their Christian duty. This can be seen in how many church leaders allow causes such as the Social Justice Warrior Movement to shape their ministry and message.