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"Christianity and Liberalism": faith, truth & love vs unbelief

Christianity and Liberalism" by J. Gresham Machen’s: A Review
Christianity and Liberalism: Truth or Sophistry? J Gresham Machen assails false use of Christianity's language by those who deny its power.

Christianity and Liberalism is the title of J. Gresham Machen’s 1923 BOOK proclaiming the truth of Christianity and exposing the dishonesty of Liberalism. A part of the corruption we see is in the language itself. In 1923 “Ladies and Gentlemen” meant people of a high social, cultural, and moral level; today (2022) those terms are used for streetwalkers and convicts.

Such change in language may be seen as “evolution” or “corruption,” depending on where you stand. We simply live with this in everyday life in our secular society. But things are different regarding our faith. Machen notes:

In the sphere of religion, as in other spheres, the things about which men are agreed are apt to be the things that are least worth holding; the really important things are the things about which men will fight.

In his Introduction, Machen notes how “Material betterment has gone hand in hand with spiritual decline.”

In the midst of all the material achievements of modern life, one may well ask the question whether in gaining the whole world we have not lost our own soul.
Are we forever condemned to live the sordid life of utilitarianism?
Or is there some lost secret which if rediscovered will restore to mankind something of the glories of the past?

Machen’s answer is Christianity, the Christianity of the Bible:

Such a secret the writer of this little book would discover in the Christian religion.
But the Christian religion which is meant is certainly not the religion of the modern liberal Church, but a message of divine grace, almost forgotten now, as it was in the Middle Ages, but destined to burst forth once more in God’s good time, in a new Reformation, and bring light and freedom to mankind.

He goes on to show by contrast and comparison the important differences between Christianity and Liberalism:

What that message is can be made clear, as is the case with all definition, only by way of exclusion, by way of contrast.
In setting forth the current liberalism, now almost dominant in the Church, over against Christianity, we are animated, therefore, by no merely negative or polemic purpose;
on the contrary, by showing what Christianity is not we hope to be able to show what Christianity is, in order that men may be led to turn from the weak and beggarly elements and have recourse again to the grace of God.

“This little book” goes on to make the case for Christianity as a redemptive religion, one of grace, in 6 critical areas, showing how it differs from this non-redemptive religion of Liberalism.

Christianity and Liberalism on “Doctrine”

Machen was a renowned New Testament scholar for many years at Princeton Seminary and had studied under leading LIBERALS IN GERMANY. His was an academic life, and he saw the doctrine being taught in Christian seminars as critical.

Christian doctrine is drawn from the Bible, and Princeton allowed modernists in, Machen resigned and formed Westminster Seminary with other professors to teach Biblically-based doctrine.

There are doctrines of modern liberalism, just as tenaciously and intolerantly upheld as any doctrines that find a place in the historic creeds.
Such for example are the liberal doctrines of the universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man.
These doctrines are, as we shall see, contrary to the doctrines of the Christian religion. But doctrines they are all the same, and as such they require intellectual defense.

How is Christian doctrine different? Machen uses St. Paul as an example:

Paul summarizes the tradition which he had received from the primitive Church.
What is it that forms the content of that primitive teaching?
Is it a general principle of the fatherliness of God or the brotherliness of man?
Is it a vague admiration for the character of Jesus such as that which prevails in the modern Church?
Nothing could be further from the fact.

The professor goes on to explain:

“Christ died for our sins,” said the primitive disciples, “according to the Scriptures; he was buried; he has been raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”

From the beginning, the Christian gospel, as indeed the name “gospel” or “good news” implies, consisted in an account of something that had happened. And from the beginning, the meaning of the happening was set forth; and when the meaning of the happening was set forth then there was Christian doctrine.

“Christ died”–that is history; “Christ died for our sins”–that is doctrine. Without these two elements, joined in an absolutely indissoluble union, there is no Christianity.

Moving on, Machen next discusses:

Christianity and Liberalism on “God & Man”

The starting point in the basis of our faith, is the Gospel, the “good news.”

The Christian gospel consists in an account of how God saved man, and before that gospel can be understood something must be known (1) about God and (2) about man.
The doctrine of God and the doctrine of man are the two great presuppositions of the gospel.
With regard to these presuppositions, as with regard to the gospel itself, modern liberalism is diametrically opposed to Christianity.

Liberalism, says Machen, avoids a definition of God:

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.

Christianity honors the God of the Bible, who is revealed to us on every page of both the Old Testament and the New.

Christianity differs from liberalism, then, in the first place, in its conception of God. But it also differs in its conception of man.

According to the Bible, man is a sinner under the just condemnation of God; according to modern liberalism, there is really no such thing as sin.
At the very root of the modern liberal movement is the loss of the consciousness of sin.

In other words, liberalism’s good man has nothing to repent of, he has no need of a Savior, no need for redemption. This takes away the value of redemptive religion.

Machen states the case well:

The consciousness of sin was formerly the starting point of all preaching; but today it is gone.
Characteristic of the modern age, more than anything else, is a supreme confidence in human goodness; the religious literature of the day is redolent of that confidence.
Get beneath the rough exterior of men, we are told, and we shall discover enough self-sacrifice to found upon it the hope of society; the world’s evil, it is said, can be overcome with the world’s good; no help is needed from outside the world.

This is in large part due to liberalism’s treatment of the Bible.

Christianity and Liberalism on “The Bible”

Christians see THE BIBLE AS THEIR AUTHORITY FOR WHAT THEY BELIEVE. They accept it as “the Word of God,” a perfect revelation of the Truth and God’s will. It contains the history of the world and the biography of Jesus, and Christians trust in the truth of the Bible’s words and submit to its authority. Liberalism does not.

Why? Because they accept the scholarship of 19th century HIGHER CRITICISM which “deconstructs” the Biblical text denying its historical truth and postulating its composition by literary analysis. Machen does not cover this here, but “higher criticism” led directly to the “modernism” that rejects the historicity and authority of the Bible and tries to create its own consensual standards.

What does Liberalism use as its standard? Machen has this to say;

The impression is sometimes produced that the modern liberal substitutes for the authority of the Bible the authority of Christ.
He cannot accept, he says, what he regards as the perverse moral teaching of the Old Testament or the sophistical arguments of Paul.
But he regards himself as being the true Christian because, rejecting the rest of the Bible, he depends upon Jesus alone.

This selective process, sometimes called “cafeteria Christianity,” denying the “plenary inspiration” of the Bible, puts the one doing the selecting in the place of God, and is, of course, a great self-delusion.

Our author examines further liberalism’s claim to honoring the authority of Jesus:

As a matter of fact, however, the modern liberal does not hold fast even to the authority of Jesus….
Evidently, therefore, those words of Jesus which are to be regarded as authoritative by modern liberalism must first be selected from the mass of the recorded words by a critical process….
Certain isolated ethical principles of the Sermon on the Mount are accepted, not at all because they are teachings of Jesus, but because they agree with modern ideas.

How dangerous it has been throughout the history of Christianity when passing ideologies or fashions reshape the Gospel and the ongoing testimonies of God’s Word and His faithful followers.

It is no wonder, then, that liberalism is totally different from Christianity, for the foundation is different.
Christianity is founded upon the Bible. It bases upon the Bible both its thinking and its life.
Liberalism on the other hand is founded upon the shifting emotions of sinful men.

What then are their views of the Lord Jesus Christ? Machen goes on to show a stark contrast.

Christianity and Liberalism on “Christ”

Christianity and Liberalism both honor Jesus. Even unbelievers recognize His righteousness, but they would not capitalize “His.” Everyone accepts Jesus of Nazareth as a historic figure, but Christians see Him as more than that, we see Him as Christ.

“Christ” is now used as a part of His name, but it is not really a name, but a title, an office. It is Greek for “Messiah,” meaning the “anointed One.” He is the Deliverer prophesied in the Old Testament and the Savior crucified for the sins of the world in the New.

This is a foundational doctrine in Christianity, but not in Liberalism. There he (with a lowercase “h,”) is a great example and teacher, a role model to be admired, but not the divine Son of God, the propitiation for our sins.

The Bible, of course, is truly clear on this. Machen expounds:

The truth is, the witness of the New Testament, with regard to Jesus as the object of faith, is an absolutely unitary witness.
The thing is rooted far too deep in the records of primitive Christianity ever to be removed by any critical process.
The Jesus spoken of in the New Testament was no mere teacher of righteousness, no mere pioneer in a new type of religious life, but One who was regarded, and regarded Himself, as the Savior whom men could trust.

Christianity worships the LORD JESUS CHRIST, trusting Him for our salvation. But liberalism sees him differently. Machen explains:

But by modern liberalism He is regarded in a totally different way.
Christians stand in a religious relation to Jesus; liberals do not stand in a religious relation to Jesus– what difference could be more profound than that?
The modern liberal preacher reverences Jesus; he has the name of Jesus forever on his lips; he speaks of Jesus as the supreme revelation of God; he enters, or tries to enter, into the religious life of Jesus.
But he does not stand in a religious relation to Jesus. Jesus for him is an example for faith, not the object of faith.
The modern liberal tries to have faith in God like the faith which he supposes Jesus had in God; but he does not have faith in Jesus.

One terribly sad outcome of standing in such an “arms-distance” relationship to Jesus is that one cannot meet Him in the garden and sing,

“And He walks with me

And He talks with me,

And He tells me that I am His own.

And the joy we share as we tarry there

None other has ever known.”

Christianity and Liberalism on “Salvation”

“Salvation” appears 164 times in the Bible. It has a wide range of meanings ranging from aid to deliverance, health, victory, prosperity, and welfare.

In the Old Testament, we encounter it first in the Exodus and the deliverance of the children of Israel from bondage in Egypt. In the New, we see that experience used as a type of Jesus’ work of redemption and saving His people from their sins.

How does liberalism define “salvation”? Machen puts it like this:

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.

After going through the many objections liberalism has to the cross and Jesus’ atonement for us there, Machen tells us what salvation is to liberalism by first summarizing the Christian view:

Faith, then, according to the Christian view means simply receiving a gift.
To have faith in Christ means to cease trying to win God’s favor by one’s own character; the man who believes in Christ simply accepts the sacrifice which Christ offered on Calvary.
The result of such faith is a new life and all good works; but the salvation itself is an absolutely free gift of God.

Having rejected the atoning work of Christ, liberalism has distorted the very definition of faith:

Very different is the conception of faith which prevails in the liberal Church.
According to modern liberalism, faith is essentially the same as “making Christ Master” in one’s life; at least it is by making Christ Master in the life that the welfare of men is sought.
But that simply means that salvation is thought to be obtained by our own obedience to the commands of Christ.
Such teaching is just a sublimated form of legalism. Not the sacrifice of Christ, on this view, but our own obedience to God’s law, is the ground of hope.

I think now of the old song, “On Christ the solid Rock I stand/All other ground is sinking sand.”

The grace of God is rejected by modern liberalism. And the result is slavery–the slavery of the law, the wretched bondage by which man undertakes the impossible task of establishing his own righteousness as a ground of acceptance with God.
It may seem strange at first sight that “liberalism,” of which the very name means freedom, should in reality be wretched slavery.
But the phenomenon is not really so strange. Emancipation from the blessed will of God always involves bondage to some worse taskmaster.

As we walk with Jesus in His will and build His Kingdom, we look ahead to His coming again for us to bring us to that place He is even now preparing for us.

Very different is the “program” of the modern liberal Church. In that program, heaven has little place, and this world is really all in all.
The rejection of the Christian hope is not always definite or conscious; sometimes the liberal preacher tries to maintain a belief in the immortality of the soul.
But the real basis of the belief in immortality has been given up by the rejection of the New Testament account of the resurrection of Christ.

Machen ends this section with a prayer we may all join in:

Thus, it may be said of the modern liberal Church, as of the Jerusalem of Paul’s day, that “she is in bondage with her children.” God grant that she may turn again to the liberty of the gospel of Christ!

Christianity and Liberalism on “The Church”

Machen wrote this book in 1923 whilst still in good standing with the Presbyterian Church in the USA and Princeton Seminary, both sound Biblically based organizations. But gradually, modernism crept in and displaced the Gospel with liberalism.

The Professor/Pastor stood up for Jesus and His Word and was thrown out of the Presbyterian Church in the USA in 1935 and declared Princeton Seminary “dead.” You can read more about this in John Piper’s article, HE TOOK UP ARMS AGAINST LIBERALISM.

But J. Gresham Machen did not just leave, he stood up for our faith and fought back by establishing 2 new faith organizations to continue preaching the Gospel as delivered to us in the Bible:

  • Westminster Seminary, and

  • The Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

He has provided an example of faithfulness and action that has led others to withdraw from apostate churches and reassert the Christian faith and traditions of the Christian churches they worshipped in.

The faithful in the Episcopal, Methodist, and Lutheran churches have followed Machen’s pioneering path. We all honor him and his work and encourage all faithful Christians to Stand Up for Jesus and His Word.

Machen has a high view of the Christian Church and its value:

When, according to Christian belief, lost souls are saved, the saved ones become united in the Christian Church…. true Christians must everywhere be united in the brotherhood of the Christian Church.

And Machen insists that Christ’s Church consists only of those who are BORN-AGAIN:

But one cause is perfectly plain–the Church of today has been unfaithful to her Lord by admitting great companies of non-Christian persons, not only into her membership, but into her teaching agencies….
Such persons, moreover, have been admitted not merely to the membership, but to the ministry of the Church, and to an increasing extent have been allowed to dominate its councils and determine its teaching.
The greatest menace to the Christian Church today comes not from the enemies outside, but from the enemies within; it comes from the presence within the Church of a type of faith and practice that is anti-Christian to the core.

To attract the unsaved, some churches advertise that they are a place where “you can belong before you believe.” Not so, says Machen:

But one thing is perfectly plain–whether liberals are Christians, it is at any rate perfectly clear that liberalism is not Christianity.
And that being the case, it is highly undesirable that liberalism and Christianity should continue to be propagated within the bounds of the same organization.
A separation between the two parties in the Church is the crying need of the hour.

We certainly agree with Machen here and join him in this movement to “Come out from among them and be separate, saith the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 6:17

As we do, we can take heart from his history and his foresight:

If the Word of God be heeded, the Christian battle will be fought both with love and with faithfulness.
Party passions and personal animosities will be put away, but on the other hand, even angels from heaven will be rejected if they preach a gospel different from the blessed gospel of the Cross.
Every man must decide upon which side he will stand. God grant that we may decide aright!

Christianity and Liberalism: the bottom line.

The undeniable underlying truth about the difference between Christianity and liberalism is that Christianity is not of this world it is of heaven and is known supernaturally, through miracles, the anointing of the Holy Ghost, and Divine revelation. Liberalism is driven by naturalism. Refusing to see God in His creation

For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, St. Paul in Romans 1:20-22

Summarizing this nicely, the Apostle draws this conclusion:

But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Corinthians 2:14

How blessed Christians are to have received these things and participate in the great salvation that grants us not only eternal life but daily fellowship with the Son of God. Hallelujah! Let’s continue to be faithful.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross; Lift high His royal banner, it must not suffer loss. From victory unto victory His army shall He lead, Till every foe is vanquished, and Christ is Lord indeed.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus! The trumpet call obey: Forth to the mighty conflict, in this His glorious day; Ye that are men now serve Him against unnumbered foes; Let courage rise with danger, and strength to strength oppose.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus, the solemn watchword hear; If while ye sleep He suffers, away with shame and fear; Where’er ye meet with evil, within you or without, Charge for the God of battles, and put the foe to rout.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus, stand in His strength alone; The arm of flesh will fail you, ye dare not trust your own. Put on the Gospel armor, each piece put on with prayer; Where duty calls or danger, be never wanting there.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus, each soldier to his post, Close up the broken column, and shout through all the host: Make good the loss so heavy, in those that remain, And prove to all around you that death itself is gain.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus, the strife will not be long; This day the noise of battle, the next the victor’s song. To those who vanquish evil a crown of life shall be; They with the King of Glory shall reign eternally.

It has now been 100 years since Machen wrote this book sounding the alarm. Jesus keeps those who take up their cross and follow Him. Liberalism has failed but the truth of the Bible and the God of the Bible march on. As we follow He knits our souls to Himself and leads us to that place He has planned and ordained for us before the foundation of the world. And bought us by His blood. Love, love, love.

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