mgpcpastor's blog

July Australian Presbyterian – J. Gresham Machen

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The July edition of Australian Presbyterian has a somewhat obscure choice for its cover feature. J. Gresham Machen was a US Presbyterian from the first half of the 20th century. He was probably the last great Princeton Presbyterian theologian. Carl Trueman is interviewed while Peter Barnes and D.G. Hart (who has written a Machen biography) provide articles on his life, work and legacy.
The dominance of liberalism came about in the period between the World Wars and Machen was one of those who fought against that transition. Ultimately the denomination took away his credentials. Another Presbyterian denomination commenced to carry on the witness of biblical reformed theology. Machen passed away at the age of 55. Apart from the fact he died in relative youth, the new denomination lacked other figures of Machen’s gravitas at a formative time in its development.
A brief historical statement can be found here. For more biographical information look him up on Wikipedia if you like, his page seems to be well looked after.
Back in the day one of the first biographies I read was Ned Stonehouse’s life of Machen. He was, and is, a celebrated figure of orthodox theology. The biography is affectionate and sympathetic without ignoring Machen’s humanity and idiosyncracies.
It is hard to know what overall lesson to draw from Machen’s life. He did not succeed in stemming liberalism in the Presbyterian Church or at Princeton. He was instrumental in the founding of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and Westminster Seminary, but passed before he could have much personal influence over either.
Our situation as a denomination is somewhat removed from that which Machen faced. We do need to be faithful, prudent and vigilant because history shows that error gains a foothold when orthodox folk demonstrate the sort of tolerance that in time allows falsehood to take root. History also teaches that when falsehood wins the day it shows little tolerance to orthodoxy and will eradicate it or drive it out.
The choice of Machen as a cover feature demonstrates the value of history. When enlightened we are equipped not to repeat past mistakes. A period of peace and stability can lead to complacency which can, in turn, lead to destruction.
Even if we lacked the Scriptural injunction to beware of false teaching and false teachers, to watch out for savage wolves, Machen, and others, would testify from the past that we can never think it can’t happen to us.
The truth is worth knowing, asserting, maitaining and defending.

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