Skip to comments.Machenís Enemies Then And Now And The Myth Of Influence
Posted on 11/19/2013 6:21:38 AM PST by Gamecock
Almost thirty years ago, when I first started to become interested in Reformed Christianity I happened to mention it to the Rev Wally Easter, pastor for evangelism at Westminster Presbyterian Church, in my hometown.
Wally was a sweet fellow and very graciously lent me volume one of the Battles edition of Calvins Institutes. A while later I visited him in his luxurious office at the local tall-steeple PCUSA congregation in order to return the book. I was full of questions. In conversation, Wally mentioned that he was a graduate of Princeton Seminary. I had heard about this fellow Machen so I asked Wally about him and about Westminster Seminary. His jovial face quickly turned red with anger at the very mention of the traitor Machen and the rebel seminary. Mind you, this was about 50 years after Machen had left Princeton and decades after Wally had been a student at PTS.
Obviously that episode left an impression. It certainly made me want to get to know Machen. What was it about this fellow that made such a lovely and gracious fellow so openly angry, even contemptuous? It wasnt Machen in se that made Wally angry, it was the textus receptus, or the received libel of Machen, that Wally believed, that angered him.
Its a funny old thing. The liberals have apologized for everything, for things in which they have corporate complicity and things for which, arguably, they do not but theyve never apologized for what they did to Machen. The campaign of smears and allegations, perpetrated by good evangelicals and outright liberals together still stirs ones blood. Get over it you say? Cant do it. Wouldnt be prudent. We need to learn from it the nature of the go-along, get along evangelicals positioning themselves for influence in the culture and the illiberal nature of theological liberalism, which wants the same thing as the evangelicals: cultural influence. How many of the good folk who gather in the narthex of the tall-steeple, mainline congregations would do so if it met in a renovated filling station or in a Masonic Temple or a bank basement or in any of a dozen other unpleasant places, to which the Presbyterian and Reformed sideline has been exiled since 1936? Of course its hard to say with certainty, but history suggests that the answer is: not many.
One other thing to notice is how the liberals and evangelicals shared the prosecution of Machens character. In the 18th century the charge against the Old Side was: Youre not regenerate. The early 20th-century version of that charge is, youre hot tempered or your family sells alcohol. They shared a common caricature of Machen because he was equally troublesome to both of them, whether right or left. As a confessionalist, Machen didnt fit into their boxes. Yes, he made a strategic alliance with the fundamentalists, but as soon as they learned that old WTS wasnt to be a pre-millennial, tee-totaling, fundamentalist school, they too abandoned him to recommence their quest to regain their lost influence. It took them fifty years, but with the rise of the Moral Majority, they almost got it back. Now that the cultural-theological left has rediscovered its evangelical roots (Charles Finney et al) we have dueling visions of America as the Kingdom of God on the earth. I digress.
A few years ago PTS held a conference to re-consider Charles Hodge. I dont know if the papers delivered to that conference were ever published, but it seems to me that Hodge is partly to blame for what happened to Machen. One overlooked reason why Hodge did not favor a closer form of subscription to the Westminster Standards is that it would cause the Presbyterian Church to fragment such that it would no longer be a national (read mainline and influential) Presbyterian Church. He was right and wrong.
He was right. Any form of subscription that required Presbyterian ministers to believe every proposition in the Standards would reveal the fissures that Hodge knew existed in the Presbyterian Church. He knew that, already in the mid-to-late 19th century, the foundation of the Presbyterian Church was weak. Perhaps he thought that, if given time, Princeton could shore up that foundation? In principle, however, Hodge was wrong. By preserving the status quo as long as he (and implicitly Old Princeton) did he helped to provide safe haven for ministers who no longer believed the Reformed faith. That rot in the foundation fundamentally weakened the Presbyterian house. By the early 20th century, it was the quest to preserve a national Presbyterian Church and its cultural influence (even if that influenced was disguised as a desire to reach the lost) that fueled the prosecution of Machen for daring to point out that emperor had no clothes.
This isnt just a mainline issue. The same temptation is alive and well in the NAPARC world. Bob Godfrey calls it The Myth of Influence. The same spirit that animated the prosecution of Machen still exists and is even honored within the NAPARC world and within its constituent denominations and federations. Whether Machens children are labeled Warrior Children or whether it is implied that they are unregenerate or just not as biblical as the next fellow, the spirit of Eerdman and Stevenson lives on—it lives in all of all of us. How do I know it lives? It lives within my heart.
The fundies think I am an unregenerate sinner because I have a glass of wine with dinner.
The liberals think I am a rabid fundamentalist.
Ping for later.
Nobody trusts meBy preserving the status quo as long as [Charles Hodge] did he helped to provide safe haven for ministers who no longer believed the Reformed faith. That rot in the foundation fundamentally weakened the Presbyterian house.
They blame me for the fires in town
Say that Hell is where I'm bound
and pray that God will speed me
-- Larry Norman, "Hard Luck Bad News"
from his 1981 album Something New Under The Son
Our good Dr. E. often recommended the book Crossed Fingers: How The Liberals Captured the Presbyterian Church. This article gives me fresh motivation to read it.
I just uncovered my copy in a box last weekend, and also recommended it to someone who was discussing how liberals take over conservative organizations. It’s a somewhat tedious read...but a fascinating work.
CROSSED FINGERS is available on line for free from the author:
Thanks for the link!
Im a Catholic, I greatly admire Machen and think that He, not Niebuhr, was the greatest American theologian of the 20th century.
Keep your eyes posted, I’m going to post something about Machen and Catholics later this week. The broader context of what he said may surprise you.
If it's the item I think you're referring to from “Christianity and Liberalism” in which Machen advocated what (for his day) was a shockingly positive evaluation of the Roman Catholic Church, it's important to remember that Machen understood the strategic alliance that Abraham Kuyper had made with Roman Catholics two generations earlier in the Netherlands — an alliance that made the Netherlands into the “Bible Belt” of Europe for well over three-quarters of a century, and was virtually unique for Europe in turning back the progress of liberalism in the 1800s and early 1900s.
Machen and Kuyper both understood that Roman Catholics and evangelical Protestants, despite very serious differences, had far more in common than either had with liberalism. Kuyper succeeded in convincing Roman Catholics that their historic alliance with liberals was contrary to their own confession, much as the American religious right in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s convinced conservative Roman Catholics that the issue of abortion warranted breaking their historic ties with the Democratic Party.
Machen believed — correctly so — that liberalism not only is not Christianity but that it belongs in an entirely different category of religions from Christianity.
Christianity is a revealed religion based on submission to external authority.
Liberalism is a man-centered religion which takes a variety of different forms, most commonly some combination of deification of personal mystical experience (i.e., Schleiermacher) and deification of unaided human reason (i.e., Von Harnack).
When a liberal accuses a conservative Protestant of making the Bible into a “paper Pope,” that liberal has actually identified a real similarity between traditional Roman Catholics and evangelical Protestants — submission to external revealed authority.
But by making that accusation against conservative Protestants, the liberal is not really attacking Protestants for being hypocrites but rather showing just how far away from revealed religion liberalism actually is.
Liberal Catholicism goes back to the 18th century and those clerics who supported the reforms of the liberal monarchs, such as the Emperor Joseph of Austria. Its a product of the Enlightenment, and its exponents abandoned the notion of a revealed faith and put in its place a seeker faith that began with man rather than God. Or rather the Trinitarian God. Lewis Mumford spoke of the Enlightenment as a revival of the worship of Apollo. The events of the French Revolution shattered the hopes of the liberal clerics for a take over of the Church, because its radicalism found no place for them.