Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Book Review: Christianity and Liberalism

For a long time, I'd been told that I had to read J Gresham Machen's 'Christianity and Liberalism.' The book was written in 1946, yet no matter who talked about it, the consensus was that it could have been written this week. So when I recently got a Kindle, and discovered that the book was just 77 pence, I downloaded it and got stuck in. And I have to say, it does seem to be very relevant to the situation we find ourselves in these days.

Machen's thesis is simple: that Christianity and Liberalism are two different, distinct, separate religious systems, despite using similar words and phrases. Through the six chapters of the book, Machen develops this theme, as he considers the importance of and distinct approaches and beliefs about doctrine, the relationship between God and man, the Bible, Christ, salvation, and the church.

In each of the chapters, Machen demonstrates the difference between orthodox Christianity and Liberalism, which clarifies the opposing worldviews and beliefs and hermeneutics battling for the mind and future of the church:

'Christianity is battling against a totally diverse type of religious belief, which is only the more destructive of the Christian faith because it makes use of traditional Christian terminology.' (Loc 17-18)

'In trying to remove from Christianity everything that could possibly be objected to in the name of science, in trying to bribe off the enemy by those concessions which the enemy most desires, the apologist has really abandoned what he started out to defend.' (Loc 90-92)

'According to the Christian conception, a creed is not a mere expression of Christian experience, but on the contrary it is a setting forth of those facts upon which experience is based.' (Loc 240-241)

'Here is found the most fundamental difference between liberalism and Christianity - liberalism is altogether in the imperative mood, while Christianity begins with a triumphant indicative; liberalism appeals to man's will, while Christianity announces, first, a gracious act of God.' (Loc 583-585)

'At the very root of the modern liberal movement is the loss of the consciousness of sin.' (Loc 810-11)

'The truth is that the life-purpose of Jesus discovered by modern liberalism is not the life purpose of the real Jesus, but merely represents those elements in the teaching of Jesus - isolated and misinterpreted - which happen to agree with the modern program. It is not Jesus, then, who is the real authority, but the modern principle by which the selection within Jesus' recorded teaching has been made.' (Loc 974-977)

'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.' (Loc 1998-99)

Stirring and strong stuff. For some, it may seem like fighting talk, yet there is a lot of what he says that seems to ring true. At times, there are allusions and references to the situation he's writing in to in his own denomination and setting, but these aside, the main thrust is easily understood. Machen's low cost Kindle book may well be the wake-up call we need to hear and heed.

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