This year marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity & Liberalism. The Reformed Theological Seminary Jackson faculty is going to be reading through the book together during our faculty meetings this semester. It has been almost forty (40) years since I first read this book, in my twenties. In order to re-read it better, I drafted a paragraph by paragraph description/outline of the contents of chapters 1 and 2 (I will add others as I have opportunity).
Chapter 1: Introduction
1. The purpose of the book: to present “the issue” as sharply as possible.
2. The present is a time of conflict between Christianity and modern non-redemptive naturalistic liberalism.
3. The rise of this new religion has been brought about by changes in the material conditions of modern life.
4. These material changes are accompanied by changes in our mindset, leading to spiritual changes.
5. Burgeoning confidence in the scientific method has fostered an intellectual attitude of superiority to the past.
6. This has led to a searching criticism of any institution connected to the past.
7. No institution has faced a stronger hostile presumption than Christianity, because it is based on old writings.
*Can the opinions of writers who were men of their own age be normative for the present day?
*Can first-century religion stand in company with twentieth-century science?
8. This is a serious problem for the modern church, and various apologetic answers have been attempted.
*One approach asserts that religion and science are separate, and thus cannot come into conflict.
*But Christianity is based on historical truth claims that can be interrogated.
*The big question is: “What is the relation between Christianity and modern culture; may Christianity be maintained in a scientific age?”
9. Modern liberalism is trying to solve this question/problem by identifying “the essence of Christianity.”
10. It may be questioned whether this strategy will work. Mere concessiveness cannot win the conflict.
11. In fact, when liberalism abandons doctrine it results in an entirely different religion.
12. Modern liberalism is (1) not Christian, and (2) not scientific.
* “modern liberalism not only is a different religion from Christianity but belongs in a totally different class of religions.”
13. Liberalism in the modern church represents a return to an un-Christian and sub-Christian form of the religious life.
14. If all the preaching of the church had succumbed to liberalism, Christianity would have perished and the Gospel would have been lost.
15. Two groups of people will be uninterested in the arguments of this book: convinced pietists and convinced liberals.
16. However, the modern world’s judgment of historic Christianity is based on an imperfect view of the situation and a grossly exaggerated estimation of the achievements of modern science.
17. The unprecedented decline in literature and art is evidence of this phenomenon.
* “in the interests of physical well-being the great principles of liberty are being thrown ruthlessly to the winds.”
18. The result of this is an unparalleled impoverishment of human life.
19. Manifestations of drab utilitarianism can be seen in in some of the state laws about education.
20. Laws granting monopolies to public schools are also a disaster for real education.
21. Materialistic paternalism and “material betterment has gone hand in hand with spiritual decline.”
22. This condition should give pause to any rejection of traditionalism or conservatism.
* “is there some secret which if rediscovered will restore to mankind something of the glories of the past?”
23. The secret is the Christian religion, not of the modern liberal church, but the message of divine grace.
* “by showing what Christianity is not we hope to be able to show what Christianity is.”
Chapter 2: Doctrine
1. Modern liberalism in the Church is no longer merely an academic matter. It’s in the pulpit, SS, etc.
2. Advocates of liberalism are more clear and open about their views in the seminaries, but tend to try to conceal them in the larger sphere of the Church.
3. What is the real meaning of the present revolt against the fundamentals of the Christian faith? What are the teachings of modern liberalism over against the teachings of Christianity?
4. Teachings, doctrines, creeds are unimportant.
5. But in seeming to object to doctrine and theology in general, really liberalism is objecting to the system of historic Christian theology.
6. Liberalism has a very different conception of a creed, than Christianity. Experience versus facts.
7. Liberalism asserts that Christianity is a life, not a doctrine.
8. But is this true? In order to answer it we must look at the origins of Christianity.
9. Christianity originated a few days after the death of Jesus.
10. We have definite historical information about the early stages of this movement in the writings of Paul.
11. The Christian movement from the beginning was not just a way of life, but a way of life founded upon a message. It was based on doctrine.
12. For Paul, doctrine was the very basis of his life. He was very interested in the content of the Christian message.
13. Paul was tolerant about people who spread the true message with false motives.
* “It never occurred to Paul that a gospel might be true for one man and not for another.”
* “Christianity for Paul was not only a life, but also a doctrine, and logically the doctrine came first.”
14. Paul was intolerant of people who spread a false message no matter their motivation.
15. Paul saw that the religion of the Judaizers and that of Christianity were entirely different. One was a religion of merit, the other of grace.
16. The difference that divided Paul from the Judaizers concerned the very heart and core of the religion of Christ.
17. Paul was not an advocate of undogmatic religion. He believed in the objective and universal truth of his message.
18. But maybe Paul perverted primitive Christianity by introducing doctrinal elements into the life of the Church.
19. The historical evidence does not support this. Paul was not an innovator when it comes to the fundamentally doctrinal character of Christianity.
20. The first Christian missionaries did not simply come forward with an exhortation.
21. They founded the most important spiritual movement the world has ever seen upon the message of the resurrection.
22. The early Church was not only concerned with what Jesus said but especially with what Jesus had done.
23. But maybe the primitive Church got it wrong too, can we not appeal beyond and behind them to Jesus?
24. That would be an extraordinary step since Christianity derived its power from the message of the redeeming work of Christ. It is implausible to believe that the founders misunderstood the meaning of their master’s life and death.
25. But this approach won’t work because Jesus’ teaching too was not merely the enunciation of ethical principles but also the announcement of a message, based upon something that happened.
26. Jesus announced both an event and the meaning of the event.
27. Even if you do radical source criticism on the Gospels you can erase this fact. Jesus did not teach an undogmatic religion.
28. Jesus teaching was also based on a stupendous view of his own Person.
29. This can be seen for instance in his Messianic consciousness.
30. Some try to ignore this.
31. Others deny that he thought this.
32. But the Messianic consciousness of Jesus is ubiquitous in the Gospels. Thus even the Sermon on the Mount is filled with doctrine, theology, dogma.
33. Could we get rid of the theological element in the Sermon on the Mount? No. The ethic doesn’t work without the doctrine.
34. The ethics of the Sermon on the Mount, taken alone, either condemn us or lead us to the Cross of Christ.
35. The disciples understood that Jesus and Jesus alone could make them children of God.
36. But can’t we just return to the simple trust of the disciples? Can’t we just trust in the person of Jesus and not in the message of Jesus?
37. That may sound plausible but it is in vain.
38. Some try to dispense with theology and the supernatural and get to him by the historical imagination.
39. There is a certain plausibility about that.
40. Yes, the Jesus of the Gospels is a real living Person, but the question is: how may we come into relation to Him?
41. A mere Jewish teacher of the first century can never satisfy the longing of our souls.
42. The modern liberal says: but are we not restoring the simplicity of the primitive gospel by only focusing on the “historical” Jesus? No. When we do this, we are actually just returning to the days of gloom and despair before the disciples realized and believed in the fullness of Jesus’ Person and Work, as Son of God and Savior of sinners.
43. What transformed the disciples? Not his memory or merely his ethical teachings, but the message: He is risen!
44. The Christian message is more than the resurrection. How shall we come into His Presence?
45. The New Testament gives us the guidance and answer. By what he has done for us.
46. This knowledge is given in the story of the cross.
47. It is vain to trust the Person without believing the message.
48. And trust must not be confused with admiration or reverence.
49. Christian doctrine lies at the very roots of faith.
50. So, if we want a non-doctrinal, non-dogmatic religion, we have to give up not only Paul, but the early Church, and Jesus. Hence, the Liberal attack on doctrine is actually an attack on the Bible and Jesus.
51. In fact, even if Liberalism were just attacking the historic Christian tradition, that would be bad enough.
52. But again, the modern attack on doctrine is an attack on the New Testament and our Lord himself.
53. When we speak of the doctrinal basis of Christianity, here is what we don’t mean (two things):
54. First, we do not mean that if our doctrine is sound then our life makes no difference. From the beginning Christianity was a way of life that entailed immediate moral change.
55. But how was that life, that change, produced? Not merely by exhortation, but by the narration of an event.
56. By this transformation of life, the Christian message, today as always commends itself to the attention of men.
57. Second, we do not mean that all points of doctrine are equally important.
58. (A) We don’t mean that eschatological opinions about the timing of the return of Christ divide us into two different religions.
59. (B) We don’t mean that views about the efficacy of the sacraments necessarily preclude Christian fellowship.
60. (C) We don’t mean that Anglican views of the “apostolic succession” of the ministry need divide us.
61. (D) We don’t mean that Calvinism and Methodist Arminianism necessarily puts us in two different religions.
62. (E) Even with the important division between Protestants and Rome, we share more as historic Protestants with Rome than we do with Liberals.
63. This doesn’t mean that conservatives and liberals have to hate one another, and can never work together. But we can’t work together on spreading a message on which we don’t agree.
64. The character of Christianity is founded on a message about what Jesus had done once for all in His death and resurrection.
65. Christianity is based on something that happened and the Christian worker is primarily a witness.
* “If we are to be truly Christians, it does make a vast difference what our teachings are.”
66. The chief modern rival of Christianity is liberalism. We will now examine its teachings to show how different it is.