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Christianity and Liberalism

“Christianity and Liberalism” by J. Gresham Machen. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1990 reprint,

J. G. Machen was the main fig­ure in the foundation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. This denomination was born in 1936, after Machen was cast out of the Presbyterian Church in the United States. He was cast out because he opposed the liberals who were turning what used to be a true church of Jesus Christ into an apos­tate church.

At the time that Machen wrote this book, many people were attacking true Christianity because they thought it was absurd and not true to science. How in the world could somebody still believe in a literal cre­ation? Who ever heard of a virgin having a baby? And certainly, anyone who believed that the miraculous events recorded in the Bible really happened is just plain nuts. This is what worldly men were telling the church. The liberals in the church decided that the worldly scientists were right; science obviously rules out miracles, a virgin birth, and a literal creation. So, the liberals rewrote Christian doctrine so that it did justice to the findings of science. But they wanted to keep it Christian – they wanted to keep an idea of Christ, God, and salvation. The thesis of Machen’s book is that in trying to reconcile Christianity and science, the liberals destroyed Christianity. In his own words, “despite the liberal use of traditional phraseology modern liberalism not only is a different religion from Christianity but belongs in a totally dif­ferent class of religions” (page 7)

Machen adequately supports his contention by showing that Christianity and liberalism have entirely different views of:

1)  God. Liberalism teaches that God is the spiri­tual Father of all men, and liberalism denies God’s transcendence and thus His work of Creation. It also denies the Trinity.

2)  Man. Liberalism presents man as NOT SIN­FUL. So he needs no salvation.

3)  The Bible. Liberalism does not view the Bible as God’s inspired revelation, nor does it think that the Bible is the authority for our belief and life. “Christian­ity is founded on the Bible. . . . Liberalism on the other hand is founded upon the shifting emotions of sinful men” (page 79)

4)  Christ. For Christians, Christ is the object of our faith; we believe in Him. Liberalism views Jesus as a good example of a man who had faith. Jesus is Christ because He was the first Christian, the liberals would say. Liberalism knows of no Christ whom God anointed to save sinners.

5)  Salvation. For Christians, salvation is an act of God through Christ’s death. Liberalism teaches that salvation is man’s action, and has nothing to do with Christ’s death. They offer different views of what salva­tion really is, including the idea that salvation is just a better life here on earth.

6)  The Church. Liberalism teaches that the church is an institution which must reform society, making this world a better place in which to live. All men are brothers, and so the goal of the church is to include every human.

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO REMEMBER IS THIS: THE LIBERALS USE THE SAME WORDS AS THE CHRISTIANS. They do speak of God, the Trinity, Christ, and salvation. They do speak of an atonement. They speak of faith. They would say that the Bible has authority. BUT THEY REDEFINE THE MEANING OF THESE CHRISTIAN WORDS. Atonement is not Christ’s death to satisfy God’s wrath for sinful men. Faith is not “knowledge and confidence” (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 21) but it is following Christ’s example by living a moral life.

If you talk with one who believes in liberalism, you may think that you and he have much in common. You may be impressed by his Christian vocabulary, and by his “faith in Jesus.” The reason you ought to read Christianity and Liberalism is so that you will have a better understanding of what he means by these words. Chances are he will not understand the differences between his view and your view. He will say what he has heard his whole life from the theolo­gians and preachers of liberalism. What he may not know is that he has been taught and believes the lie. Certainly, he will not think he is a liberal, but he is anyway. Read this book to understand how that is so.

Liberalism is rampant in the church world today. But who are the liberals? In the Reformed tradition, he is a liberal who does not believe the teachings of the Synod of Dordt: TULIP. In the Presbyterian tradition, he is a liberal who does not subscribe to the teachings of the Westminster Assembly. Any person who denies that God loves some men and hates others; any per­son who says that Christ died for all men; any person who ascribes any work of man to salvation; any per­son who does not view every part of the Bible as inspired by God and authoritative; he is a liberal.

Then who are Christians? They are those who hold to the Canons of Dordt and the Westminster Confes­sion. Many will say that my definition of Christianity is too narrow: “Many people who live good Christian lives don’t believe everything in the Confessions.” But we believe that these confessions are faithful expres­sions of Scripture’s teaching. He who disagrees with them, therefore, disagrees with Scripture as to the basics of what we must believe in order to be saved. How can someone who disagrees with Scripture on what we must believe in order to be saved be a Chris­tian? He cannot, because being a Christian is first of all not living a good life, but believing that Christ died to save sinners! Our life follows from and is based on our faith.

The major weakness of Machen’s book is that he is too lenient to certain people who fit into the category of liberalism. On page 51, he excludes Arminians from the camp of the liberals. On page 52, he excludes Roman Catholics from the camp of liberals. Yet the Arminians have a different view of God and man than do Reformed Christians; that was the very reason for the Synod and Canons of Dordt! And the Church of Rome has an entirely different view of the church and of salvation than do the Reformed; that was the very reason for the Reformation of 1517! Machen fails here.

Our young (and not so young) people would do well to read this book. Liberalism is alive and well, even in many churches which are considered conser­vative. Furthermore, we in the PRC must be on our guard against liberalism. If we ever accept liberalism’s teachings, we are doomed.

Finally, note again the title of the book: Christianity and Liberalism. The two are opposed. You cannot be a liberal and a Christian.