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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Christianity and Culture (2 of 2)

This is the second part of an extract from an address entitled "The Scientific Preparation of the Minister" by J. Gresham Machen, former Professor of New Testament, Princeton Seminary, 1906 -1929, who had been put out of the Presbyterian Church in the USA for resisting the Church's drift into Liberalism has been quoted here before. The address was given to the one hundred and first session of Princeton Seminary on September 20, 1912:

"Christianity is the proclamation of an historical fact - that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Modern thought has no place for that proclamation. It prevents men even from listening to the message. Yet the culture of to-day cannot simply be rejected as a whole. It is not like the pagan culture of the first century. It is not wholly non-Christian. Much of it has been derived directly from the Bible. There are significant movements in it, going to waste, which might well be used for the defence of the gospel. The situation is complex. Easy wholesale measures are not in place. Discrimination, investigation is necessary. Some of modern thought must be refuted. The rest must be made subservient. But nothing in it can be ignored. He that is not with us is against us. Modern culture is a mighty force. It is either subservient to the gospel or else it is the deadliest enemy of the gospel. For making it subservient, religious emotion is not enough, intellectual labour is also necessary. And that labour is being neglected. The Church has turned to easier tasks. And now she is reaping the fruits of her indolence. Now she must battle for her life.

The situation is desperate. It might discourage us. But not if we are truly Christians. Not if we are living in vital communion with the risen Lord. If we are really convinced of the truth of our message, then we can proclaim it before a world of enemies, then the very difficulty of our task, the very scarcity of our allies becomes an inspiration, then we can even rejoice that God did not place us in an easy age, but in a time of doubt and perplexity and battle. Then, too, we shall not be afraid to call forth other soldiers into the conflict. Instead of making our theological seminaries merely centres of religious emotion, we shall make them battlegrounds of the faith, where, helped a little by the experience of Christian teachers, men are taught to fight their own battle, where they come to appreciate the real strength of the adversary and in the hard school of intellectual struggle learn to substitute for the unthinking faith of childhood the profound convictions of full-grown men. Let us not fear in this a loss of spiritual power. The Church is perishing to-day through the lack of thinking, not through an excess of it. She is winning victories in the sphere of material betterment. Such victories are glorious. God save us from the heartless crime of disparaging them. They are relieving the misery of men. But if they stand alone. I fear they are but temporary. The things which are seen are temporal; the things with are not seen are eternal. What will become of philanthropy if God be lost ? Beneath the surface of life lies a world of spirit. Philosophers have attempted to explore it. Christianity has revealed its wonders to the simple soul. There he the springs of the Church's power. But that spiritual realm cannot be entered without controversy. And now the Church is shrinking from the conflict. Driven from the spiritual realm by the current of modern thought, she is consoling herself with things about which there is no dispute. If she favours better housing for the poor, she need fear no contradiction. She will need all her courage, she will have enemies enough, God knows. But they will not fight her with argument. The twentieth century, in theory, is agreed on social betterment. But sin, and death, and salvation, and life, and God - about these things there is debate. You can avoid the debate if you choose. You need only drift with the current. Preach every Sunday during your Seminary course, devote the fag ends of your time to study and to thought, study about as you studied in college - and these questions will probably never trouble you. The great questions may easily be avoided. Many preachers are avoiding them. And many preachers are preaching to the air. The Church is waiting for men of another type. Men to fight her battles and solve her problems. The hope of finding them is the one great inspiration of a Seminary's life. They need not all be men of conspicuous attainments. But they must all be men of thought. They must fight hard against spiritual and intellectual indolence. Their thinking may be concerned to narrow limits. But it must be their own. To them theology must be something more than a task. It must be a matter of inquiry. It must lead not to successful memorizing, but to genuine convictions.

The Church is puzzled by the world's indifference. She is trying to overcome it by adapting her message to the fashions of the day. But if, instead, before the conflict, she would descend into the secret place of meditation, if by the clear fight of the gospel she would seek an answer not merely to the question of the hour but, first of all, to the eternal problems of the spiritual world, then perhaps, by God's grace, through His good Spirit, in His good time, she might issue forth once more with power, and an age of doubt might be followed by the dawn of an era of faith

I think J. Gresham Machen 'nailed' a significant problem for the Church in the Twentieth Century which has continued into the Twenty-First Century. The Church lacks sufficient good thinkers and marginalises the few who are good thinkers. As such, it reaps what it sows - poor thinkers elevated to positions of influence who, through influence, spawn their own.

It was not like this in centuries past. Great advances were made in the world of scientific endeavour and it was Biblical Creationists who were leaders.

The decline commenced in the early Nineteenth Century as men of the Church with scientific interest began subordinating the Word of God to their own thoughts about the geological processes and, by extrapolation, the age of the earth. They were joined by men such as Charles Lyell who wanted to remove the testimony of Moses, in Genesis, from influencing science. In the long term Lyell was successful but, for a time, the Biblical account of Genesis was deferred to as defence against the propositions of Darwin. However, earlier destabilisation of the Word of God as basis for interpreting the observations of geology had made the way for eventual acceptance of Darwinism in biology, anthropology and other scientific endeavours. Along the way, increasing numbers of Church thinkers were compromising the Word of God to accommodate Darwinism. They had forsaken their first love and made it acceptable for those who followed them to think likewise (punishment for the sins of the fathers visited upon the sons and daughters to the third and fourth generation?). Most of those entering tertiary studies have been ill prepared to challenge the current world view and resort to accepting what they are taught to fashion some compromised understanding of God and what He has done in the world as recorded in the Word of God. Those who then enter theological studies are primed for lecturers who present one or more means to depart from the Reformed reading of the Word of God when it touches on matters of earth history.

What had been a high time for the Church has been reversed and the Biblical Creationists are regarded as pariahs not just by the unbelievers but by most within the Church.

How are we to measure the situation? Just look at the state of the Church, the influence of the Church on the nations. Never has there been a lower time in the history of the Church since our Lord Jesus Christ established it some 2,000 years ago. Atheism grows while the Church compromises.

J. Gresham Machen saw the problem well early last century and one hundred years hence the grapes are all the more sour.

Sam Drucker

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