Tuesday, February 18, 2014

An Outline of Christianity and Liberalism, Part 1: Introduction

In preparation for a men's fellowship talk I'll be giving in March at Grace Presbyterian Church in Springfield, IL (click here for directions), I'll be posting some notes from Machen's Christianity and Liberalism over the next few days. I'll be compiling and distilling these notes into a presentation.

One thing I have been struck by while reading this book is how relevant it still is today. If you're unfamiliar with it, it was first published in 1923. If you've never read it, I highly encourage you to do so.

Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism: An Outline

  1. Introduction
    1. Thesis: There exists a religion which calls itself Christianity and uses Christian terminology, but which, in fact, is not Christian. Machen names it “Liberalism.”
      1. “In the sphere of religion, in particular, the present time is a time of conflict: the great redemptive religion which has always been known as 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. This modern non-redemptive religion is called ‘modernism’ or ‘liberalism.’” (2)
      2. “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.” (7)
    2. Background: Changes in life in past 100 years (1820s-1920s): Industrial age, rise of “science”, naturalism.
      1. “But manifold as are the forms in which the movement appears, the root of the movement is one; the many varieties of modern liberal religion are rooted in naturalism--that is, in the denial of any entrance of the creative power of God (as distinguished from the ordinary course of nature) in connection with the origin of Christianity.” (2)
    3. Modernism: The view that all the past is suspect. The modern age is the best age in every respect.
      1. “It is no wonder that that appeal is being criticized today; for the writers of the books in question [the Bible] were no doubt men of their own age, whose outlook upon the material world, judged by modern standards, must have been of the crudest and most elementary kind. Inevitably the question arises whether the opinions of such men can ever be normative for men of the present day; in other words, whether first-century religion can ever stand in company with twentieth-century science.” (4)
    4. Proposed solution
      1. Separation of religion from science
        1. “Religion, it is said, is so entirely separate from science, that the two, rightly defined, cannot possibly come into conflict.” (4-5)
        2. PROBLEM: The truth claims of Christianity are based in real, historical acts.
          1. “For, rightly or wrongly, religion during the centuries has as a matter of fact connected itself with a host of convictions, especially in the sphere of history, which may form the subject of scientific investigation; just as scientific investigators, on the other hand, have sometimes attached themselves, again rightly or wrongly, to conclusions which impinge upon the innermost domain of philosophy and of religion.” (5)
      2. Liberalism’s answer: Rescue the core religious principles of Christianity.
        1. The liberal theologian seeks to rescue certain of the general principles of religion, of which these particularities [the person of Christ, redemption through His death and resurrection] are thought to be mere temporary symbols, and these general principles he regards as constituting ‘the essence of Christianity.’” (6)
        2. PROBLEM: Modernism will not stop if we abandon the “non-essentials.”
          1. “Modern materialism, especially in the realm of psychology, is not content with occupying the lower quarters of the Christian city, but pushes its way into all the higher reaches of life; it is just as much opposed to the philosophical idealism of the liberal preacher as to the Biblical doctrines that the liberal preacher has abandoned in the interests of peace. Mere concessiveness, therefore, will  never succeed in avoiding the intellectual conflict. In the intellectual battle of the present day there can be no ‘peace without victory’; one side or the other must win.” (6)
        3. PROBLEM: What is left when “non-essentials” are stripped away is not christianity at all.
          1. “What the liberal theologian has retained after abandoning to the enemy one Christian doctrine after another is not Christianity at all, but a religion which is so entirely different from Christianity as to belong in a distinct category.” (6-7)
    5. Liberalism is un-Christian
      1. “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.” (7-8)
    6. Modernism’s Problems
      1. Decline of the spiritual state of man
        1. “The improvement appears in the physical conditions of life, but in the spiritual realm there is a corresponding loss. The loss is clearest, perhaps, in the realm of art.” (10)
        2. “Material betterment has gone hand in hand with spiritual decline.” (15)
      2. Decline of individual freedoms
        1. “In the interests of physical well-being the great principles of liberty are being thrown ruthlessly to the winds.” (11)
    7. Machen’s Solution
      1. Christianity/Reformation
        1. “But the Christian religion which is meant is certainly not the religion of the modern liberal Church, but a message of divine grace, almost forgotten now, as it was in the middle ages, but destined to burst forth once more in God’s good time, in a new Reformation, and bring to light and freedom mankind.” (15-16)

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