Recently, I posted a review of Michael Horton’s Christless Christianity. In that book, Horton makes many references to liberalism and to J. Gresham Machen’s classic book Christianity and Liberalism. Horton inspired me to pick up this nice little book by Machen, and I am indebted to him for doing so.
The blurb on the back cover of the book describes well Machen’s reason for writing this book:
This book, written in response to the liberalism that arose in the early 1900’s, is a classic defense of orthodox Christianity. TO expose the fallacies of liberalism and strengthen the orthodox position, Machen establishes the importance of scriptural doctrine and contrasts the teachings of liberalism and orthodoxy on God, humanity, the Bible, Christ, salvation, and the church. These issues remain in conflice today, testifying to the continuing relevance of this important work.
The most shocking aspect of Machen’s work, is that it could well be a book that was written in the last five years rather than nearly a century ago. Machen’s attention to the declining orthodoxy in the church was a warning in 1923 and can be seen as prophetic words looking back upon the demise of the mainline church in America and the world as it’s leaders left the religion of Christ and embraced instead the religion of humanism that revels in human ability known as liberalism.
Machen speaks of the dangers of liberalism this way:
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 relition is called “modernism” or “liberalism.”
Of course his critique of liberalism as non-redemptive because it holds as its basic tenet that humanity is basically good and that given the proper direction, humanity will save itself. Liberalism views salvation, not as eternal redemption from sin, but rather as temporal release from the evils of this world. Harking back to Horton’s work, liberalism bears a stark resemblance to the prosperity gospel of the 21st Century with people like Joel Osteen, Robert Schuller, and Joyce Meyer and as it’s primary proponents.
Christianity and Liberalism is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in combatting the modernism of the past, the post-modernism of the present, and the temptation to tickle men’s ears with words they want to hear that persists throughout the history of the church. Machen wrote this book directed at a specific group of people, the liberals of the early Twentieth Century, but it is applicable as an apology against many who have followed their lead.