Review of J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism


By Daniel L. Sonnenberg

Machen shows that modern liberalism is a source of paganism infecting the Church from within. The liberal denies many, if not most, of the basic tenets of historic Christianity. He denies the need for teaching doctrine, saying that creeds are not important because Christianity is a life, not a doctrine. In essence, the liberal is saying that the content of what we believe is not important. Yet without content, our faith has no object and is therefore baseless.

Second, liberalism has skewed views of God and man. The liberal says that knowledge of God is unnecessary, that we should merely feel his presence. He is content with either a deistic God who is so removed as to have nothing to say to us, or with a pantheistic god who is indistinguishable from the creation. Moreover, because of his distaste for the concept of sin (thus removing his sense of guilt before a holy God), he believes that man is basically good and he places his confidence in human goodness. Thus God is brought down and man is lifted up. God is dethroned, man is enthroned. Moreover, the liberal denies the inspiration of the Bible so that man and not God is the definer of truth. He treats Jesus not as the supernatural, Messianic, sinless, object of our faith, but as merely the supreme example of a man. Since Jesus is only a man, however great, in the liberal view, he is not sufficient to bear the sins of the world, even if sin is admitted. This light view of sin promotes the concept of an all-loving God, in whom is no anger over sin. The liberal rejects the cross and the grace of God and the hope of heaven because they are all supernatural works which he cannot admit. In sum, for the liberal, God exists for man, not man for God. Unlike the Unitarian, the so-called evangelical liberal minister is dishonest. He agrees “in principle” with the confessions of the church at his ordination, then does everything in his power to prove those confessions to be untrue, or at least unnecessary, and to substitute his own man-centered view. Liberalism, says Machen, does not simply disagree with conservative Christianity on a few points as some heresies do. Rather, it is a “unitary system” which logically eliminates every aspect of Christian belief. (He seems to mean that liberalism is a unified system of thought that requires all of its component parts to work together in such a way that it must eliminate every aspect of traditional Christian doctrine in order to function properly.) The answer for the conservative Christian in the face of the liberal challenge, according to Machen, first is greater effort in defense of the gospel to distinguish between orthodoxy and liberalism, more careful selection of candidates for the ministry, and a renewal of Christian education in the home and church focusing on doctrinal content so that Christian lay people will not easily be led astray. Second, if these efforts fail, conservatives may need to separate from the liberals and form their own “groups” for fellowship with like-minded brethren.

I feel both sad and angry when I read about liberalism in the church. My sadness results from their efforts to place man at the center instead of God. What a weak and pitiful substitute we are for Almighty and Everlasting God! In doing so, they lose so much. They lose the rich content of Scripture; they lose God in the splendor of all of his attributes by reducing him to only that of love; in minimizing sin, they lose the Christ as our Messianic redeemer; by denying the supernatural they lose everything that is miraculous, including the grace of God and the hope of heaven where the burden of sin is finally and completely lifted from us. Their system of thought reminds me of the old song lyric, “If that’s all there is my friend, then let’s keep dancing” sung to a depressing tune. The liberal, in hopes of exalting himself and attempting to ignore the feeling of guilt from sin, eliminates true fellowship with our Creator and Redeemer. What a sad state. Second, I feel angry because liberalism deceives so many people by working from within the traditional church instead of honestly admitting they no longer agree with orthodox faith and moving to a more honest branch such as the Unitarians.  Liberals pose as confessing Christians, pastors and theologians when all along they do not believe or practice traditional faith. At ordination, pastors agree to uphold the historic confessions, yet undermine them week by week from their pulpits. How many thousands, even millions of unsuspecting parishioners have thus been deceived into following this path to destruction. Now there are huge portions of the mainline and other denominations that are totally controlled by these forces.

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