In light of a wonderful study this morning on J. Gresham Machen, here are a few quotes from this stalwart of the faith:
“Place the lives of children in their formative years, despite the convictions of their parents, under the intimate control of experts appointed by the state, force them to attend schools where the higher aspirations of humanity are crushed out, and where the mind is filled with the materialism of the day, and it is difficult to see how even the remnants of liberty can subsist.”
“For Christians to influence the world with the truth of God’s Word requires the recovery of the great Reformation doctrine of vocation. Christians are called to God’s service not only in church professions but also in every secular calling. The task of restoring truth to the culture depends largely on our laypeople.
To bring back truth, on a practical level, the church must encourage Christians to be not merely consumers of culture but makers of culture. The church needs to cultivate Christian artists, musicians, novelists, filmmakers, journalists, attorneys, teachers, scientists, business executives, and the like, teaching its laypeople the sense in which every secular vocation-including, above all, the callings of husband, wife, and parent–is a sphere of Christian ministry, a way of serving God and neighbor that is grounded in God’s truth. Christian laypeople must be encouraged to be leaders in their fields, rather than eager-to-please followers, working from the assumptions of their biblical worldview, not the vapid clichés of pop culture.”
“The Gospel does not abrogate God’s law, but it makes men love it with all of their hearts.”
“The more we know of God, the more unreservedly we will trust him; the greater our progress in theology, the simpler and more child-like will be our faith”
Evangelicals overall do a fine job at defending the trivial but struggle to defend the hard things. Machen observed long ago in his monumental Christianity and Liberalism that “it appears that the things that are sometimes thought to be hardest to defend are also the things that are most worth defending (8).”
Machen was deeply concerned about where the lines were being drawn. He was sure that if we abandoned this battle, we would be swallowed up by heresy and forsake the tremendous work of our godly forefathers. He saw liberalism as another religion altogether; a totally different class of religious expression than Christianity (7). He saw the resurrection, virgin birth, and the divinity of Jesus being threatened on a consistent basis. But, he argued, these are the battles worth fighting; they are the hard battles of the faith. Once we lose the creedal ground, we will sink into oblivion. For Machen, this was not an option.
C.S. Lewis argues that quarreling demands a certain a priori knowledge of right and wrong. Quarreling also demands a certain knowledge of the quarreler.
I follow–as I have for almost ten years–the Reformed wars. I follow these wars as someone who wants to avoid becoming one of Machen’s Warrior Children, but also as someone who receives some thrill from these battles. The problem with being too well informed is that you are sucked into these battles as if someone is picking a fight with you. Pastorally, these battles have little to no profit. They lead to all sorts of misconceptions. They divide. They create a category of people who are known for what they are against, rather than what they are for. They create a class of pugilists. Give them a dose of true Calvinistic sacramentology, and suddenly you are an enemy of the Reformed tradition; a tradition which for many goes only back to Princeton.
I say all these things because people speak past each other quite often in our micro-Reformation circles. I am certainly to blame at times, but I want to listen. I want to heed apostolic warnings. I want to be more Solomon-like in my wisdom: discerning what is helpful from what is not.
Those of us part of a confederation filled with convictions need to learn to deal with those who believe their convictions are typically not worth sharing. If we postmillennialists want the world, we are going to have to start talking and engaging those who don’t want it; and many of those label themselves Reformed.
Practically, this means attending local associations in town as a start to this unity project. Explaining the C-R-E-C to people has a rather comical affect at times, but then it leads to perfectly natural questions on our view of Christian liberty–which usually entails, at least in the South, our view on alcohol consumption.
There is also the benefit of seeing just how broad the Christian world is. God is using the local charismatic preacher to denounce homosexuality more effectively than a thousand pages of academic journals.
My contention is that the Reformed world is generally small and ineffective due to its inability to see beyond itself. Granted, many of us are trying to take a different trajectory; a trajectory that comes with all sorts of bumps on the road. We have the choice of hitting the bump and keep moving or we have the choice of giving in and self-imploding. The gospel demands more.