J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir (A Brief Review)

J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir (50th Anniversary Edition) Stonehouse, Ned cover image

(Today’s post is by Elisabeth Bloechl, a friend who is part of the church family I serve as pastor. You can read her blog over at “Who Am I“.)

This is a time of increasing tension between Christians and secular culture. More and more Christians (and churches) are either paying homage to secular culture or secular culture is ostracizing them. Christians need encouragement to stand firm for truth. J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir by Ned. B. Stonehouse, offers just such encouragement. J. Gresham Machen, a co-founder of Westminster seminary and the Orthodox Presbyterian denomination, was fearlessly dedicated to defending truth. He was once described as “a saint of God who loves truth, seeks truth, finds truth, and upholds truth against all adversaries, however mighty” (xiii). In his biography, Stonehouse shows us the many adversaries Machen faced. Though he names specific individuals, it is clear that the real enemy was the corrupting forces of modernism infecting the church, seminaries, and culture. The cost of fighting such a foe cost Machen his comfort, reputation, career, and life. 

It is easy to consider such a man a demigod. Many of us familiar with Machen admire him from a distance. We could never be as brave and determined as he was. However, Stonehouse peels back the shimmering paper we’ve wrapped him in to reveal a regular man. Though he was remarkably intelligent and cultured, he was also sinful and needy. Though he was self-sufficient and independent, he was not an independent entity. Stonehouse situates Machen among those who shaped him and cultivated his gifts: parents, colleagues, teachers, etc. He shows us how Machen climbed atop or leaned heavily on their shoulders. He makes clear that Machen could not have accomplished his many feats without their guidance, support, and teaching. Furthermore, Stonehouse helps us see that Machen was more than an academic or culture shaper. He was a friend, son, colleague, teacher, Christian. This is a Machen with whom we can relate. He is not so unlike us. So surely God can also equip us, as He did Machen, to stand firm on and for the truth. 

Though the biography is lengthy (~500 pages) and written in a style unlike ours today, it is well worth the time and effort. Stonehouse paints a comprehensive picture of a man who significantly influenced the church and society. He also supplies the reader with all of the relevant events surrounding Machen’s life. Therefore, his biography is accessible to those who know little about Machen or the events of his day. At the same time, it is not so basic as to bore those who are already familiar with both. Stonehouse’s book is a timely and valuable one as we consider what it looks like to stand firm for truth in a world pitted against it. 

Ned B. Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir, Reprint, (Willow Grove, PA: The Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 2016), xiii.  

Elisabeth Bloechl