Liberalism is not new. The liberal seminary magazines I get in the mail are printed in full color and talk about smartphones, laptops, and podcasts, but the liberalism in them pre-dates today’s technology. The magazine I got in the mail last week doesn’t mention the cross, sin or the resurrection, and it barely mentions Jesus or the Bible. But it does talk about social justice, “Christian” art, interfaith dialogues, and debt. This kind of liberalism has been around quite some time.
J. Gresham Machen and others had to deal with liberalism a century ago. Back then the liberals didn’t mind letting go of facts as long as they could keep their religious feelings. In other words, it didn’t matter to them if Jesus actually came back to life. What was important was that they could feel him living on in their hearts. Machen addressed this false Christianity quite well:
“It seems to be such a promising solution of our apologetic difficulties just to say that science and religion belong in two entirely different spheres and can never by any chance come into conflict. It seems to be so easy for religion to purchase peace by abandoning to science the whole sphere of facts in order to retain for itself merely a sphere of feelings and ideals.”
“But in reality these tactics are quite disastrous. You effect thus a strategic retreat; you retreat into …an inner line of defense whence you think that science can never dislodge you. You get down into your pragamtist dugout and listen comfortably to the muffled sound of the warfare being carried on above by those who are old-fashioned enough to be interested in truth; you think that whatever creedal changes, whatever intellectual battle there may be, you at least are safe. You have your Christian experience, and let science and biblical criticism do what they will!”
“But do not comfort yourself. The enemy in this warfare is good at mopping up captured trenches; he has in his mechanistic psychologists a very efficient mopping up squad. He will soon drive you out of your refuge; he will destroy whatever decency and liberty you thought you had retained; and you will discover, too late, that the battle is now lost, and that your only real hope lay not into retreating into some anti-intellectualistic dugout but in fighting bravely to prevent the initial capture of the trench.”
“No, the battle between naturalism and supernaturalism, between mechanism and liberty, has to be fought sooner or later; and I do not believe that there is any advantage in letting the enemy choose the ground upon which it shall be fought. The strongest defense of the Christian religion is the outer defense; a reduced and inconsistent Christianity is weak; our real safety lies in the exultant supernaturalism of God’s Word.”
Exactly. Abandoning the facts of the faith (like the flood, the exodus, the wilderness wanderings, the monarchy, the miracles of Christ, his death and resurrection, etc.) may seem like a peaceful move, but it only exposes one to the head-on assaults of Satan. Machen is right: “Our real safety lies in the exultant supernaturalism of God’s Word,” which gives the historical, factual accounts of God’s supernatural intervention to redeem his people from sin through Christ’s cross. Under that banner, the Christian can bravely fight the battle!
The above quote is found on page 362 of Machen’s Shorter Writings.
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015