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J. Gresham Machen: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought (Guided Tour of Church History) Paperback – September 3, 2004
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"Stephen Nichols has done a fine job of presenting an accessible introduction to the life and thought of J. Gresham Machen. Nichols offers lucid expositions and fresh interpretations based on his own research." --George M. Marsden
"J. Gresham Machen's writing was as clear as his arguments were persuasive. Nichols has accomplished the rare feat of making Machen even more accessible. For readers unfamiliar with Machen, this is the perfect appetizer to the feast of further study in Machen's writings. For those more knowledgeable, this will be a reliable reference." --Darryl Hart, author of J. Gresham Machen's Selected Shorter Writings
"Nichols has provided an accessible gateway to conservative Presbyterianism's most stalwart defender in the tumultuous 1920s. His admiring portrait reminds us of Machen's probing scholarship, his trenchant analysis of modernism, and his attempts to further the Christian world and life view in American culture." --Andrew Hoffecker, coeditor of Building a Christian World View
About the Author
Stephen J. Nichols (PhD, Westminster Theological Seminary) is president of Reformation Bible College and chief academic officer of Ligonier Ministries. He is also author of Jonathan Edwards: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought and Martin Luther: A Guided Tour of his Life and Thought.
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The first book I just finished reading (rereading actually, as I had read this several years ago) was Stephen J. Nichols’ short biography called J. Gresham Machen: A Guided Tour of his Thought and Life. This book was relatively short at 246 pages, but is packed full of insightful information on Machen’s life and his writings. For an introductory book on this tower of theology and defender of the faith, I would highly recommend this book. It is well written, lively, and very informative. The end of each chapter contains a short recommended reading list of Machen’s works, and some secondary sources that pertain to the chapter as well. The book has a nice bibliography also. A treasure for a book-a-holic like me.
The book is divided into four parts; the first part contains three chapters of biographic material. Nichols describes Machen’s early life up to 1919 in the first chapter. The second chapter tales place in the “roaring twenties” and describes Machen’s years at Princeton, his early jump into defending the faith, and the beginnings of the conflicts that would later shape his life. In the third chapter Nichols narrates Machen’s life from 1930 through his death on January 1, 1937. This chapter goes into Westminster Theological Seminary and the Independent Missions Board conflicts, and the founding of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. These chapters, while short, consisting of 77 pages of biography, were a good glimpse into Machen’s life. Parts were emotional for me, especially his wartime experiences and his conflicts with his denomination. Overall, they were a brief but satisfactory introduction that whet your appetite for more.
Part 2 of the book is a focused look at several of Machen’s more important works and the history and activities surrounding them. Chapter 4 looks at Christianity and Liberalism; chapter 5 explores What is Faith? and chapter 6 examines in brief The Origins of Paul’s Religion and The Virgin Birth of Christ. Nichols uses decent amount of quotations from Machen and others, but these chapters are not overdone. They provide just enough of the history and content of these respective works to encourage the reader to delve into these works and issues for themselves. Nichols not only recommends the works themselves, but also several books on the history of the Presbyterian conflicts, Old Princeton, and evangelicalism at the time.
Part 3 of the book is also very interesting as it walks the reader through some of Machen’s other efforts, including in Chapter 7 Machen’s view of culture, politics and the environment – Machen was a libertarian and it showed in his other writings. Chapter 8 covers Machen’s experiences and correspondence from World War I, while chapter 9 explores Machen’s views and writings on education. From these chapters the reader is shown that Machen can offer us even today wisdom and insight into issues that not only were pertinent in his day but ours also. The writings on education are very astute, and remembering that they were written in the 1920’s and 1930’s, contain some prophetic insight that should cause us to critically question some of the methods, policies and institutions that many take for granted today.
Part 4 covers Machen’s writings on the church and a couple of his sermons. Chapter 10 explains Machen’s doctrine of the church and missions, and gets into an overview of the Mission Board conflicts. Chapters 11 and 12 cover select sermons that give good insight into Machen as preacher and pastor. These chapters reveal another side of our defender of the faith that many may not possibly know.
Overall, this was a great short introduction of J. Gresham Machen. I highly recommend this book to someone who doesn’t know much about Machen or someone who desires a starting place for learning about the man and his thought.
His study, particularly in the area of New Testament, enabled him to teach a generation of students the heart of the gospel and stand toe-to-toe with critical scholars who would denude it of its saving power. It was this latter stance that would eventually lead to his leaving the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. One of the more touching stories was his personal ministry to a Richard Hodges, an alcoholic who became a Christian, but who continued to struggle with his alcoholism for many years. Machen found him a place to stay away from the influence of old friends and funded his rent and other living expenses for nearly 20 years. And when Hodges died, he paid for the funeral.
What Nichols demonstrates from start to finish is the life of a man who lived the message of the Gospel to the fullest: He preached Jesus Christ and him crucified; taught that there can be no separation of doctrine and life; enjoyed walking in the mountains of Europe and desired that national parks and other natural resources be preserved for generations to come; engaged the culture of his day with the Christian message; and loved to entertain Princeton students on Saturday evenings with fruit and tobacco. [At that time only men attended the seminary.]
If you want to learn more about Machen, but don't know where to begin, pick up this book.