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Toward a Sure Faith: J. Gresham Machen and the Dilemma of Biblical Criticism, 1881-1915 Paperback – 2000
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Chrisope's Toward A Sure Faith will prove to be a welcomed and needed addition to the libraries of Christians in general and pastors in particular for at least four reasons. First, pastors will find the book to be an aid in their counseling of young converts shaken by the still rampant historicism found in both secular and religious institutions of higher learning. Those involved in personal intellectual struggles will be instructed and encouraged as they engage with Chrisope's presentation of Machen's own struggles and discover the oft-overlooked fallacies of the historicism.
Second, Chrisope's representation of Machen will encourage Christians to think deeply concerning the claims of orthodox, supernatural Christianity. Because we do not live in a closed universe, the saving truth of Christ cannot be comprehended through convincing truths based on historical findings alone. Chrisope notes,
[Machen} believed that there is a subjective element in human knowledge; that philosophical presuppositions may influence one's evaluation of historical evidence; that the evidence in itself is not necessarily convincing; and that the human mind is incapable of attaining to truth (in the sense of recognising the truthfulness of Christianity) or of exercising faith by its on power, but that for these ends the operation of the holy spirit is necessary. (189)
Presuppositions are changed through the work of the Holy Spirit in changing deeply held perceptions. In our day, when evangelistic success is measured by an acquiescent prayer at the end of a prescribed gospel presentation, we would do ell to remember that conversion is the result of the working of the Holy Spirit in the life of the individual.
Third, Chrisope's study of Machen reminds those seeking to enter the ministry of the need for intellectual integrity. While Machen would debate and tolerate academics who rejected orthodox Christianity, Chrisope notes that
he manifested a distinct unwillingness to consider other liberal churchmen as anything other than dishonest traitors who were denying the faith they professed. (131)
Certainly those who use the terminology and expressions of orthodox Christianity merely to gain religious employment are little more than base hirelings. Machen sought ordination only after his intellectual struggles were resolved in his own mind.
Last we are reminded that truth matters, and neither the attainment of truth nor its defense are without high personal costs. Machen underwent intense personal struggles in his seeking after truth. Once he was convinced of the truth of supernatural Christianity, he could not remain silent while fellow churchmen were undermining orthodoxy. Consequently, he endured intense ecclesiastical struggles in opposing heterodoxy. Twenty first century Baptists will do well to follow the example of this twentieth century Presbyterian defender of the faith.
(The Founder's Journal)
... Chrisope has done us all a great service, and we must be grateful for his sympathetic and detailed treatment of a man and a period which remain in so many ways paradigmatic for students and scholars today. (Churchman Journal)
"In the last decade J. Gresham Machen has attracted the attention, and gained the appreciation, of even some Roman Catholic and main-line Protestant writers. Terry Chrisope's excellent study of Machen as a New Testament scholar adds another dimension to the understanding of this conservative theologian of the early 20th century who yet speaks into the post-modern culture of the 21st century. Machen upheld principles that still serve well the Christian faith more than two generations after his death in 1937." (William Barker ~ Professor of Church History, Emeritus, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
"To follow Terry Chrisope as he follows Machen is not only a valuable exercise in historical study but a strengthening of one's faith in God's Word... Dr. Chrisope skilfully weaves in much valuable information about Machen and his times." (David Calhoun ~ Professor of Church History, Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri)
About the Author
Professor of History and Bible at Missouri Baptist College, St Louis, Missouri.
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What is historicism?
That history can be understood only as a result of natural forces. That is no supernatural causes are needed to fully and sufficently explain anything.
What is liberalism in the Christian Church?
the acceptance of the presuppositions of anti-supernaturalism and historicism as applied to the life and death of Jesus and the beginnings of the Church.
What did Machen think about the historicism and liberalism of the Presbyterian Church?
he was against it.
Having fought for 20 years over the issues and the related call to be a seminary professor and a preacher he understood it's significance and destructiveness in the Church.
It is competently written, an enjoyable read, well documented for further study, but most importantly passionate. His depth of sympathy for Machen is transferable to the reader, the author's desire that his research serve the greater good of the Gospel is evident and something i am grateful for. Scholars who love the Lord and use their brains to help others to understand their common Faith. good stuff.
my heartfelt thanks to the author.
best evidence of the quality of the writing are these pull quotes:
As applied to the New Testament, historicist teaching means that the biblical documents and events must be explained as wholly the result of natural historical forces and processes, with the implication that no room was to be allowed for divine suparenatural activity.
Philosophical precommitments (including the naturalistic assumptions of historicism in the prevailing approach) led various scholars toward widely differing positions regarding the proper interpretation of the evidence, illustrating the fact that the presuppositions with which a scholar begins his research often play a large part in the conclusions he is allowed to reach.
whether the Bible is regarded as the written revelation of the living God or as the merely human record of the religious experience of ancient peoples.
Rushing up against the prevalent American Protestant view of the Bible, history, and truth-a Bible which was regarded as a revelation from a transcendent God, a history into which such a God could act and a truth which, when once established, is absolute, permanent and universal-came a stream of European thought...The new mentality rejected the categories of the static, the eternal, the changeless, the universal, and defined human existenace (and all other existence) in the terms of growth, development, change, and process. It emphasized the temporal and the particular-in shrot, the historical. This new philosophy appealed to Americans-inhabitants of a new, dynamic and changing nation-... .
but he[Harnack] contended that it was the historian's responsibility to distinguish in them the "kernel" and the "husk" that which was of permanent value as opposed to that which merely reflected the particularities of the historical situation in which Jesus and his disciples lived and taught.
modernists believed in the continuing progress of human society toward the kingdom of God, even though the goal may never be perfectly attained.
Common Sense Realism gave to the Princeton theologians a basis for assuming a universal epistemology based on sense perceptions and intuitive knowledge common to all humans. It fostered confidence in empirical and inductive means of arriving at truth. It promoted a conviction of the necessity and validity of scientific investigation. It supported a conception of truth as an objective, unified, and universal entity, accessible and applicable to all men, all times, and all places.
"as for the present Biblical criticism, I am fully convinced that if it is to be overcome, it will be overcome not by those who look at it in a hostile way, as if from a distance, but by those who ahve learned to appreciate it."
"Obviously it is impossible," he wrote, "to hold on with the heart to something that one has rejected with the head, and all the usefulness of Christianity can never lead us to be Christians unless the Christian religion is true."
fearing that the expanding influence of naturalistic biblical criticism and liberal theology would alter the historic identity of Christianity, to its own spiritual impoverishment and weakness. Back of this anxiety was his evident frustration that the church was not vigorously addressing the intellectual challenges it faced, but met them rather with "astonishing indifference."
that Christianity could not be spiritually true and historically false.
but he was unwilling to concede that its content-that is, the events if portrays and the message it contains- was wholly an expression of that historical context.
Believing that Jesus' disciples made a leap from knowing him as a mere man to worshipping him as the God-man requires more credulity than simply believing that straightforward supernaturalism of the Gospel accounts.
The act of personally appropriating the supernatural reality of Jesus was one which did not contradict the best critical argumentation...but it did move far beyond mere critical acumen; it is an act of faith, not of scholarship.
scholarship was the sphere of intellectual exchange, while the church was the divinely-ordained agency for the proclamation of the truth of the gospel. Tolerance in the former sphere was necessary and commendable. In the latter it had definite limits, and Machen's limit was reached when ministers, teachers, and officials of the church undermined the faith he had struggled so long to secure for himself and which they had pledged themselves to uphold.
according to Wacer, that outlook[historicism] included an explanatory component which saw all "patterns of belief and value" as "created in the matrix of history"; a developmental component which understood history as "a process of continuous development"; and a directional component which regarded the processes of history as "propelled by directional laws that are essentially extrahistorical in nature."
was he[Jesus] a natural product of the unbroken process of historical development, or a supernatural savior sent by God?
Thus liberals or modernists commonly held that the rise of Christianity is to be explained as due to the result of natural historical forces; that religious experience is the product of human insight and that it issues in continually changing doctrinal expressions; that the revelation of God and the coming of God's kingdom are to be found in the process of human cultural development. Liberalism had made all of Christianity-its foundational events, the revelation of God and the coming of his kngdom, and the experience of God's goodness-captive to natural historical processes.
History as such no longer possessed the decisive redemptive significance which it possessed in the biblical scheme; it served only as the scene of gradual human cultural development and of man's progressively developing religious insight-which were thought to constitute the coming of the kingdom of God. The liberal emphasis on the immanence of God meant that because God is thought to be active in all of history, he is no longer regarding as acting supremely in specific redemptive events in history.
(1)By distinguishing between the truth of a thing and the apprehension of its truth. Machen acknowledged a subjective element in the act of apprehending truth.
(2)He claimed that sin has a blinding effect which must be removed in order for Christianity to be recognized as true, thus affirming a Calvinistic understanding of human sin and inability.
(3)He asserted that the blinding effects of sin are removed only by regeneration effected by the Spirit of God, thereby attributing a noetic effect to regeneration.
(4)He claimed that such regeneration is necessary to a "truly scientific attitude" for by this means the intellect becomes a "trustworthy instrument for apprehending truth." therein positing an absolute distinction between the regenerate and the unregenerate.
"It is one of the root errors of the present day to suppose that because the philosophic and historical foundations of our religion are insufficient to produce faith, they are therefore unnecessary.
Instead of depicting Machen as a fundementalist (as Longfield did in 'Presbyterian Controversy' from a modernist perspective), Chrisope shows forth Machen as the great New Testement scholar he was. His clear and forward stances against liberal theology in the 20's and 30's are brought forth as woven to his earlier, intense scholarship. The maintainence of orthodox Christianity was the motivation of his calling for the ex-communication of ministers who maintained anti-Christian doctrines. This is not to be mistaken with the tradition-bound, reactionary, fundementalism of that time.
This book is highly recommended to any student or even critic of the Bible to see one man's struggle for the sake of truth and clear conscience.