Note: This is a copy of an assignment I had to complete for my Historical Theology class (HT403) at Reformation Bible College. I will publish the other 2 shortly.
Reading Journal– J.R. Snow
Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen
Percentage of Book Completed: 100 %
Main Thesis/Main Point of the Book:
The main point of the book is to compare liberalism, that is, a godless, empty form of religion masquerading as a sort of Christianity or religion that can solve the ills of man (usually through the programs and efforts in general of man) over and against True, Biblical Christianity.
Machen's thesis is that Liberalism, which has migrated over from Europe and is infecting the churches, schools, and homes of America, does no help but in fact greatly harms the well-being of those it tries to transform. He posits that it is the Historical, Biblical, and Catholic Christianity is the answer to the social ills of mankind.
List five strengths, significant points, contributions or ideas of the book:
1. One strength of this book is how Machen presents the contrast between the source of both Liberalism and Christianity's power: Liberalism is based on the message that Jesus lived an exemplary moral life that can transform our lives if we copy him. It is introspective and subjective. (page 27). Historical Christianity is based on an actual historical account and a historical message which is that Jesus has died and risen for sinners who can gain eternal life by believing in him. "The great weapon with which the disciples of Jesus set out to conquer the world was not a mere comprehension of eternal principles; it was an historical message, an account of something that had recently happened, it was the message 'He is risen'." (29)
2. Rather than a great point, and more of a great quote, is this: "The Christian gospel consists in an account of how God saved man, and before that gospel can be understood something must be known (1) about God and (2) about man . The doctrine of man and the doctrine of God are the two great presuppositions of the gospel." (54) Machen goes on to posit and prove that Modern Liberalism is "diametrically opposed" to christianity with regard to those two presuppositions.
3. An idea or point that Machen asserts is that Liberalism has lost sight of the core of the Christian doctrine of God, which is "The awful transcendence of God." (62) This is ironic because Liberalism, according to Machen, stresses the "fatherness" of God, while at the same time attempting to bring him down to earth and make him more like us.
4. An interesting fact of which I was not previously aware was that "About the date and authorship of the Gospels there is debate; but with regard to the authorship and approximate date of the principle epistles of Paul all serious historians, whether Christian or non–Christian, are agreed." (81)
5. A great point Machen made at the beginning of the book but which until now I have forgotten about, was his point about the state of Modernism in contemporary society (granted that his society was the 1910's). He writes that "Modern liberalism in the church, whatever judgement may be passed upon it, is at any rate no longer merely an academic matter. It is no longer a matter merely of theological seminaries or universities." (17) He then goes on to discuss the need for christians to, because of this fact, concentrate the fight against liberalism in every sphere of society, not merely in the academic institutions/circles where it began.
What questions did the book raise that you think were left unanswered or not answered clearly or deeply enough?
I enjoyed this book very much, and so have minor qualms about its contents, and I hesitate to even mention those, because this is Machen after all, and I'm me. However, the one qualm I do have is that although Machen did an excellent job of dividing what makes Christianity Christianity and what makes Liberalism Liberalism, I felt like a deeper probing into some specific details as to where one becomes the other was needed. I also would have liked more on the application of what was learned–more specifically, now that we know what liberalism is, know its bad, and know the difference between it and Biblical Christianity, what do we do now? How do we combat it?