Book Reviews

Book Review – Christianity and Liberalism

Jude, one of the half brothers of our Lord Jesus, eagerly desired to share encouraging words to the other members of Christ’s church, but the Holy Spirit moved him to warn the saints about false teachers who had covertly slipped into the church. All faithful ministers of Christ want to build up fellow believers by declaring to them the glories of our Savior’s person and work. But there are times when a faithful note of warning must also be sounded. The Banner of Truth Magazine (Issue 156) contained an article by R. A. Finlayson, which detailed the fall of the original Free Church of Scotland into liberal apostasy. The new church dared to send her young ministers to the Bible-denying universities of Germany for the purpose of earning their doctorates under professing scholars in order to become eminent scholars themselves. The young men returned with their prestigious degrees and unbelieving scholarship to ruin the Free Church. Only one generation passed before that promising denomination was neutralized by heterodoxy. Every generation of preachers faces the same temptation because of the popularity of unorthodox scholars. Those subtle salesmen are quite adept at handling crowds of disciples; however, they handle the Word of God deceitfully (2 Corinthians 4:2).

Dr. J. Gresham Machen of Princeton endeavored to protect the seminary students of his day as he saw his Presbyterian denomination sliding into apostasy. Therefore, he wrote Christianity and Liberalism in 1923. The foremost spokesman for the liberal position in the 1920s was Harry Emerson Fosdick, who lived his adult life in open opposition to his fundamental Christian upbringing. A footnote on page 120 in Dr. Machen’s book refers to Fosdick and his fellow ministers who eloquently scorned the fundamentals of the faith. They dared to employ traditional Christian terminology only to deceive the multitudes. This characteristic subtilty is also observable in the popular false teachers of the present day. The younger generation, lacking a thorough acquaintance with church history and the methodology of false teachers, have become an easy prey for such deceivers. Christianity and Liberalism exposes the false teaching of the men known as liberals. As the late Dr. Ian Paisley rightly declared, “The liberals are only liberal with those things that don’t belong to them.”

In the present century and in the previous two, liberal apostasy has followed basically the same pattern. Dr. Machen’s book shows that the apostates downplay doctrine, opting rather to “just believe in Jesus and practice the Sermon on the Mount.” Yet they choose to ignore the vast amount of doctrine in that grand sermon. The modernists’ view of human nature propounds man’s basic goodness, rather than his total depravity which Scripture teaches. Of course, the plenary inspiration of Holy Scripture was and is denied by liberalism. Concerning Christ, the liberals regard Him as an Example of faith rather than the Object of faith. Salvation to the liberal is simply a life lived according to the teachings of Jesus. Never would the imputed righteousness of Christ be the theme of a sermon series in a church having a liberal minister.

Dr. Machen ably refutes all of these untenable positions of liberalism in his book. His work is perfectly up to date and applicable for countering the current heretical views of Anglican Bishop, Dr. N. T. Wright, and his New Perspectives on Paul. Dr. Wright is wrong about traditional theological reasoning. Paul used logical arguments as did the Protestant Reformers and the Westminster Divines. Wright accuses the Reformers of forcing Greek categories onto the Hebrew Scriptures in order to define justification in terms of the courtroom where the judge declares a man to be righteous. Dr. Wright in his Rome-ward march reaches for any straw to undermine the Solas of the Reformation. Wright concurs with the liberals of the two preceding centuries who minimized human sin. According to Wright, mankind as amiable creatures do not require a substitutionary atonement. Wright makes it clear that he is wrong about the Bible and abhors the very thought of plenary inspiration. Finally, since Wright is promoting justification by a person’s own works-righteousness, what need is there for a Savior? Like the liberals of prior centuries, Wright presents Christ as an Example of faith rather than the Object of faith. Wright goes to great lengths to show his distaste for imputed righteousness.

Dr. Machen’s little book deals decisively with all of this falsehood. Rev. Phil Johnson, in his excellent critique of N. T. Wright, called What’s Wrong with Wright, concludes with a most appropriate prayer:

“May God raise up men who will take the Word of God and the problem of sin seriously, and refute this error for the heresy I am convinced it is.”

Dr. Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism needs to be read and applied by all of Christ’s faithful servants today in order to refute the subtle heresy that is deceiving many.

Dr. Machen’s book, Christianity and Liberalism, is available from many online sources: Paperback, $11; Hardback, $25.

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By Myron Mooney

Rev. Myron Mooney is minister of Trinity FPC, Trinity AL.