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Monthly Archives: August 2015

Meet J. Gresham Machen

Meet John Gresham Machenjgmpaint

– by Joel Sienkiewicz
John Gresham Machen was an influential theologian who lived during the eve of modernism. He not only made a significant impact during his time against many of the “heresies” of his day, but his work also has had lasting significance even to this day. Machen is most famous for his book Christianity and Liberalism. and the establishment of Westminster Seminary.

He was born to Arthur Machen and Mary Gresham in Baltimore in the year of 1881. Both of his parents were religious but differed in their expression – his father was an Episcopalian, and his mother a Presbyterian. Throughout John’s upbringing he was the recipient of significant religious influence. His mother taught him the Westminster Catechism as he was growing up, and his family regularly attended Franklin Street Presbyterian Church together.

jgmMachen had a somewhat privileged upbringing. His father was an influential lawyer, and secured for him a quality, private education at Johns Hopkins University. In 1902, after graduating from Johns Hopkins, he chose to attend Princeton Seminary, where he simultaneously pursued a Master of Divinity and a masters degree in Philosophy.

Upon graduating, Machen joined the Princeton Seminary staff as a scholar and lecturer. He was hesitant, but agreed to join the staff on the condition that he would not have to sign a statement of faith. Throughout Machen’s theological education he was heavily influenced by B. B. Warfield, whom he called “the greatest man he had ever met.”

While teaching at Princeton the First World War broke out. Instead of serving as a soldier, Machen chose to serve in an unconventional way – by volunteering with the YMCA.

x and LAfter the war, he returned to Princeton Seminary and continued his work. By this time, he began to gain a reputation for being one of the few theologians who was able to debate the rising modernist ideas within the Christian world. In doing this, Machen composed two of his most famous works. The first one was called The Origin of Paul’s Religion, composed in order to combat the idea of modernist theologians that Paul the Apostle had fundamentally changed the religion that was handed down to him by Jesus. His other work, Christianity and Liberalism, aimed at critiquing the basic ideas of theological liberalism and showing the vast distance this theology had traversed from true Christianity.

While at Princeton Seminary there was a big controversy between the Modernists and the Fundamentalists. This controversy occurred not only in academic institutions, but also in most denominations, including his own Presbyterian church. The Modernists were trying to reinterpret and reshape many of Christianity’s foundational doctines in order to reconcile them with modern practices and the modern world view. The Fundamentalists were the more conservative thinkers who were standing up for more traditional views of Christian doctrine. Machen fell within the camp of the Fundamentalists.

Photo opposite page 30 in the Catalogue of Westminster Theological Seminary, 1929-30.

In the end, the conflict proved to be irreconcilable, resulting in Machen and several other Fundamentalists leaving the Presbyterian denomination and starting the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Machen also left Princeton Seminary and founded Westminster Seminary, a school that is still functioning to this day.

In the end, Machn is best known for his engagement within the Fundamentalist/Modernist controvery. His legacy lives on through his writings, as well has through the flourishing of Westminster Seminary.

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Meet Francis Schaeffer

– by Jeremy Arntz

fs 4Francis Schaeffer was a complex man whose legacy makes an intimidating study for the seminarian who is only beginning to understand the long road of a life committed to vocational ministry. Schaeffer’s Christian experience ran the full gamut from unchurched to believer, pastor to missionary, and conversationalist to lecturer; further, he pastored Presbyterian churches in the United States and also opened student communes in Europe. Schaeffer’s prismatic plethora of experience culminated in one of the most exciting and refreshing evangelistic approaches stemming from the Fundamentalist movement. A study of Francis Schaeffer’s legacy is polarizing which is perhaps reminiscent of the man himself and his Christian journey.

BEGINNINGS

A consideration of Francis Schaeffer’s beginnings must look at not only his upbringing but also his early experience with the faith. He was born to working-class parents in Germantown, Pennsylvania in 1912. He later intended to follow the path of his father as a tradesman, but when he came to study both philosophy and the Bible concurrently, a spark was struck which led him to the notion that would become absolutely critical in his experience of which, at the age of 17, he wrote in his diary: “All truth is from the Bible.”[1] Thus, the stage was set for his formative years at seminary which came under the tutelage of J. Gresham Machen at Westminster Seminary who was one of the foremost voices in the debate against liberal theology at the time. Schaeffer’s commitment to Biblical truth was such that he left Westminster and enrolled in the foundling Faith Theological Seminary which had come into existence as a consequence of a rift gone schism which found Machen expelled from the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.; resultantly, Schaeffer became the first minister of the newly organized Bible Presbyterian Church.[2] It is important to understand that Schaeffer’s early theological beginnings resulted in a fundamentalism deeply rooted in the doctrine of biblical inerrancy which had emerged in opposition to the notions of liberal theology that were widely courting much of Christian and secular academia at the time. It is likely this deeply rooted belief in biblical truth across all experience would result in Schaeffer’s singularly desirable conversational apologetics later in his ministry; however, the direct result of his fundamentalist underpinnings was a period of approximately nine years during which he served to pastor Presbyterian Churches in Pennsylvania and Missouri. Regardless, his beginnings, both in life and ministry, served to uniquely prepare him for the powerful impact that he would come to have on evangelicalism.

COMMUNAL MISSIONARY

Francis Schaeffer’s mainstream impact on evangelicalism actually sprang from work that he began in the field of missions following his time in the pulpit. In 1945 he and his wife Edith were approached by the Independent Board for Foreign Missions about “[building] networks among Bible-believing churches, pastors, and institutions.”[3] This would begin the span of time and events that led to the Schaeffer’s establishment of L’Abri which was a student commune in the Swiss Alps. In explaining the driving force behind the establishment of the communal home Schaeffer wrote: “This was and is the real basis of L’Abri. Teachinfs l'abrig the historic Christian answers and giving honest answers to honest questions.”[4] At L’Abri, Francis and Edith opened their home as an extension of community and hospitality that expressed Christianity in terms of love while, at the same time, Francis conversed with European students who were being educated in a secularized system of philosophy that was long on man and almost totally devoid of God. This is where Schaeffer truly excelled because, in the words of Barry Hankins, “his training within the Reformed branch of American fundamentalism by scholars such as J. Gresham Machen and Cornelius Van Til” allowed him to “engage [young Europeans] through discussion at the level of ideas and not merely tell them to straighten up and get right with Jesus.”[5] At the very core of Schaeffer’s conversational apologetic evangelism is this notion of engaging in discussions at the level of ideology, and this approach stemmed from “Schaeffer’s view that American fundamentalism expended too much time and energy attacking any semblance of liberalism and not enough constructing a positive response to modern ideas that competed with Christianity for people’s hearts and minds.”[6] Thus, L’Abri fused fundamentalism with community and hospitality which would have been a paradox of incalculable impossibility in America but was perfect for its time in Europe.

TEARING DOWN THE VEIL IN AMERICA

hswtlEventually, Schaeffer’s work in Europe found an audience in America as a result of recordings of his conversations and books which were primarily written from transcripts of his recorded lectures and conversations.[7] His conversational style of ideological apologetics found a ready following among American evangelical students which is articulated by Michael Hamilton writing for Christianity Today in a 1997 article which reads: “Historian Mark Noll remembers the Wheaton talks as the most stimulating campus intellectual event of his student years. Francis Schaeffer tore down the gospel curtain that had separated evangelicals from contemporary cultural expression, giving Christians object lessons in how to interpret sculpture, music, painting, and literature as philosophical statements of the modern mind.” Thus, the veil was torn between evangelicals and the mainstream, for Schaeffer’s notion was that the arts are really philosophical expressions hailing from society; therefore, they are also cultural ideologies which are open for Christian discussion- or at least they are according to Schaeffer’s style of conversational apologetics. This train of thought deeply appealed to the evangelical students of the time; after all, this was the mid 1960s and the fabric of America was being stretched as never before- particularly in artistic expression. In effect, Schaeffer’s evangelism gave the green light to engage people in the areas that were most culturally relevant which is a topic of concern up into our present day. It is extremely important to understand all of this in light of Schaeffer’s never-ending belief in biblical inerrancy. The interpretation of which Schaeffer spoke must not be mistaken in any way that would lead one to believe that he held to the notion of subjugating the authority of God or his word; rather, Schaeffer’s notion was that the interpretation of art was subject to biblical truth. Essentially, art was another opportunity for discussion at the level of ideas, and his part of that conversation remained from a point of biblical inerrancy which informs the human condition. Clearly, the veil of which Mark Noll spoke was rent asunder by Schaeffer’s notions which allowed evangelicals to engage with seculars in ways that fundamentalism in America was never able to do.

LAST DAYS

Francis Schaeffer succumbed to lymphoma on May 15, 1984 in Rochester, Minnesota. He and Edith had spent almost a decade in Rochester following the discovery of cancer in his lymph system, and during this period “the shadow of death intensified his concern to do what he could to try to reverse the horrific trend of easy abortion.”[8] His work toward preserving the life of unborns brought him to be associated with America’s religious Right, and during this period he came to be known as “the philosopher of the Moral Majority.”[9] Suddenly, Schaeffer was a leader not only involved in political issues but an advocator of civil disobedience which many viewed as an endeavor in hypocrisy, but for Schaeffer- ever the product of fundamentalism- “the battle lines were not drawn around the inerrancy of scripture… such a position could be held coldly, without love. Rather, for him the watershed issue was obeying the Bible.”[10] It is in this that Schaeffer’s ideas become confused especially by American evangelicals who are often polarized into either the fundamentalist or anti-fundamentalist camps over the doctrine of inerrancy. Perhaps this is one last legacy that Schaeffer left behind with his passing- that one can seek to obey the Bible and lovingly engage with others about the issues that face man while remaining firm about God’s truth as inerrantly preserved in Scripture.

fs 5CONCLUSION

Francis Schaffer’s work can have a polarizing effect as the result of his widespread path through Christian ministry. From his fundamentalist beginnings to his politically active ending, his is a study in variety; ultimately, one cannot help but feel a ring of truth to his particular style of apologetics which were deeply rooted in love, community, and conversational truth. Perhaps this unlikely fusion was made possible by the prismatic plethora of pursuits that defined his life in ministry.

     [1] Walter A. Elwell, ed., Handbook of Evangelical Theologians (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 1993), 248.

     [2] Elwell, Handbook of Evangelical Theologians, 248.

     [3] Michael Hamilton, “The Dissatisfaction of Francis Schaeffer,” Christianity Today, March 3, 1997, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/1997/march3/7t322a.html?start=4.

     [4] Hamilton, “The Dissatisfaction of Francis Schaeffer,” Online.

     [5] Barry Hankins, Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America, Library of religious biography (Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub, 2008), 231.

     [6] Hankins, Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America, 232.

     [7] Elwell, Handbook of Evangelical Theologians, 252.

     [8] Elwell, Handbook of Evangelical Theologians, 257.

     [9] Elwell, Handbook of Evangelical Theologians, 258.

     [10] Elwell, Handbook of Evangelical Theologians, 258.

 

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Meet G. K. Chesterton

Meet G.K. Chesterton

– by Shane Fuller

GK 3“He said something about everything and he said it better than anyone else.”

Gilbert Keith Chesterton, who is commonly and most often referred to as G. K. Chesterton, was born in 1874 and lived until 1936. He would go down as one of the best writers in the 20th Century.

He was born in London and educated at St. Paul’s. Surprisingly, Chesterton never attended college, but went to art school instead. He began writing when, as an art student, he was asked to contribute a few articles to an art magazine where he critiqued some new pieces. From those humble beginnings, Chesterton would go on to write over 100 of his own books, while contributing to over 200 more. He also wrote hundreds of poems, five plays, five novels, nearly 200 short stories. Chesterton, who considered himself more of a journalist than a writer, also wrote weekly columns for 43 years of his life. Few in history have been such prolific authors…and he didn’t start publishing until 1900.

Chesterton had a spouse who anchored his personality, writing, lifestyle, diet, and many other things. His wife, Frances, seems to have single-handedly kept G. K. on track with his personal schedule. One letter even has Chesterton writing to his wife about where he was, and asking her where he ought to be instead.

He was as amazing a character as any of his fictional creations. G. K. was over six feet tall, and weighed nearly 300 pounds. He wore a cape and a crumpled top hat. Almost every picture that exists of G. K. has him sporting a mustache and glasses. He
Quotation-G-K-Chesterton-religion-thankful-Meetville-Quotes-139598would commonly walk with a cane, and nearly always kept a cigar in his mouth. He was incredibly large, loud and friendly, often was bellowing out laughs through his cigar and mustache.

Chesterton continues to have the same type of impact on his world as he did with his contemporaries. For example, C.S. Lewis, who was a staunch atheist, was brought to faith through the reading of Chesterton’s little book The Everlasting Man. Another example has a man living in British-ruled India, who became inspired by a Chesteron writing, and through it was led to start a movement, which eventually ended British rule in India The man: Mohandas Gandhi. And if these accounts are not amazing enough, one can simply read the praises that came from other intellectuals of his day: George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, Bertrand Russell, Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Elliot,Dorothy Sayers, and H. G. Welles. Shaw, who had a friendly rivalry with G. K., once described him as “a man of colossal genius”. Elliot affirmed that “Chesterton deserves a permanent claim on our loyalty.”

Perhaps you’re wondering, “why have I not heard much of this Chesterton figure?” One reason may be that he has always been hard to label – either as a man of faith, or a politician. Another may be that he often put forth challenging ideas about controversial topics. For example, Chesterton is famous for arguing the cause of the common man. He was fond of defending the poor, and the family. Chesterton, always a lover of the arts, would also write often of the beauty he found in things that society would not find so beautiful. He defended Christian thought and morals in a day of growting secularism, and championed the Roman Catholic faith in the land of the Church of England. He also wrote regularly against such GK 9things as materialism, scientific determinism, moral relativism, and agnosticism. Since all of these have grown stronger since his day, it makes sense that G. K. and his arguments may have lost favor over the years.

Where does Chesterton fit in the narrative of Church history?

Chesterton began his faith journey in the High Anglican Church. We can certainly be pleased with his role in the conversion of C. S. Lewis. But, well beyond that single instance, Chesterton was publicly bold in his defense of Christian thought. Chesterton began his faith journey in the High Anglican Church, but ultimately converted to Roman Catholicism. But, he preferred to be called “orthodox” (His most widely read book to this day is Orthodoxy, in which Chesterton defends “orthodox” Christian views). From this platform of defending a traditional Christian understanding of truth, Chesteron would argue against the pride and willfulness of modernistic thought. For example, he stated that “the worship of will is the negation of will”. When one lifts up one’s own will as supreme, then one must respond to another’s will with a like deference, saying “do as you will”. This means that “I have no will in the matter” of another — meaning one’s will is acutally negated, and doesn’t matter.

GK 9aHe also defended Christian ideals like fighting for a Biblical anthropology. A popular topic in London during his time was eugenics. Eugenics proposed the termination or sterilization of people with limited mental capacity. Also, leading thinkers in London had begun to think of the poor as a race of people that had failed to produce good offspring. Chesterton was vehemently opposed to these ideas, writing books, essays, and poems in defense of those who were challenged mentally and economically.

GK 8 cathG. K. also wove himself into Christian history through his work as a biographer. In his personal study of Thomas Aquinas, Chesterton skimmed through one book … and then penned what is perhaps the greatest biography written on the man.

As for his conversion to Catholicism, Chesterton’s main reason was the church’s catholicity: He very much enjoyed being a part of something that felt bigger than him, and his country, and his century. Chesterton didn’t consider himself a child of his age, but instead a product of the truths and traditions that had survived the centuries before him.

As for this sort of thinking, who can blame him?

 

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