Desmond Alexander on a Biblical Theology of the City of God

Desmond AlexanderIn his new book, The City of God and the Goal of Creation, T. Desmond Alexander—senior lecturer in Biblical Studies at Union Theological College in Belfast, Ireland—writes that “Genesis 1–2 introduces a story that anticipates the creation of an extraordinary city where God will dwell in harmony with humanity.” Of course just a couple of chapters later, Cain is building a city with no reference to God. We could say that the Bible is the story of two cities, the city of man and the city of God.

In this conversation, for which I traveled from Nashville to Belfast, Alexander traces the story of God working out his plan to bring his people into this city. Along the way in our discussion, we talked about how Babel relates to Babylon, how we don’t anticipate a rebuilding of the early Jerusalem but rather the coming of the new Jerusalem, and the ways our understanding of the city of God address our sometimes vague sense of the heavenly life in the eternal city to come.

Listen to this episode of Help Me Teach the Bible.

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Autoplaying Evil: When Social Media Images Damage Our Souls

While mankind hasn’t invented new sins in centuries, technology has made it possible to create new ways for sin to harm us.

Take, for example, the seemingly innocuous auto-playing video. The feature has long been a common annoyance on social media. But more recently it’s become weaponized, and used to inflict trauma. Many people learned this the hard way after the terrorist attack last week in New Zealand, when the gunman live-streamed the killings to Facebook.

According to Facebook, the video of the attack was first reported to moderators 29 minutes after the stream began, and 12 minutes after the live feed ended. Initially, fewer than 200 people watched the footage during the live broadcast, and it was viewed only about 4,000 times in total before being taken down. But a spokesperson for the social media platform says that within 24 hours of the attack the company had removed 300,000 copies of the video and blocked 1.2 million copies from being uploaded.

The macabre video was also continuously uploaded on other platforms. As Ian Bogost, a contributing editor at The Atlantic, writes,

When I started catching up on the shooting this morning, I stumbled upon the video of the massacre searching for news. I didn’t intend to watch it, but it autoplayed in my Twitter search results, and I couldn’t look away until it was too late. I wish I’d never seen it, but I didn’t even get a chance to ponder that choice before Twitter forced it upon me. The internet is a Pandora’s box that never had a lid.

Trauma by Autoplay

By seeing these images—whether by choice or by accident—we are exposing ourselves to images that could be causing media-based secondary trauma. “When you watch a violent video of mass shootings and other violence, you increase your chances of developing vicarious traumatization,” psychologist Stephanie Sarkis says.

Secondary traumatic stress is the emotional distress that results when an individual hears about the firsthand trauma experiences of another. In secondary or indirect trauma, the traumatizing event experienced by a person becomes a traumatizing event for someone who relates to them—such as a first responder, nurse, doctor, or mental health-care worker—and sees or hears descriptions of the trauma. Through the use of media, such as video and imagery, we are able to see the traumatizing event or its aftermath for ourselves—even when we don’t want to.

The result is we may feel some of the same effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that would be experienced by those directly traumatized. Some of the effects can include intrusive re-experiencing of the traumatic material, avoidance of trauma triggers and emotions, and negative changes in beliefs and feelings.

Some Things Can’t Be Unseen

The idea that we may be able to get “PTSD by proxy” may seem far-fetched. But there is significant evidence that the damage caused by media-based secondary trauma is not only real but also long-lasting. For example, a recent paper published in the journal American Psychologist examined adults who had chosen to watch a videos of ISIS terrorists beheading a victim and followed their responses several years later.

Those who had watched the videos were more likely to be male, Christian, and unemployed. They were also more likely than the average person to watch more TV and to have a higher lifetime experience of violence. The researchers found that those who’d watched at least part of a video had higher levels of distress and a greater fear of future negative events compared with those that hadn’t watched one. These relationships held after controlling for prior distress, lifetime exposure to violence, and prior fear of negative events.

The researchers concluded that “watching graphic coverage may exacerbate preexisting fears and increase psychological symptomatology, demonstrating the negative psychological impact of viewing graphic media produced by terrorists.”

As for the long-lasting effect of traumatic images, I can attest firsthand. Nearly 25 years ago an acquaintance thought it would be amusing to email me a disturbing image. Fortunately, this was the era of dial-up, and I was able to close my email before the slow-loading image finished loading. Although I had only seen a glimpse of the image, it still haunts me nearly two decades later. The effect is like a spiritual attack on one’s soul.

Turn Your Eyes

The best way to protect yourself from seeing unwanted images and video on social media is to avoid social media. But too few of us are willing to make that commitment. The second-best option is to adjust the settings on those platforms to avoid autoplaying videos and sensitive material from being injected into your feed.

On Twitter, under the setttings ensure the “Hide sensitive content” box is checked and that “Display media that may contain sensitive content” is unchecked. On your smartphone, check Twitter’s settings and click on “Data usage.” Then, set the “Video autoplay” option to “Never.” On Facebook, go to the “Videos” section under settings and switch “Auto-Play Videos” to “off.” On the mobile app settings, scroll down until you see the “Media and contacts” section, click “Videos and Photos,” and then turn off autoplay. (David Murphy has additional helpful suggestions.)

Another way to guard our hearts is to refrain from searching out traumatizing media. In the study of people who watched the beheading videos, many who fully or partially watched said they did so because they wanted to gain information and verify that the videos existed, or wanted to satisfy their curiosity about what was in them.

Americans have a toxic relationship with the “news,” and many of us think watching traumatizing images is a necessary task of becoming a fully informed citizen. This type of mindset was destructive enough in the era when we consumed news once per day. But the never-ending news cycle has conditioned us to expect to deal with traumatic news—and the accompanying imagery—at almost every waking moment. The result is that many of us are exposing ourselves to media-based secondary trauma on an almost daily basis.

Such exposure is not good for our souls. As Proverbs tells us, “Death and Destruction are never satisfied, and neither are human eyes (27:20, NIV). Instead of allowing ourselves to be traumatized we should, like the Psalmist, say to God, “Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word” (Ps. 119:37).

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New Film Shows Why We Still Need the Puritans

I was sitting in the bleachers waiting on my son to finish baseball practice when a man sitting near asked, “What’s that you’re reading? Is it a Christian book?” I paused, trying to think of the best way to tell him I was reading a work by a Puritan preacher from the 16th century. When I said, “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ by an old Puritan theologian named John Owen,” he looked at me like I’d spontaneously grown two additional heads. “Isn’t he the guy who wrote The Scarlet Letter?” he asked. “I understand those people could be a little crazy with their witch hunts and everything.”

Unfortunately, that response is a pretty accurate summary of what people today think of when they hear the word Puritans.

Like many other Reformed believers in recent years, my life and doctrine have been affected deeply by the Puritans, and I’d love to see far more Christians, like my friend in the bleachers, learn from those people who sought to take every square inch of life captive to the glory of God. At minimum, the Puritans might surely benefit from some positive PR. Some help is on the way in an upcoming documentary on the Puritans and Puritanism, Puritan: All of Life to the Glory of God by Media Gratiae in association with Reformation Heritage Books and Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary.

I interviewed Matthew Robinson, director of Media Gratiae and the film’s executive producer, and Stephen McCaskell, the film’s director, about how the project came about and why everyday Christians should care about the Puritans. The movie will make its world premiere at the upcoming TGC 2019 National Conference, April 1 to 3 in Indianapolis, Indiana.


What’s the story behind this documentary? Whose idea was it originally, and how long has it been in the works?

MR: Reformation Heritage Books is a distributor for Media Gratiae projects like the Behold Your God series and the Martyn Lloyd-Jones documentary Logic on Fire, so a great relationship has existed between our two ministries for years. One recurring conversation was the need for a popular-level, feature-length documentary that would take the Puritans, place them in their historical and geographical context, and make them accessible to the average person in the pew. Basically, when a Christians asks, “Why do you like to read those old dead guys so much?” we wanted a film that we can put in their hands and that can serve as an easy on-ramp for beginning to appreciate the Puritans. One day in late 2016, Joel Beeke expressed a desire to make the project a reality, and it quickly grew beyond just a feature documentary to include new books, a series of multimedia teaching sessions on the Puritans, and more. I immediately reached out to my good friend and fellow filmmaker Stephen McCaskell to direct it. He has worked with Media Gratiae on several projects since way back in 2014, and I have the utmost respect and appreciation for his work (including Through the Eyes of Spurgeon and Luther: The Life and Legacy of the German Reformer).

SM: We’ve been working on Puritan for nearly two years. The big challenge story-wise is the unstructured nature of Puritanism as a movement. Scholars differ on when the Puritan era began and ended, who’s in and who’s out. And then there’s the issue of running time. We’re trying to tell a story with its roots in the 16th and 17th centuries, and branches extending into our present age—and do all that in around two hours. If you try to cover everything, you exasperate the audience, so you have to find a strong central narrative that drives the movie forward, and be ruthless in pruning content that doesn’t serve that aim. We had an outstanding team to work with, including Barry Cooper, whom I’ve worked with before on Luther and Discipleship Explored. He wrote the screenplay and crafted the central narrative, which is the backbone of the film.

These projects require a large time commitment—often up to two years. Why the Puritans? What makes them fodder for so a massive undertaking as this film?

SM: For us, it felt timely because of the connections between the historical moment in which we find ourselves and the one that gave birth to the Puritans. Puritanism was born in a moment when Reformed theology was taking hold in Christian circles. The printing press made the gospel much more mobile than it ever had been before, just as the internet and social media are doing now.

The movement gained strength when Christians were kicked out of their jobs, forced to resign, and increasingly persecuted—just as they are now. The Puritans were also motivated by an increasing disquiet at the way Christianity was being misrepresented by leaders in the state church and in the highest ranks of government. That same disquiet grows in many Christians today. And just as William Perkins trained a generation of Puritans, so today there are an unprecedented number of Reformed seminaries—not to mention church and parachurch ministries—which are raising up a new generation of Reformed theologians, pastors, and laypeople.

MR: When I started attending Christ Church New Albany, one of the things that made an early impression on me was hearing the members talking about what they’d been reading that week, and how much they’d been helped by the likes of Samuel Rutherford, John Flavel, Richard Sibbes, Thomas Boston, and so on. When titles like The Bruised Reed or Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices were mentioned in conversation, a collective word of affirmation would be heard all around. I remember asking someone, “How do you all know these authors? Do you have Puritan trading cards?” But the truth was that dog-eared copies of Puritan paperbacks and whole sets of collected works lined the walls of the members’ homes, and they had been reading through them both individually and also corporately for many years.

One of the first “book studies” I took part in at the church went through John Owen’s Communion with God. Individuals would read the chapter on their own during the week, then gather in homes for a discussion led by an elder. It was mind-blowing. From that point forward I started devouring the Puritans and lining my own walls with them. Not only have I personally benefited from them so much, I’ve also seen the effect that having elders who read, commend, and give away the Puritans in their congregation can have on strengthening and deepening a local body. I want to see that happen in churches and families all across the world.

Take me through a bit of the movie. Who is featured, and what aspects of Puritanism does it cover? Whom did you interview for the movie?

Kevin DeYoung

MR: For the feature film we interviewed Albert Mohler, Conrad Mbewe, Geoff Thomas, Gloria Furman, Ian Hamilton, Jeremy Walker, J. I. Packer, John MacArthur, John Piper, John Snyder, Kevin DeYoung, Leland Ryken, Ligon Duncan, Mark Dever, Michael Reeves, Rosaria Butterfield, Sinclair Ferguson, Stephen Nichols, and Steven Lawson. Of course, Joel Beeke serves as our guide in the film, narrating our journey through the ages. We cover a lot of ground, beginning with the Reformation, going right through the movement, and then tracing the spirit of Puritanism through to the current day. To keep us from losing the viewer in a long list of dates and strange place names, I envisioned us using a timeline and a map that would constantly help the viewer place the people or activities we are discussing in their geographic and temporal context. We reached out to Jorge Castaneda at Ordinary Folk in Vancouver to bring that visual device to life, as well as the rest of the animation in the film, and they did an absolutely stunning job. Add to these animation sequences Stephen’s cinematography and interviews shot all over Great Britain and the Continent, and we have a visually stunning film.

We also wanted to avoid making a documentary that recounts the historical facts about the Puritan movement but fails to recognize the hand of God and his zeal for his name behind it all. I hope our supporters would expect nothing less from a Media Gratiae project. Our narrator and interviewees were great at making warm spiritual application throughout the entire story.

You can’t say everything that could be said in two hours, and I am fully prepared for people on all sides to complain we didn’t talk enough about this or that issue, person, movement, and so on. But I feel good about accomplishing what we set out to do: to make a film that glorifies the work of God in his church, inspires and challenges us to love and live more for Christ in every area of life, and hopefully serves as that “on-ramp” for untold thousands of people to engage the Puritans. For some, it’s just a matter of beginning to read the men whom the men they read are reading. For others who haven’t heard of the Puritans (apart from associating them with Thanksgiving or more nefarious connotations), this could be an introduction that literally changes their lives for the better.

SM: When you say the word Puritan, you typically get strong reactions. Puritans come to us through publishers like Reformation Heritage Books, but they also come to us through Christian music like Propaganda’s song “Precious Puritans” and through Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter. So we take that head on. The film is not hagiography. We love the Puritans, but that doesn’t mean we have to airbrush them. We ask some tough questions around the issue of slavery, for example. And John Piper gives a particularly memorable take on that issue.

But it’s sobering to remember that we have blind spots just as they did.

Talk about your own interest in the Puritans. Are there certain figures among who will stand out in the film? What did you learn about the Puritans and Puritanism while working on this project?

SM: We give a decent amount of airtime to most of the big names. My introduction to the Puritans came through Charles Spurgeon (whom we discuss in the film as a latter-day Puritan). As a young boy, Spurgeon devoured his grandfather’s library that was full of Puritan books. If you’ve read any Spurgeon book, you’ll see he quotes them frequently. The first Puritan he introduced me to was Richard Sibbes. Shortly after reading The Bruised Reed I fell in love with them, and now I always have a Puritan book on the go. One of the most moving sequences in the film is when J. I. Packer quotes Valiant-For-Truth in The Pilgrim’s Progress: “My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage . . . ” Coming from the mouth of Packer, who has fought the fight so long and so faithfully, it hits hard.

What do you hope this film will accomplish? Are there any surprises for those who’ve long been readers of the Puritans?          

SM: There are plenty of surprises. To experience the whole sweep of Puritan history in a two-hour sitting like this—zooming out and surveying the macro as well as the micro—draws out themes that I think many of us have missed. My hope for Puritan is that for those two hours, people will start to see the world through their eyes. And hopefully, when the film ends, that vision will persist.

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The Doctrine of Assurance Pt. 7

Assurance and the Gospel

We’re nearing the end of our study on the doctrine of the assurance of salvation, with just 2 more considerations out of 1 John.

You know that I prefer to be teaching systematically out of a book of the Bible at a time – but we’re taking a break from that to look at some individual topics.

As we have seen all along, John doesn’t just give us a quick and easy answer to having an assurance of salvation like, “I answered an altar call” or “once I prayed a special prayer”, or “I had this experience one time.”

John is probing much deeper.

He wants his readers to take a serious inventory of those indicators of new life in Jesus.

Anyone can ask themselves the following things reasonably:

Do I believe the Word of God is really God’s Word, and that it has ultimate authority in my life?

Do I know what the Gospel is, and have I believed it? Believed it such that I’m aware the Bible says whoever DOES believe it and trusts Christ alone for their salvation – IS reconciled to God?

Has my relationship to sin changed such that I now mourn and struggle against the very sins I still love in some way?

Have I come to see that I have an almost inexplicable affinity for God’s people – whether we share anything else in common or not?

Have a new set of values invaded my thinking so that the emptiness of what the World prizes grows stranger, and new things in Christ grow dearer?

Has the Spirit of God opened my eyes so that the reality of who and what Jesus Christ is and what He has done is simply a part of the fabric of what I KNOW, not simply think or believe? A true inward conviction.

This morning I had planned to go on and explore the question of whether or not I genuinely believe in, and am looking forward to the coming resurrection of the saints.

But before we dive into that concept allow me to look briefly at 3 vitally important things. A bit of an excursus if you will – but central to everything we’re considering.

And in light of the past few weeks, I will not keep you long this morning.

  1. I am repeating a lot because I know how the one struggling with assurance needs to hear these truths over and over and over.

Please do not be insulted if you think this is too elementary for you.

We never get away from the basics.

Of all the books that have ever been and ever will be written in the English language, all of them will use the very same 26 letters.

Of all the music written in the history of mankind (with slight consideration for quarter-tones), essentially all of it falls within the 12 note scale of the perfect octave.

But when you consider the noetic effects of the Fall on the human mind, and how since the Fall we have trouble retaining sound doctrinal truth in our everyday consciousness – you see how going over and over and over the rudiments becomes absolutely necessary.

It is why we not only meet here each Sunday for worship where were rehearse these truths in song and prayer and preaching – but why we have small groups, Wednesday night Bible study – and encourage you to be reading the Word on your own continually.

Add to that an active Enemy of our souls who seeks to undermine the truth of the Gospel whenever possible, and the endless distractions of the world, and you see why this is necessary for all of us.

Musicians practice their scales over and over and over. No matter how trained, or how long they’ve played.

And Christians need to do no less if we are to live in a living and vivid reality of Biblical truth.

Deuteronomy 11:18-20 Isn’t just a good suggestion, it is God addressing us with the knowledge of how these things escape us so easily. 

Deuteronomy 11:18–20 ESV/ “You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates,

And this gets repeated over and over:

Proverbs 3:3 ESV / Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.

Proverbs 6:21 ESV / Bind them on your heart always; tie them around your neck.

Proverbs 7:3 ESV / bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart.

  1. Remember that in each of these, John isn’t asking about levels of performance or feelings – but whether or not something of these is PRESENT within us.

A few weeks ago I mentioned how medical science looks for 4 basic things to determine life in a human being: Respiration, Pulse, Blood Pressure and Body Temperature.

Now those alone can’t tell you how healthy the individual is – but they can and DO indicate the presence of life.

And that is what we are doing in this study – what John has been giving us by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

In each case we are looking at the question of where I stand in relationship to these various things.

And in some there might be a more pronounced reality than others.

It isn’t how much of the Bible I know and understand, but what place of authority for truth it holds.

Is sin troubling to me? At all? Simply because it is sin and offends my God?

Am I learning the difference between the World’s values and the Bible’s and seeking to love what God values more? etc.

  1. But lastly I want to revisit the nature of what it means to believe the Gospel.

I know we’ve covered this numerous times before but bear with me.

This is truly central to everything we’ve covered so far, and will cover.

It is absolutely central to your life and identity as a Christian.

Now the older theologians used to think of Biblical faith in 3 parts:

Notitia – Content

Assensus – Agreement

Fiducia – Committal

Notitia – Do I know what the Gospel actually is?

Faith relies upon certain information. We do not just “believe” – we believe or disbelieve some particular information.

Biblical faith is always – without exception – rooted in some information communicated by God.

Biblical faith is: Believing what God has said is true, and acting on it appropriately.

It is vitally important we know how the Bible uses certain words, in order to understand the Gospel as God has given it, as opposed to how people have messed it up.

Scripture has no other category for faith. It never exists in a vacuum, is plucked out of mid-air, or is the fruit of my baseless belief.

So it is with the Gospel.

It is staggering to realize how often the Gospel is held out in terms of: Jesus made up the gap between your best efforts and what is required to be accepted by God.

Or that Jesus has come to say “clean up your act, and I’ll help you get to Heaven.”

Go to the right Church.

Do enough good things.

Stop doing too many bad things.

Be religious – and I’ll save you.

NO!

The Gospel is about Jesus coming to a totally lost and condemned human race – to pay the penalty for our sins in His own body on the Cross, because we have absolutely nothing we can offer to God to make ourselves acceptable under any conditions.

The Bible tells us that we all sinned in Adam, and are enemies of God the moment we come into this world.

Ephesians describes our condition in graphic detail: Ephesians 2:1–3 ESV / And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

Ephesians 2:12 ESV / remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

And so, John 3:36 ESV / Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

Now having been made in the image of God as Genesis tells us – the truth is that even if we were to perfectly obey God in every thought, action and attitude, we would only be doing what was expected of us, what we were made for.

That couldn’t possibly earn us anything.

And if that were true before the Fall – how much more after?

We couldn’t earn or contribute to eternal life in any way since we are already condemned.

So even if we lived every moment for Him for the rest of our lives, we’d only be doing our duty – and still have no way to pay for our past sins!

But then comes Jesus.

And the Gospel about Him.

NOT a Gospel about giving us some sort of mythical second chance to do our best.

1 Corinthians 15:1–4 ESV / Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,

Jesus Christ died for OUR sins.

He did so fulfilling God’s plan – it was according to the Scriptures.

He was buried, and He was resurrected the 3rd day – also according to the Scriptures – according to God’s plan.

That is the Gospel – the GOOD NEWS.

God has dealt with our sin problem in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Gospel is all about who Jesus is and what He has done.

It is not about what we can do either in ourselves, or even because of Him.

We absolutely must have this clear in our hearts and minds.

The Gospel is about Jesus’ rescue mission, not about a religious self-help scheme.

This is why the Apostle Paul had to come to grips with how his own life as a profoundly religious and upright man was totally insufficient to save even him.

Listen to how he goes through it in Philippians: Philippians 3:3–9 ESV / For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—

All of which he summarizes so wonderfully in – 2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV / For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

This beloved is the Gospel. So do you know it?

Do you know it is not about your being good, or making up for past sins or anything else you can contribute?

Do you know it is about who Jesus is and what He has done?

How He died for YOUR sins,  and was raised up again for YOUR justification – the declaration before God that you are righteous IN HIM!

And that He has sent His Spirit to indwell and empower you to persevere to the end – when He will raise you up from the dead as well.

This is GOOD NEWS! This is the Gospel.

But there is more to saving faith than just knowing the Gospel.

Notitia – Content

Assensus – Agreement

Fiducia – Committal

Knowing the content of the Gospel, I now have to ask – do I agree that this is the truth?

Do I believe this?

Do I believe this really happened and that this is what God was doing in sending Jesus?

Has Jesus died for our sins? For MY sin? For YOUR sin?

DO I believe this – what seems to be – TOO good to be believed news?

Do I give my assent to the Gospel that it is true?

This is the 2nd part.

If I don’t know what the Gospel is, then I can’t believe it. Some sort of disconnected faith or belief the Bible knows nothing about.

But having heard and understood it – do I believe it is the truth?

Do I really believe John 3:16?  NET / “For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NET)

But then there is a 3rd aspect to saving faith:

Notitia – Content

Assensus – Agreement

Fiducia – Committal

Fiducia – Will I commit myself to trusting this Gospel reality as all I need to be reconciled to the Father?

Do I take Jesus as the full satisfaction for my sin before God, so that I am wholly accepted and loved by Him because of Jesus?

This is the $50,000 question as they used to say.

In truth, it is a question beyond worth in asking and answering.

James Montgomery Boice used to use this illustration of marriage to try and bring all of this home.

Let’s consider a young man and a young woman.

In the process of time, old fashioned as he is, the young man gets down on one knee and asks: “Will you marry me?”

This is Notitia: The gentleman made a genuine proposal of marriage. He has asked the question.

So the gal must ask: Is that what I understand? Is that what he said? Was the content of his proposal that he asked me to marry him?

Have I understood him correctly?

2ndly, Assensus: Have I believed that he wants to marry me and that we should be husband and wife, and HAVE I SAID YES!?

Have I assented? If I haven’t said yes – I believe you really asked me to marry you but haven’t said yes – everything comes to a grinding halt.

But if I have said yes, there is still one more thing to round out the entire scenario.

3rd. Fiducia: We aren’t married until we’ve walked the aisle and said: “I do.”

So let’s roll this back.

Here’s the question beloved:

Have I said “I do” to Jesus’ proposal to be the complete satisfaction for my sins – to be all of my righteousness, and for me to be His bride?

Have I consummated that by continually trusting Him in that way? By ceasing to look to anything else.

By forsaking all others, and cleaving only to Him.

This is what saving faith looks like.

And it is not hard to determine if this has been your experience.

And if so, then you don’t need to “feel” like your married.

You don’t need to keep repeating the wedding vows.

You don’t need to guess whether or not you’re good enough, since that was never a part of the equation to begin with – the Gospel being rooted in our salvation being totally dependent upon HIS being good enough.

Now, you need to live in the reality of it. To truly trust Him in all that He promised.

And so as Jesus says in John 17:3 ESV / And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

And then Jesus goes on to pray about all who believe in Him: John 17:20–24 ESV / “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

And so I want us to close just here this morning.

I want us to take some time to wait before the Lord to search our own hearts to see if this is the case with each one of us here.

Have you heard and do you know the Gospel, as Paul says in 1 Timothy 1:15 ESV / The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.

Do you BELIEVE the Gospel? Do believe this is true?

Romans 10:9 ESV / because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Do you put the responsibility for the whole of your salvation into His hands today?

Romans 6:23 ESV / For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The free gift of God.

Eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In this, the whole of our assurance of salvation lies.

Jesus Christ has died. And those who trust in Him, are saved forevermore.

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How Can I Do Performance-Based Work without Becoming Lazy or Prideful?

I am a typical achiever/perfectionist personality, so I struggle with idols of control and pride based on my performance. My job is sales-based, so there’s a direct connection between my results and my success at the company. I know we’re commanded to work heartily unto the Lord. Yet I struggle to balance pursuing my sales goals through the talents and skills God has given me with trusting that he’s actually the one making me fruitful in my labor. I guess what I’m asking is, how do I practically surrender my performance-based work to the Lord without becoming either prideful on the one hand or lazy on the other?


Thank you for such a thoughtful question. As you articulated, your temperament as an achiever is both a great gift to those around you, leading to diligent, productive work that serves the needs of others, and also a great challenge, since it often corresponds to certain idols of the heart. The fact that you’re aware of the idols of control and pride is itself a marker that God’s Spirit is at work within you, even as you experience ongoing struggles.

There are several practices that might help you surrender your work to the Lord. I use the word “practice,” since idols of control and pride are practiced, usually subconsciously, over hundreds of situations across numerous decades. Your idols have logged thousands of hours in your heart. So the way back will also be through practice-based training. You need to develop a set of simple practices that drive the truths of the gospel and God’s Word down into your heart.

For instance, you might use the daily commute—on the way to work and returning home—to practice trust and surrender. “God, I struggle with pride and control in my work. You know it full well. I surrender it to you and ask for grace to trust in the results you provide.” You might start every meeting with a potential client with a short internal prayer, like Nehemiah must have prayed before King Artaxerxes: “Lord, give me help and favor with this client. I trust you.” You also should practice celebration in every sale, both to thank the Lord for his provision and to remind yourself where the ability to produce wealth ultimately comes from (Deut. 8:18).

We also need exemplars to follow. So much of our behavior is influenced by what we love and long for, and so much of what we long for is shaped by the example of others. Paul says, “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ.” Is there another Christian you admire in sales? How does he or she handle success and failure? How do they refuse both selfish pride on the one hand and laziness on the other? Seek them out, and explore the beauty of a life surrendered to Christ.

Your idols have logged thousands of hours in your heart. So the way back will also be through practice-based training.

Finally, we must remember the gospel of God’s grace, which can diffuse the most persistent idols of the heart. In Christ you are loved, not because of your performance, but in spite of it. If you experience success beyond your wildest dreams, remember that your only true standing with God is because of his unmerited grace. And if the worst should happen, and you utterly fail at the office, God’s grace will sustain you there as well.

Practice, imitation, and grace. There is much more that could be said. But chew on these things, and see how the Lord might lead you to surrender your work to him.

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Charles Woodbridge and the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy

The story of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy constitutes a signally important chapter of American religious history. The present modest study constitutes a reception history of Charles Woodbridge’s personal glimpses and perceptions of Professor J. Gresham Machen and Professor Adolph von Harnack. It provides additional historical background with which to understand the careers of these two iconic figures in the fundamentalist-modernist controversy. The study also sheds further light on the long reach of this controversy’s influence into the foreign mission fields of the day.

Introducing the Controversy

During 1924–1927—the period when Charles J. Woodridge attended Princeton Theological Seminary—the fundamentalist-modernist controversy was raging in the United States. On May 21, 1922, Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878–1969), an ordained Baptist supply pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of New York City, had fired up the smoldering controversy when he preached a provocative sermon titled “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” To his own rhetorical question, Fosdick trumpeted a famous, clarion, and prophetic response: “No.”[1]

The cover of Evangelical Scholarship, Retrospects and ProspectsFosdick indicated divisive fundamentalists could not “drive out from the Christian churches all the consecrated souls who do not agree with their theory of inspiration.” He alleged that the fundamentalist view of biblical inspiration encompassed a literalistic hermeneutic, a mechanical dictation theory of inspiration, and a useless belief in the inerrancy of the “original documents of the Scripture.”[2] He also succinctly explained the agenda of liberalism or modernism: “It is primarily an adaptation, an adjustment, an accommodation of the Christian faith to contemporary scientific thinking. It started by taking the intellectual culture of a particular period as its criterion and then adjusting Christian teaching to that standard.” Fosdick’s sermon was printed under a revised title, “The New Knowledge and the Christian Faith,” and distributed to 130,000 ordained pastors throughout the nation. John D. Rockefeller Jr. funded this publishing initiative.

Fosdick advocated “liberal progressive Christianity.” He argued that in an age enthralled by the accomplishments of “science,” Christians needed to accommodate their faith to the “great mass of new knowledge,” including Darwinian evolution and biblical higher criticism. If such accommodations were not forthcoming, Fosdick reasoned that people might conclude Christianity was not intellectually viable or defensible because it wasn’t sufficiently compatible with the “new knowledge.”

In 1925, the Scopes Trial made front-page headlines in the nation’s newspapers. Many modernists believed lawyer Clarence Darrow ostensibly bested in argument William Jennings Bryan, a famous critic of evolution and a recognized fundamentalist spokesperson. For them, the Scopes Trial provided further evidence of the supposed anti-­intellectualism and backward cultural attitude of fundamentalism.[3]

By contrast, fundamentalists worried that Christianity’s influence in American culture was rapidly ebbing, and modernists were abetting this loss. They complained that modernists, often criticized as partisans of a form of naturalism, were commandeering Christian denominations.[4] Modernists were gaining strategic leadership positions in church hierarchies, boards, schools, and mission agencies. For their part, fundamentalists believed they urgently needed to halt the advance of modernists. They might be able to do this if they united together and forthrightly defended the “fundamental” doctrines of the faith (the number of which varied among fundamentalists). Some fundamentalists sought to drive modernists from denominations—especially northern Baptist and Presbyterian churches.[5]

Fundamentalists generally rejected the modernists’ agenda of making intellectual accommodations to the scientific findings of the day, especially those thought to contradict biblical teaching. Some fundamentalists attempted to expunge the teaching of evolution from the nation’s schools.[6] Fundamentalists perceived themselves as faithful defenders of the historic, biblical doctrines of the Christian church. Some were determined to spread “the Old Gospel” or “the Old Time Religion.”

‘The Fundamentals’ of the Faith

In 1907, Lyman Stewart, a wealthy businessman and a founder of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (now Biola University), reflected about a concern he said “had been on our hearts for some time, that of sending some kind of warning and testimony to the English-speaking ministers, theological teachers and students, and English-speaking missionaries of the world . . . which would put them on their guard and bring them into right lines again.”[7] His driving motivation: stem the advance of liberalism. Between 1910–1915, a group of English, Canadian, and American theological conservatives published The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth—a series of 12 booklets designed to uphold the truthfulness of the Christian faith by answering “the various forms of error so prevalent at the present day.” A. C. Dixon, Louis Meyer, and R. A. Torrey gave editorial leadership to the project. The last booklet, devoted to evangelism, emphasized another key purpose of the pamphlets: to encourage “Christians everywhere to more active effort and more earnest prayer for the conversion of a great number of the unsaved.” In a publishing blitz, more than 3 million pamphlets, “compliments of two Christian laymen” (brothers Milton and Lyman Stewart of the Union Old Company), were distributed free of charge to English-speaking Christian pastors, evangelists, missionaries, theological professors, YMCA and YWCA secretaries, Sunday school superintendents, and others in the United States, in the United Kingdom, and “throughout the earth.” The rhetorical tone of the booklets was moderate and not especially militant.

In the General Assemblies of 1910, 1916, and 1923, the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, Professor Machen’s own denomination, proposed five fundamental doctrines as “essential and necessary” to historic Presbyterian Christianity: (1) the inerrancy of Scripture in the original documents; (2) Christ’s virgin birth; (3) Christ’s vicarious atonement; (4) Christ’s bodily resurrection; and (5) the reality of biblical miracles.

After World War I (1914–1918), the conflict between fundamentalists and modernists heated up dramatically. In 1919, the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association identified not five but 19 doctrines as “fundamental.” The list included as an indispensable, nonnegotiable fundamental “the personal, premillennial, and imminent return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (Article 7).[8]

In 1920, Curtis Lee Laws, a Baptist editor of the Watchman-­Examiner, defined fundamentalists in bellicose terms:

We here and now move that a new word be adopted to describe the men among us who insist that the landmarks should not be removed. “Conservatives” is too closely allied with reactionary forces in all walks of life. “Premillennialists” is too closely allied with a single doctrine and not sufficiently inclusive. “Landmarkers” has a historical disadvantage and connotes a particular group of radical conservatives. We suggest that those who still cling to the great fundamentals of the faith and who mean to do battle royal for the fundamentals should be called “Fundamentalists.”[9]

Interestingly enough, Laws did not include premillennialism as an essential “fundamental.”

Many of the nation’s newspapers, including the religious press, helped stoke the fires of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy.[10] The Lebanon Daily News (Pennsylvania) on December 16, 1922, published an advertisement for a sermon titled “Fundamentalism versus Funnymonkeyism.” It supposedly summarized the respective views of the opposing parties:

The world seems set upon substituting Evolution for Creation, Principle animating cosmos for the Living God, Consciousness of the individual for the Authority of the Bible, Reason for Revelation, Sight for Faith, Social Service for Salvation, Reform for Regeneration, the Priest for the Prophet, Ecclesiasticism for Evangelism, the Human Jesus for the Divine Christ, and Ideal man-made society for the Kingdom of God, and Humanitarian efforts for the Eternity of Joy in God’s bright heaven. THEY ARE MONKEYING WITH THE BASIC FORMULAE OF THE TRUTH WHICH SHALL MAKE YOU FREE.[11]

The Joplin Globe (Missouri) for May 16, 1924, printed a front-page article titled “South Baptists Flay Modernism: Fundamentalism Is Stoutly Reaffirmed in Resolution Introduced.” The article reported that at a Southern Baptist convention, a delegate had proposed a resolution calling for the convention to “at this critical time go on record before the world as affirming full and steadfast beliefs in the full inspiration, inerrancy and paramount and permanent authority of both the Old and the New Testament scriptures.”[12]

Although a number of articles attacked modernism or recommended the opposing parties should compromise, other articles harshly criticized fundamentalism.[13] The Lowell Sun (Massachusetts) for June 7, 1923, contained a piece targeting the alleged anti-intellectualism of Fundamentalism: ‘‘An Assault upon Learning Fundamentalist Movement Attacked by Dr. Albert C. Dieffenbach of Boston.” The article quoted Dr. Dieffenbach, an influential Unitarian: “Here in the United States at present we are witnessing the rise of a pernicious church movement known as fundamentalism with its characteristic doctrine of the second coming of Christ.”[14] The June 18, 1923, edition of the San Antonio Express (Texas) published an article titled “Fundamentalism—Menace to Protestantism’s Teaching Says Rev. S. Arthur Huston.” In the article, Huston excoriated fundamentalism not only as “crude” but “perniciously political as well as religious in its aim.”[15]

Charles Woodbridge’s Personal Glimpses of Professors Machen and von Harnack

In this contentious, heated religious environment, Charles Woodbridge arrived at the doorstep of Princeton Theological Seminary in the fall of 1924. At Princeton, he met Professor J. Gresham Machen (1881–1937). Professor B. B. Warfield, one of Machen’s mentors, had died in 1921. At the time, Machen commented, “Dr. Warfield’s funeral took place yesterday afternoon at the First Church of Princeton . . . It seemed to me that the Old Princeton—a great institution it was—died when Dr. Warfield was carried out.”[16] However, in the eyes of many, Machen had assumed Warfield’s mantle as the principal defender of old-school Presbyterian theology. In 1921, Machen published The Origin of Paul’s Religion. He argued that the religion of Paul found its origins in the teachings of Jesus. Many modernists had denied this. Machen’s scholarship was impressive and compelling. His volume was reviewed in both the United States and Europe.

In 1923, Machen had also published Christianity and Liberalism.[17] This book became a lightning-rod piece in the fundamentalist-modernist controversy. In a blurb for the book, Machen clearly explained his purpose in writing: “What is the difference between modern ‘liberal’ religion and historic Christianity? An answer to this question is attempted in the present book. The author is convinced that liberalism on the one hand and the religion of the historic church on the other are not two varieties of the same religion, but two distinct religions proceeding from altogether separate roots.”[18] In the volume itself, Machen wrote:

In the sphere of religion, in particular, the present time is a time of conflict; the great redemptive religion which has always been known as Christianity is battling against a totally diverse type of religious belief, which is only the more destructive of the Christian faith because it makes use of traditional Christian terminology . . . But manifold as are the forms in which the movement appears, the root of the movement is one; the many varieties of modern liberal religion are rooted in naturalism—that is, in the denial of any entrance of the creative power of God (as distinguished from the ordinary course of nature) in connection with the origin of Christianity.[19]

Machen’s contention that liberalism found its roots in naturalism, not in historic Christianity, constituted a singularly devastating charge against modernism. The volume burnished Machen’s reputation as one of the nation’s premier apologists for orthodox Protestantism. In A Preface to Morals, Walter Lippmann, a well-respected commentator, praised the high quality of Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism: “It is an admirable book. For its acumen, for its saliency, and for its wit this cool and stringent defense of orthodox Protestantism, is, I think, the best popular argument produced by either side in the current controversy.”[20]

On May 5, 1924, a number of Presbyterians belonging to Machen’s denomination published the Auburn Affirmation, “An Affirmation designed to safeguard the unity and liberty of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America.” The affirmation was eventually signed by 1,293 Presbyterian pastors (with another 20 signatures as an addendum and one original signee who later asked that his name be removed).[21] The authors of the document professed their full acceptance of the Westminster Confession, evangelical Christianity, and a belief in liberty of conscience. They specifically challenged the constitutional right of the General Assembly of 1923 to indicate that five fundamentals of the Presbyterian Church were binding church doctrine—for “these are not the only theories allowed by the Scriptures and our standards.” For example, regarding the doctrine of biblical inerrancy, they affirmed, “The doctrine of inerrancy, intended to enhance the authority of the Scriptures, in fact impairs their supreme authority for faith and life, and weakens the testimony of the church to the power of God unto salvation through Jesus.”[22] Seriously perturbed by the Auburn Affirmation, Machen wrote a letter to The New York Times in which he severely criticized it. He considered that any Presbyterian pastor who signed it had violated his ordination vow.[23]

Likewise, in 1924, Harry Emerson Fosdick published The Modern Use of the Bible. In his review of the book, Machen sharply criticized the quality of Fosdick’s scholarship. Machen wrote, “We have not yet commented on the most astonishing thing about Dr. Fosdick’s presentation of the modern use of the Bible. The most astonishing thing is that in exalting the historical method of approach, our author displays so little acquaintance with that to which he himself appeals. It would be difficult to discover a book which exhibits less understanding than this book does for the historical point of view.”[24]

In time, Charles Woodbridge esteemed Dr. Machen not only as a great defender of the Christian faith but also as a theological mentor and a personal friend. They grew to know each other very well. Professor Machen often addressed Charles Woodbridge as “Charlie.” Like other Princeton students, Woodbridge sometimes affectionately addressed Professor Machen as “Das,” more frequently as Dr. Machen.[25] Dr. Machen preached at both Woodbridge’s ordination to the Presbyterian ministry in the First Presbyterian Church of Princeton, New Jersey, and also his installation as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Flushing, Long Island. And in his will, J. Gresham Machen left $2,000 to Charles Woodbridge.

Not only was Woodbridge a student of Machen at Princeton Seminary, but Machen also asked him to serve as the first general secretary of the Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions founded in June 1933. For more than three years, Woodbridge worked directly under Dr. Machen’s supervision as general secretary of the mission. Professor Machen was the president of the mission board.

The two men exchanged tens of letters and met regularly. Woodbridge also acted as one of Machen’s three defense lawyers when the professor was put on ecclesiastical trial by the New Brunswick presbytery. The Presbyterian Church in the United States of America had ordered Machen to disband the mission, but he refused to do so.

From the privileged vantage point of a trusted protege, Woodbridge observed up close Dr. Machen’s efforts to preserve what he thought constituted the doctrinal integrity of Princeton Theological Seminary and the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America.

Charles Woodbridge also enjoyed personal contacts with Professor Adolph von Harnack (1851–1930), the world-renowned liberal church historian and theologian at the University of Berlin. In 1900, Professor von Harnack published a landmark popular apologetic for Protestant liberalism titled What Is Christianity?[26] The book was based on his winter-term lectures, 1899–1900, given at the University of Berlin, and in it, von Harnack emphasized three teachings that for him expressed the essence of the gospel: “Firstly, the kingdom of God and its coming. Secondly, God the Father and the infinite value of the human soul. Thirdly, the higher righteousness and the commandment of love.”[27]

During the fall semester of 1927, Woodbridge, along with nine German students, gathered at Professor von Harnack’s home each Tuesday night to exegete Scripture and to talk theology and church history. Professor von Harnack called this group his Church History Society. The same fall, Woodbridge also attended a course of Professor von Harnack titled “The Origin of the New Testament.”

Professor von Harnack’s liberal theological influence was mediated to the United States in part through one of Harry Emerson Fosdick’s principal professors at Union Theological Seminary, the Protestant church historian A. C. McGiffert.[28] McGiffert had studied under Professor von Harnack in Germany. Like his famous mentor Professor von Harnack, McGiffert emphasized a key theme of Protestant liberalism—the immanence of God. And like Professor von Harnack, Fosdick wrote a book titled What Is Christianity? In it, he also underscored the immanence of God, a theme highlighted by his professor, A. C. McGiffert.

Thus, Charles Woodbridge interacted personally with two of the iconic figures engaged directly or indirectly in the fundamentalist-modernist controversy of the 1920s and 1930s. He wrote in his memoirs, “Without a question the two most learned men I have ever met were Dr. Machen of Princeton Seminary and von Harnack of the Friedrich-Wilhelm University of Berlin. Both were intellectual giants, poles apart in their theological convictions.”

More Details of the Life and Times of Charles J. Woodbridge (1902–1995)

The unpublished memoirs of Charles J. Woodbridge contain a mine of colorful details about his early days in China as a missionary child; his Southern Presbyterian missionary father Samuel’s close relationship with Dr. Andrew Sydenstricker, Pearl Buck’s father in China; his father’s last-minute deliverance by a British gun ship from near-certain death at the hands of rebels of the Boxer Rebellion; his student frolics at Dwight L. Moody’s Mount Herman school for boys; the introduction his mother, Jeannie Wilson Woodrow, made of her best friend, Ellen Axson, to Woodrow Wilson, her first cousin and future president of the United States [Ellen Axson became Wilson’s first wife]; his career at Princeton University as a Phi Beta Kappa scholar and three-year All-American in soccer; his studies and intriguing conversations with Princeton Theological Seminary professor J. Gresham Machen; and his studies and conversations with the renowned German liberal theologian Adolph von Harnack at the University of Berlin.

Sometimes in a markedly partisan fashion, Woodbridge projects in his memoirs a sprawling panoramic and contemporary view of Presbyterian, evangelical, and fundamentalist history. A host of notable personages such as Clarence Darrow, Pearl Buck, Dr. Samuel Zwemer, Dr. Henry Sloane Coffin, Dr. John R. Mott, Dr. J. Gresham Machen, Dr. Harry Ironside, Dr. William R. Newell, Dr. Robert E. Speer, Professor Adolph von Harnack, Professor Rudolf Bultmann, and Professor Ned Stonehouse all parade across the memoirs’ pages. Charles Woodbridge’s papers afford us glimpses of Professor Machen and Professor von Harnack we may have never seen before. In a number of the standard biographies of J. Gresham Machen, Charles J. Woodbridge is absent or briefly mentioned. Professor D. G. Hart’s Defending the Faith: J Gresham Machen and the Crisis of Conservative Protestantism in Modern America (1994) and Paul Wooley’s The Significance of J. Gresham Machen Today (1977) constitute well-crafted studies devoted to the life of J. Gresham Machen.[29] They include no allusions to Charles J. Woodbridge. Nor does he appear in Bradley J. Longfield’s The Presbyterian Controversy: Fundamentalists, Modernists, and Moderates (1991).[30] He is noted in the sturdy Machen biographies by Ned Stonehouse (1954) and Stephen J. Nichols (2004) and in Ed Rian’s richly documented The Presbyterian Conflict (1940).[31]

Gaining a Passion for the Gospel of Jesus Christ

We continue our story in the fall of 1928. Charles Woodbridge had just spent a year as an exchange student in Germany. He had taken classes from Professor Adolph von Harnack at the University of Berlin and from Professor Rudolph Bultmann at Marburg, among other German theological luminaries.[32] As a recently minted graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and Princeton University [an MA in history], he assumed the pastorate of the First Presbyterian Church in Flushing, Long Island (1928–1932). He felt deeply honored that Professor Machen graciously preached his installation sermon at the church.[33]

Charles Woodbridge’s sermons preached at the Flushing church reveal that, like J. Gresham Machen, he viewed the inerrancy of Scripture as a “fundamental” doctrine of the Christian faith.[34] The sermons also make clear that the central thrust of his ministry was preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. In a sermon titled “Enduring Peace” (November 11, 1928), he noted, “The fact remains that today the world is seething. Unrest can be felt on every hand.” He cited, as one illustration among many of this seething, “the old hatred between France and Germany still persists.” In these circumstances, how might his parishioners find enduring peace? They needed to be “justified by faith alone.” Then they would experience peace with God—a peace not available in a seething world: “It is Christ who is our enduring peace,” Woodbridge declared. “If you haven’t accepted Christ as your Savior from sin, you’re at enmity with God” and thus do not enjoy genuine peace. In another sermon titled “Fear,” preached on February 22, 1931 (the Depression was in full swing), he observed, “I love to study people’s faces. It is a rare thing in New York City to find a face which is carefree and joyous. Life presses in on most of us. Many of us are just one step ahead of the sheriff, as one of our men put it . . . But perfect love casteth out fear.” He continued: “A perfect love for the risen Christ means a perfect trust in his redeeming work, and thus the assurance that nothing can separate us from the love of God, neither life, nor death . . . ” In one sermon, he indicated that if a person is not witnessing for Christ, he or she will not grow in the Christian life.

In Flushing, Long Island, Charles Woodbridge practiced what he preached about witnessing. In his memoirs, he wrote, “A large part of my ministry was house-to-house visitation. My goal: one thousand visits per year. I was systematic. I kept records. I prayed, read the Bible, and witnessed for Christ in every household which would permit it. I offered to help those in trouble. New visitors began to attend our services every Sunday. The Lord honored the proclamation of his Word. Souls were being saved. It soon became apparent that we would need a larger sanctuary.” He also engaged in street preaching in New York City.

In his memoirs, Charles Woodbridge rhetorically asked the question why he had been willing to give up a prominent pulpit in Flushing and go to Africa with his wife and young daughter as a missionary. After all, he indicated that an astounding 700 candidates wanted to replace him in the Flushing pulpit. Answer: He felt compelled by his conviction that Africans in the French Cameroon were “in desperate need of a Savior and that Christ Jesus enjoined his disciples to go into all the world with the glorious proclamation of salvation to every creature.”

What was the provenance of Woodbridge’s passion for gospel preaching and evangelism? As an undergrad at Princeton University, he lacked this passion; nor did he apparently evince this passion during a year spent teaching at a middle school in China before his matriculation at Princeton Theological Seminary in the fall of 1924. But during the years 1924 to 1927, the teaching and pastoral counsel of Professor Machen ignited in him a burning desire to serve the Lord in gospel ministry. Preaching on weekends and during every summer in small churches gave him an opportunity to put into practice what he was learning in the classroom.

Interacting with Professor J. Gresham Machen at Princeton Theological Seminary (1924–1927)

In his memoirs, Charles Woodbridge wrote, “Upon arriving at the seminary in 1924, I was duly matriculated by Rev. Paul Martin, affable and somewhat portly registrar of the school. Safely ensconced in Alexander Hall, I was expected to worship daily in Miller Chapel. Thus was the revered past made to live in the present.” After listing the rooms and a number of dorm mates on the fourth floor in Alexander Hall, he observed, “Then the little suite of a bachelor professor who, more than any man was to influence my thinking about the Christian gospel. He was Dr. J. Gresham Machen.” Machen played chess and checkers with the fellows in the hall. “Das” provided refreshments like cookies, nuts, and soft drinks to students who participated in his Checkers Club, which met in the “parlor” on Saturday nights. He won their admiration not only in the classroom but also through personal contacts in their living quarters. He loved clever humor and “stunts” (telling colorful and witty stories). He also offered free tickets as inducements to students to go with him to Princeton football games.[35]

Woodbridge afforded other details of student life at the seminary: “The students ate at eating clubs. Mine was the Bentham Club [Machen had earlier belonged to the Bentham Club as a student] founded by a Mrs. Bentham many years before my arrival on the scene. This club boasted as its emblem of culinary delight a chicken wishbone, which satisfied customers wore on the lapels of their jackets.” He told of the seminary choir and its director, a nervous assistant professor of theology who “complained periodically when we were rehearsing for concerts that our numbers were decimated by our insouciance.” Woodbridge also referred to “the weekend preaching assignments, when we students scattered here and there subjected docile congregations to our feeble efforts to expound the Scriptures.”

During his three years at Princeton Theological Seminary, Woodbridge did not fully sense the titanic struggle taking place between theological conservatives and moderates for the control of the school. He wrote, “In retrospect, I find it strange that during my three years at the seminary I had little more than suspicions that all was not well in Presbyterian Zion.” Apparently, the professors and administration did not import their differing views about the future direction of their seminary into the classroom. Professor Machen, who was often at the center of the struggle for the control of the seminary, apparently said little about it to students.[36]

Charles Woodbridge continued: “In 1924, the seminary was fundamentally sound. The faculty, speaking generally, wanted no traffic with heresy. The Board of Directors on the whole shared the faculty’s convictions . . . But the seminary Board of Trustees, to which were entrusted the temporal concerns of the institution, seemed to have on its membership men whose views were not as robust as those of their counterparts on the Board of Directors.”

Woodbridge’s first hint of theological struggles lingering around the seminary appeared in an anecdote involving Professor Machen and the founding of the League of Evangelical Students:

On October 21, 1924, a month after my arrival at the seminary, a student meeting was held in Miller Chapel. The inter-seminary movement in which Princeton was interested was sharply divided on doctrinal grounds. The question arose as to whether the Princeton men should quit the larger group and form their own organization, which would be true to the faith of their fathers. The building was packed. Arguments pro and con were presented. Professor Machen was present. I sat on a back pew, vaguely interested, studying my Hebrew assignment for the following day. A brief pause in the debate. “Where ignorance is bliss” I arose and made a brief speech, the gist of which was the whole subject under discussion was a matter of personality clashes rather than of doctrinal principles. I sat down and continued studying Hebrew. The students voted to withdraw from the inter-seminary movement. They subsequently formed their own League of Evangelical Students. On the way out of Miller Chapel, Dr. Machen said to me, and I shall never forget his subdued words: “In your speech tonight you were exactly 100 percent wrong!” I was furious. In genuinely neophytic fashion, I replied, “Dr. Machen, I did not have to come to this seminary at all. I could have gone elsewhere.” He mildly went his way. I quickly went to Ed Rian’s dormitory room in Brown Hall. Ned Stonehouse was there. I burst out, “Think of it, men. Dr. Machen had the audacity to tell me that I was completely wrong in what I said tonight!” My friends, more mature than I in these matters, quickly explained that Dr. Machen was right and I was wrong! For about an hour they told me exactly why I was wrong . . . Gradually over the three-year seminary period the seriousness of the doctrinal debate at the institution dawned on me.[37]

During the first two years at Princeton Theological Seminary, Dr. J. Ross Stevenson, the president of the school, and Dr. Charles R. Erdman befriended Charles, called him by his first name, and entertained him in their homes. Woodbridge wrote in his memoirs, “I thought them broad-minded and courteous. But I quickly discovered that the position they held in the great Princeton debate was wrong, and that Dr. Machen and his faithful colleagues were right.” Nonetheless, he asked both Professor Machen and Professor Erdman to preach at his ordination service that also included two other students:

On April 13, 1927, I was ordained to the gospel ministry . . . My ordination took place in the First Presbyterian Church of Princeton, New Jersey . . . Six people participated in the ordination ritual. On the platform, presiding over the proceedings, was Dr. Sylvester Woodbridge Beach, pastor of the church and my father’s cousin. The two speakers, both professors at Princeton Seminary, were Dr. J. Gresham Machen, professor of Greek, who, more than any other scholar, helped to shape the theological convictions which I have held throughout my ministry, and Dr. Charles R. Erdman, professor of English Bible, who once presented me with a complete set of the Ante-Nicene Fathers. When the subsequent doctrinal debate at Princeton Seminary came to a dismal climax in 1929 . . . Dr. Machen and Dr. Erdman took diametrically opposing theological positions.[38]

Interacting with Professor Adolph von Harnack at the University of Berlin

The other person besides Dr. Machen who influenced Charles Woodbridge most tellingly regarding his evangelical beliefs—in this instance, in what he thought his beliefs should not be—was the great church historian and biblical scholar, Professor Adolph von Harnack. Professor von Harnack provided him with a firsthand, direct knowledge of Protestant liberalism, what Woodbridge came to think was a seriously flawed, naturalistic set of beliefs.

Why would a young Princeton Theological Seminary graduate head off to the University of Berlin in the fall of 1927 to study with Professor von Harnack and others?[39] First, Charles Woodbridge wanted to take advantage of $600 he had won in an essay contest. He had also been awarded an American German Exchange Fellowship to study in Germany. Second, Professor Machen recommended that Princeton students be exposed to the best arguments non-Christians had to offer against the faith. Dr. Machen wrote:

But after they [Princeton students] have studied at Princeton, indeed even while they are studying here, the more they acquaint themselves with what opposing teachers say, the better it seems to us to be. We encourage our graduates, if they can, to listen to the great foreign masters of naturalistic criticism; we desire them to hear all that can be said against the gospel that we believe.

No doubt such a program is full of perils. Might it not be safer for our future ministers to close their ears to all modern voices and remain in ignorance of the objections that the gospel faces in the modern world? We reply that of course it might be safer. It is safer to be a good soldier in comfortable barracks than it is on the field of battle. But the great battles are not won in that way.

Thus, we encourage our students to be fearless in their examination of the basis of the faith.[40]

Third, Machen, like many other young American theologians and Bible students, had himself studied in Germany, where he had wrestled with his doubts about Christian faith. He wrote, “Some of us have been through such struggles ourselves; some of us have known the blankness of doubt, the deadly discouragement, the perplexity of indecision.”[41]

In his memoirs, Charles Woodbridge echoed Machen’s conviction concerning the value of studying with the keenest proponents of unbelief: “Constant exposure to brilliantly defended heresy may make him [the Christian student] re-examine the foundations of his own convictions . . . The buffeting which that truth appeared to me to receive at the hands of German scholarship fortified me in my desire to have a reason for the faith which was within me.”

Dr. Machen particularly admired the superb quality of Professor von Harnack’s scholarship. Moreover, he appreciated von Harnack’s intellectual integrity demonstrated by a willingness to change his views if new persuasive evidence emerged. Addressing the Bible League of Great Britain (June 10, 1927), Machen declared (just before Charles Woodbridge departed for Germany): “You have the extraordinary phenomenon that scholars like Professor von Harnack, of Berlin, whose view as to the origin of Christianity is of a thoroughly naturalistic kind, as far removed as possible from that which is present in the Lucan writings, have been so much impressed by the argument from literary criticism that they have actually come to the traditional view that the gospel according to Luke was written by Luke the physician and companion of Paul.”[42] Dr. Machen’s appreciation of von Harnack may have been enhanced by another fact: Professor von Harnack had favorably reviewed a number of Machen’s writings. While dismissing certain of Machen’s conclusions, von Harnack did appreciate Machen’s objectivity. Machen bound a collection of von Harnack’s reviews of his work in a packet and sent them to the German scholar. Dr. Machen may have been the person who suggested to Charles Woodbridge to study with Professor von Harnack in Berlin.

Settting off to Germany

On September 1, 1927, Charles Woodbridge sailed for Hamburg, Germany, on the SS Deutschland. During the summer of 1927, he had given himself a crash course in German grammar. Aboard ship, he enlisted “unsuspecting German passengers and beguiled them into teaching me conversational German in exchange for a smattering of English.” Then he studied German for six weeks at a language institute in Berlin and somehow passed a German proficiency exam that permitted him to take courses at the University of Berlin. He described the garret in Berlin where he lodged as “a miserable sort of hostelry where exchange students were supposed to eke out their dreary but frugal existence.” He continued: “The little gas kitchen stove in the apartment was temperamental. The bedroom was dark. The entire setup was unprepossessing.” Ed Rian, another Princeton graduate, a protege of Machen, and a close personal friend, was also studying in Berlin.[43]

German students invited Charles Woodbridge to frequent their “corps” or fraternal organization and to attend their duels. Woodbridge was shocked by what he saw: “The first duel I observed, held in an upstairs club house in a room strewn with sawdust, made me physically ill. I leaned against a piano. I watched blood streaming down the face of a young blond student whose self-protection was obviously inadequate, only to watch a blasé student observer yawn and to hear him condescendingly proclaim, ‘We Germans think that your American boxing is very cruel and inhuman!’”

On October 28, 1927, Charles Woodbridge wrote to “Das” from Berlin: “Almost seven weeks over here in Germany studying German morning, noon, and night! Next week the lectures start; and today I am to be examined to see whether I know enough German to understand die Herren Professoren!” He indicated to Professor Machen that he had “a new, and developing courage [about the faith].” He added, “I thank you, largely, for that.” He related that he was going to concentrate his studies on the New Testament, that Professor von Harnack was lecturing every Saturday on the New Testament, and that he had finished reading von Harnack’s Die Entstehung des Neuen Testaments. He signed off his letter with a dose of embarrassing praise probably difficult for Professor Machen to assimilate: “Every day, on my way to school, I pass a statue of Martin Luther, with open Bible in his hand. I regard you, Sir, in somewhat the same sort of light as I do him. May the courage of conviction that was his, be mine when I return to the U.S. Most sincerely, your friend, Charles Woodbridge.”[44]

Interacting with Adolph von Harnack in Berlin

How did it happen that, from among the hundreds of students who attended Professor von Harnack’s popular classes, Charles Woodbridge garnered direct personal access to the world-renowned scholar? Possibly Dr. Machen had sent von Harnack a letter of introduction for Charles. In any case, not only did Woodbridge know Professor von Harnack in person, but the great man graciously invited Woodbridge to his home. Woodbridge wrote in his memoirs:

Every Tuesday night during my sojourn in Berlin, I went to Professor von Harnack’s home as a member of his little Church History Society. About ten of us students (nine Germans and one American) gathered around the large dining room table. Each of us had his Greek New Testament. Von Harnack took his seat at the head of the table. He had no book with him at all. We were studying the Pastoral Epistles of Paul. It soon became evident that the professor needed no book; he knew the epistles in Greek as well as in German. To me this was an ordeal. But the system had an inbuilt escape mechanism! When my turn came to read, if I did not understand a Greek word in the verse before me, I could at the last resort gently inquire, “Let me see, what is the German word for this?” Seven students at least would come to my aid—I was the only American present, and I would quickly be in business again! One Tuesday night, Professor von Harnack asked me, “Wann sind Sie geboren?” (“When were you born?”) I informed him. “Ach!” he replied. “I was studying theology thirty years before you were born.”

On December 20, 1927, he presented me with his year-old booklet “The Assembling of Paul’s Letters.” On page 11, the author writes, “When I began the study of theology 37 years ago, no more than four Pauline epistles were regarded as genuine. Since then it has become otherwise.” He then lists additional letters which are almost universally recognized: 1 Thessalonians, Colossians, Philippians, and Philemon. And around his dining room table he told us, “If I had another lifetime, I should like to devote it to a study of the Pastoral Epistles” (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus).

Woodbridge was impressed that Professor von Harnack, a man of apparent scholarly integrity, could revise his thinking when faced with compelling new evidence.

The great German professor, however, had little patience with orthodox Christology. Charles Woodbridge on one occasion asked von Harnack, “Who was Jesus Christ?” Von Harnack brusquely replied, “The greatest man who ever lived.” Undaunted, Woodbridge posed a follow-up question: “Was Christ more than that?” Von Harnack repeated that Jesus was the greatest man who ever lived. He would not say that Jesus was God incarnate.

On March 5, 1928, Woodbridge wrote to “Das,” referencing the fact that Dr. Machen had experienced setbacks in the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America: “The whole situation is stirring me very deeply. My coming to Germany has taught me many things. I pray to God that He may let me live to take my place in the ranks of those who are upholding the standards of the cross against this subtle but devilish attack of the forces of sin.”

Woodbridge indicated he was depending on the writings of Machen and others to help him address the intellectual problems encountered daily stemming from Professor von Harnack’s teaching: “Thank you for that book ‘The Origin [of Paul’s Religion].’ One of my feet is planted on that. Another foot is planted on [Geerhardus] Vos’s ‘Self-Disclosure [of Jesus].’”[45]

Later, Woodbridge indicated that given the instruction he had received from Professor von Harnack, he was convinced that the critical issue residing at the very heart of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy was nothing less than the deity of Christ. He knew this, based on instruction from and direct conversations with the great German professor.

In a 1930 review of Robert E. Speer’s book Some Living Issues, Professor Machen made the same point: “One thing at least is plain—there can be no real compromise between the naturalism of Harnack and the super-naturalism of the Bible and of the Christian faith. Was the real Jesus the Jesus reconstructed by Harnack, or was he the stupendous Redeemer whom the Bible presents? That question ought never to be trifled with, but must be resolutely and clearly faced.”[46]

Engaging in Missionary Service in Africa and the Long Reach of the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy

By 1929, moderates had clearly triumphed at Princeton Theological Seminary, and they reorganized the school. Believing that “Old Princeton” had died, Machen, along with a number of other professors and students, left Princeton Theological Seminary. Machen founded Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.[47]

On March 4, 1930, Charles Woodbridge married Ruth Dunning, a daughter of a Presbyterian minister from Pennsylvania. Ruth had already served a term as a Presbyterian missionary in the French Cameroon, Africa. Charles and Ruth met on a blind date in New York City.

In 1932, Charles and Ruth Woodbridge, along with their young daughter, Norma, headed for the French Cameroon. Time magazine carried an article on their departure accompanied by a photo of the three. In page after page of his memoirs, Woodbridge described in vivid detail the joys and perils of being a missionary in West Africa in the early 1930s.

When Charles and Ruth arrived at their post, their little daughter came down with malaria. Moreover, they sadly learned that the missionary whom Charles had come to replace had just died—stung by a poisonous insect. On occasion, the Woodbridge family’s living quarters were invaded by armies of driver ants. Woodbridge was also struck down by malaria. Quinine tablets apparently helped restore his health. In addition, his little daughter recovered from her own bout of malaria.

Woodbridge’s mission station shepherded 103 outposts. He rode a motorcycle deep into the jungle for weeks at a time, visiting many of these outposts scattered through the countryside. He learned to preach in Bulu, an African language. Ruth, having earlier served as a missionary in the French Cameroon, already knew some Bulu. As a single woman, she had taken care of missionary children and drove her own motorcycle deep into the jungles to minister at a leper colony. Many Africans came to saving faith in Christ due to the ministry of this couple. Charles and Ruth Woodbridge loved the Africans and were deeply committed to evangelistic outreach.

At a gathering of Presbyterian missionaries from West Africa in Elat, however, Charles Woodbridge experienced a shock that led him to question if he could remain a missionary in the French Cameroon. The Foreign Missions Board of the Presbyterian Church in New York appeared to be yielding to the sway of modernism, and the secretary of the board, Dr. Robert Speer, was supposedly allowing this to happen. In 1932, Speer published The Finality of Jesus Christ. In the mid-May 1933 edition of Christianity Today, Dr. Machen reviewed the book and sharply criticized Dr. Speer:

Dr. Speer possesses a truly amazing power over the hearts and minds of men. There are many evangelical Christians, moreover, who think that the vast influence is truly to the advancement of belief in the Bible and of the clear propagation of the Christian Faith. With persons who think [like this] I disagree . . .

The plain fact is that in the great issue of the day between Modernism and Christianity in the Presbyterian Church Dr. Speer is standing for a palliative middle-of-the road, evasive policy, which is in some ways a greater menace to the souls of men than any clear-cut Modernism could be.[48]

Dr. Speer was a highly respected, brilliant, and warmhearted Christian man who personally believed in the deity of Christ and the resurrection. He had contributed an article on evangelism and missions in The Fundamentals. However, his board had only “with regret” accepted the resignation of Mrs. Pearl S. Buck on May 1, 1933, as a Presbyterian missionary. This stance constituted a prime piece of evidence for Dr. Machen that demonstrated Dr. Speer’s allegedly evasive, indifferent attitude toward modernism. In his book review, Dr. Machen pointed out that Mrs. Buck “is the author of an article in Harper’s Magazine for January, 1933, which attacks the Christian faith at its very roots. In a subsequent article, in the May number of The Cosmopolitan, she says plainly, what she implies in that previous article, that to her it is a matter of small importance whether ‘Christ’ ever lived as in a ‘body of flesh and bone’ upon this earth.”[49]

On June 14, 1933, Professor Machen sent to Charles Woodbridge a copy of his Modernism and the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.[50] From this work and Machen’s correspondence, Woodbridge followed closely the intensifying dispute between Machen and Speer regarding the future direction and theological orientation of the Board of Foreign Missions back in the United States.

At the gathering of missionaries in Elat previously noted, a gentleman arose and proposed that the Presbyterian missionaries of West Africa should go on record as enthusiastically supporting Dr. Speer against those who were unduly attacking him in the United States (with Professor Machen apparently in mind). As a new missionary, Charles Woodbridge was not entitled to cast a vote on the motion. But another missionary urged that an exception be made so that new missionaries could vote. When a voice vote was in fact taken, a wave of ayes swept across the assembly. Then the perfunctory parliamentary question “Opposed?” was asked. Woodbridge’s memoirs indicate what happened next: “Quietly, but firmly, as a minority of one, I replied ‘No.’ A wave of incredulous consternation swept the place. Who was I, a missionary neophyte, to defy the expressed will of the Mission? I arose to my defense. Daggers of disapproval met me as I explained briefly that, in the light of the cumulating evidence, I could not in good conscience give a blanket endorsement to the Mission Board in New York. I was a leper, an outcast.”

Genuinely perplexed by this development, on July 13, 1933, Woodbridge wrote to Dr. Machen seeking counsel regarding what to do. In his letter, Woodbridge expressed “righteous indignation” concerning the way Machen and others had been treated at a recent meeting in Columbus, Ohio.[51] Unbeknown to Woodbridge, Dr. Machen was at the very same time in the process of creating the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions.

On August 23, 1933, Rev. Roy T. Brumbaugh, a pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Tacoma, Washington, wrote to Dr. Machen and suggested the name of Charles Woodbridge, among others, as a possible candidate for the position of general secretary of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions.[52]

On September 1, 1933, Dr. Machen responded to Rev. Brumbaugh and provided a laudatory assessment of Woodbridge:

You mention Charles J. Woodbridge as a possibility. Well, after receiving your letter I have received a letter from him which convinces me, when taken in connection with what I previously knew about him, that he would be a splendid General Secretary for the Board. His letter was entirely unsolicited. I had not written to him about the Board at all, but he had simply read the account of what happened at Columbus and was filled with a righteous indignation. He expressed himself as doubtful whether a man of his views can well serve longer under the present Board . . . I have known Woodbridge for years. He is the son of a very distinguished missionary family. When he first began his studies at Princeton Seminary, he stood rather against the League of Evangelical Students and was therefore somewhat inclined to side with the administration. But then he very frankly acknowledged his error, and his speech in defense of the League telling his reasons for his change of attitude was one of the most eloquent student speeches that I think I ever heard. During his year of study abroad, his evangelical conviction was even strengthened beyond what it had been before, by his contact with unbelief in the raw. At Flushing, Long Island, he made a wonderful success as a pastor. There was a tremendous evangelical fervor about his preaching which was mightily used for the saving of souls. He is quite unswerving in his devotion to the evangelical cause in the church . . . He is just exactly the type of man which will appeal to evangelistic pastors in the membership of the Board. Of one thing I am sure—if he should promote the work of the Board, there will be no question about its wide popular appeal among Bible-believing Christians in the church. Woodbridge is just one of those men upon whom God has laid His hand—a man of real power such as one seldom sees in these times.[53]

Dr. Machen then wrote a letter dated September 18, 1933, to Charles Woodbridge.[54] Quite discouraged, Woodbridge described the letter as one of cheer and encouragement. After all, the letter came from a person whom Woodbridge profoundly admired—J. Gresham Machen.

In his memoirs, Woodbridge wrote, “The clarity of this great scholar’s teaching in the good old days at Princeton Seminary, his rugged, masterly defense of the Word of God, his class exposition of the Epistle to the Galatians, the hours of fellowship with him some of us students enjoyed on the fourth floor of the seminary’s Alexander Hall—all these items had contributed to fortifying my faith and persuading me never to yield to the blandishments of compromise.”

In his letter, Dr. Machen asked Woodbridge to consider becoming the general secretary of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions. For the rest of his days, Woodbridge treasured Machen’s carefully worded and evangelically suffused invitation as one of his prized possessions. The letter provides us with another privileged glimpse into Machen’s life and thought. We turn to a brief review of its more salient points.

First, Dr. Machen explained the reasons he and his colleagues had decided to form the new board:

At Columbus last May, it seemed perfectly clear to [H. McAllister] Griffiths and to me, as well as to others who were there, that if we really love the Bible and the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, the time for mere words was past and the time for really self-sacrificing action had come. We can criticize the [New York] Board all we please; we can point out its obvious unfaithfulness; we can express our longing for a really Christian and really Presbyterian missionary activity: but all this has no more effect than the wind blowing unless we prove our faith by our works and really proceed to show the Bible-believing people in our church how they can carry the gospel to the ends of the earth in a way which is obviously impossible under the official Mission Board.

Machen argued that “the latent missionary zeal of the Bible-­believing part of the church, now checked and discouraged at every point by this wretched business of asking Bible-believing Christians to give through a Board that is predominantly unfaithful to the Bible, should at length be released.”

Second, Dr. Machen proposed the reasons he thought Charles Woodbridge would be a good candidate to serve as general secretary for the Board: “It seems to me that the man to be the instrument in releasing that latent enthusiasm and showing a channel for that consecrated service will be a young man in the fullness of his strength who will stand forth as the representative of this great cause. You have plainly shown by the blessing of God upon your words that you have the faculty of arousing people’s enthusiasm, of winning them not only to indignation against evil but also to zeal and joy in the propagation of the truth.”

Third, Dr. Machen spelled out the risks Woodbridge ran if he accepted the invitation to become the general secretary. These risks included a meager salary. Dr. Machen wrote:

I understand perfectly well that from a worldly point of view that would seem to be to ask a man to take a terrible risk. But neither you nor I nor any of the rest of us is looking at this thing from the worldly point of view. Westminster Seminary frequently does not have the money to pay our salaries until almost the very day when the salaries become due. Yet it is an established institution, and we have found that God has provided for us more surely than provision made through endowment or the like. I need not point also to the example of the China Inland Mission, and other faith missions, since you know more about them than I do, and since you know that God in their case has graciously supplied the needs of His own work.

Dr. Machen closed his letter with these words: “May God guide you and bless you in all things! I am thankful to Him for His blessing so wonderfully shown in your life.” Dr. Machen followed up this letter by sending a cable dated September 18, 1933:

EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE OF INDEPENDENT BOARD FOR PRESBYTERIAN FOREIGN MISSIONS HAS DECIDED TO NOMINATE YOU FOR GENERAL SECRETARY OF BOARD AT BOARD MEETING ON OCTOBER SEVENTEENTH (STOP) I AM TAKING THE LIBERTY OF INFORMING YOU OF THIS AND OF ASKING YOU WHETHER YOU WOULD CONSIDER THE INVITATION OF THE BOARD FAVORABLY (STOP) A WONDERFUL OPPORTUNITY IS OFFERED TO STIR THE LATENT FIRES OF MISSIONARY AND EVANGELISTIC ZEAL, AND YOU ARE THE ONLY MAN WHO CAN BE THE INSTRUMENT IN DOING THIS GREAT WORK (STOP) DOCTOR BUCHANAN IS QUITE AGREED WITH INVITATION (STOP) ED RIAN ESPECIALLY DESIRES TO JOIN IN URGING YOU (STOP) J GRESHAM MACHEN.[55]

Charles Woodbridge was thrilled by Dr. Machen’s letter. But he did not immediately cable a response. His memoirs read, “I had scheduled a week’s trek in the jungle in the service of the Lord. I had hours of solitude on this journey. There was time for prayer, meditation, analysis, sifting of possibilities, self-examination. I emerged from the forest convinced I should accept Dr. Machen’s invitation, face squarely any missionary misunderstanding, and embark for the U.S.A.”

On October 2, 1933, Dr. Machen, perhaps wondering about the delay in hearing from Woodbridge, sent another cable to him:

I AM EAGERLY WAITING YOUR REPLY TO LETTER SENT SEPTEMBER EIGHTEENTH (STOP) DECISION TO ACCEPT INVITATION OF COURSE NOT NECESSARY NOW BUT EARNESTLY HOPE THAT YOU WILL SAY THAT YOU WOULD CONSIDER SUCH INVITATION FAVORABLY (STOP) DOCTOR BUCHANAN AND I HAVE WRITTEN AT LENGTH BUT LETTERS WILL ARRIVE AFTER BOARD MEETING (STOP) YOU ARE CHIEF HOPE OF THIS GREAT CAUSE (STOP) J GRESHAM MACHEN.[56]

The very same day, October 2, 1933, Charles Woodbridge sent a return cable with his positive response:

ACCEPT INVITATION PLEASE CABLE DECISION WOODBRIDGE.[57]

On that same day, Professor Machen replied in a cable:

YOUR TELEGRAM RECEIVED REJOICE GREATLY WILL CABLE ACTION OF BOARD.[58]

The Board did in fact approve Charles Woodbridge as its general secretary of the new mission. Dr. Machen once again cabled Woodbridge:

I DESIRE TO ASSURE YOU THAT YOUR COMING IS AWAITED WITH GREAT ENTHUSIASM AND THAT WE BELIEVE WONDERFUL THINGS TO BE IN STORE.[59]

Understandably, the appointment of Charles Woodbridge as the general secretary of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions elicited a negative response from the national office of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. After all, the new board appeared to directly challenge the constitutional authority of the established Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the United States. In a letter dated October 31, 1933, Woodbridge explained to Dr. Machen the reasons his departure from Africa would need to be delayed for two months: “The bomb has exploded! It may have occasioned some surprise among those connected with the new board when my cable reached [Paul] Woolley, to the effect that ‘obligations detain me two months. I wish first to explain this delay’ . . . Yesterday the field secretary of the West Africa Mission, Dr. W. Johnston, waited on me with two cables from the present board. They have practically refused to accept the resignation.”

One cable indicated:

GENERAL COUNCIL ASSEMBLY AND BOARD MEMBERS AND OFFICERS . . . CANNOT ACCEPT WOODBRIDGE RESIGNATION.

They found it unacceptable he would leave his post to become secretary of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions because he “disregarded assembly constitutional authority.” Moreover, they refused to authorize the treasurer of the Mission, he continued, “to advance me travel money; that if I persist in my determination to withdraw, it would mean my having to raise enough money on the field to take me home.” Woodbridge indicated to Dr. Machen that he would raise the nearly $1,000 for the boat passage on his own. He would sell his “car, bicycle, gun, ice-box, etc.” Woodbridge added, “So someday there may be a ‘Woodbridge case.’ Dr. Johnston told me yesterday that he felt that such people as Machen and now of course, Woodbridge, should get out of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. Needless to say, I took issue with him there. I have written Dr. Speer telling him very clearly just why I am resigning . . . I praise the Lord that he has called out men of God to take a stand for biblical Presbyterian foreign missions.” He also noted to Dr. Machen, whereas before he had been subject to the intimidating treatment from the Presbyterian Mission Board in New York he had believed his working with the Independent Board was a “cause,” he now deemed it a “crusade.”[60]

In a cable, Professor Machen urged Woodbridge to accept an invitation to speak at a missions conference at Moody Bible Institute right after his return to the United States. Machen indicated that doing so would give Woodbridge a significant platform for advancing the cause of missions.[61] Machen did not hesitate to make this recommendation, even though Moody Bible Institute advocated dispensational theology. Though an orthodox Presbyterian, Machen felt quite comfortable supporting other Christians who upheld the fundamentals of the faith.[62]

Partnering with Professor Machen at the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions

Under Professor Machen’s wise tutelage, Charles Woodbridge began working as the general secretary for the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions in room 1531 at 12 South Twelfth Street in Philadelphia. The two men regularly corresponded and talked in person. Woodbridge drafted for the board a “Statement as to Its Organization and Program”: “The Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions is an agency established for the quickening of missionary zeal and the promotion of truly biblical and truly Presbyterian foreign missions throughout the world. It is independent in that it is not responsible, as an organization, to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. or to any other ecclesiastical body.”

Woodbridge traveled widely, preaching the gospel and promoting the mission. When Woodbridge proposed overly ambitious promotional strategies, Professor Machen gently reined him in by suggesting other options. Woodbridge managed incoming correspondence, edited the Independent Board Bulletin, and wrote a regular column (“The Regions Beyond”) for The Presbyterian Guardian focusing on news in world missions. Dr. Machen often wrote the journal’s lead column, “The Changing Scene and the Unchanging Word.”

Upon the invitation of Dr. James M. Gray, the president of Moody Bible Institute, Woodbridge spoke at the Founder’s Week conference in 1934.[63] ln his memoirs, he wrote, “Dr. Gray was fearless in the defense of the faith. Just before I spoke, he leaned over to me on the platform—a small man with his skullcap and big heart—and said, ‘There are many Presbyterians here. Let them have it!’ I readily complied with his presidential suggestion. There seemed to be a good audience response, although I suspect that not all the Presbyterians there were willing to abandon their respected Dr. Speer and his modernist program simply because the facts of the case were presented!”

Success almost immediately greeted the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions in acquiring donations and in enlisting missionaries to go out under its auspices. Mr. Arthur Dieffenbacher, a friend of John Stam, was the first missionary. A man of remarkable evangelistic zeal, he served faithfully in China. During World War II, he lost his life as an army chaplain on July 4, 1944, soon after the Normandy invasion of France. On the transport ship to Europe, he and two other chaplains had led 84 men to the Lord.[64]

The success of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions did not go unnoticed by Robert E. Speer, the secretary of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. In his memoirs, Woodbridge referred to the palpable spirit of distrust between Dr. Machen and Dr. Speer:

Dr. Machen’s dealings with Dr. Speer were exasperating. When he challenged him with pure logic, Dr. Speer replied with bold but irrelevant assertions. I was lunching one day with Dr. Machen. He produced a letter he had just received from Dr. Speer. He had written Dr. Speer inquiring why the Presbyterian Mission Board could tolerate the unbiblical teachings of Miss Kirkland. Dr. Speer, dodging the question, replied to the effect that Miss Kirkland was an invalid and needed the prayers of Christians. Dr. Machen wrote again, expressing his sympathy for Miss Kirkland but pressing his point about the Presbyterians’ acceptance of her heresy. To which inquiry Dr. Speer replied that Dr. Machen was clearly a bitter man, and that further correspondence with him would be to no avail.

In his column in The Presbyterian Journal (April 6, 1936), Professor Machen, apparently frustrated by the continuing “bitterness” charge, summarized his difficulty in interacting with supporters of the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. He observed that these supporters used the logic of caricature in their exchanges:

Machen: The Board of Foreign Missions has retained a signer of the Auburn Affirmation as candidate secretary.

Supporters of the board: Dr. Robert E. Speer is a splendid Christian gentleman.

Machen: You are wandering from the question. What I said was that the Board of Foreign Missions has retained a signer of the Auburn Affirmation as candidate secretary.

Supporters of the board: Dr. Machen, you are very bitter man.[65]

Earlier in 1934, the ecclesiastical roof had begun to cave in on the Independent Board. In that year, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., in its meeting in Cleveland, Ohio, issued a “mandate” proclaiming that the Independent Board was unconstitutional. It ruled that a “church member or an individual church that will not give to promote the officially authorized missionary program of the Presbyterian Church is in exactly the same position with reference to the constitution of the church as a church member or an individual church that would refuse to take part in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.”[66] This ultimatum appeared blasphemous to Charles Woodbridge. Like Dr. Machen, he thought it put institutional authority above the teachings of Scripture. In his memoirs, he wrote, “The Cleveland Assembly continued to apply its meat axe! It ordered the Independent Board’s dissolution, demanded that all Presbyterian members of the board resign, and asked presbyteries to proceed to disciplinary action against any Presbyterian board members who proved recalcitrant! We were granted ninety days in which to comply with this iniquitous decree.” Thereafter, multiple ecclesiastical trials ensued.

In his memoirs, Woodbridge described Dr. Machen’s trial of February–March 1935 in considerable detail. He served as one of Dr. Machen’s three defense lawyers. He also noted headlines from across the country referring to both men and women put on trial or otherwise disciplined. Dr. Machen was found guilty on six charges and “suspended” from the ministry. J. Oliver Buswell Jr., the president of Wheaton College; Carl McIntire; and others experienced the same fate.[67] Pages of Woodbridge’s memoirs relate details about these happenings and his own trial.

On the evening of March 17, 1935, while under indictment by the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., Dr. Machen spoke at the First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh. His words capture well the reasons he opposed so vigorously the Auburn Affirmation:

My profession of faith is simply that I know nothing of the Christ proclaimed through the Auburn Affirmation . . . I know nothing of a Christ who is presented to us in a human book containing errors, but know only a Christ presented in a divine Book, the Bible, which is true from beginning to end. I know nothing of a Christ who possibly was and possibly was not born of a virgin, but know only a Christ who was truly conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the Virgin Mary. I know nothing of a Christ who possibly did and possibly did not work miracles, but know only a Christ who said to the winds and the waves, with the sovereign voice of the Maker and Ruler of all nature, “Peace, be still.” I know nothing of a Christ who possibly did and possibly did not come out of the tomb on the first Easter morning, but know only a Christ who triumphed over sin and the grave and is living now in His glorified body until He shall come again and I shall see Him with my very eyes. I know nothing of a Christ who possibly did and possibly did not die as my substitute on the cross, but know only a Christ who took on Himself the just punishment of my sins and died there in my stead to make me right with the holy God.[68]

Dr. Machen indicated he would “rather be condemned for an honest adherence to the Bible and to my solemn ordination pledge than enjoy the highest ecclesiastical honors and emoluments as the reward of dishonesty.”[69]

Perhaps not surprisingly, in the same year 1935, Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick declared that modernism had triumphed over fundamentalism. In a sermon titled “The Church Must Go Beyond Modernism,” delivered at the Riverside Church in New York City, Fosdick declared, “We have already largely won the battle we started out to win; we have adjusted the Christian faith to the best intelligence of our day and have won the strongest minds and the best abilities of the church to our side. Fundamentalism is still with us but mostly in the backwaters. The future of the churches, if we will have it so, is in the hands of modernism.”[70] But Dr. Fosdick surprised his listeners by confessing the principal weakness of modernism—that it is “no adequate religion to represent the Eternal and claim the allegiance of the soul. Let it be a modernist who says that to you!”[71] He added a great concession: “We cannot harmonize Christ himself with modern culture. What Christ does to modern culture is to challenge it.”[72]

Woodbridge’s memoirs describe his own suspension in May 1936:

I sat in the gallery of the Central High School of Syracuse, New York, when the Permanent Judicial Commission of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. delivered its ultimate verdict . . . It found us “guilty” of all charges leveled at us [Judicial Case N. 1] . . . When the sound and fury of the Commission’s diatribe had ceased and the audience, seemingly greatly impressed, was vacating the Central High School of Syracuse, a portly gentleman of florid countenance approached me and put his arm around my shoulder. He was Dr. J. Ross Stevenson, president of Princeton Theological Seminary. He had known me since my Princeton University days, but apparently he did not know me very well. He asked me, with a look of victorious satisfaction, “Why do you not give up all this foolishness? We’ll be glad to give you a fresh start.” To this helpful suggestion, I replied, “Only if you will discipline the Auburn Affirmationists in the church.” Impatiently he dropped his arm, shook his ample double chin, shrugged his well-rounded shoulders, managed [a] sniff of disgust, and walked away in disdain. I have never seen Dr. Stevenson again. His ecumenical bias, he knew quite well, was permeating the Presbyterian Church with astonishing rapidity.[73]

During these very trying days of 1935–1936, Dr. Machen and Charles Woodbridge kept in close personal contact. In his memoirs, Woodbridge described Machen’s visit to the family home after the birth of the Woodbridges’ baby girl. Ever the gentleman, Machen asked Ruth and Charles for permission to touch the baby’s cheek as if the baby were a little angel from heaven. Woodbridge noted that within a year, Dr. Machen would himself be in heaven.

Another significant glimpse of J. Gresham Machen in Woodbridge’s memoirs concerned the founding of the new church, the Presbyterian Church of America. “Suspended” ministers like Machen and Woodbridge would soon have a new church home. In his memoirs, Woodbridge wrote:

We met in the New Century Club of Philadelphia on June 11, 1936—ministers, elders, and members of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. The chairman asked how many in attendance desired to affiliate themselves as forming the new church. About two hundred people stood to their feet; and while they remained standing, the president officer declared the Presbyterian Church of America to be constituted. Ministers and elders who wished to be a part of the general assembly of the new church then stood, and that ecclesiastical organization was duly and legally constituted. The Presbyterian Church of America was now a going concern . . . To the great delight of all assembled, Dr. Machen was elected moderator of the new church. He was nominated by Dr. Gordon H. Clark, professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who described him as a scholar and a gentleman, a man who when reviled, reviled not again. Dr. Clark stated concerning his nominee, “He defended Christianity against his enemies, not by imitating their campaign of personal defamation, but by defending Christianity like a Christian gentleman.” The protracted applause which greeted these elegant words revealed the confidence which we all felt in our hour of supreme joy and relief in the leadership of a great man of God who, in the opinion of us all, had been persecuted for righteousness’ sake.[74]

Mourning the Sudden Death of Professor J. Gresham Machen

Not too many months later, deep sadness again gripped Charles Woodbridge. Dr. Machen was stripped of his presidency of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions. In a June 12, 1937, article in The Presbyterian Guardian, Woodbridge reflected retrospectively about this “tragedy,” which had occurred in a November 1936 meeting of the board held in Philadelphia: “I shall never forget that meeting. It was one of the saddest sights that I have ever witnessed. Dr. Machen had been president of the Board ever since I had returned from Africa. But now on the part of certain persons on the Board a growing discontent with Dr. Machen’s presidency had been developing. Weeks before the Board meeting, these persons had conferred and had decided to remove Dr. Machen from the presidency of the Board.”

After hours of debate, an “independent” and non-Presbyterian candidate favored by board member Carl McIntire was elected the new president of the board. Woodbridge continued: “Dr. Machen was greatly shocked. The evening of the Board meeting it was clear that he foresaw the collapse of the Independent Board as a Presbyterian agency. He said to me, with a note of tragedy in his voice, ‘If it were not for our missionaries I would at once resign from the Board.’”[75]

In the last days of the next month, December 1937, Dr. Machen traveled to Bismarck, North Dakota, to fulfill a ministry assignment. He had a very bad cold. Some friends had advised him not to make the train trip. It was bitterly frigid in Bismarck. He was grieving the recent events of November, only to be stricken with pneumonia. Woodbridge reported that over and over again, Dr. Machen told the Reverend Allen, his host in Bismarck, that “the Presbyterian Church of America would have to establish its own missionary agency if it desired to conduct truly Biblical and truly Presbyterian foreign missions.”[76]

On December 30, 1936, Charles Woodbridge sent the following Western Union telegram to Dr. Machen at St. Alexius Hospital:

SO SORRY TO HEAR ABOUT YOUR ILLNESS STOP BY ALL MEANS BE IN NO HURRY TO LEAVE THE HOSPITAL STOP WE WILL DO ALL WE CAN TO PINCH-HIT FOR YOU STOP PRAYING FOR YOU STOP WITH REAL CHRISTIAN AFFECTION=CHARLIE WOODBRIDGE[77]

At 7:30 p.m. on January 1, 1937, J. Gresham Machen, the stalwart, orthodox Presbyterian, went to be with his Lord and Savior whom he had served so well in this life.[78]

Closing Reflections

Charles Woodbridge’s largely behind-the-scenes glimpses and perceptions of Professors J. Gresham Machen and Adolph von Harnack are just that—glimpses and perceptions. We need to consult perspectives from additional primary sources and rich secondary literatures to gain a fuller picture of the two men. We especially need to include the compelling concerns and arguments of well-respected Presbyterians such as Pastor Clarence Edward Macartney and a number of Westminster professors who believed Machen had seriously erred in establishing the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions.[79]

What might we learn from Charles Woodbridge’s personal glimpses of Machen and von Harnack? Perhaps our modest reception history of Woodbridge’s perceptions of these two iconic figures does felicitously humanize them a bit more and fills in a number of gaps in our understanding. It reveals that Professors Machen and von Harnack admired each other. It suggests that both men were on occasion subjected to harsh criticisms. Moreover, it emphasizes the point that Machen was motivated by a desire to remain faithful to the Lord both in his church life and scholarship, no matter the cost. He combined a rare commitment to world-class Christian scholarship and to worldwide Christian missions. He was deeply troubled by the fact that the herculean struggle between Christianity and liberalism not only stirred the northern Presbyterian Church in the United States, but also in the theatres of the Presbyterian mission fields stretching from China (Pearl Buck) to the French Cameroon in West Africa.[80]

A number of other observations might be salient:

1. Students at Princeton Theological Seminary in the years 1924–1927 apparently had scant knowledge of the struggle between Professor Machen and members of the administration regarding the direction of the school.

2. Newspaper reports sometimes portrayed Dr. Machen as “intolerant,” “bitter,” and “schismatic.” Dr. Robert Speer also said as much. In fact, Dr. Machen was a gracious gentleman who generally refrained from personal attacks. Dr. Gordon Clark noted this trait in nominating Dr. Machen as moderator of the Presbyterian Church of America. Upon hearing of Dr. Machen’s death, the Reverend Floyd Hamilton, a missionary in Korea, added his testimony:

I can’t put into words all that the friendship and teaching of Dr. Machen has meant to me personally. In all our close and intimate friendship I have never heard him enter upon a tirade against any man who was opposed to him in the theological fight. He never went into personal attacks against his foes, but always attacked the principles and practices of those who in any way deviated from the teaching of the Word of God. Vituperation he left to his enemies, and I suppose there has been no man of our generation more unjustly maligned and misrepresented by those who were supposed to be orthodox than he.[81]

3. Machen deemed individuals like Dr. Robert E. Speer—those he characterized as “evasive” tolerant moderates—as even more dangerous than Professor Adolph von Harnack, whom he viewed as a naturalist. Dr. Machen feared that “tolerant” evangelicals would prompt Bible-believing evangelicals to trust modernists’ teachings. Their alleged “indifferentism” toward those who did not affirm orthodox doctrines could imply that doctrines were not fundamental to the Christian faith after all. Machen wrote, “Indifferentism about doctrine makes no heroes of the faith.”[82] Machen expressed feelings of frustration about modernists and moderates who were severely hampering Presbyterian Bible believers from being able to support evangelical missionaries overseas.

4. Machen was no obscurantist when it came to engagement with unbelieving world-class scholarship. He admired Professor von Harnack’s writings. He recommended that Princeton students encounter unbelief in its “raw form.” Whereas some fundamentalists like evangelist Billy Sunday did make outlandish statements critical of higher education, Machen extolled the merits of a first-class education, including the study of science.

5. Machen was quite reluctant to use the term fundamentalist to describe himself. Nonetheless, when he did employ the expression fundamentalism, he defined it carefully. In an article titled “What Fundamentalism Stands For Now,” he wrote, “The term ‘Fundamentalism’ is distasteful to the present writer and to many persons who hold views similar to his. It seems to suggest that we are adherents of some strange new sect, whereas in point of fact we are conscious simply of maintaining the historic Christian faith and of moving in the great central current of Christian life. That does not mean that we desire to be out of touch with our own time, or that we live in a static world without variety and without zest.”[83] In another article (1924), “Does Fundamentalism Obstruct Social Progress?” he observed, “The term ‘Fundamentalism’ in the title of our discussion is evidently to be taken in a broad sense, not to designate ‘Premillennialists’ but to include all those who definitely and polemically maintain a belief in supernatural Christianity as over against the Modernism of the present day. In what ways has ‘Fundamentalism,’ defined thus broadly to include men like ourselves, been held to be inimical to social progress?”[84]

6. Machen referred more generally to those “faithful” Presbyterians whose welfare he sought as “orthodox,” “Bible-believing Christians,” or “evangelicals.” Dr. Machen viewed himself as an orthodox Presbyterian engaged in a struggle to defend Christianity against liberalism.[85] He saw himself as a faithful Calvinist defender of the Westminster Confession subjected to attacks by unfaithful churchmen—advocates of the Auburn Confession.[86] At the same time, he displayed great respect and appreciation for other conservative Christians ranging from Missouri Synod Lutherans and Methodists to dispensational premillennialists who upheld the “fundamentals” of the faith. Concerning candidates for the Presbyterian ministry, he wrote:

Be it noticed that the candidates do not subscribe to the Reformed system of doctrine merely as one allowable system among many allowable systems. They do not even merely subscribe to it as the best system. But they subscribe to it as the system that is true.

Being true, it is true for Methodists and Lutherans just as much as Presbyterians, and we cannot treat as of no moment the differences which separate us from Methodists and Lutherans without being unfaithful to the Word of God.

Does that mean that we cannot have Christian fellowship with our Methodist or our Lutheran brethren?

It means nothing of the kind. On the contrary, we can have very precious fellowship with them.[87]

He continued by extolling the “Christian fellowship that I have enjoyed with many of my Lutheran brethren, especially those of the ‘Missouri Synod.’ How often when I have felt tempted to be discouraged, has some message come to me from them bidding me be of good courage and remember that the battle is the Lord’s!”[88] Moreover, Charles Woodbridge was a premillennialist during the time he served as the general secretary for the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions. Machen even lauded the Roman Catholic Church for its high view of the authority of Scripture.[89]

7. Machen faithfully upheld a very high view of the Bible’s authority and emphasized Scripture’s inerrancy. He sought to be faithful to the Lord and to biblical teaching whatever the cost. Delivering a sermon at Tenth Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia not long before his death, Dr. Machen declared:

The Bible is the Magna Charta of human liberty . . . When it is abandoned, tyranny stalks unchecked. When the Bible is no longer thought to be inerrant, the decisions of church assemblies are exalted above it. Thus the word of man is exalted above the Word of God.

What should be done when the machinery of the church thus pushed itself between the Christian and Christ? The Christian must seek Christ again at any cost, and must yield implicit obedience to His command alone. We must allow nothing to stand between us and Christ—no ecumenical council, no presbytery, no synod, no general assembly.[90]

A witness of the service where Dr. Machen was preaching observed, “The edifice was crowded with a large number of eagerly listening worshippers obviously moved by the tenderness and sincerity of the sermon.”[91]

Dr. Machen, the last major representative of “old Princeton,” has much to teach us about our own discipleship as followers of Jesus Christ. He demonstrated exemplary courage despite daunting challenges. He sought to be faithful to the Lord and biblical teaching no matter the cost. He gives us an example of a person who lived all out for Christ. Little wonder his favorite hymn included these inspiring words he took very much to heart: “Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small; love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”


[1] Harry Emerson Fosdick, “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” Christian Work 102 (June 22, 1922): 716–22. Concerning Fosdick’s sermon, see Robert Miller, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Preacher, Pastor, Prophet (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 116–17, 130, 158.

[2] Princeton theologians like B. B. Warfield, often portrayed as the originators of a “fundamentalist” view of biblical inerrancy in the original autographs, did not in fact uphold a mechanical dictation theory of biblical inspiration. See Bradley N. Seeman, “The ‘Old Princetonians’ on Biblical Authority,” in The Enduring Authority of the Christian Scriptures, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016), 195–227; Fred G. Zaspel, The Theology of B. B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 111–75; Paul Helseth, Right Reason and the Princeton Mind: An Unorthodox Proposal (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2010). The premise of lost “original documents of Scripture” did not constitute a useless belief. It recognized that the infallible “autographs” of Scripture no longer exist but could be very closely reconstituted through lower textual criticism—a practice extending back to the Patristic Period (see Augustine’s letter to Faustus the Manichean, Letters of St. Augustine, 82:3: “I confess to your Charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honor only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the manuscript is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand.”).

[3] For a persuasive revisionary assessment of the career of William Jennings Bryan and the Scopes Trial, see Edward Larsen, Summer of the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate over Science and Religion (New York: Basic, 2006). Larsen traces the history of perceptions of the Scopes Trial in the 20th century and beyond. The William Jennings Bryan described in his account does not match the laughingstock caricatures of Bryan displayed in a film like Inherit the Wind and in some secondary literature. Standard works on the history of fundamentalism include insider perspectives of David Beale (In Pursuit of Purity: American Fundamentalism Since 1850 [Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1986]) and George Dollar (A History of Fundamentalism in America [Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1973]), as well as outsider perspectives of George Marsden (Fundamentalism and American Culture [New York: Oxford University Press, 2006] and Joel Carpenter (The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism [New York: Oxford University Press, 1991]).

[4] In What Is Christianity? Professor Adolph von Harnack had advocated a form of naturalism: “We are firmly convinced that what happens in space and time is subject to the general laws of motion, and that in this sense, as an interruption of the order of Nature, there can be no such things as ‘miracles’” (What Is Christianity? 2nd ed. [1901, repr., New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1908], 28–29).

[5] The controversy did reach into other Christian groups such as the Southern Baptist Convention and Methodist churches.

[6] See “Theologians Rap Fight on Missing Link,” Oakland Tribune (California), February 15, 1922: “Will instruction in the Darwinian theory of evolution lower the morals of the schools and bring out the beast in their nature? Dr. John Roach Straton, leader of the fundamentalist movement in the Baptist Church, believes it will and has made a public pronouncement to this effect. Dr. Straton has announced that the fundamentalists are preparing to start a campaign to have textbooks dealing with the theory excluded from the New York City public schools.”

[7] Cited in Paul W. Rood II, “The Untold Story of the Fundamentals,” Biola Magazine (Summer 2014), http://magazine.biola.edu/article/14-summer/the-untold-story-of-the-fundamentals (accessed May 15, 2017).

[8] Historian George Dollar proposed that the only authentic fundamentalist was a dispensationalist premillennialist. He viewed a Presbyterian such as Professor J. Gresham Machen as an “orthodox ally.” For Dollar’s comparison of “fundamentalists” and “orthodox allies,” see his A History of American Fundamentalism (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1973), 181–83.

[9] Curtis Lee Laws, “Convention Sidelights,” Watchman-Examiner 8 (July 1, 1920): 834.

[10] References to the controversy filled columns of the nation’s newspapers from Berkeley, California, to Boston, Massachusetts.

[11] From an advertisement in the Lebanon Daily News, December 16, 1922, 1.

[12] “South Baptists Flay Modernism: Fundamentalism Is Stoutly Reaffirmed in Resolution Introduced,” Joplin Globe, May 16, 1924, 1.

[13] See “Religious Rivals Warned to Find Common Ground,” Waterloo Evening Courier, March 24, 1923.

[14] “An Assault upon Learning Fundamentalist Movement Attacked by Dr. Albert C. Dieffenbach of Boston,” Lowell Sun, June 7, 1923.

[15] “Fundamentalism—Menace to Protestantism’s Teaching Says Rev. S. Arthur Huston,” San Antonio Express, June 18, 1923.

[16] Quoted in Ned B. Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), 310.

[17] J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (1923; repr., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009).

[18] Quoted in Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen, 342.

[19] Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, 2.

[20] Walter Lippmann, A Preface to Morals (New York: Macmillan, 1929), 32.

[21] “Historic Documents in America Presbyterianism: The Auburn Affirmation,” www.pcahistory.org/documents/auburntext.html (accessed May 15, 2017).

[22] Ibid.

[23] See Edwin H. Rian, The Presbyterian Conflict (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1940), 17–51; Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen, 365.

[24] J. Gresham Machen, What Is Christianity? A Selection if Notable Addresses by a Noble Defender of the Faith, ed. Ned B. Stonehouse (1951; repr., Birmingham, AL: Solid Ground, 2013), 185–200.

[25] See Paul Woolley, The Significance of J. Gresham Machen Today (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1977), 5.

[26] Von Harnack, What Is Christianity?; see Martin Rumscheidt, ed., Adolf von Harnack: Liberal Theology at its Height (London: Collins, 1989), 126–226.

[27] Von Harnack, What Is Christianity? 55.

[28] In his 1924 critical review of McGiffert’s The God of the Early Christians, J. Gresham Machen wrote, “The truth is that the antitheistic religion of the present day—popularized by preachers like Dr. Fosdick and undergirded by scholars such as the author of the brilliant book [McGiffert] which we have just attempted to review—the truth is that this antitheistic Modernism, which at least in one of its characteristic forms, takes the man Jesus of naturalistic reconstruction as its only God, will have to stand at last upon its own feet. With the historic Christian church, at any rate, it plainly has little to do” (cited in D. G. Hart, ed., J. Gresham Machen: Selected Shorter Writings [Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2004], 505–6).

[29] D. G. Hart, Defending the Faith: J. Gresham Machen and the Crisis of Conservative Protestantism in Modern America (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2003); Woolley, Significance of J. Gresham Machen Today.

[30] Bradley J. Longfield, The Presbyterian Controversy: Fundamentalists, Modernists, and Moderates (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991).

[31] Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir; Stephen J. Nichols, J. Gresham Machen: A Guided Tour of his Life and Thought (Phillipsburg, NJ: P &R, 2004); Rian, Presbyterian Conflict.

[32] In his personal memoirs, Woodbridge wrote, “I am particularly glad I could listen at length to Dr. Bultmann.” He took copious notes of Bultmann’s lectures.

[33] On March 12, 1931, Machen playfully wrote Charles Woodbridge, thanking him for an overly generous honorarium for speaking at his church: “If l had not had the conversation on the Long Island platform last Sunday night, I should certainly have returned your generous check, which you enclose with your letter of March 10th. But you tell me that the check came from the church and not from you. If it came from the church, I don’t see why the church treasurer didn’t sign it, but at the same time I don’t like to charge you with prevarication! I should hate to have you think that you couldn’t call me in to preach for you whenever you think the congregation can stand it, without providing an honorarium. The upshot of the matter is that I am turning the check over to Westminster Seminary as a little contribution. It ought to be a contribution from you instead of from me, but we’ll not start a theological controversy on that point. It was the greatest possible privilege for me to preach for you last Sunday” (archives of the Montgomery Library at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia PA [Machen/Woodbridge correspondence, Box 30–31]).

[34] Charles Woodbridge’s sermons are located in the personal archives of the author. In Christianity and Liberalism (1923), Machen had written (p. 62), “Before the full authority of the Bible can be established, therefore, it is necessary to add to the Christian doctrine of revelation the Christian doctrine of inspiration. The latter doctrine means that the Bible not only is an account of important things, but that the account itself is true, the writers having been so preserved from error, despite a full maintenance of their habits of thought and expression, that the resulting Book is the ‘infallible rule of faith and practice.’” Machen also contested Fosdick’s charge that those who believed in biblical inerrancy upheld a “mechanical dictation theory of inspiration”; see also J. Gresham Machen, The Christian Faith in the Modern World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1936), 23–86.

[35] On Professor Machen’s personal relationships with Princeton Theological Seminary students see Woolley, Significance of J. Gresham Machen Today, 2–5.

[36] See Rian, Presbyterian Conflict, 37–56; Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen, 382–429.

[37] Personal memoirs of Charles Woodbridge.

[38] Dr. J. Ross Stevenson became president of Princeton Theological Seminary in 1914 (see Woolley, Significance of J. Gresham Machen Today, 11–12). Sylvester Woodbridge Beach (1852–1940), pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Princeton, presided over the funeral of President Woodrow Wilson, former president of Princeton University and the first cousin of Charles Woodbridge’s father. Charles R. Erdman (1886–1960) was moderator of the Presbyterian Church in America (see Longfield, Presbyterian Controversy, 6–7, 227–28).

[39] From the early 19th century until Charles Woodbridge’s own day (1920s), more than 9,000 Americans had traveled to Germany to pursue theological studies.

[40] Quoted in Hart, J. Gresham Machen, 316–17.

[41] Quoted in Nichols, J. Gresham Machen, 32–34.

[42] Cited in Hart, J. Gresham Machen, 46.

[43] Rian and Woodbridge attended parties together in Berlin. They traveled together through Europe. The Woodbridge archives contain numerous photos of the two men together. Rian later wrote The Presbyterian Conflict (1940).

[44] Archives of the Montgomery Library at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA (Machen/Woodbridge correspondence, Box 27–28).

[45] Ibid., letter from Charles Woodbridge to Dr. Machen dated March 28, 1928. Woodbridge added, “Stevenson, who himself studied under von Harnack, said you were ‘temperamentally unfit’ to fill that apologetics chair. That statement . . . proves one of two things. 1. Either he has never read your ‘Origins’ or 2. He is very, very ignorant.” In June 1928, Professor Machen wrote back to Woodbridge, “Your letter, which I have read and re-read, has been an immense encouragement to me. In these days when one meets with such a blank lack of comprehension for the things which seem to us important, it is indeed refreshing to find men like you who think our labors at Princeton have not been altogether in vain. I do feel highly honored by the way in which you speak of me, and I am profoundly grateful to you for the warmth and generosity with which you give expression to your feeling not only about me but about our beloved Princeton.” Machen explained in the letter what was taking place in the struggle for control of the seminary (archives of the Montgomery Library at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA [Machen/Woodbridge correspondence, Box 27–28]). ln his The Origin of Paul’s Religion (6–7, 26, 33–36, 98, 119, 263, 273), Machen specifically interacted with van Harnack’s writings. In 1926, Geerhardus Vos had published The Self-Disclosure of Jesus: The Modern Debate about the Messianic Consciousness (1926, repr. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2002).

[46] Quoted in Hart, J. Gresham Machen, 446.

[47] On the founding of Westminster Theological Seminary, see Rian, Presbyterian Conflict, 37–71; J. Gresham Machen, “Westminster Theological Seminary: Its Purpose and Plan,” in J. Gresham Machen, ed. Hart, 187–94. On July 24, 1929, Woodbridge wrote to Dr. Machen, “Have just been reading in the NY Times headlines regarding the new seminary. Delighted to hear about your meeting in Philadelphia. The publicity it is getting will be of incalculable value in the acquiring of funds for the seminary. I am confident that many of the students will join with you in the new venture. Thank God for men of conviction who are willing to act on their convictions . . . May God bless you in these strenuous days. With real affection—Ever sincerely, your friend Charlie” (archives of the Montgomery Library at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia PA [Machen/Woodbridge correspondence, Box 28–29]).

[48] Robert E. Speer, The Finality of Christ (New York: Revell, 1932); see J. Gresham Machen, “Dr. Robert E. Speer and His Latest Book,” Christianity Today 4.1 (May 1933): 15–16, 22–26. Machen and Speer had recently debated each other (see “Machen-Speer Debate—Historic Event in Presbyterian Church,” Christianity Today 3.12 [April 1933]: 19–23). On Robert E. Speer, see John F. Piper, Robert E. Speer (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2014).

[49] Machen, “Dr. Robert E. Speer and His Latest Book”; see Pearl S. Buck, “Is There a Case for Foreign Missions?” Harper’s Magazine 166 (January 1933): 143–55.

[50] Archives of the Montgomery Library of Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA (Machen/Woodbridge correspondence, Box 1932–33). Machen drew up this work in part as a response to the Board of Foreign Missions for its support and endorsement of the publication of William Ernest Hocking’s Re-Thinking Missions: A Laymen’s Inquiry after One Hundred Years (New York: Harper, 1932). This latter volume denied that Jesus is the only way, the truth, and the life: “Whatever its [Christianity’s] present conception of the future life, there is little disposition to believe that sincere and aspiring seekers after God in other religions are to be damned: it has become less concerned in any land to save men from eternal punishment than from the danger of losing the supreme good” (p. 19). Christianity should be less concerned with other religions like Islam, Hinduism, or Buddhism than with the menace of materialism, secularism, and naturalism (p. 29); see Rian, Presbyterian Conflict, 87–102.

[51] Archives of the Montgomery Library at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA (Machen/Woodbridge correspondence, Box 1933–34).

[52] Copy of the letter found in the author’s personal archives.

[53] Archives of the Montgomery Library at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA (Machen/Woodbridge correspondence, Box 1933–34).

[54] Ibid. (Original of letter from Machen to Woodbridge in the personal archives of the author).

[55] Ibid.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Ibid.

[58] Ibid.

[59] Ibid.

[60] Ibid.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Machen wrote, “We do not mean, in insisting upon the doctrinal basis of Christianity, that all points of doctrine are equally important. It is perfectly possible for Christian fellowship to be maintained despite differences of opinion” (Christianity and Liberalism, 40–41).

[63] Dr. Gray was not a partisan for the use of the word fundamentalist: “I do not call myself a fundamentalist, not because I lack sympathy with the Bible truths for which that name now stands, but because I think the name itself is unnecessary and perhaps undesirable” (James M. Gray, “The Deadline of Doctrine around the Church,” Moody Monthly [November 1922], 101). He worried that opponents might “speak of fundamentalism as something new, and not only new but divisive in the churches, which are said to be already ‘sufficiently split and riven.’”

[64] See “This Day in Presbyterian History: July 5: Arthur J. Dieffenbacher,” July 5, 2013, www.thisday.pcahistory.org/2013/07/july-5-arthur-j-dieffenbacher (accessed May 15, 2017).

[65] J. Gresham Machen, “The Changing Scene and the Unchanging Word,” The Presbyterian Guardian (April 6, 1936), 2.

[66] Personal memoirs of Charles Woodbridge.

[67] Accounts of these trials are scattered through The Presbyterian Guardian. The 1934 mandate was confirmed by the General Assembly of 1936.

[68] “The Continuing Story: Dr. Machen’s Profession of Faith,” June 28, 2011, https://continuing.wordpress.com/2011/06/28/dr-machens-profession-of-faith (accessed May 15, 2017).

[69] Ibid.

[70] Harry Emerson Fosdick, “The Church Must Go Beyond Modernism,” Riverside Sermons (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1958), 362.

[71] Ibid., 354–55.

[72] Ibid., 362. Fosdick feared what would happen if Christianity adapted itself to “contemporary nationalism, contemporary imperialism, contemporary capitalism, contemporary racialism” (p. 361).

[73] Regarding the Syracuse meetings, see “Syracuse Swan Song: The 148th General Assembly: A Description and an Interpretation,” The Presbyterian Guardian (June 22, 1936), 112, 118–39.

[74] Personal memoirs of Charles Woodbridge. See also J. Gresham Machen, “The Church of God: A Sermon Preached at the Concluding Service of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America in the New Century Club, Philadelphia, Sunday Evening, June 14th, 1936,” The Presbyterian Guardian (July 6, 1936), 152–56; see also Robert S. Marsden, “The First Ten Years: The Orthodox Presbyterian Church 1936–1946,” https://opc.org/books/FirstTenYears.html (accessed May 15, 2017).

[75] Charles J. Woodbridge, “Why I Have Resigned as General Secretary of the Independent Board,” The Presbyterian Guardian (June 12, 1937), 70, www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_4/1937-06-12.pdf (accessed May 15, 2017).

[76] Ibid.

[77] Archives of the Montgomery Library of Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA (Machen/Woodbridge correspondence, Box 1935–36).

[78] For an account of Machen’s death, see Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen, 506–8.

[79] See Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen, 496–97; see also Nichols, J. Gresham Machen, 196–98; James A. Patterson, “Robert E. Speer, J. Gresham Machen, and the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions,” American Presbyterians 64:1 (Spring 1986): 58–68. Several Westminster professors feared the new mission board, among other things, might hinder the acceptance of Westminster graduates as pastors in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.

[80] William Hocking’s Re-thinking Missions provides an extensive report on Christian world missions that is replete with modernist themes. For example, it reads, “The concept that God is a [102/103] loving father and that all men are brothers grips the imagination even though orientals realize that such concepts are rarely carried out in the lives of western people” (p. 246).

[81] Reverend Hamilton knew Dr. Machen well. He received a ThB in 1919 and a ThM in 1926 from Princeton Theological Seminary. He served as a missionary in Korea with the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. and then with the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions. In 1934, he delivered an important address to the League of Evangelical Students titled “Can a Christian Student Rationally Reject Evolution?”

[82] Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, 42.

[83] Quoted in Hart, ed., J. Gresham Machen, 116.

[84] Ibid., 109.

[85] J. Gresham Machen, “What Is Orthodoxy?” in “The Changing Scene and the Unchanging Word,” The Presbyterian Guardian (October 21, 1935): 38.

[86] On February 1, 1935, Machen proposed to Woodbridge additions to his article “Sham Orthodoxy Versus Real Orthodoxy” destined for the Independent Board Bulletin: “What Sham Orthodoxy Says: Whether a man is a Modernist or not is determined by the kind of sermons he preaches; he is orthodox if he preaches orthodox sermons. What Real Orthodoxy Says: Whether a man is a Modernist or not is determined by the way he votes in presbytery and at the General Assembly; he is a Modernist, no matter what kind of sermons he preaches, if he votes with the Auburn Affirmationists in the great issues of the day” (archives of the Montgomery Library at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA [Machen /Woodbridge Correspondence, Box 1935–36)).

[87] J. Gresham Machen, “The Second Part of the Ordination Pledge,” in “The Changing Scene and the Unchanging Word,” The Presbyterian Guardian (December 2, 1935), 70.

[88] Ibid.

[89] Ibid. Machen observed, “The Roman Catholic Church, for example, holds to the full truthfulness of the Bible; yet no one would doubt but that its system of doctrine is widely different from ours.”

[90] “Tenth Church Refuses to Cancel Invitation, Dr. Machen Preaches: Affirmationist Moderator Attempts to Intimidate Session,” The Presbyterian Guardian (July 6, 1936): 163.

[91] Machen’s emphasis on the importance of biblical inerrancy in the cited statement and multiple others and in similar statements made by his close associates writing in The Presbyterian Guardian does not comport easily with Professor Daryl Hart’s claim: “Machen did affirm inerrancy, but it was a side issue in his estimation” (D. G. Hart, J. Gresham Machen, 6.). Interestingly enough, cartoonist Phil Saint prominently placed clever cartoons criticizing evolution in The Presbyterian Guardian, October 21, 1935, 28; November 18, 1935, 63; February 17, 1936, 167.

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The Age of Terrorism Meets the Era of the Troll

On Friday a man in his late 20s was charged with murdering at least 49 people and seriously injuring 20 more, in a terror attack targeting two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch.

During the attack, the man livestreamed a video of his murders on Facebook. He also posted a link to an 87-page white nationalist manifesto online. In the document, under the heading “From where did you receive/research/develop your beliefs?” the murderer responds, “The internet, of course. You will not find the truth anywhere else.”

It is not uncommon for terrorists to release a rambling, barely coherent manifesto. And it is usually wise to ignore them, since they only feed the murderer’s desire for attention. But the document left by the New Zealand shooter (whom I will not name) is worth examining, because it gives us insight into a new type of terrorist—the terrorist as troll.

The New Zealand shooter is an extreme example of an increasingly common disaffected person—mostly young men—whose worldview is shaped largely by an evil online culture. Here are six characteristics of these “trolls.”

1. They are addicted to trolling.

The Oxford Dictionary defines “trolling” as making a deliberately offensive or provocative online post with the aim of upsetting someone or eliciting an angry response. Trolling is commonly found in almost every area where people congregate online. But for many lost young men—a group that includes more than just white nationalists—trolling has become almost a way of life.

Just as some children crave attention so much they exhibit inappropriate behaviors to gain attention from their parents, thousands of young men spend their days and nights trying to gain some sort of validation by trolling people online. This is why the internet is flooded with works, such as hate-filled memes, that are used not to persuade but to annoy. As the New Zealand shooter says, “Create memes, post memes, and spread memes. Memes have done more for the ethnonationalist movement than any manifesto.”

2. They are committed to transgressivism.

Since the 1960s, a large segment of American culture has embraced transgressivism, a movement that celebrates the violation of socially accepted norms or morally imposed boundaries. The political and cultural left championed transgressivism when it was tearing down norms established by Christianity. But now that we are shifting to a post-Christian era, we are beginning to see the next phase of transgressivism—and it frightens even progressives.

As Angela Nagle writes in Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars From 4Chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right, “The ease with which this broader alt-right and alt-light milieu can use transgressive styles today shows how superficial and historically accidental it was that it ended up being in any way associated with the socialist left.” As with the left, these new trolls are dogmatically opposed to orthodox Christianity. As Nagle adds, “Today, the appeal of [Nietzschean] anti-moralism is strong on the alt-right because their goals necessitate the repudiation of Christian codes that Nietzsche characterized as slave morality.”

3. They are incoherently trans-political.

The New Zealand shooter has been described as being on the “far right” or the “extreme right.” This is primarily because the media tend to lump all white nationalists as being on the right end of the political spectrum. But the right-left dichotomy doesn’t often fit with online-based extremism. It is more accurate to consider them through the lens of the horseshoe theory, a concept in political science that claims the far left and the far right, rather than being at opposite and opposing ends of a linear political continuum, closely resemble one another, much like the ends of a horseshoe.

Trolls like the New Zealand shooter aren’t thinking systematically or attempting to develop a coherent worldview. Instead, they pick-and-choose whatever political elements fit with their personality or their sub-tribe’s ethos—even if the result it incoherent and contradictory.

For example, the New Zealand shooter says he’s left-wing or right-wing depending on the definition. He says the same about the label “socialist,” though he emphatically states he want no part of conservatism. He admires President Trump as a “symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose” and yet rejects him as a “policy maker and leader.” The shooter also claims he was formerly a communist, an anarchist, and a libertarian. He says he’s no neo-nazi, but rather an “eco-fascist by nature.” His primary label for himself is “Ethno-nationalist Eco-Fascist.”

“The nation with the closest political and social values to my own,” he adds, “is the People’s Republic of China.”

4. They are disconnected from their true selves.

None of the shooter’s trans-political views fits together or makes sense—which may or may not be the point. The troll may actually believe what he says. Or he may not. He may not even know himself.

The main posture of extreme online culture is ironic detachment, a distancing of one’s “true” self from one’s online persona. If anyone judges their comments, actions, or ideas, they can fall back on the excuse that they don’t really believe it themselves; they are merely trying to get a reaction out of people. Often, when the people behind anonymous white nationalists accounts are revealed, they claim they are not really a racist or antisemite, they were just “trolling.”

At some point, as he New Zealand shooter’s manifesto makes clear, who they are as real humans gets so tangled up in their ironic online pose that they can’t separate what they really believe from what they claim to believe to get attention.

5. They are dangerously and inconsistently tribal.

Tribalism, the exaltation of one’s tribe above other groups, has been the default condition for all of human history. Like has tended to align with like, whether at the level of family, clan, or ethnic community. But tribalism began to break down with the rise of Christianity—a religion that includes all tongues and tribes—and was, with the rise of the nation-state, largely replaced in by nationalism. The weakening of family and community ties in the West also removed opportunities to express and benefit from in-group loyalty.

While the traditional forms of tribalism were always been dangerous, its absence has created additional problems. Many young men in the West no longer feel connected to any broader community or larger purpose. Having no true kinship with their own neighbors, they create an abstract community (“white people,” “Europeans”) that will admit them simply because of the color of their skin. This also gives them a mission (e.g., defending against ethnic replacement, or white genocide) and an “outgroup” to align against (i.e., foreigners and all non-white people groups).

But because they exist primarily in the virtual world, their allegiance to the abstraction completely replaces any true feeling of responsibility to their self-created tribe. For example, the shooter says, “We must ensure the existence of our people, and a future for white children.” Yet the reason he gives for not starting his own family is that “if we do not destroy the invaders first, our birthrates will mean nothing.”

As with many tribes in the past, the modern white nationalists find that waging warfare on outgroups is far more appealing than working to bring flourishing to one’s own tribe.

6. They are attracted to diverse form of terroristic activity.

Not every young ethno-nationalists will follow in the footsteps of Anders Breivik, Dylan Roof, and the New Zealand shooter in becoming mass murderers. But many thousands of extreme trolls will commit other forms of terroristic activity.

The use of racist, antisemitic, and white supremacist imagery and language intended to intimidate people has become so frequent that it hardly shocks us anymore. But even more sickening examples come from those who might not associate with ethno-nationalism but who engage in evil “for the lulz” (i.e., amusing themselves at another’s expense).

A particularly gruesome example from several years ago was a troll from Minnesota who sought out depressed people online, posing as a suicidal female nurse, pretended to sympathize, and offered instructions on how they could kill themselves. He would enter into fake suicide pacts with people and encourage them to kill themselves for “the thrill of the chase.”

For those who never travel outside the bounds of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, the reported behavior of extreme online forums may seem like the stuff of urban legends. But moral panics from previous generations—such as the claims of Satanic ritual abuse of the 1980s—we should be truly frightened by the satanic influence on offer in the darkest reaches of the web.

Like pornography, trolling remains ubiquitous and just out of sight. And like pornography it has the ability to corrupt young, misguided souls who are looking for a sense of belonging and connection.

While we may not be able to put an end to the troll culture that fuels white nationalism, we can and should do more to reach those who may be tempted to come under its sway. We have believers who are willing to go to the ends of the earth to reach the lost tribes with the gospel. But who will go to the tribe of meme-making ethno-nationalists trolls and tell them about Jesus?

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Parenting for Eternity amid 21st-Century Challenges

“I can’t parent in light of what’s in front of me right now or even next week. I need to parent in light of the long view. As Dennis Rainey said, ‘I have no interest in a happy 10-year-old. I want a godly 20-year-old.’ . . . But the real long view is the return of Christ, the judgment seat of Christ. And living in light of that is something we need to do with all our lives, not just our parenting.” — Erik Thoennes

Date: October 17, 2018

Event: TGC 2018 West Coast Conference, Los Angeles

Listen to this episode of The Gospel Coalition podcast.

Mentioned in this podcast:

Find more audio and video from the 2018 West Coast Conference on the conference media page.

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As I was Reading Today

What an expression of His personal grief over the ravages of sin in the human race.

I wonder if we share the same when we see such suffering?

But we need to drill down and really grasp what grieves Him so. He tells us plainly: Unbelief. That men are faithless, denying God, refusing to believe His truth and the Gospel of the Kingdom.

I fear that we are (I am) more grieved by the results of faithlessness (like what produces such aberrations as demon possession, war, rape, murder etc.) than we are by faithlessness itself.

As long as faithless people don’t bother us, we don’t seem to mind their faithlessness. We ignore the most tragic part of their condition – while He grieved it above all else.

What does He call this condition? Twisted or perverse. Because to be oriented this way is to be upside down from the heart and mind of God.

Oh Father, make me grieve the unbelief of men more than the mere acts which vex me most. Give me your heart and mind. For it will drive my energies to see the Gospel is preached more than any other approach to society’s ills. Yes, Jesus healed the boy, but what of those around? And what is healing if we are left in eternal darkness from the face of God in Jesus Christ. Keep us from putting temporal band-aids on the eternally terminal cancer of the soul. Let your glory in Jesus be known. Let your Gospel be preached. Let me be a messenger who boldly, clearly and endlessly proclaims the forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name – and reconciliation to you through the Cross.

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Theological Clarity Must Never Take a Back Seat

Theology is important for so many reasons . . .

  • It’s vital for our missional living, since an essential component of fulfilling the Great Commission involves teaching the nations.
  • It’s vital for the church, since everything we do is grounded in what we believe.
  • It’s vital for Christian living, since our theology determines our biography—that is, what we believe shapes how we live.

These things and more directly apply to church-planting pastors. We have the privilege of ministering the Word of God to the people we are reaching and those we are shepherding.

Our theological training is not for the purpose of winning Twitter arguments, but for maturing people into the image of Jesus. And it should also humble us, driving us to worship and prayer. Indeed, our theology must kindle in our hearts a deep love for God and neighbor. We don’t study theology to make the head fat, but the heart right.

To help us think about the importance of theological clarity in church planting, I’m excited to have Francisco Bendfeldt with me on the podcast today.

Listen to this episode of Churches Planting Churches.


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The Doctrine of Assurance Pt. 6

Doctrine of Assurance Pt. 6

Reid A Ferguson

1 Corinthians 2:9–16; John 16:1–15; 1 John 2:18–27

As most of you know, we’ve been working through this little letter of 1st John in an effort to get a firm handle on John’s assertion that he had written it, at least in part, to give certainty to believers that they really are saved – now!

1 John 5:13 

1 John 5:13 ESV

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.

How can I know that I know that I know, that I am in right relationship with God?

That my sins are forgiven; that I am already received as one of God’s own children; that when I die, I will immediately go to be in the presence of the God who loves me and sent His Son to die for me for all eternity?

While not everyone struggles with this question in a deep way – many do and all should.

For some, they question it because they simply have never heard or believed the Gospel: The Gospel that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.

They know the world is a pretty broken place, but they don’t know why.

They’ve never heard the Biblical explanation that all pain, sickness, disease, war, heartache and misery are part of the human condition because back when God created us in His image – we rebelled against Him.

How we wanted, and STILL want the right to govern ourselves as we see fit. To name right and wrong for ourselves. And to live for ourselves, rather than for the One who made us for Himself.

They’ve never known that God loved us so even in our rebellion, that He devised a way to remain absolutely holy and not compromise His justice, and still buy us back to Himself from our ruin.

And that plan was to send His own perfect Son – Jesus Christ, God in human flesh, to live a life that completely fulfilled all that God could demand of us, and, be our substitute on the Cross, enduring the just wrath of God against our rebellion and sin. This is so that all who put their trust in Him as their sin-bearer, might be forgiven, reconciled to Him and granted eternal life.

They have not heard that is the state of affairs in this world as God has made it known. Or they’ve heard some other, some false Gospel.

Others, have fully believed that Gospel. They know the truth of all this and have come to Christ for forgiveness and salvation from the judgment of God – and yet still – for reasons unknown to themselves, cannot find complete rest in it.

They are plagued, tormented by thoughts that somehow, they will still be damned. That they are not in right relationship with Him. They fear to trust fully: Perhaps because of some failure they imagine is outside the sufficiency of Christ’s blood, or because they do not “feel” it so, or maybe because they think they’ve just not been good enough since believing.

Sadly, even some Christian traditions have (for whatever reasons) taught people that they cannot really know that they are already in a right relationship with God.

They’ve have been told that such an assurance of actually “being” saved, of being in an irreversible right relationship with God is unknowable. That you might have some reason to hope it is so – but might be lost again tomorrow.

Or that there may be this endless cycle of being saved, then lost, saved again and lost again – and that no one can ever truly rest in the finished work of Christ on their behalf.

He’s done His part, but if you fail to do yours, all of it is out the window.

John wants all of those who might read this letter to come to a place of assurance before the throne of God.

If that lack of certainty is because you need to hear and believe the Gospel – because you never have – then we invite you to listen really hard this morning.

You really can be born again – become a new creation in Jesus and be fully and finally reconciled to the living God.

Or maybe your assurance has been wounded by errant teaching, or some cause unknown to you.

Of all the things we’ve examined in this regard so far – none of them John has brought forward to date carries as much weight as this one does.

And it is captured in one very simple but eternally profound phrase: 1 John 5:10a

1 John 5:10a ESV

Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son.

Whoever believes in the Son of God, has the testimony IN himself.

That is what by God’s help I hope to unpack for you this morning.

Now by way of the very briefest of review – so far John has been building his foundation for certainty regarding our salvation by getting us to look at our relationship to some key things:

The Word of God: Is it divinely authoritative for us?

God Himself: Is my relationship to Him based upon actually having believed the Gospel?

Sin: Do you hate your love of it.

Christ’s People (the Church): Do you have a unique affinity for them?

World’s Values: Are you rejecting them in favor of the Bible’s revelation of what has true value?

This morning – What is my relationship to The Holy Spirit: Do you know the reality of Spirit given conviction over mere facts or unbelief?

Let’s look at how John addresses this in 4 key passages.

  1. 1 John 2:18-27

1 John 2:18–27 ESV

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life.

I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.

Let’s take this in 3 sections.

  1. 1 John 2:18-19

1 John 2:18–19 ESV

Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

We’ve discussed the historical situation behind his words here earlier – so I won’t spend a lot of time on it.

Simply, there was a thought system invading the Church at this time, called Gnosticism. And part of the teaching of the Gnostics was that all physical or material matter is inherently evil. Therefore, they said Jesus could not have been God in the flesh, since God could not inhabit evil matter. So Jesus must have only “appeared” to be human. Or that the Holy Spirit came upon Him at His baptism, but left before His crucifixion.

And once you got this secret knowledge of theirs about who and what Jesus REALLY was – then you could become part of the spiritual elite they imagined themselves to be.

But it was all centered around errant views of Jesus Christ.

You will recall John’s opening to this letter is all about establishing that Jesus was in fact God’s Son and that He really was in a human body – very God and very man as the early Church would come to phrase it.

So when these Gnostics left the Church because their doctrine was rejected – it caused a stir. And they tried to get others to go with them.

John says look – the truth is this – if they had really been true Christians to begin with, they would have stayed with us. But the fact they split off shows you they were never really Christians as the Bible defines it.

BUT! b. 1 John 2:20-25

1 John 2:20–25 ESV

But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life.

You don’t need this supposed secret knowledge this group claimed. Why? Because you have “been anointed by the Holy One, and you all HAVE knowledge.”

The truth is – John says – Jesus Himself has given something to you, which in the giving makes you KNOW for certain these guys are dead wrong about Jesus.

John calls this an “anointing.”

Now anointing in the Bible was always a means, usually by smearing oil on someone, to show that they were fitted for an office in serving God. So prophets, priests, kings – and in some cases even objects were “anointed.”

This anointing was always symbolic of the Holy Spirit being the one who equipped the individual for that service. We can’t develop that fully here but 2 passages may be useful in grasping what John is after.

In Luke’s Gospel we’re told Jesus went into the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth one sabbath, and opened the scroll to Isaiah and read this: Luke 4:18

Luke 4:18 ESV

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives

and recovering of sight to the blind,

to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

What is this “anointing” here? The text is clear – it is nothing other then the Holy Spirit Himself.

We see this again in Acts 10:37-38

Acts 10:37–38 ESV

you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

Now why would John use that anointing language when it comes to Believers?

Quite simply because it is Jesus Himself who spent a whole lot of time in the Gospel of John getting the Disciples ready for that same Holy Spirit He and the Father would send to Believers after His ascension. That He would baptize or anoint Believers with His Holy Spirit

John 14:16-17

John 14:16–17 ESV

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

And what will The Spirit do when He comes? Tons! but let’s look at 2 just briefly.

John 16:8

John 16:8 ESV

And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:

Don’t miss that word CONVICT. Convict, utterly convince us inwardly of our sinfulness; that our righteousness is not sufficient to please God; and that we then stand in fear of judgment. Bring inward conviction of these things so that we must act on them.

John 15:26-27

John 15:26–27 ESV

“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.

We could build our case with dozens more passages but the idea here is plain: The key work of the Holy Spirit, is to bear witness about who Jesus is – directly to the soul.

To bring an inward conviction of the truth about Jesus.

Remember the verse I cited at the beginning?

1 John 5:10a 

1 John 5:10a ESV

Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son.

So John’s 3rd point comes clear:

  1. 1 John 2:27-28

1 John 2:27–28 ESV

But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.

And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.

What is he saying? That by virtue of the indwelling Holy Spirit, every genuine child of God has this:

A Conviction that Jesus is the Son of God incarnate.

John will build on this but let me get this point cemented so we grasp it well.

Knowledge come in different forms.

I believe that on average the moon is about 238,855 miles away.

I believe it because I’ve been taught it. And because I believe there are those who, with the means and methods requisite, have worked out those calculations.

I believe it has a solid, iron rich core, a fluid outer core of primarily liquid iron around the core and a partially molten boundary layer.

I believe all that. and I can see it every night so I know it is there. But I don’t know it the way those who walked on its surface do. They have a realization of the moon I will never have.

And, if some of those things I believe about the moon were to be altered later due to more investigation – so what?

And for many, knowledge of Jesus falls into similar category.

They believe what they’ve been taught. Trusting that those who taught them knew what they were talking about. But know it? Know it like they know sunlight when they see it each day? Nope.

They are Christians in name only.

Christians because that is how they were raised or taught.

Christians because they aren’t Muslims or Jews or adherents of some other belief system.

But not Christians by the conviction induced directly in the soul by the revelation of the Holy Spirit.

But this is the thing which is indispensible to the genuine Christian – the one who has been born of God by the Spirit – they KNOW who and what Jesus is as really and as truly as if they had walked the shores of Galilee with Him.

The Spirit has given them an inner reality of Him which they can no more deny than they can deny their own existence.

They do not just believe it – they know it. Supernaturally.

Now that is John’s starting point. It is the common experience of all those born again by the Spirit of Christ – that the reality of His incarnation is indisputable fact, that nothing can take away from them.

And this is surprisingly true for the genuine believer who is struggling with assurance.

If this is you today, you really need to lean into this beloved: You know full well that no matter how you feel, no matter how down, depressed, despairing, confused or distracted you are at any given time,  nevertheless you cannot get away from the fact that the Son of God is real, and that He came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ.

Get this – the very source of your misery is that Jesus is real to your soul. For if He were not so real to your soul, you could just give up believing instead of wrestling as you do.

No, your very wrestling IS incontrovertible proof that you indwelt by His Spirit. So, as Paul says

Romans 8:9   

Romans 8:9b ESV

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.

What is the first thing the indwelling Spirit bears witness to in the soul of Believers only?

An absolute CONVICTION that Jesus is the Son of God incarnate.

John was telling his readers that no one could bring them some new or secret knowledge about Jesus that was in any way superior to the Witness that was already in them – which showed them that any other teaching about Jesus was antichrist.

But John isn’t done yet.

1 John 3:24b-4:6

1 John 3:24b–4:6 ESV

Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

John’s 2nd point is that the indwelling Spirit of Christ brings another conviction with Him:

Conviction that the Apostolic witness is true. 

Because we’ve spent much time already on the subject of the Believer’s relationship to the Word of God – I will not press this point here more than note that when one is indwelt by the Spirit of Christ, all questions about whether or not God’s Word is true and authoritative end.

It doesn’t mean one might not have questions about how to interpret, understand or apply various parts of the Word.

What it DOES mean – as in the text: We know the Spirit of God and of Truth as opposed by the spirit of error, by whether or not one “listens” to what the Apostles taught and preached and wrote.

The anointing that abides in the Believer brings an undeniable conviction regarding the Word of God AS the Word of God given to us by the Apostles.

Paul says this is why he had confidence that the Thessalonians he preached to were genuinely saved:

1 Thessalonians 2:13  

1 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV

And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

If you are one of the struggle-rs here today, let this stand to give you an assurance like nothing else can – if you have that deep seated, Spirit wrought conviction that the Word of God is just that, even if you are battling with understanding some things it teaches aright – that conviction is a work of the Spirit alone.

Some may say they believe it, but deep down never tremble at it, never search it out, never let it search them out.

But the one anointed by the Spirit knows that they know that they know that this is God’s Word. And nothing can shake them from that reality. For it is a reality, and not a mere belief.

Building upon the previous 2, John then multiplies his case:

1 John 4:13-19

1 John 4:13–19 ESV

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.

Here, John reiterates his 1st point – Jesus’ Spirit within us makes US testify, bear witness that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world.

But more.

By that same Spirit we have come to know and believe the love God has for us.

You see the mounting argument. If we share the Spirit’s conviction of who and what Jesus is, and that He came to save – then in His saving act we come face to face with the reality of His love for us. We come face to face with it in a way that is unlike anything else.

We can complain that we do not feel His love. We might say that we even doubt His love. But what we cannot deny is that He tells us we know His love for us by the fact that He died for us on the Cross.

In other words, the Spirit grants –

A Conviction that God’s love toward us is absolutely proven in sending His Son to die for our sins.

This beloved is the very essence of true saving faith.

1 John 4:15-16

1 John 4:15–16 ESV

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.

If I know the witness of the Spirit within granting a powerful conviction regarding the incarnation and His death on Calvary – then knowing that, I must also concede  – incontrovertibly, the love that God has for me.

John Calvin put it this way: “We shall now have a full definition of faith if we say that it is a firm and sure knowledge of the divine favor toward us, founded on the truth of a free promise in Christ, and revealed to our minds, and sealed on our hearts, by the Holy Spirit.”

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1997).

You see how these work together. The Spirit gives us a deep conviction that Christ has come, that the Word about Him is true, and that His death on the Cross is His testimony regarding His toward me, whatever I may or may not think or feel. I must concede what His Word teaches.

So my problem of assurance may be that I am unwilling to accept the proof that He says is the best proof of His love.

It may be a faith issue after all.

But there is a last work of the Spirit in the soul that John has yet to bring before us.

1 John 5:6-12

1 John 5:6–12 ESV

This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

To be sure this is a somewhat complex passage, but the basic ideas most commentators agree upon:

1st. The testimony of the water, is a reference to Jesus being baptized.

And it was in His baptism that He most identified Himself with us – we in our sinful fallen state. Though He was not sinful, He joined Himself to us in that outward visible demonstration. It is a testimony to His being physically among us. Contra the Gnostics.

2nd. His blood bears witness – that He really and truly died for our sins on the Cross. He was no mere apparition, and this was no myth. He died in a Roman crucifixion, as a sinner in our place.  Also contra the Gnostics.

And to this the Spirit bears witness yet again. How?

Romans 1:1-4

Romans 1:1–4 ESV

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,

He was raised from the dead by the Holy Spirit – who in doing so, declared Him to be the Son of God in power.

These 3 bear a unified witness about Him: The Water, the Blood and the Spirit.

The same Spirit who indwells all His own. That Spirit which brings:

A Conviction that Jesus really came, really died, really rose from the dead – and that believing in Him IS the conferral of eternal life.

1 John 5:11

1 John 5:11 ESV

And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

Conviction that Jesus is the Son of God incarnate.

Conviction that the Apostolic witness is true.

Conviction that God’s love toward us is absolutely proven in sending His Son to die for our sins.

Conviction that Jesus really came, really died, really rose from the dead – and that believing in Him IS the conferral of eternal life.

In closing let me bring us to 3 takeaways. Each for a different group.

  1. The one who says they are a Christian – but for whom these absolute convictions are not your experience.

Call on Him today. Ask God to open your heart and mind – to send the Holy Spirit to birth new life in you and make these things more than mere speculations or beliefs – but transforming realities.

To reveal Christ to you in all of His saving power in His substitutionary death on the Cross. Ask Him to give you this new life in Jesus.

The promise of His Word is that those who come to Him, He will not turn away. Come to Him today. This very moment.

  1. My dear brother or sister who is struggling with assurance.

Stop and consider that even in your worst moments of doubt and torment – that you cannot escape the reality of these truths. They are burned into your soul.

You need to let those convictions fill the role they are intended to have – to be tokens of the Anointing which indwells you – The presence of the Holy Spirit. And that this belongs only to those who are Christ’s.

The reason why you cannot be at peace, is because this witness continually confronts you in every frame of mind. And this is God’s own proof that you are His.

  1. The Compromising Christian. The reason you are so miserable here today, is because you cannot get this monkey of the reality of who and what Christ is – and what He has called you to – off your back.

And you will never be at peace, never be able to live with Christ in assurance until you yield to what you know to be the truth. You are in a most mysterious and dangerous place. You know the truth, and yet you are trying to live apart from it. Repent. For if you do not, you will find in the end that you had no real conviction, but mere knowledge. And knowledge will not save you – only Christ can.

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What Does God Have against Your Church?

“Being a loving church, being a loving Christian, is no excuse for accepting false teaching. That’s Jesus’s point here. It’s what he said, not me. It’s what he says in the text: ‘I have this against you.’ Being loving, doing good works? Not enough. We have to guard the truth that’s been entrusted to us.” — Mez McConnell

Text: Revelation 2:18–28

Preached: February 18, 2018

Location: Niddrie Community Church, Edinburgh, Scotland

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No, the Church Didn’t Create the Bible

“The Bible did not arrive by fax from heaven,” one of the characters says in The Da Vinci Code. “Man created it as a historical record of tumultuous times, and it has evolved through countless translations, additions, and revisions. History has never had a definitive version of the book.”

Walk into the first class session of World Religions 101 at a university near you, and you’re likely to hear a variation on that theme. The Catholic Church created the Bible to control people. The Bible as we know it didn’t exist until the reign of Constantine. The church decided what belonged in the Bible at the Council of Nicaea.

But according to New Testament scholars Michael Kruger (PhD, University of Edinburgh) and Don Carson (PhD, University of Cambridge), historical evidence does not bear out this narrative. The books of the New Testament were all written in the first century and were in wide use by the early church as early as the second century. Kruger and Carson explain why they don’t believe the Bible’s authority comes from the decision of any man.

Listen to this episode or watch a video.

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What I Misunderstood About Grief

Eighteen months after my son died, I had a conversation with a pastor friend that enraged me.

His first child was going to college, and he expressed the sadness and difficulty accompanying the milestone. In describing his sorrow, he repeatedly used a certain word. “We’re grieving her leaving us. We’re grieving her being so far away. We’re grieving her absence in our house.”

With each enunciation of “grief,” I grew angrier. Having buried my son in the previous calendar year, I wanted to say, “No, no, no. Grief is reserved for really bad things. Grief is reserved for death. Grief is reserved for people like me, not your healthy, living child going to college!”

What Changed My Mind

Fast forward two years. I noticed the new strength required to lift my now-4-year-old daughter for a hug. Her increased self-sufficiency and growing vocabulary contrasted starkly with memories of that chubby baby girl who used to crawl around the house.

As I pulled up videos from the toddler and baby phases, a funny thing happened. My heart ached with sorrow, and tears filled my eyes. I realized I was experiencing what my pastor friend felt as his daughter went to college: grief.

A sense of loss lingered as I knew that a treasured season had passed, never to be recovered. Daddy’s sweet girl no longer got excited about watching Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. Good Night Moon was done. She was figuring out that an “r” belonged on the front of “remember;” she was correcting the cute mispronunciation—“amember”—that previously melted my heart. On the next trip to Disney, she would realize the real Cinderella doesn’t reside in the Magic Kingdom.

All grief involves loss. A joyful hope for the future dies, or a cherished aspect of the present slips into the past. And we grieve.

Grief and the Fall

All grief originates from the fall, when Adam and Eve tarnished a rich paradise of joy, squandering endless possibilities of pleasure, hope, and life. Regardless of what we grieve, there is a keen sense that life wasn’t meant to be this way. We taste moments of glory where we receive a glimpse of Eden—and we feel sadness and pain as those transcendent moments pass. Whether we’re lamenting the death of friends and family or sorrowing over dashed dreams, our hearts mourn that this life falls drastically short of God’s original intent.

We are born with an innate sense that life was meant to be so much more. The toddler who throws a tantrum when the playdate ends demonstrates (even if sinfully) that moments of joy, vitality, and friendship were never meant to cease. Along with the rest of our sin-marred creation, the child subconsciously grieves what was lost in the fall.

For people who have lost small children, so much of their grief involves losing the joys and journeys of the different phases of childhood. They grieve missed birthdays, a nonexistent first day of kindergarten, a graduation ceremony that never comes. They painfully wonder how their child’s personality and appearance may have evolved over time. The seasons of enjoying that child are lost.

Regardless of the severity, all sadness, frustration, and anger are expressions of grief. We all mourn the loss of Eden and the life for which we were meant.

Recovery Is Coming

Romans 8 points to the ultimate solace for humanity, trapped under this excruciating curse:

The whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Rom. 8:22–23)

This groaning carries connotations of grieving. There is a deep, guttural pain lurking within the fallen state of the world. There is a grinding frustration with how life falls miserably short of our desires and longings.

But Paul doesn’t leave us with hopeless grief. He points to Christ’s second coming, where believers receive and experience their full “adoption as sons” and “the redemption of [their] bodies” (Rom. 8:23).

Our son died at age 3, but I cling to this hope: The times and experiences lost with Cameron in this life will be regained and renewed a thousandfold in the world to come. As I wrote in Therefore I Have Hope:

Remembering that Cameron is still my son and that he is still alive in heaven reminds me that nothing truly will be lost and that everything will be recovered. I will see my little boy again. We will have a beautiful, fun, intimate, joyful life together for eternity in heaven. We will have adventures and lessons and laughter and meals and celebrations. We will hug and snuggle and kiss and laugh and play in heaven.

Wait with Joy

The real sense of loss that undergirds all the pain, disappointment, and grief in this life has been reversed through the gospel and will be enjoyed—fully and forever—in the age to come. Jesus will recover all of the fallout from Adam and Eve’s demise.

The gospel is a hope that God will never leave us empty-handed. Never. Knowing this hope, I, along with all other believers, can wait, endure, and persevere. And not just wait, but wait with joyful expectation.

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