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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The Madness of March Madness

[It’s time for my annual rant about the madness, the lunacy, the stupidity, if you will, of March Madness, in particular, the annual ritual in which a national champion in college basketball is determined on the basis of a single-elimination tournament. Many of you have read it before, so feel free to move on to other things. But if you missed it, you need to read it.]

If you aren’t a fan of college basketball here in the U.S., stop reading and go about your business. But if you enjoy the game as much as I do, read on.

Deciding the national championship of college basketball based on a single elimination tournament is utterly idiotic, insane, ridiculous, and asinine. You heard me correctly. I’m talking about the utter madness, indeed the stupidity, of March Madness.

Don’t misunderstand me. I love March Madness! I love the tournament. It is exciting and mesmerizing and always a blast. But to use this tournament in which a single loss eliminates a team from an opportunity to win the national title is the height of stupidity. I watch the tournament every year. I faithfully and carefully fill out my bracket. I agonize when my favorite teams lose and rejoice when they win. But here’s why the tournament is dumb.

Imagine for just a moment that I had the power and authority to run the National Basketball Association, the professionals of the game. I announce that a change has been made in the post-season schedule. Every team in the NBA will now be entered into the post season and all will play for the championship based on a single elimination tournament. After a few rounds, in which the Warriors are defeated by Oklahoma City and Atlanta falls to Boston, the Thunder and the Celtics play one game for the championship, regardless of what happened during the regular season. Instead of the standard best three of five or best four of seven competition, one game decides it all.

You would rightly accuse me of having taken leave of my senses. “Sam, how can you base the professional championship of basketball on only one game? Don’t you realize that in basketball, perhaps more so than any other sport, a great team can go cold on any particular night and a mediocre team can get red hot? The only way to fairly determine who deserves the title of champion, you need to have them play more than one game.” I couldn’t agree more.

Or imagine that I am now the commissioner of Major League Baseball. I’ve decided to put every team in a single elimination playoff. After all but two teams are eliminated, the Royals and Giants face off in a one game final, winner take all World Series. Stupidity! Insanity! Absurdity!

I began thinking about this after two events in particular. The first was in 1983 when a ten-loss North Carolina State team upset the highly-favored and far superior Houston team that featured Clyde “the Glide” Drexler and others. It was exciting. I thoroughly enjoyed it. But NC State no more deserved to be awarded the national championship than I did.

The second event occurred just a few years ago. It was the incredible upset of number one seed Kansas by Northern Iowa. What a game! Wow! I wanted Kansas to win, but was happy to see a ninth seed pull off the unexpected victory. So there was Kansas, without question the best team in the nation that year, experiencing a very cold night of shooting, while Northern Iowa nailed three-point basket after three-point basket. If these two teams were to have played a best three of five or even just a best two of three, Kansas would almost surely have emerged victorious and advanced in the tournament.

Yes, by all means yes, it was exciting. I loved watching it. But this is a silly and utterly ineffective and completely unfair way of deciding the national championship.

People are talking a lot about expanding the tournament to more than 90 teams next year. Not only is this absurd beyond words, they should actually reduce the tournament to no more than 16 teams. The format would then be expanded to, at minimum, a double elimination tournament, thereby largely ensuring that the most deserving teams in the country will be rewarded with an opportunity to compete for a national title.

My recommendation is that the 16 teams, after seeding, should play the best two of three over the first weekend: the first game on Thursday, the second on Friday, and if necessary, the third on Sunday. The same format would be followed for the Elite Eight and the Final Four. The remaining two teams who survive elimination, would then play a best three of five for the national title.

I can hear your protests. “But what about the 17th team that doesn’t make the tournament? What about all the mid-major conferences? What about the Cinderella that makes March Madness so much fun?” My response is that if you can’t play well enough throughout the course of the regular season to qualify as one of the best 16 teams in the nation, then you don’t deserve a change to play for the national title. Eliminate conference tournaments, eliminate the automatic bid, and simply seed the teams based on a polling system similar to the one in college football.

You can still have a post season tournament with all the teams that don’t qualify to play for the national title, in the same way we have an extensive bowl post season for those teams in college football that don’t qualify to play in the national championship game.

So why will my proposal never see the light of day? Greed. Money. The NCAA stands to make too much cash from an ever-increasing field of teams. It’s not that the NCAA doesn’t respect the integrity of the game. It’s not that they don’t want to see the national title awarded to the most deserving team. It’s just that money matters more.

It’s sad, but such is the simultaneous excitement and madness of March Madness.

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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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What If Your Thought Life Was Live Streamed?

What if someone told you that your every thought from the day you were born has been recorded and will be shown tonight on YouTube Live? And not only that, but a​ ​li​nk to a​ ​website​ ​will be given where all of​ ​your friends and family​ ​can go and view​ ​all of your thoughts about them.

How many people would be angry with you? Everyone? Would you be angry with yourself?

Your thought life reveals the real, unrestrained you. Like most people, you may think you’re good enough to get to heaven and that God won’t send you to hell, but God has seen every one of your wicked thoughts and actions. He has seen every time you’ve broken His commandments, lusting over someone you’re not married to, lying and stealing (no matter how little); He knows every time you’ve carved a false idol of God in your mind, a corrupt god of your own imagination who will turn a blind eye to your sin.

He has heard every time you’ve used His Holy Name in vain, using the name of the One who gave you life in place of a curse word. You wouldn’t do that with Hitler’s name, but you do it with God’s name! The “Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain” (Exodus 20:7), and “every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment.” (Matthew 12:36)

Be honest with yourself: when you face God on Judgment Day—keeping in mind that He’s seen your every wicked thought and action—will He find you innocent or guilty? If God gives you what you deserve, should He send you to heaven or hell? God has written His law on your heart so you are “without excuse” (Romans 1:18-32); you know it is wrong to lie, to steal, to lust, and to curse because God gave you a conscience to know right from wrong. Your own conscience demands justice.

Imagine a courtroom scene where a child rapist is coming before the judge for sentencing. But instead of giving him what justice demands, the judge lets him go free because the rapist is a “nice guy” who has given to charity and goes to church every Sunday.

You would be outraged, and you should be! Yet most people think the High and Holy God is just like this corrupt judge, and that they can bribe Him with their “good deeds” so that He’ll overlook their sin.

Again, what would you think if the judge said to the rapist, “I’m a very loving judge, so I’ll just let you go free”? You would not think that the judge was loving at all, but that he was corrupt and not worthy to be a judge! Yet most people expect the Holy God who is “the judge of all the earth” (Genesis 18:25) to be just that corrupt with them, and overlook their sin.

Infinite Love and Goodness demand Infinite Justice. Because God’s love and justice are infinite He won’t punish only murderers and rapists, but He’ll punish ALL sin wherever it’s found. That’s why “the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9) “No thief, no sexually immoral person, no idolater will enter heaven” (1 Corinthians 6:10), and “all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone.” (Revelation 21:8)

Now the question for you, dear reader, is this: is there any hope for someone like you? Is there any hope for the person who has defied God time and again by rebelling against His will and refusing to love and worship Him? Is there any hope for the criminal who stands guilty in the courtroom of God? Yes there is! There is forgiveness with God!

The Gospel (“good news”) is this: Imagine you are in a human courtroom and the judge finds you guilty, and because he’s just, gives you the maximum fine of ten million dollars. But there is no way you can pay the fine, so you’re about to spend the rest of your life in jail.

​T​hen someone you’ve never met before steps into the courtroom and says, “I’ve sold all my worldly goods to pay your fine.” Your fine has been paid, so justice has been served and you’re free to go! Well, two thousand years ago God became flesh in the man, Jesus Christ, who was born of a virgin, led a sinless life and then suffered and died under the wrath of God on the cross to pay in full the penalty for all your sins. Then He rose again in triumph over all the powers of death and darkness, so that in Him we can have eternal life. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

But it’s not enough to merely believe “intellectually” in order to be forgiven by God. The Bible says that even the demons believe intellectually! (James 2:19) In order to have real forgiveness, you must repent, as J​​esus Himself said: “unless you repent you will also perish.” (Luke 13:3)

And repentance means turning fully away from your life of sin and turning fully to God, trusting in Jesus Christ ALONE to save you and not your own deeds; trusting in Him as the One who willingly stood in your place on the cross, taking God’s wrath for you; the wrath YOU deserve.

What are you waiting for; don’t gamble with your eternal salvation! “Your life is a vapor” (James 4:14), and you have no way of knowing which second will be your last. “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to the Lord, and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” (Isaiah 55:6-7)

God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but desires for you to turn from your sins and live! (Ezekiel 18:23)

You have a personal invitation from the Lord Jesus Christ Himself: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29)

This video tract is based upon a slight variation of, “How would you feel if your Thought Life were to be shown on Nationwide TV?” written by Kevin Williams ( and Garrett Holthaus (

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.


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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A Call to Repentance (Part One)

Hosea 6:1-6

Come, let us return to the Lord. For he has torn us, and he will heal us; he has wounded us, and he will bind up our wounds. He will revive us after two days, and on the third day he will raise us up so we can live in his presence. Let us strive to know the Lord. His appearance is as sure as the dawn. He will come to us like the rain, like the spring showers that water the land (6:1-3 CSB).

Religious people in our time have lost their hold on the reality of God, the living God, the God who is there. During the last few years in Christian writings, it has become necessary to revisit the basic teachings about God. For example, in some circles there is growing confusion about the Trinity, and in others there is a denial of God’s knowledge and sovereignty in what is called “Open Theism”. Since the tragic events of 9/11, some have become practical dualists in their theology, wrongly assuming that all good events come from God and all bad events from the devil. As we will see, such ideas shipwreck on the solid rock of this text.

We need the teaching of this text for another reason. This passage is like a ray of sunshine and hope before the storm breaks. Sometimes in the trials of life we lose sight of the mercy and love of God. Hopefully, we still confess the mercy and love of God, but the fog of life obscures the sight and pleasure of God’s wonderful grace to broken people. We become legalistic, wrongly assuming that God only likes people that resemble Mary Poppins— “practically perfect in every way!” The Bible knows of no perfect person but the Lord Jesus, and instead asserts the holiness of Christ and our total need of him. So this passage offers hope to people, regardless of their imperfection. Let us listen to God’s encouraging words.

The Lord Israel urged to repent (6:1-3). Hosea taught the people how to turn back to the Lord in these verses. God was behind this training; he wanted repentance. Hosea willingly joined with the people, both as an example, and a leader, and as one who recognized his own sinfulness, for no one is perfect.

Repentance described. A description is different from a definition. Repentance is defined as a “change of mind or heart.” Genuine repentance produces certain actions that describe how it looks. Two of these are the descriptions we read here.

It is described as the need to return to the Lord (6:1). Israel had abandoned the living God for dead idols. She needed to go back to the true and Living One (Jeremiah 2:13). The deepest truths are often the simplest! Where is the Lord in your life? What practical evidences are there of your interaction with him?

In our family we can point to specific events when we were together and can describe the fellowship that occurred during those times. You can do the same in your family. The same thing happens in the family of God, when people are in a vital relationship with the living God.

Have you wandered away from the Lord? What has come between God and you? Forsake it and return to him! You won’t return to the Lord as long as you hang onto what is keeping you away from him. A desire for “other things” can choke the Lord’s message to you (Matthew 13:22).

It is described as the need to know the Lord (6:3). Observe once again the importance of knowing God! See Jeremiah 9:23-24; John 17:3. God wants a diligent desire. He wanted them to pursue this knowledge. In other words, the Lord wants fellowship or communication.

Repentance encouraged

God encouraged it by a presentation of God’s grace. The Lord uses his kindness to lead people to repentance (Rm 2:4). He wins us by his love. The Almighty revealed himself in three ways.

  • God as Healer. The Lord is able to mend what he has torn.
  • God as Lifegiver. Notice the “third day” mentioned. This might be an allusion to Christ’s resurrection on the third day.
  • God as Renewer. Rain is essential for a proper harvest. In the same way, the life-giving grace of God is able to make them flourish spiritually.

Observe the idea of overflowing grace (Romans 5:20-21). His grace is greater than our sins. When you take care of young children, you find out that they can be messy, especially when they eat! Loving adults reach out to messy children and tenderly clean them. The living God is willing “to get his hands messy” to clean us up and to share life with us. He knows that to some extent, we will always have “messy faces and hands” in this life, but he still loves us!

God encouraged it by a presentation of their need: “that we may live….” Since God has endowed people with life and the ability to make rational judgments, he appeals to us in this way. Will you be able to live before God forever? If not, how will you be able to endure his wrath forever?

Grace and peace, David

Christian, God is a Father to You

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Christian don’t ever forget, despite what other blessings you may see your fellow brethren receive, God is your Father just as much as theirs.

One God and Father

The Bible declares three distinct persons to be God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit), but we need to remember that the Bible gives primacy to the Father. The Bible most certainly exalts Christ, but we can’t forget that God the Father is said to be overall, including Christ.

What To Do When Christians Clash!

What are we to do when Christians clash? I’m not thinking of momentary spats or minor disagreements, but of significant divisions and conflict grounded in equally sincere convictions about what is right and wise. If you’ve been a Christian for any period of time you’ve no doubt seen it or, sadly, been embroiled in one of your own.

Once again, one of the admirable things about the Bible is its often brutal honesty, its refusal to gloss over the glitches in believers’ lives. There are a number of examples I could cite, but none more pointed than the breakdown between Paul, Barnabas, and Mark, and their subsequent reconciliation.

If we are going to understand and learn from this “clash of Christians” we need to take note of a story that is recorded for us in Acts 15. Our principal characters are Paul (who needs no comment), Barnabas, and Mark.

Barnabas was the kind of man that everyone would want as a best friend. No matter how bad things got, no matter how low and lousy you might feel, no matter how badly you may have failed, when your world stinks, Barnabas is the sort who brings a sweet aroma to life. You can always count on him being there. He won’t close an eye to your sin. In fact, he’ll rebuke you if needed, but you know it’s because he really cares.

Much is said of Barnabas in the New Testament, all of which is worthy of imitation. He is described as generous in Acts 4:36-37 (if you’re in financial stress, he’ll give you what he’s got, even if it isn’t much). He has an uncanny knack for encouraging others when they are in distress (“Barnabas,” as most of you know, actually means “Son of Encouragement”), as Acts 4:36 and 11:23 bear witness (cf. Acts 9:27). He was a “good” man (Acts 11:24; what a brief but glorious epitaph!). He was “filled with the Spirit” and “full of faith” (Acts 11:24; i.e., rock solid and spiritually steady, no matter the circumstance, always looking confidently to the trustworthiness and sufficiency of Jesus). He was a teacher, prophet, evangelist, and apostle (Acts 11:26; 13:1; 14:14; obviously quite gifted!). Perhaps best of all, he could be counted on, which is to say, he was reliable (see Acts 11:29-30; 12:25).

Then there is Mark, called “John Mark” (it was common to have two names, one acceptable to Greeks and Romans and the other Jewish). He lived in Jerusalem with his mother, Mary, in his whose home prayer meetings were regularly held (Acts 12:12). We know he was the cousin of Barnabas (as Paul indicates in Colossians 4:10) and was selected by Paul (no doubt on Barnabas’s recommendation) to accompany them on their missionary journeys (Acts 12:25).

The problem, the “clash” if you will, was precipitated by something recorded for us in Acts 13:13-14 during Paul’s second missionary journey. There we read that “Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John [Mark] left them and returned to Jerusalem, but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia.” Luke doesn’t tell us at this point why John Mark “left them”, nor does he suggest at this stage that his decision was wrong or sinful.

Why did Mark leave? There are any number of possibilities. For example, he may have been homesick. Perhaps he missed his mother, their spacious home in Jerusalem, and the comfort provided by the servants present there.

Others believe that he had come to resent Paul for eclipsing his cousin Barnabas in importance and fame. Paul was now the acknowledged leader of the group. Was it familial jealousy that drove this young man?

The explanation could be as simple as physical exhaustion. Mark may not have been accustomed to the rigors of travel, or perhaps he was a bit lazy, as least by Paul’s standards. Was he having second thoughts about his calling as a missionary (“Did I really hear God?”). Was he discouraged (“This isn’t what I had in mind at all!”)?

When Paul reached the cities of south Galatia, he was quite ill (see Galatians 4:13-15). He may have contracted malarial fever which could be reduced by leaving the climate of the low-lying coastal plain and going to the coolness of the Taurus plateau some 3,500 ft. above sea level. A few have argued that perhaps Mark thought Paul was foolish in making the decision to go north over the mountains and decided it was unwise to accompany him.

There is also the possibility that as a loyal member of the church in Jerusalem he disagreed with Paul’s policy of evangelizing Gentiles and granting them equal status in the church. Some suggest it was Mark who provoked the Judaizers in Jerusalem into opposing Paul (cf. Acts 15:1ff; but we have no explicit evidence to support this).

Other possible explanations are his fear of bandits, thieves, and muggers who infested the Taurus mountains into which Paul insisted they go (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:26), or perhaps his fear of persecution (cf. Acts 14:19).

Whatever the reason for Mark’s refusal to continue with Paul and Barnabas, whatever excuse he used to make a hasty retreat to Jerusalem and the comforts of home, Paul took it as a sign of weakness and immaturity and unreliability. So did Barnabas, I suspect, although later they would differ greatly on how best to deal with the problem.

Following the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are” (Acts 15:36). Barnabas wanted Mark to come along, “but Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work” (Acts 15:37-38).

Note well what happened next: “And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord” (Acts 15:39-40). It testifies to the historical reliability of Acts that Luke makes no effort to cover up this dispute. He’s not afraid to face reality or point a finger at warts on the face of the church.

Barnabas would not have disputed the fact that Mark blew it badly when he deserted them in Cyprus. Sin is sin. He no doubt agreed with Paul that Mark failed miserably on his first outing, but he also believed Mark had sincerely repented and should be welcomed back and given a second chance.

There’s no reason to think Paul doubted Mark’s sincerity in repenting. But the great apostle could not afford to risk the lives of others and the success of the mission on a man who, in his opinion, had yet to prove himself reliable and trustworthy in the heat of battle. Perhaps Paul said to Barnabas (using modern lingo): “When the going gets tough, the tough get going; but Barnabas, don’t you remember Cyprus? When the going got tough there, Mark turned tailed and ran away. It’s not that I don’t love the young man, but too much is at stake to trust him this early in his recovery.”

Who was right, Paul or Barnabas or both? Paul believed that Mark needed to prove his reliability before being entrusted with such an awesome responsibility. That’s probably true. But Barnabas believed he also needed encouragement and love and acceptance. Again, no argument there. But with neither man willing to concede, the split was unavoidable.

So what ultimately happened with Mark? How did he end up with Paul during his imprisonment in Rome? And how is it that Paul commends him to the church in Colossae (Col. 4:10). And what lessons can we learn from it all?

Luke describes the incident between Paul and Barnabas as a “sharp disagreement” (Acts 15:39). I don’t know, but it may have sounded something like this:

Barnabas: “Paul! You’re being unreasonable. I know you’re a man of conviction, but for heaven’s sake ease up a bit.”

Paul: “I may be unreasonable in your estimation, Barnabas, but you are showing a distinct lack of wisdom. Don’t let the fact that he’s your cousin blind you to his failures. We need to think first and foremost about the welfare of this ministry God has entrusted to us.”

Barnabas: “I am thinking of the ministry. But Mark is a sensitive and loving young man. Your inflexibility could crush his spirit. Must you be so harsh?”

Paul: “Must you be so soft? I love Mark. Really, I do. But you’re letting your compassion override your convictions.”

Barnabas: “And you’re letting your principles override your pity.”

In any case, the split must have been painful for everyone involved. I suspect even Mark felt guilty for being the cause of a separation between these two friends and co-workers. But let’s learn from what happened. There are five valuable lessons we can ill-afford to ignore.

First, we mustn’t forget that Paul and Barnabas, not just Mark, are also human and prone to sin. I can’t get over the fact that two apostles, that’s right, apostles(!), are engaged in a verbal brawl. I’m not in the least suggesting this justifies such behavior in us or that what occurred wasn’t grievous to the heart of God. But it reminds us that no one in this life achieves perfection or rises above the promptings of the flesh. These two men had worked miracles by the Spirit of God. They had laid hands on the sick and healed them. They both prayed in tongues (at least Paul did). They both loved Jesus. Yet here they are shouting angrily at each other!

If you had witnessed this clash, what conclusions would you have drawn? Or let’s bring it into the twenty-first century. If you were a new Christian, visiting a local church for the first time, and you happened upon such an argument in the parking lot or even the foyer of the church, what might you think?

Perhaps: “These men obviously can’t be Christians.”

Or perhaps: “I won’t believe anything either of them teaches. They are obviously disqualified from instructing others when they can’t get along with each other.”

Or maybe: “Who appointed these guys to be missionaries? Someone needs to re-evaluate the screening process!”

Or again: “I’ll bet you God never blesses or anoints either of them again. No more signs and wonders through their hands!”

Or lastly: “Hypocrites! The church is full of them. I’ll never again darken the door of this place as long as people like that are around.”

If nothing else, we learn from this not to judge too quickly or draw decisive conclusions about the goodness of people from a singular incident.

Second, is there anything we can learn from Paul’s position? I think his decision reminds us that you don’t entrust the young and immature with major tasks (cf. 1 Timothy 3:10). Don’t push people into ministry or positions of leadership and authority who may not be capable of bearing the burden or dealing with the pressure. A proven track record and proven character are indispensable.

Can we learn something important from Barnabas? Certainly. We learn that even those who fail are not to be abandoned and forever spurned. They are to be lovingly rebuked and corrected and then encouraged until conviction grips their hearts and repentance is forthcoming. We learn that failure such as this is not grounds for permanent exclusion from ministry.

Third, observe how God providentially brought good out of this tragic turn of events. With Paul and Barnabas splitting up and going their separate ways, two missionary teams instead of one are unleashed on the unbelieving world. Paul took Silas with him, while Barnabas took Mark. We must never justify our failures or sins by appealing to the overriding role of divine providence, but it is reassuring to know that God can redeem for his glory even the most petty as well as substantive clashes among his children.

Fourth, there are important lessons to learn from the experience of Mark himself. It would appear that although Mark abandoned them, he has returned on his own initiative. This was a courageous and humbling act on his part, demonstrative of the reality of his repentance.

Note also that Mark was not only received back by Paul, but was restored to ministry as well! In Colossians 4:10 Paul sends the church greetings from Mark and adds this comment: “concerning whom you have received instructions – if he comes to you, welcome him.” Evidently Mark’s restoration had not been fully acknowledged by all. I suspect that some in Colossae were suspicious of him, which is why Paul insists that they receive him warmly and wholeheartedly.

If that weren’t enough to restore confidence in Mark, Paul explicitly calls him his “fellow worker” in Philemon 24. Better still is what Paul wrote to Timothy in his second epistle. Remember, Paul is in prison in Rome, perhaps only weeks, at most months, away from execution. Virtually everyone had either abandoned him or left for other ministry opportunities (cf. 2 Timothy 4:9-10). “Luke alone is with me” (2 Timothy 4:11a), wrote Paul.

It’s a bit depressing, isn’t it? Paul is at the end of his life. His ministry is nearly over. Of all the people he could have asked to come and support and encourage him, guess whom he mentions? “Get Mark(!) and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11b). Mark? Useful? For ministry? Indeed! Isn’t God’s grace amazing?

Fifth, how was Mark restored to ministry? I suspect there were at least three human contributors through whom the Spirit worked.

There was, first of all, Barnabas and his constant encouragement and friendship.

Then there was Peter, Mark’s spiritual father (1 Peter 5:13). Peter knew a bit about failure himself! He knew the joy of restoration as well. No doubt his advice and prayers and support proved invaluable to Mark on his journey back.

Finally, Paul’s principles, his rebuke, and the discipline on which he insisted must also have played a role (“Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy,” Proverbs 27:5-6). I suspect Mark would have been the first to say that all three men were indispensable to him.

We’ve learned much from the clash of Paul and Barnabas over Mark. But there’s one more lesson to note. It comes by way of a painful contrast. Among those listed in the concluding paragraph of Colossians is a man named Demas (Colossians 4:14). He, too, was with Paul in Rome, faithfully serving the apostle alongside of Mark, Luke, Epaphras, and others. But not for long.

Is there a more painful experience than being abandoned by a friend? One struggles to find words adequate for the distress that is felt when a close, trusted companion and fellow-worker (see Philemon 24) walks away.

It’s important to remember that this was Paul’s first Roman imprisonment when conditions were not so threatening. But things were to change. When Paul wrote again from prison in Rome, his life was in the balance. Here are his words to his spiritual son, Timothy: “Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica” (2 Timothy 4:9-10). Ouch! Double ouch!!

Was Demas a “convenient” Christian, one who was happy to follow Jesus and assist the apostle so long as it was rewarding and safe? We can’t be sure, but it’s clear that Demas wanted nothing to do with Paul. The verb translated “deserted” in 2 Timothy 4:10 implies not simply that Demas had “left” but had “left him in the lurch,” had abandoned and forsaken him.

Paul would have recalled the wisdom of Solomon: “Trusting in a treacherous man in time of trouble is like a bad tooth or a foot that slips” (Proverbs 25:19). Nothing hurts quite like the disloyalty and betrayal of someone you trusted. It’s like a decaying, rotten tooth and a palsied, disjointed foot. Not only are they functionally useless (for chewing and walking), they hurt!

For some of you, no doubt, your experience with this sort of person has made you hesitant to trust another. Perhaps you’ve closed your heart to starting new friendships or found yourself keeping folk at arm’s length. But Paul didn’t let the betrayal and abandonment of Demas and others scare him off or sour him to friendship altogether. He didn’t say, “Oh, Timothy, how do I know you won’t abandon me like Demas did?” There’s an important lesson in that.

Demas abandoned Paul in his hour of need because he had fallen “in love with this present world” (2 Timothy 4:10a). He preferred material prosperity to spiritual blessings. Comfort and wealth and safety meant more to him than the advance of the gospel and the welfare of the apostle.

What lessons might we learn from the contrast between Demas and Mark?

First, when you look on these two men for the first time, Demas appeared faithful and loyal while Mark gave every indication of cowardice and weakness. But as time passed, their situations reversed. Demas proved himself to be disloyal and unreliable and Mark grew into the sort of trusted friend whom Paul wanted at his side in his final days on earth.

Don’t be hasty in making snap judgments about people. Initially, Paul thought Demas would never leave and Mark would never be of use. Now, Demas has left and Mark is back! We’re reminded by this that more important than how you start a race is how you finish. It’s been said before and I’ll say it again: the Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint! So let’s be careful and not place excessive responsibility on those who do well at first, nor give up entirely on those who appear to have slipped at the starting line.

Second, some say Mark was not a Christian when he abandoned Paul and Barnabas but converted later on. They also argue that Demas was a Christian but lost his salvation when he deserted Paul for love of the world.

But this is based on the assumption that a true believer is incapable of the sin of fear or cowardice (Mark’s transgression; Peter’s too!). It also assumes that someone who is born again cannot fall into the grip of materialism and self-protection (which may well have been Demas’s struggle).

I suspect, but can’t prove, that Demas was a Christian with whom God dealt no differently than he did with Mark. He would have come under the conviction of the Spirit and felt the call to repentance. Short of his restoration, divine discipline would have ensued. Was he restored? We don’t know. There are other instances in Scripture where discipline is temporally (but not spiritually) fatal (cf. Acts 5:1-11; 1 Corinthians 11:30-32). In the case of Demas, the Bible is silent, and we must be content with that.

Third, and finally, Barnabas received Mark back. Peter received Mark back. Paul received Mark back. The Church as a whole received Mark back. But what about God? God used him to write the gospel of his Son! This miserable failure who initially proved so unreliable was received and restored by God to fulfill a task of awesome and eternal significance. As I said before, isn’t grace amazing!

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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:


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:


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


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


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


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:


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:


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), (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,” (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, (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, (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,” (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, (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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A Fisherman in Ireland: The Enduring Relevance of Patrick

We are pleased today to run this guest post by church historian Jason G. Duesing, author of Mere Hope: Life in An Age of Cynicism (B&H Books, 2018). Dr. Duesing serves as Provost and Associate Professor of Historical Theology at Midwestern Seminary. You can follow him on Twitter.

For evangelicals, the enduring relevance of Patrick of Ireland (c. 390–460) lies in a sacrificial heart motivated by the Great Commission and burdened for the lost.

Christianity likely arrived in Britain from European missionaries during the third century, though it did not emerge as an established tradition until the late fourth century while still under the rule of the Roman Empire. Or, as Malcolm Lambert has said, “Christianity came late to the province.”

After surviving Germanic attack in the fifth century, Christians in Britain contributed to theological development by engaging with controversialists like Pelagius and Faustus, and they spread the faith to neighboring Ireland.

And there we find the role of Patrick (the would-be saint), son of a deacon, who was first kidnapped and taken as a slave to Ireland when a teen.

During his enslavement, Patrick sought God and was converted. Six years later he found a path to return to Britain. While resettling there he sensed the call of God to the ministry of the Gospel. Specifically, he grew convicted that he should return to Ireland.

In his Confession Patrick shares that he went in response to the call of God to “come to the Irish people to preach the Gospel . . . so that I might give up my free birthright for the advantage of others.”

He continued:

I did not proceed to Ireland of my own accord until I was almost giving up, but through this I was corrected by the Lord, and he prepared me so that today I should be what was once far from me, in order that I should have the care of—or rather, I should be concerned for—the salvation of others, when at that time, still, I was only concerned for myself. . . . 

I will tell briefly how most holy God frequently delivered me, from slavery, and from the twelve trials with which my soul was threatened, from man traps as well, and from things I am not able to put into words. I would not cause offence to readers, but I have God as witness who knew all things even before they happened, that, though I was a poor, ignorant waif, still he gave me abundant warnings through divine prophecy.

Whence came to me this wisdom which was not my own, I who neither knew the number of days nor had knowledge of God? Whence came the so great and so healthful gift of knowing or rather loving God, though I should lose homeland and family?

I am greatly God’s debtor, because he granted me so much grace, that through me many people would be reborn in God, and soon after confirmed, and that clergy would be ordained everywhere for them, the masses lately come to belief, whom the Lord drew from the ends of the earth, just as he once promised through his prophets: ‘To you shall the nations come from the ends of the earth, and shall say, “Our fathers have inherited naught but lies, worthless things in which there is no profit.”’ And again: ‘I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles that you may bring salvation to the uttermost ends of the earth.’

And I wish to wait then for his promise which is never unfulfilled, just as it is promised in the Gospel: ‘Many shall come from east and west and shall sit at table with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.’ Just as we believe that believers will come from all the world, So for that reason one should, in fact, fish well and diligently, just as the Lord foretells and teaches, saying, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,’ and, again, through the prophets: ‘“Behold, I am sending forth many fishers and hunters,” says the Lord,’ et cetera. So it behoved us to spread our nets, that a vast multitude and throng might be caught for God.

Patrick would give his life as a gospel minister in Ireland for over 30 years.

This selfless motivation is as timeless as the Apostle Paul’s desire to become all things to all people that he might save some (1 Cor. 9:22), and as relevant for the 21st-century family from Illinois called to live among the people of India.

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