Theological critique of Escondido Two Kingdoms theology (VIII): Machen was a culture warrior...

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Modern culture is a mighty force. It is either subservient to the Gospel or else it is the deadliest enemy of the Gospel. For making it subservient, religious emotion is not enough, intellectual labor is also necessary. And that labor is being neglected. The Church has turned to easier tasks. And now she is reaping the fruits of her indolence. Now she must battle for her life.

- J. Gresham Machen *

Any movement's claims of lineage should be examined with a critical eye for the legitimacy of those claims. Because someone is writing history doesn't mean he's writing history. He might be writing propaganda. He may be using facts of history to hide that his movement has no father.

When some new view of the Christian life comes along, wise Christians considering that view will, like those noble Bereans, first go to Scripture to see if the new view is true. And if Scripture might seem to lend support to the view, they will then ask of the movement, "Who's your daddy?"

Apply such scrutiny to R2K (Radical Two Kingdom) and it's easy to see their talking points are weak, their history is tendentious, and their claims of descent baseless.

Concerning R2K's purportedly Reformed lineage, start with John Calvin: R2K theology can make no legitimate claim of descent from Calvin concerning the spheres of authority of the state, family, and church. Trying to shoe-horn today's R2K church officers benevolent view of the repeal of today's sodomy laws back into any part of Calvin's Geneva is laughable. Had Geneva's populace or civil magistrates proposed sodomite marriage, Calvin and every other church officer would have publicly denounced the change from their pulpits and any other forum available to them.

Similarly, every Reformed father in the faith across the centuries since Calvin: all of them would have denounced the civil magistrates if they so much as ran up a trial balloon concerning the repeal of sodomy laws. To suggest otherwise is, again, laughable. God's servants the prophets have always denounced public wickedness in high places. This is the duty of a prophet. He is not interested in taking over or usurping the authority of the civil magistrate, but neither will he allow himself to be silenced as he proclaims, "Thus says the Lord God Almighty, for three sins of Rwanda, four sins of Germany, and ten sins of these United States..." 

Moving on from John Calvin, R2K men parade J. Gresham Machen as their more recent ancestor, citing his opposition to prohibition laws as justification for their own disinterest in, and at times opposition to, joint Christian support for civil laws against sodomy or the slaughter of the unborn:

J. Gresham Machen appealed to the doctrinal equivalent of 2k [R2K]... against the Social Gospel impulses and policies of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., especially to defend his own objection to the church's annual motions in support of the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act (i.e. Prohibition).

Since Machen opposed government intruding into matters of individual moral choice, they say, their own opposition to the church supporting sodomy laws can claim the support of Machen. They cite texts such as the following statement by Machen explaining his vote on a motion before the Presbytery of New Brunswick:

The resolution endorsing the Eighteenth Amendment or the Volstead Act was introduced to the Presbytery of New Brunswick at the very end of the meeting on April 13, 1926. ...the resolution was put to a viva voce vote. I voted "No"; but I did not speak to the motion or in any way ask that my vote should be recorded...

It is a misrepresentation to say that by this vote I expressed any opinion on the merits of the Eighteenth Amendment or the Volstead Act—and still less on the general question of Prohibition. On the contrary, my vote was directed against a policy which places the church in its corporate capacity, as distinguished from the activities of its members, on record with regard to such political questions.

"Here Machen opposed the church declaring her approval of the Eighteenth Amendment and Prohibition and this proves he wasn't a culture warrior," they would declare.

Really? Is the man who wrote this Jeremiad against American public education no culture warrrior?

A public school system, if it means the providing of free education for those who desire it, is a noteworthy and beneficent achievement of modern times; but when once it becomes monopolistic it is the most perfect instrument of tyranny which has yet been devised. Freedom of thought in the middle ages was combated by the Inquisition, but the modern method is far more effective. Place the lives of children in their formative years, despite the convictions of their parents, under the intimate control of experts appointed by the state, force them then to attend schools where the higher aspirations of humanity are crushed out, and where the mind is filled with the materialism of the day, and it is difficult to see how even the remnants of liberty can subsist. Such a tyranny, supported as it is by a perverse technique used as the instrument in destroying human souls, is certainly far more dangerous than the crude tyrannies of the past, which despite their weapons of fire and sword permitted thought at least to be free.

The truth is that the materialistic paternalism of the present day, if allowed to go on unchecked, will rapidly make of America one huge "Main Street," where spiritual adventure will be discouraged and democracy will be regarded as consisting in the reduction of all mankind to the proportions of the narrowest and least gifted of the citizens. God grant that there may come a reaction, and that the great principles of Anglo-Saxon liberty may be rediscovered before it is too late! (J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, p. 17)

Machen not a culture warrior? What a bunch of hooey! Yet sadly, those who have never read Machen are easily convinced.

But what is a culture warrior?

"Culture warrior" is a pejorative term used to diss prophets who oppose our culture's pursuit of a naked public square where abortionists and sodomitic rapists are free to prey on the weak and defenseless.

"What's wrong with being called a 'culture warrior,' the simple Christian asks? "What's wrong with Christian prophets preaching against these terrible evils?"

People who diss prophets would respond by pointing out, first, that evil has been a constant across world history and that any moral reformation will only come about when men's hearts are changed by the Holy Spirit: "You can't get a pig out of the mud. He needs to be changed into a cat, and then he'll never stop cleaning himself."

Second, they say churches and pastors need to guard their unique calling lest moral reformation replace the simple preaching of the Gospel.

Third, forgetting how John the Baptist, our Lord, the Apostle Paul, Calvin, Luther, and Knox publicly rebuked public evils, they claim that no preacher of the Gospel should waste his time opposing public evils publicly; that preaching God's Moral Law should only happen within the safe confines of the Christian home and church, and those who appeal to God's Law out in the public square are making sophisticated Christians (like themselves) a stench in the eyes of our cultural elite.

Watch that third point, carefully: it's the locomotive that drives the train.

Simple Christians must keep two things in mind: first, that there was not one civil magistrate who felt John the Baptist or our Lord Jesus presented no threat to his own civil authority and laws; and second, that men of God called to pastoral ministry have never claimed that the proclamation of God's Moral Law ought to be limited to the privacy of the Christian home and sanctuary, and that God's Law ought to be removed from the public square. Never has it been uttered, let alone preached or taught, that His Law is a private thing for Christians only and that anyone who quotes God's Moral Law in the public square, citing the authority of Jesus Christ, violates the separation of church and state.

Yet this is the twisted claim of R2K men.

Thus their narrative would likely be, "Machen would refuse to take any public part in the battles dividing our own nation and time. If he were alive today, although he would declare his personal opposition to abortion and homosexual practice in the privacy of his own home and church, as a citizen of these United States he would do no such thing, but rather would seek the repeal of sodomy laws and would not oppose marriage equality legislation."

But really, what orthodox Christian would ever equate laws against alcohol with laws against baby slaughter and sodomy? Even concerning blue laws enforcing Sabbath observance, in a 1933 letter to the governor of Pennsylvania, Machen wrote:

(M)y own cultivation of a quiet Sunday is based on considerations much more fundamental than these. I am a Christian, and it is quite clear that a commercialized Sunday is inimical to the Christian religion. There are many other Christians in Pennsylvania, and because they are Christians they do not cease to be citizens. They have a right to be considered by their fellow-citizens and by the civil authorities. But the reason why they can with a good conscience be enthusiastic advocates of the Christian practice in the matter of Sunday is that they regard it as right, and as for the highest well-being of the entire State.

Did you get that? Sabbath-observing Christians consider Sabbath observance to be "for the well-being of the entire State."

Yet R2K men are so oblivious to Machen's writings that they claim Machen as their inspiration for coming out with claptrap such as this:

What Machen’s example teaches is that Christians have no right to expect the church as a corporate body to seek the city’s welfare other than through the spiritual means of proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. - 

- "The Difference Between Christians & The Church," Modern Reformation, 2004.

So we see that the R2K argument that Machen's opposition to Prohibition establishes a hermeneutical trajectory allowing his supposed R2K sons to oppose sodomy laws still on the books of thirteen states as I write is the very definition of tendentious history. Those who know Machen through primary—not secondary—sources see through the Radical Two Kingdom men claiming him as their inspiration for retreat into privacy.

Take Christianity and Liberalism for instance: this book (which I have recommended to many through the years, one of whom now is in permanent possession of my first edition copy which I very much miss) is Machen's magnum opus. Nothing he wrote struck as profound and timeless a blow for orthodox Christian faith. The work remains indispensable to any shepherd's understanding of our times.

Machen was a culture warrior...

Machen wrote Christianity and Liberalism at a time when America's culture was still overwhelmingly Christian and Protestant. Thus the culture war then waged among America's citizens was, in fact, "Christianity vs. Liberalism" which was better known at the popular level as "The Fundamentalist Controversy."

This Fundamentalist Controversy divided our nation and J. Gresham Machen was the central warrior on the Fundamentalist side of the battle. Indefatigable in opposing the liberals' attack upon orthodox Christian faith on the mission field, among the Princeton intelligentsia, and in church pulpits across the country, Machen's Christianity and Liberalism defined the battle raging across the nation and forevermore exposed liberals as the enemies of true Christian faith. The war was bloody and left in its wake painful divisions of national institutions including denominations, seminaries, colleges, mission societies, and churches in communities large and small—right down to little Cedar Grove, a town of 2,100 in rural Wisconsin where my dear friend, Rev. Robert Woodyard, pastored the Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation that, since Machen's battle, has been relegated to living in the shadow of one of the nation's largest Orthodox Presbyterian congregations.

Today we look at the mainline Presbyterian Church (USA) as a rather insignificant national organization with little cultural influence, but in Machen's time it was not this way. Members of the organization Machen split called the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA) led our nation.

Which is to say the Fundamentalist Controversy divided America. It split our nation right down the middle. Every man had to pick one side or the other—take your choice. Tt was such a nasty battle that men like Harold John Ockenga and Billy Graham and Nelson Bell worked for a generation to build Evangelicalism as a kinder, gentler orthodoxy, and to that end they defined themselves as "not fundamentalism." Fundamentalist warriors had too much blood on their hands, so with Machen gone, these intellectuals set about building their own names and temples.

Not surprisingly, then, down to this very day we have intellectuals who disdain Machen's bloodiness and condemn any prophets calling for reform of the church "Machen's warrior children."

Battle is always a scandal to the complacent, yet they never stop their celebrations of Memorial Day.

This is R2K: perpetual observance of Memorial Days when they lay garlands on the tombs of those culture warriors far enough back in history that there's no risk of laying garlands on their tombs; then today, they do everything in their power today to keep themselves and their colleagues from any part in the culture war of their own time.

Machen was everything R2K men mean today when they scoff at "culture warriors." He stood unflinching at the gaps in the wall, serving faithfully as one part of the pillar and foundation of God's Truth. This is the reason men standing in the gap still today have milquetoasts dissing them with the appellation "Machen's warrior children."

Occasionally, though, R2K men admit the convenience of their position in a world hell-bent on the monoculture of idolatry that flourishes under the rubric of "separation of church and state:"

Thankfully in time the Reformed tradition came to see the mistake in insisting that civil magistrates are to enforce the true religion, and both the Westminster Confession of Faith (the Presbyterian confession) and the Belgic Confession of Faith (the Dutch Reformed confession) were modified to eliminate that requirement. Nevertheless, I can’t help but think that in part this was simply a shift of convenience. When separation of church and state and religious liberty is so popular all around us, it is hard to keep such an intolerant confession.

R2K men claim to subscribe to the historic confessions of the Reformed churches, but they repudiate those confessions' declarations that every civil magistrate is under the authority of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

R2K men today who are seeking a de-escalation of the hostilities between the People of God and the wickedness in high places which has established the oppression of women and the bloodshed of the unborn and the death of sodomites should never be allowed to claim any faithful church prophet of the past as their lineage. Our church fathers feared God rather than man, and that's the reason they are fathers of the church honored still today. Had they been silent; had they called for the privatization of Christian faith and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they would never have been considered as heroes and no one killing today's prophets would bother claiming them as their heritage.

R2K men resemble J. Gresham Machen in the same way as laughing hyenas resemble a grizzly bear. Here's the real J. Gresham Machen bearing no resemblance to his modern wannabes:

The Christian cannot be satisfied so long as any human activity is either opposed to Christianity or out of all connection with Christianity. Christianity must pervade not merely all nations, but also all of human thought. The Christian, therefore, cannot be indifferent to any branch of earnest human endeavor. It must all be brought into some relation to the gospel. It must be studied either in order to be demonstrated as false, or else in order to be made useful in advancing the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom must be advanced not merely extensively, but also intensively. The Church must seek to conquer not merely every man for Christ, but also the whole of man. We are accustomed to encourage ourselves in our discouragements by the thought of the time when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. No less inspiring is the other aspect of that same great consummation. That will also be a time when doubts have disappeared, when every contradiction has been removed, when all of science converges to one great conviction, when all of art is devoted to one great end, when all of human thinking is permeated by the refining, ennobling influence of Jesus, when every thought has been brought into subjection to the obedience of Christ.

* * *

But by whom is this task of transforming the unwieldy, resisting mass of human thought until it becomes subservient to the gospel–by whom is this task to be accomplished? To some extent, no doubt, by professors in theological seminaries and universities. But the ordinary minister of the gospel cannot shirk his responsibility. (J. Gresham Machen*)

*  *  *

* J. Gresham Machen, "Christianity and Culture" in The Princeton Theological Review, Vol. 11, 1913.

This is the eighth in a (so far) eleven-part series opposing the liberal theology called "Two Kingdom," "Radical Two-Kingdom," "Rigid Two Kingdom," or "Revisionist Two Kingdom," and abbreviated here simply as "R2K." Here's the first in this series, the second, the third, the fourth, the fifth, the sixth, the seventh, the eighth, the ninth, the tenth, and the eleventhAnd here's a post subjecting R2K to an historical critique.

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

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