In 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.Related Resources:
- A Reading Plan for Augustine’s “The City of God”
- How the “City” Theme Opens Better Biblical Views
- The Meaning of the City by Jacques Ellul
‘Tis the season when hundreds of thousands of students find out if they were accepted to the schools of their dreams. Whether you’re a senior in high school or an accomplished professional heading to business school, each of us hopes and prays that our applications will be successful.
But how do we respond when those hopes don’t materialize? And how should parents, friends, and mentors help those whose plans don’t turn out as they desired?My Rejection Story
Ever since my undergraduate days, I dreamed of studying at Oxford. So as I finished up my master of divinity degree at Princeton Seminary, I began planning and praying that the Lord would make a way for us to move to Oxford. In an amazing blessing, I was given a full fellowship to pursue a one-year master’s degree at Oxford. All I had to do was get into a program.
I applied and was told I should have an answer by early February. The day for hearing about my application came and went. I didn’t understand. I had a sterling GPA and strong letters of support from several professors. My writing sample was among the best work I had ever done, and I was convinced that my acceptance was just a formality. After all, I had secured something much harder—a full fellowship to pay for my Oxford degree.
One morning, I decided to call the Oxford postgraduate admissions office to see if they could shed any light. The lady at the other end of the phone told me the letter was en route but might take another week or two to reach me. I begged her to tell me the gist of the letter. She paused and then took a deep breath. “I regret to inform you, Mr. Lindsay, that your application has not been successful.” It was the nicest way she could put the devastating news. I had been rejected.
I wept bitterly. I couldn’t go to school that day. I felt humiliated. How would I explain to the scholarship committee? What would I tell my friends? I’d asked everyone I knew to pray for my application. Needless to say, those prayers didn’t produce the results I wanted.Surrendering in Prayer
Disappointment and loss have a way of pointing out idols we didn’t even realize we had in our lives. As I grappled with my rejection at Oxford, I came to realize a large part of my identity hung on my ability to perform. My self-worth was wrapped up in academic achievement.
Proverbs 16 speaks about surrendering our plans to God. “Commit your work to the LORD,” verse 3 states, “and your plans will be established.” The verb “commit” here refers literally to rolling over, to surrendering. It’s an acknowledgement in our daily living that God is over it all. We don’t fully know what today or tomorrow brings, but each day we prayerfully commit our work to the Lord, and he establishes our plans.
Disappointment and loss have a way of pointing out idols we didn’t even realize we had in our lives.
Prayer is our means of daily self-surrender. We grow in goodness and serenity, and we remove ourselves from the center of our existence, instead focusing on God. Prayer, in other words, is a “school of self-forgetfulness,” as Michael Casey puts it.
Tough times have a way of schooling us in the practice of prayer. In the hours and days following the news that I’d been rejected for the graduate program at Oxford, my prayers were more like heart cries than petitions. I was so devastated and embarrassed that I didn’t have enough clear thinking to ask things of God. But gradually, I began to understand more deeply what it meant to take our requests to the Lord.
I probably spent more time in prayer in the weeks after getting this news than I’d experienced in years. I learned many things about myself, some of which I didn’t like to learn—like how much pride and self-centeredness were alive and well in my character. And I saw how quick I was to tell the Lord what I wanted, and how rarely I paused to genuinely ask what he wanted with my life or this next venture.Receive His Good Gifts
Over the next month, the Lord unfolded a plan that was even better than I could have imagined—and none of it would have been possible if my original plans had worked out. So in order to receive the many good gifts God had in store for my family, I had to experience the pain and disappointment of having my strategies rejected. Did God have to work that way? No, of course not. But it’s how it worked out. And I am so much better because of it.
The Christian pilgrimage is a process of recognizing that our strategies may not be the best, that we often deceive ourselves from seeing things as they really are, and that the surest way to abundant living is the process of surrender—of committing our work to the Lord so that our plans can be established. This is perhaps the most important lesson we can learn from the school of rejection.
Sharing Christ with a member of another faith tradition can be frightening. And some traditions seem to cause more angst than others. In my experience, one causing a great sense of trepidation is Mormonism.
This need not be the case.
Let’s consider a few ways to reach our Mormon neighbors as effectively as possible, so they will turn from false religion and follow the Jesus of Scripture.Wrong God
First, we must establish that Mormons are involved in false religion. Two questions summarize well the differences between Mormonism and biblical Christianity:
- Who is God?
- Who is God in Christ?
Answering either incorrectly leads to the judgment and wrath of God. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) believe in a deity (Elohim) who was created and reared on another planet. There, Elohim married, had children, and eventually gained a “sphere of existence” into which he and Heavenly Mother could place incarnated spirit children—children created through their heavenly, intimate, physical relations.
The first spirit child born to Elohim and Heavenly Mother was a boy named Jehovah. Eventually, Jehovah was adopted as the Messiah, came to earth, and incarnated as Jesus. As humans, if we follow the plan set forth by Elohim—doing all we can (Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 25:23)—then we can become like Elohim one day after death. As former LDS Church president Lorenzo Snow famously put it, “As man is now, God once was. As God is now, man may become.”
Needless to say, this is not historic, orthodox Christianity.Know the Gospel, Stress Certain Teachings
How, then, can Christians effectively reach out to Mormon neighbors and friends? First, the Christian must know the message of Jesus and know it well. The preferred method of presentation does not matter; knowing the gospel is what matters. Practice with a friend and ask for critical feedback. Make sure to remove any “churchy” language from the presentation.
Second, it’s important to understand that Mormons believe salvation is gained through a combination of grace and works. Just as Paul declared the gospel in contextually appropriate ways, especially in Acts 17, so we must do the same.
Stressing three particular Christian teachings is helpful when seeking to reach Mormons.1. Salvation is a free gift from the Father.
Passages like Ephesians 2:8–9, Romans 5:8, and Romans 6:23 are vital. Those passages plainly teach that salvation is a free gift, given in spite of our works. One might go so far as to say those verses stress that salvation is given to us freely in direct contradiction to our works. Works are of utmost importance for the Latter-day Saint, so stressing freedom from earning salvation is critical.2. Jesus is the final prophet, priest, and king.
Latter-day Saints believe in the need for a living prophet who hears from God daily and then passes that information on to humanity. Without a living prophet, most Latter-day Saints would feel directionless and lost. One former LDS leader compared the need for a living prophet to the need for a daily newspaper; without one, humanity wouldn’t understand daily life. Sharing passages like Hebrews 1:1–4 and 2 Timothy 3:16–17 can be helpful here.3. There’s no need for a mediator other than the risen Christ.
Mormons, in effect, believe LDS Church leadership is the current mediator between humanity and Elohim, as part of the priesthood being passed down via LDS hierarchy. Without the priesthood, Mormons believe no work can be done that will be accepted by Elohim. Mormons believe Elohim’s will couldn’t be known without LDS leadership passing it on to humanity. Passages like 1 Timothy 2:5–6 and Galatians 3:20 can bring necessary light to this doctrine.Gentleness and Respect
Above all, we must treat Mormons with graciousness and respect in accord with 1 Peter 3:15–16. In this regard, we must show ourselves worthy of the title “follower of Christ.” We must remember, as representatives of Christ, that we have his all-sufficient Word as our authority. The same power found in the words “Let there be light” is found in the words “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” There is inherent, creative, soul-transforming power in God’s Word. Let our confidence reside in his truth, not in our ability to debate.
The idea of reaching out to an adherent of another faith tradition is probably intimidating to most Christians. Fear of the unknown, fear of being rejected, and fear of being unable to answer difficult questions lurk in every encounter. We can also fear a broken relationship if the person we’re trying to reach is a friend, relative, or co-worker. These feelings don’t need to be paralyzing. The Lord Jesus promised he will be with us until the end—and will rescue all who call on him in faith (Matt. 28:20; Rom. 10:13).
What makes preaching ineffective?
Pastors are called to proclaim Christ and present everyone fully mature in him (Col. 1:28). Yet the parable of the soils (Mark 4) shows us that there’s a significant spiritual battle everywhere the Word is sown. Satan is all too eager to take away the Word implanted in a heart; persecution and the troubles of life can have a similarly devastating effect. In other words, often there are spiritual reasons why a sermon doesn’t produce change.
But there may also be practical reasons why a given sermon is ineffective. Implicit in the calling to be an approved worker who correctly handles the Word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15) is a need to reflect honestly on our own weaknesses.
I’ve been trying to do this, and I offer my conclusions with some hesitation, since the exercise lays my own heart bare. Nevertheless, I believe it is useful. Some things will resonate, and you—like me—will be driven once again to hard work soaked in prayer.
Here are seven types of sermons that can render a preacher’s labors ineffective.1. The Exegetically Light Sermon
Understanding a passage can be difficult. Some parts of Scripture are harder than others (2 Pet. 3:16). Getting a passage right—interpreting it correctly—isn’t a five-minute operation. We must grapple with paragraph and sentence structures, vocabulary, original languages, authorial intent, and a host of other things many in our congregation think little about.
Therein lies the temptation. Because I have a firmer grasp on the Bible than most others in my congregation, I could neglect the hard work of exegesis and they might not notice. I can do a pretty good job of giving the impression that I’ve done the needed work without actually doing it.2. The Exegetically Heavy Sermon
The flip side of the first approach is dressing to impress. I can load my sermon with so much exegesis that the congregation is left cold and unmoved. I’ve heard a lot of preaching like this, and I confess it sometimes characterizes my own. The art of preaching isn’t only about what you put in, but what you leave out.
The art of preaching isn’t only about what you put in, but what you leave out.
Lurking behind this kind of sermon is the possibility that my preparation itself is imbalanced. I can always spend more time on a passage in my study. There is always another commentary to read, another blog post to sift. I like this stuff. It excites me. But my preparation time is limited, so it’s possible to do too much exegesis and be thoroughly prepared in terms of what the text means—and yet have given virtually no thought to how to best convey this meaning to the congregation.3. The Complex Sermon
An ex-builder once told me he measured the depth of the sermon by how little he understood of it. I finally grasped this when we sat together under a bewildering preacher who left me reeling. “Brilliant,” my friend said to me, “just brilliant.”
We don’t exist as preachers to dazzle people with high and mighty intellectualism. It’s easy for us (and our congregants) to confuse profundity with complexity, failing to understand that this confuses categories and communication strategies. It’s quite possible—indeed, necessary—to be both profound and also simple.4. The Unintelligible Sermon
There are countless reasons why my speech may be difficult to understand, including tone, language, pace, and volume. Some of these are in my control, some are not. However, and this is Preaching 101, if people can’t hear me—physically, emotionally, or intellectually—then I have said nothing at all.5. The Academic Sermon
Preaching is an oral form of communication, something expositors too often fail to grasp. We communicate differently in oral form than we do in written form. And yet many sermons sound like (and indeed, are) essays—like an academic paper read from a lectern.
How can such proclamation be digested, except by a small minority? Lengthy quotes (an excellent time-filler for lazy preachers, I find) are highly unlikely to work when read out loud. This is a key battleground for many preachers. Most of us write our sermons down in some form, so we have to discipline ourselves to communicate our notes in oral form.6. The Casual Sermon
The antidote to such dead formality is often to meander through the shrubbery without picking any particular path. But a casual sermon can also be hard to follow. So keen are we to avoid formality that we lack any structure, direction, or construction that will serve our hearers.
Of course they can stomach 60 minutes of my vague wanderings, I tell myself. So sentences never really come to an end, they just tail off. Thoughts aren’t complete or logical. Random ideas are much harder to digest than ordered ones and so, while we must avoid the formality of delivering a written essay, we aren’t called to chat away like love-struck teenagers who prattle on for hours without saying anything at all.7. The Disconnected Sermon
It’s far too easy for my sermon to be disconnected from the people I’m trying to reach. I don’t serve in a large church, even by U.K. standards, and yet we still have 60-plus nationalities, people from different social backgrounds, various age groups, and so on. I’m not pretending it’s easy to make a sermon stick. But the preacher who simply doesn’t bother because it’s too hard will soon find his preaching ineffective.
The disconnect might happen in a different way. It’s quite possible (you’ve never done this, right?) to force generalized application into the text that bears no connection to it. It’s amazing, I find, how many Bible passages have the three applications already there: read your Bible more; pray more; witness more.
In connected sermons, the application goes with the flow of the text, properly understood, and resonates with the people you have been given to serve.
You may have other weaknesses, as we all do, but here’s a place to start. What did you preach last weekend, and how does that sermon measure up?
“God does not secure his kingship by cultivating anxiety. On the contrary, the aim of God’s kingship is to free us from anxiety. God doesn’t need to keep us anxious in order to establish his power and superiority. Instead, he exalts his power and superiority by working to take away our anxiety.” — John Piper
Text: Matthew 6:24–34
Preached: September 2, 1984
Location: Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Listen to this episode of TGC Word of the Week.
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).
Every preacher knows the feeling of needing an illustration but not having anything handy. Even if you have good systems for capturing and filing illustrations, you’ll inevitably have moments where nothing is in your notes, and you can’t think of anything spontaneously.
I know some folks are against illustrations, and certainly illustrations can be abused. For instance, we can be tempted to rely on them too much out of a desire to make our sermons more engaging or emotional. But I’m convinced that there’s a way to go about illustrating that honors the text of Scripture and serves your listeners.
Jesus is a good model to us in that he spoke frequently through parables (Mark 4:34), but in such a way that expressed divine authority and convicted his hearers (Matt. 7:28–29). Done in a Christlike way, sermon illustrations don’t detract from the authority of the text, but enhance it. Similarly, they don’t exalt the preacher as an impressive orator, but compel him to humbly bend and adjust his communication to his listeners (much like effective counseling requires the counselor to listen carefully and speak in an intelligible, responsive way).
In the spirit of trying to encourage the effective use of illustrations, here are eight places to look for them.1. Literature
I passionately believe that pastors can benefit from reading literature, and we should do it more. Getting illustrations is just one of the benefits of this practice, but it’s a real one. Literature illustrates helpfully because
- it is narratival, dramatic, and particular (the stuff of good illustrations);
- it brings truth into real (often contemporary) scenes of life; and
- it builds a bridge to listeners already sympathetic to the literature being used.
A great danger here is only using one kind of literature. For instance, if you’re always referencing Dostoevsky and Jane Austen, that will intimidate and possibly alienate less educated people. Or, if you’re always quoting Narnia and The Lord of the Rings, the people who don’t like fantasy won’t connect as well.
The broader your arsenal, the broader the effect.
This is a general principle of illustrations: Choose ones that incorporate and represent your audience. Choose the familiar, not the alien. Build from what is already present in the minds and imaginations of your listeners as much as you can.
I try to read lots of different kinds of literature with a view to finding illustrations. I’ve used everything from Calvin and Hobbes (seriously, there’s some deep stuff in there that communicates) to Greek tragedies like Antigone. The broader your arsenal, the broader the effect.2. You Life Experiences
Personal illustrations can be helpful, because they bring truth into “normal” moments of life and can be more relaxed. The great danger in using illustrations from your life, of course, is being self-promoting, or drawing attention to yourself in unhelpful ways. Even when you use yourself as a bad example, you can still be saying, “Look how self-deprecating and humble I am!” So make sure this is about serving your people, not about you.
When I’m trying to locate an illustration, I often consider situations that provoke emotion. This is another general principle of illustration: The more you personally connect with an illustration, the more likely it is to engage your listeners.
The more you personally connect with an illustration, the more likely it is to engage your listeners.
Also, one specific tip: Be careful talking about kids all the time. As a parent of young kids, I tend to do this. But I realize (1) it can be hard for people without kids to connect with, and (2) it might, depending on how it’s done, put your children unhelpfully in the spotlight—something they’ll likely struggle with already, being pastor’s kids.3. History and Biographies
Historical illustrations can be really useful and edifying and meet many of the same criteria as literature. Again, you have to be careful not to alienate people who aren’t interested in history by overusing these kinds of illustrations. But history can also be told in a way that engages just about everybody. Right now I have Sylvia Nasar’s A Beautiful Mind and William Manchester’s The Last Lion lying around the house, and I dip into them whenever I can. Even when I can’t find a specific illustration, it feels healthy to be reading something other than theology.4. Nature
I’ve been surprised by how useful illustrations from nature and the animal kingdom can be. We’ve been watching Planet Earth II on Netflix, so these spring to mind a lot. Lately I’ve referenced the way camels get irritated at humans as an illustration of the dangers of resentment (Martha in Luke 10); the protectiveness of a mother bird over her eggs as an illustration of God as our shield (Ps. 3:3); and police dogs’ ability to search as an illustration of Christ’s searching knowledge of our hearts (Rev. 2:23).
One of my great goals as a preacher is to preach with sensitivity to the children in the room.
Though there is a danger of such illustrations being cheesy, they can be helpful on occasion ,because they’re broadly interesting to people of all interests and backgrounds (including children). One of my great goals as a preacher is to preach with sensitivity to the children in the room.5. Current Events
The news is filled with stories and other information that can be used to illustrate. For instance, you’re waiting at the dentist. You pick up a magazine and read a story about a teenager falling into a pit and needing to be rescued. Something she says in the interview resonates with you about the power of fear. Boom. Great illustration.
These kinds of illustrations have great narratival qualities, and they engage people in ways that fiction doesn’t. People care about real things happening in the world. Be careful, though, not to prey on peoples’ fear of cultural decline. It’s also good to generally stay out of politics and social issues that will be unhelpfully controversial.6. Sermon Illustration Books and Websites
I can understand why some people are against using these kinds of resources altogether. There’s a high risk of artificiality, they’re often cheesy, and the theological bandwidth of what’s illustrated tends to be pretty wide. Nonetheless, I don’t think it’s bad to use them on occasion, when other resources fail. These resources must be used with theological discernment, and we should be sensitive to contextualize them into the sermon so that they don’t feel contrived.7. Other Biblical Narratives
It’s often been observed that the majority of Scripture comes to us in the form of narrative. The Bible’s many colorful stories are a minefield of illustrative material. A benefit of this practice is that we’re exposing our listeners to a variety of biblical texts beyond those on the preaching calendar. You can be preaching verse-by-verse through a small New Testament letter like Philippians, and take your time with it, without completely neglecting other portions of Scripture.
‘Be like so-and-so’ messages are not bad in themselves, but by themselves.
Some people avoid using biblical illustrations for fear of moralism. We have seen the Old Testament reduced to a series of “be like so-and-so” messages, and we want to preach redemptively instead. While I sympathize with this concern, there is no reason why we can’t look to the saints in an exemplary way while still motivating with the gospel. The Bible itself does this (e.g., Heb. 11). As Bryan Chapell puts it, the “be like so-and-so” messages are not bad in themselves, but by themselves.8. Movies and TV
What movies we watch is generally a more divisive issue than what books we read, so we must be extra vigilant not to violate the consciences of our listeners. You can try to cloak the illustration by not mentioning what movie it’s from, but some people will probably figure it out, and it distracts people who spend time trying to figure it out. I think the best practice is to use these kinds of illustrations sparingly, and when you do, err on the side of caution in what you select.Acts of Love Illustrations should not be the main focus of the sermon. They are there to serve exposition and application, not replace them. Used properly, illustrations will both clarify the text’s meaning (exposition) and also heighten its emotional effect (application). Often they will help you bridge from the first of these to the second. Above all, sermon illustrations should be an act of love to our listeners—a way to serve them by moving into their world and categories, much as God has drawn near to us in his Word and in the gospel. Somewhere in the Institutes, when discussing what worship services should look like, Calvin said, “Let love be our guide, and we are safe.” So also, when you’re not sure when or how to illustrate, let love for your people be your guide, and you will be safe.
Could Christ return at any moment?
My guess is that most evangelicals today would respond, “Of course!” In fact, I suspect a “No” answer would seem close to heresy. Indeed, the idea that Christ could return at any moment has become part of fundamental orthodoxy for many believers in the last 200 years. So it may surprise you to hear me suggest that not only does this teaching have little or no biblical evidence, but also the Bible actually teaches the opposite.
Don’t misunderstand—I do believe in the imminence of Christ’s return, as I’ll explain below. But first, I want to offer evidence for why an imminent return isn’t the same as an any-moment return.Reasons for Delay
The idea of an any-moment return stands in tension with the idea that certain events must precede Christ’s return. And contrary to the notion of an any-moment return, the New Testament predicts that many events must occur before his return. These events require a necessary delay, which Jesus teaches us to expect (Matt. 24:45–51; 25:5, 19; Luke 18:7; 19:11–27). Let me give you five of these “delaying” events:
- Carrying out the Great Commission demanded some delay (Matt. 24:14; 28:18–20; Acts 1:8; 22:21; 23:11; 27:24).
- The death of Peter in old age required many years of delay (John 21:18–19; 2 Pet. 1:14).
- The destruction of Jerusalem and the carrying of the Jews captive into all the nations until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled must occur first (Luke 21:23–38). Since most of the New Testament was written before that destruction, at least those parts of the New Testament can’t encourage believers to expect an any-moment return.
- The commission of Paul to take the gospel far away to the Gentiles, and the prediction that he would bear witness at Rome, entailed some delay in the second coming (Acts 9:15; 22:21; 23:11).
- Perhaps most clearly of all, 2 Thessalonians 2:1–12 contains Paul’s explicit teaching that the signs of the apostasy and the man of lawlessness must occur “first,” and it connects these events with a period just prior to Christ’s second coming. Such teaching is inconsistent with any-moment expectation of Christ’s return.
Just a couple of remarks. First, some of these things have clearly occurred and thus no longer stand between us and Christ’s return. But all of them show that any-moment-ness isn’t an intrinsic part of imminence.
Second, Christians who hold to any-moment-return teaching often seek to account for these passages by distinguishing two stages of Christ’s return: a secret, pre-tribulation rapture that could occur at any moment; and a public, post-tribulation appearing that will have signs preceding it. This is a valiant effort, but as we will see, it runs afoul of the New Testament data.Defining Imminence
Having said all this, let me hasten to say again that I do believe in the imminence of Christ’s return. But the question is how the term imminence should be defined. The English words imminence and imminent are seldom used in our translations of the Bible. A quick search shows only one use in the NASB (with reference to Peter’s death, 2 Pet. 1:14) and none in the ESV. So if we choose to use this word to describe the impending character of Christ’s second coming, we don’t have a ready-made biblical definition. We must define it as the Bible’s eschatology requires.
So how does the Bible describe the impending character of Christ’s second coming? It’s defined in terms of nearness. The New Testament teaches that Christ’s return has drawn near (Heb. 10:25), is near (Rev. 22:10), and is nearer now than when we believed (Rom. 13:11).
An imminent return isn’t the same as an any-moment return.
But both common sense and biblical usage tell us that for something to be near, and for it to be possible to happen at any moment, are two different things. For example, Jewish feasts are often spoken of in Scripture as being near. Such feasts—far from occurring at any moment—fell on set days during the year (John 2:13; 6:4; 7:2; 11:55). Nearness language is also applied to the seasons of the year (Matt. 21:34; 24:32; Mark 12:38; Luke 21:30), which occur at regular intervals. Finally, this terminology is used of an obviously post-tribulational return of Christ in Luke 21:28 and 1 Peter 4:7, which all would agree must be preceded by signs rather than occurring at any moment.What About Expectancy and Alertness?
Many suggest the biblical ideas of expectancy or alertness imply the any-moment-ness of Christ’s return. But this isn’t necessarily so.
Take the idea of expectancy. Common sense reveals that we often wait expectantly for things we know can’t come at any moment, such as the arrival of spring. Further, each Greek word conveying expectancy is used of eschatological events that everyone admits can’t occur at any moment:
- “the appearing of the glory of our great God” (Titus 2:13)
- “the revealing of the sons of God” (Rom. 8:19)
- “the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:7)
- “the coming of the day of God, on account of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat” (2 Pet. 3:12)
- the arrival of a “new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13)
Even Christians who affirm the any-moment return of Christ agree that these events occur after the final tribulation. And yet the terminology of expectancy is used of all of them.
The same is true with alertness (i.e., remaining awake and sober). The terminology of alertness occurs frequently, for instance, in the Olivet Discourse of a coming “after the tribulation of those days” (Matt. 24:29, 42–44; cf. 1 Pet. 1:13; 4:7). In short, even from a pretribulational, any-moment perspective, these events are post-tribulational, and therefore can’t occur at any moment. And yet the terminology of alertness is still applied to them.
It’s impossible to deduce any-moment-ness from the terminology of expectancy or alertness.
Thus, it’s impossible to deduce any-moment-ness from the terminology of expectancy or alertness. Biblically speaking, you can be expectant and alert for Christ’s return without believing that he could return at any moment with no predicted signs preceding it.What Difference Does It Make?
This whole discussion may seem like quibbling over fine points, and I don’t wish to overstate its importance. Still, unbiblical teaching can never be totally without cost. So let’s consider briefly why it matters.
Perhaps the chief practical problem is this: Any-moment imminence approaches the error of the Thessalonian believers who thought that the day of the Lord had come (2 Thess. 2:1–2). This mistaken belief seems to have led to a loss of composure and long-term vision, with the Thessalonians quitting their jobs and so on (2 Thess. 3:6–15).
You can be expectant and alert for Christ’s return without believing that he could return at any moment with no predicted signs preceding it.
Significantly, Paul’s response to the Thessalonian error is to assure them that that day won’t come until certain events happen first (2 Thess. 2:3–12). We may debate over who “the restrainer” is or whether we’ll be able to recognize the man of lawlessness when he appears. But it’s not up for debate that in Thessalonica any-moment imminence bore ill fruit, and Paul responded by flatly denying it and assuring them that certain signs would precede Christ’s coming.
I’m not claiming that all (or even most) of those who hold any-moment imminence fall into this error. But I am saying there is a great resemblance between it and the Thessalonian error, and it has often been connected with Christian withdrawal from cultural efforts and institutions. I’m suggesting we ought to imitate Paul rather than the Thessalonians, lest we partake of their errors.
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?
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.
As a college student I was driven and ambitious, determined to make a name for myself. This led to a relentless pursuit of academic and extracurricular success. But, at the end of the day, I was restless and dissatisfied.
During this season, a fellow student handed me a book called Desiring God. The author, a man I’d never heard of, boldly stated his thesis: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” Little did I know, but this idea eventually led me to drastically change my life plans. I deferred law school to spend a year in seminary. I needed to see, for myself, if this audacious claim could be true.
In that first year of seminary, everything changed. I’d found fresh joy and satisfaction in Jesus, which spilled over in a desire to share this same message that was transforming me. Such joy propelled me through seminary, on into student ministry, and eventually into church planting.
So there I was, an idealistic young pastor with a passion to plant joy-filled churches. What could possibly go wrong?Tested Conviction
Little did I know that church planting would test this conviction—that God’s glory could be my deepest joy—in ways I never would’ve expected. As the grind of church planting began, it didn’t take long for me to notice how utterly circumstantial my joy was. Whether it was my fundraising abilities, the size of our new church, the effect we were having in our city, or how well I’d preached on Sunday, I was up and down like a roller coaster.
As the grind of church planting began, it didn’t take long for me to notice how utterly circumstantial my joy was.
In light of my own story, I probably should’ve seen this coming, but I was caught off guard by the seduction of church planting “success.” This was driven home for me in a fresh way when This American Life ran a fascinating series on church planting called “If You Build It, Will They Come?”
The podcast drew striking parallels between the world of tech start-ups and church planting. They pointed to the church-planting prospectus, fundraising models, target audience, and origin stories; they cited the conferences, boot camps, and incubators, noting how both look to metrics and benchmarks for the sweet assurances of success. Viewed through this lens, the big question truly was: “If you build it, will they come?”
This reminded me that while I got into church planting to help people find their joy in Jesus, it was all too easy for my own happiness to be hijacked by these commonly used church-planting metrics. All of which has forced me to ask: How do I know if my joy really is anchored in Christ?Foolish Exchange
I’ve been involved in church planting long enough to recognize that even in seasons of “success,” there’s still a nagging sense of discontent. It’s never enough. Church-planting success is a bad god. Not only doesn’t it deliver on its promises, it also steals my joy.
And even more importantly, if God grows my church, it’s for his glory. He has zero interest in glory sharing (Ezek. 36:22). Rather, humility, gratitude, and a kingdom vision bigger than one’s own church characterizes planters who find their joy in Jesus.
Second, I’ve had to ask myself: When suffering comes, what’s my first response? At the worst of times, suffering has caused me to doubt my gifts, my team, our church, and even God.
But recently I’ve been freshly aware of how suffering strips away counterfeit joys. In suffering, we are confronted with the question: Is Jesus enough? It’s one thing to talk about delighting in God when your bank account is flush, when your core team is flourishing, and when new folks are flocking to your church.
In suffering, we are confronted with the question: Is Jesus enough?
But what about when the inevitable budget crunch comes? When there’s dissension in your leadership team? When people you’ve loved and served decide to leave? When you struggle with health or family issues? When you experience opposition from people in your community? Only then does the rubber of delighting in God meet the proverbial road of the trials of life.Simple (Not Easy) Solution
These different forms of suffering strip away our comfort, security, and illusions of control. Suffering showcases our insecurities. In all these situations, will our joy remain constant? Can we say with David, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:26)? If we’re going to plant joy-filled churches, we’re going to need the kind of joy in Jesus that transcends the rollercoaster ride of church planting.
So, church planter, how do we fight for joy? This may seem overly simplistic, but joy is a byproduct of an intimate relationship with Jesus. This is why Jesus prays that we would know him (John 17:3)—and why we learn that true, lasting joy doesn’t exist apart from him (John 17:13). So we don’t pursue joy for its own sake.
To get this backward is to dishonor God and rob ourselves of the joy we so desperately need. And amid all the demands of church planting, we risk settling for this kind of cheap joy. We know we need to cultivate a life of joy, but as the pressures of planting creep in, it can become all too easy to squeeze the pursuit of Jesus out. Thus we end up replacing the deep pursuit of Jesus with the shallow pursuit of joy.
Church planters, fight this urge by abiding in Christ. The goal of our lives and ministries is to know him, trusting that in our union with him, our joy will be full (John 15:11). And when we are there—abiding in Christ—no accumulation of success will get to our heads, and no amount of suffering will get to our hearts.
Do you sense Christianity is in decline? If so, you probably live in the West, probably in a more affluent and highly educated urban locale. And you would be wrong, at least statistically speaking from a global perspective.
Christianity is actually growing. Contrary to popular perception, it’s not likely the world’s largest religion will fall into eclipse any time soon. Shouldn’t skeptics, then, take seriously what hundreds of millions around the world practice and believe?
Rebecca McLaughlin answers 12 hard questions for Christians in her new book, Confronting Christianity. McLaughlin holds a PhD in renaissance literature from Cambridge University and a theology degree from Oak Hill College in London. She is a regular contributor to The Gospel Coalition and former vice president of content at the Veritas Forum, where she spent almost a decade working with Christian academics at leading secular universities. She published Confronting Christianity in partnership with The Gospel Coalition for Crossway. I had the privilege of working with her as an editor, and this book is now my go-to resource for popular-level apologetics. If you enjoyed and learned from Tim Keller’s The Reason for God, you need to pick up this book. So I’m especially thankful she joined me on The Gospel Coalition Podcast to talk about the hardest questions facing Christianity.
Listen to this episode of The Gospel Coalition Podcast.
The term “cultural Marxism” has recently entered the mainstream vocabulary of orthodox Christianity. A staple of the media of Twitter and blogs, it seems to have gone the way of all sophisticated ideas when reduced to a few hundred characters and placed in the hands of those with too much time to troll yet not apparently enough to think. It has become a verbal bullet, designed to kill any opponent on the left, much as “white privilege” has come to be used to hit those on the right.
Yet the emergence of the term, and even its deployment in inconsequential Twitter exchanges, points to an interesting and perhaps disturbing pathology of our times. Indeed, it witnesses to the fact that, while Karl Marx and his progeny may have lost the economic battle, a good case can be made for saying they’re winning the cultural struggle.
In this sense, we all live in Marx’s world now.When Everything Becomes Political
To explain what I mean, it’s helpful to sketch some history. It was the 19th-century philosopher G. W. F. Hegel who forcefully argued that human selves do not exist in isolation as self-conscious beings, but only have self-consciousness as they relate to others. Here is how he expresses it in his Phenomenology of Spirit: “Self-consciousness exists in and for itself when, and by the fact that, it so exists for another; that is, it exists only in being acknowledged” (111).
To cut through the jargon and to put this simply, Hegel is saying that we know who we are by the relationship we have to others—our parents, our siblings, our spouses, our children, our colleagues, and so on. To be Carl Trueman is to exist in a network of specific relationships with other specific people, such that if I try to imagine what it would be like to be me but to have different parents, different friends, and so on, my head starts to spin. That person, whoever he might be, would not be me.
Bandying terms like ‘cultural Marxist’ and ‘racist’ around simply as a way of avoiding real argument is shameful and should have no place in Christian discourse.
So what has this to do with cultural Marxism?
Karl Marx—Hegel’s most famous one-time disciple—turned Hegel on his head (and thereby, he argued, put him the right way up). And that move had profound consequences. Like Hegel, Marx believed that human identity is constituted by social relationships; but—and here is the crucial move—those social relationship are not, as with Hegel, determined by thought, by ideas. They are, at root, material—specifically, they depend on the nature of one’s place in the economy.
This might sound like a fairly abstract point, but it is in fact a matter of great practical importance. If I’m constituted by my social relations, and all social relations are at root economic, then all social relations are also political. That means that everything that makes me into me is political as well. The notion that some social organisms—say, the family, or the church, or the Boy Scout troop—are pre-political, that they fulfill an important function not directly related to politics and stand outside the scope of political struggle, is thereby ruled out of bounds from the start. Culture—and everything in it—is a matter of politics, of the overall shape of society, of who oppresses and who is oppressed.
In light of this history, it can be argued that, culturally speaking, Marx did win—because his vision of a society where everything’s political is our world. From cake-baking to what consenting adults do in the privacy of their own bedrooms, from the gendered membership of school sports teams to the ordination requirements of a church to the casting of an actor in a movie, everything has taken on universal political significance. This is now part of the intuitive way in which we all think about society—whether we’re on the right or the left. Once one side decides, for example, that the Boy Scouts needs to admit girls in order to break down gender inequalities, then those who oppose this change aren’t acting in a politically neutral way. They too are taking a political stand.
The Christian Twitterverse is often embarrassing on this score, betraying both shallowness of thought and also cavalier contempt for the reputations of others.
This is why there is so much pressure for churches to speak to whatever is the political issue of the day. We live in Marx’s world—a world where the cultural imagination is gripped by the idea that everything is political. Silence in today’s climate on any issue by anybody in any institution is unacceptable, for to take no political stand on anything in our world is in fact to take a political stand—a stand for the status quo.
Resorting to arguments about the church being otherworldly and focused on heaven sound in the modern ear like a vote of support for the perceived injustices—sexual, economic, psychological—of the world as it currently exists. Historically, of course, this has often proved a false dichotomy. It is no zero-sum game: from the Genevan Company of Pastors to the Clapham Sect to the 19th-century Free Church of Scotland, sound heavenly mindedness did not preclude care for the poor, the weak, and the vulnerable. Yet in today’s secular, politicized culture—focused as it is on this world—it is easy for Christians to mistakenly think that a heavenly focus is merely a way of rationalizing a callous disregard for others.How This Plays out on Both Sides
This then brings me to accusations that Christians who are interested in social issues are cultural Marxists. Both sides need to be careful in this matter.
First, the ninth commandment is arguably the greatest moral casualty of the world of Twitter, where half-baked slanderous insults can be fired at strangers with no risk of any personal comeback on the tweeter. The Christian Twitterverse is often embarrassing on this score, betraying both shallowness of thought and also cavalier contempt for the reputations of others. People using the “cultural Marxist” label for those they criticize—as people who casually throw around accusations of racism and the like—should make sure the claim is part of a sustained argument justified by appropriate evidence. This is what Melvin Tinker does when he uses the term in his recent excellent book, That Hideous Strength: How the West Was Lost. Bandying terms like “cultural Marxist” and “racist” around simply as a way of avoiding real argument is shameful and should have no place in Christian discourse.
On the other side, however, Christians enamored with social transformation and who bristle at any notion that the gospel is more to do with things above than things below, would do well to ask whether they’re allowing the tastes of this culture-is-always-political world to intrude inappropriately on their own theology. To deny the pre-political, to focus on institutions, to condemn anyone whose church isn’t constantly addressing the latest fad of the 24-hour news cycle as somehow sinning—that is to mimic the world’s values, the world’s practices, and the world’s cheap outrage. In fact, calling that kind of behavior cultural Marxism is to flatter it far too highly, implying a sophistication that half-baked cheap shots simply do not possess.Insufficiency of Twitterverse Polemics
The relationship between church and society has been perennially vexed and frequently a point of dispute between those who were otherwise united. The culture of today, with its politicization of everything and its tendency to reduce all thought to the level of a banal tweet, is particularly ill-suited for dispassionate reflection on the Bible’s teaching on these themes. That is a shame.
Perhaps serious Christians might spend less time hammering each other on Twitter and more time working hard in the local church, talking to the people they can actually influence—those with whom we have real relationships and a common church community. This has to be better than posturing on social media in a way that may well feed our sense of self-worth but really only clouds the major issues of our time and influences nobody except those who already agree with us anyway. And perhaps those on Twitter who are so full of social justice, pro and con, might devote the time they spend fruitlessly firing off insults to instead visiting the shut-ins in their churches or opening their homes, helping their local communities, and doing something that makes a real difference to real people.
Just as brain surgery cannot be done with a sledge hammer and a chainsaw, so careful theology on contentious issues cannot be done constructively in 280 characters.
Marx, of course, famously prioritized action over theory. Maybe that is one bit of Marxism from which we might all learn—prioritizing actual action in our local churches and neighborhoods over hours spent on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, where we can parade our love for all in general but in reality love no one in particular but ourselves.
Just as brain surgery cannot be done with a sledge hammer and a chainsaw, so careful theology on contentious issues cannot be done constructively in 280 characters.
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.
We all rejoiced when my grandfather finally got internet access. A lifelong sports fan, he daily read the newspapers. For years we’d been telling him, “If you had the internet you could read even more news.” Eventually he got dial-up, but long after high-speed internet had become available. He sat in his chair, calmly waiting for each new story to load. He was amazed by his newfound access. I was bored to tears. How can he stand this?
Later that day I told my dad we should help him get faster internet. I’ll never forget my dad’s response: “He doesn’t know any different. He’s spent his whole life without internet.” That’s why it didn’t bother him. He didn’t even know it could come faster, so the wait was just part of the process of getting what he wanted. He was content to wait.
I’ve thought about this a lot in recent years, as waiting for anything has grown even more frustrating in our hyperconnected world. I now have a smartphone, an Amazon Prime account, and I order my groceries online. I wait for very little, so I get vexed if I have to wait for anything. All of this made Jason Farman’s book, Delayed Response: The Art of Waiting from the Ancient to the Instant World, incredibly intriguing to me.Waiting Is Human
Farman, associate professor of American studies at the University of Maryland, chronicles a variety of cultures, time periods, and processes of waiting to show that message sending and waiting isn’t new. From the aboriginal message sticks that date back to pre-colonized Australia to the modern crisis of waiting on word from loved ones after the Japan earthquake and tsunami in 2011, waiting is as old as time. Waiting is part of time.
I wait for very little, so I get vexed if I have to wait for anything.
While we’re now accustomed to our messages being received instantaneously, that has hardly been the case throughout the centuries, and we could actually benefit from more waiting, Farman argues:
Waiting isn’t an in-between time. Instead, this often-hated and underappreciated time has been a silent force that has shaped our social interactions. Waiting isn’t a hurdle keeping us from intimacy and from living our lives to our fullest. Instead, waiting is essential to how we connect as humans through the messages we send. (18)
In short, to wait is to be human, and to be human is to live in community through your waiting. Farman connects our waiting to loving others by urging us to ask, “Who benefits from my waiting?” (189). Often when we wait, we see it as hindrance to our time (which it is). But we’re connected to a host of others, from immediate family to co-workers to church members to even the person in front of us driving too slow.
This question is worth asking when we’re annoyed by waiting: How does it affect society and my sphere of influence if I lean into the wait here?Waiting Is Christian
This isn’t a Christian book, but Christians can learn from it.
In December, many of us celebrated Advent and the birth of Christ. And what is Advent all about? Waiting. God’s people have always been a waiting people. They waited for the Messiah to be born, and we wait for him to return and restore all things to himself. But living in such a waiting-averse society only makes that harder for us. If we’re not careful and conscious, we’ll rage against waiting like everyone else in our society.
God’s people have always been a waiting people.
We have plenty of things to keep us distracted in our waiting, but waiting—and feeling the weight of the wait—is a good thing for all of us. To miss the goodness of waiting is to miss what waiting does in us—shape us, grow us, and sanctify us. To miss the goodness of waiting is to miss the anticipation Farman talks about, and to instead settle for waiting as annoyance (68).
Of course, waiting isn’t fun. Sometimes it’s downright painful. But sometimes the most painful things are the best things for us. In the wait, we’re reminded that this isn’t our home (1 Pet. 2:11; Heb. 13:14). In the wait, we’re reminded that things still aren’t right (Rev. 21:5).
In the wait, we’re left to feel the ache and longing for a better world where Jesus reigns and sin is gone. To avoid waiting is to avoid what waiting is driving us toward. Waiting is purposeful.
To miss the goodness of waiting is to miss what waiting does in us—shape us, grow us, and sanctify us.
I was also struck by the “others-oriented” nature of waiting that should characterize Christians. In the final chapter, where he gives a vision for waiting well, Farman talks about the goodness of waiting for individuals and their communities:
If we work toward an awareness of time as collective rather than individual, we can come to understand wait time as an investment in the social fabric that connects us. . . . As we invest time in other people through waiting, we become stakeholders in their situations. (193)
When we stop seeing people as an impediment to our productivity, we see them more as humans with stories and reasons for their own delay. This is utterly Christian, even if he doesn’t recognize it as such.
The wait is never just about us, and for Christians we know that to be true on an even deeper level. We’re waiting for Christ to return. We’re waiting for the restoration of all things. We’re waiting in community, collectively longing for our wait to be over. Until then, let’s love others and wait well.
I felt like a sellout. It was time to leave seminary and begin pastoral ministry, and I was taking the easy road by moving back to my hometown in Northern Florida. My seminary neighbor, I thought, was the true missionary, heading to plant churches in Northern California. I had “missional insecurity,” the way Christians feel when they plan a spring break trip to some resort before learning their friends are going on mission trip. All of this good education and knowledge about the urgency of the gospel . . . and I was going to be a pastor in the Bible Belt?
I tried to make myself feel better by letting my neighbor know how much I admired his boldness. I threw in some self-deprecating jokes about sweet tea, but he quickly interrupted my pity party. “Where I am going,” he said, “people know they’re not Christians. The starting point is clear, whether unbelief, secularism, or some sort of humanistic spirituality. But where you’re going, everyone thinks they’re a Christian. It’s like you have to get people lost so they can see they need to be saved.”
That was all I needed to hear, and he was right.Nominal Christian Mission Field
My neighbor described the largest mission field where I live. It’s called cultural or nominal Christianity. This mission field is primarily made up of people who’d quickly answer “yes” if asked whether they are Christians. But ask any questions about their faith, and you’ll soon realize you’re hearing something other than the gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, if you asked a nominal Christian why he is a Christian, Jesus Christ himself would likely have little bearing on the answer. For many people, good standing with God is related to heritage, rites of passage, or general morality. Jesus just happens to be a nice mascot.
This disparity requires our attention, because it isn’t unique to the American South. Across the nation, the most dominant religion doesn’t show up on a census, poll, or survey—it’s impossible to detect by those methods. The most common practiced religion in America today is a generic theism that mingles biblical concepts with a hope that one is a good person—all while maintaining autonomy over personal decisions and lifestyle. In this religion, good people go to a “better place” when they die. Going to this better place doesn’t depend on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, yet somehow these beliefs still get classified as “Christian.”
The most common practiced religion in America today is a generic theism that mingles biblical concepts with a hope that one is a good person—all while maintaining autonomy over personal decisions and lifestyle.
In this way, thousands of people are overlooked in outreach efforts because they may already be sitting in pews. Yet their lives show no evidence of saving faith. Whether the disconnect is the result of poor gospel communication by churches, fear of telling the truth, or a general misunderstanding of what the Bible says, the need is there, and it’s urgent. It can be easy to conclude that cultural Christians just need to get more serious about their faith, and so problems with cultural Christianity are declared discipleship issues.
I don’t believe this to be the case.Evangelism before Discipleship
I believe cultural Christians need evangelism before they need discipleship, since they may be unsaved altogether. In my new book, The Unsaved Christian: Reaching Cultural Christianity with the Gospel, I aim to equip churches to identify and minister to nominal Christians, since I believe they are many and have often been misidentified as wandering or immature believers. But while there are myriad ways to get it wrong, Jesus draws a line in the sand and declares himself the only way to God. If one’s answer to “Why are you a Christian?” rests in something other than the gospel of Jesus Christ, chances are that person doesn’t know Jesus Christ. Religious accomplishments and church affiliation don’t save.
In Matthew 7:21–23, Jesus addressed the first-century version of cultural Christians:
Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, and do many miracles in your name?” Then I will announce to them, “I never knew you. Depart from me, you lawbreakers!”
These people didn’t need to grow in their faith; they needed to be saved by faith in Jesus Christ.
All around your community today, people are anchoring their assurance in religious heritage, good morals, or denominational rites of passage (such as asking Jesus into their hearts as kindergarteners or going through confirmation). These people may be well-acquainted with church, well-versed in biblical jargon, and well-intentioned when it comes to their personal faith in God. But I fear that if they stood before Jesus today, he would declare, “I never knew you. Depart from me.”
If we’re to bring the gospel to the nations, we must be sure we’re bringing it to those in our pews.
If we’re to bring the gospel to the nations, we must first bring it to those in our pews. Unsaved “Christians” need Christ. We must understand what they believe and know the areas of life and culture where the practice of nominal religion plays out. We must also be aware of the barriers to reaching those who need the gospel just as badly as the atheist, agnostic, or secularist does.Only Remedy
This mission field has become my passion, because I was saved out of cultural Christianity. Before I heard the gospel I prayed before every meal, went to my mainline denomination every Sunday, and could’ve told you Jesus was born in Bethlehem. I knew lots of Bible stories, but I’d never had someone tell me I was a sinner who needed the forgiveness and reconciliation only Christ can provide. When I finally did hear the gospel, I couldn’t fathom how I had been in church my entire life and had never heard this truth. I was an Unsaved “Christian” and didn’t even know it.
Taking the good news to Unsaved “Christians” in our communities will require understanding the urgency involved, the disparity between their beliefs and biblical truth, and an awareness of how to engage. I wrote this book as a missionary tool for the church, since I hope to see people like myself move from being a Christian by culture to a Christian by conviction. In every circumstance, the gospel is the remedy. So here, too, let’s dig in and bring it to those who think they’re fine without it.
When it comes to giving reasons for our faith, we Christians are playing far too defensive a game.
We’ve believed that Christianity is declining. It isn’t. We’ve assumed Christianity can’t stand up in the university. It can. Too many of us think Christianity is threatened by diversity. It never has been. And too few of us think Christian sexual ethics are sustainable in the modern world. They are. On these and many other fronts, we have conceded far more ground to secularism than it deserves.
But we’ve also been playing too aggressive a game. We’ve majored on point-scoring and culture-warring, when the Bible calls us to “gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15). We’ve propagated weak arguments without listening to real experts. And we’ve blindly stepped out into cultural traffic, rather than taking our lead from those with the credibility to speak.
If we are to be faithful in this cultural moment, we must be neither retreaters nor attackers, neither (needlessly) defensive nor (faithlessly) aggressive. Instead, we must go on a “gentle offensive.” Here are five things that will help.1. Know Our Moment
Forty years ago, sociologists predicted religious decline. Modernization had bred secularization in Western Europe, and where Western Europe led (so the logic went), the rest of the world would follow.
But that prophecy failed.
To the surprise of many in the Western academy, the question for the next generation is not, ‘How soon will religion die out?’ but ‘Christianity or Islam?’
In the West, religious identification has certainly declined and looks set to decline further. But the rest of the world has not followed suit. In the next 40 years, Christianity is set to remain the world’s largest belief system, claiming 32 percent of the global population (a 1 percent increase over its current share), while Islam is expected to grow substantially from 24 percent to 31 percent. Meanwhile, the portion of humanity that does not identify with any particular religion (including atheists, agnostics, and “nones”) is set to decline from 16 percent to 13 percent. Indeed, if China swings toward Christianity as rapidly as some experts expect, the non-religious category could shrink even more, and the proportion of Christians would increase.
To the surprise of many in the Western academy, the question for the next generation is not, “How soon will religion die out?” but “Christianity or Islam?”2. Level the Playing Field
The New Atheists claimed that religion poisons everything. This warps the thinking of our secular friends, but it doesn’t line up with the facts. A large body of empirical evidence shows that regular religious participation is good for individuals and good for society. In America, those who attend church weekly or more are 20 percent to 30 percent less likely to die over a 15-year period, suffer less from depression, are less likely to commit suicide, and are less likely to divorce.
We all know the health benefits of exercise, quitting smoking, and eating more fruits and vegetables. But it turns out that going to church at least once a week is correlated with equivalently good health outcomes to any of these! And the benefits extend to others. In his 2018 book The Character Gap: How Good Are We?, philosopher Christian Miller observes that “literally hundreds of studies” link religious participation with better moral outcomes. In North America, regular service attenders donate 3.5 times the money given by their nonreligious counterparts per year and volunteer more than twice as much. Meanwhile, levels of domestic violence in a U.S. sample were almost twice as high for men who didn’t attend church versus those who attended once a week or more, and religious participation has also been linked to lower rates for 43 other crimes.
Many of these effects aren’t exclusive to Christianity, but they give the lie to the idea that secularization is good for society. Why have we heard a different message? As atheist social psychologist Jonathan Haidt warns, “You can’t use the New Atheists as your guide” on these matters, because “the new atheists conduct biased reviews of the literature and conclude that there is no good evidence on any benefits except the health benefits of religion.”3. Reclaim Diversity
Celebration of diversity is a core secular liberal value. But when it comes to diversity, the cards are firmly in our hands. Christianity is the most culturally and ethnically diverse belief system in the world. Further, as we look at the demographics of Christianity in North America, two themes stand out. First, people of color are far more likely to be religious than whites are. Across every index of Christian participation, black Americans poll substantially higher than whites—often by as much as 20 percentage points—while Latino/a Americans are also more likely than whites to identify as Christians. Second, in line with global trends, women are significantly more likely to be active Christians than men are. The gender gap is smaller than the racial gap. Black American men are more religious than white American women. But it’s still significant. Conversely, among American atheists white men are overrepresented.
Christianity is the most culturally and ethnically diverse belief system in the world.
And this is no accident. Christianity was fiercely multi-racial, multi-ethnic, and multi-cultural from the start, and the church throughout history has always been majority-female. When we think about our cultural moment, therefore, we need to stop lamenting how the church is being eroded by demographic forces beyond our control, and start celebrating what God is doing through his glorious mixed-multitude of a church.4. Field Our A-Team
Twenty-five years ago, historian Mark Noll wrote these damning words: “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” For much of the 20th century, many evangelicals saw the simplicity of the gospel as a mandate for intellectual laziness. But Christianity is the greatest intellectual movement in all of history! Christians invented the university. Schools like Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, and Yale were founded specifically to glorify God. Even academic disciplines that are supposed to have discredited faith turn out to have deep Christian roots: For example, the modern scientific method was first developed by Christians because they believed in a Creator God.
When it comes to the university, we’re not begging for a place at the table or trying to chop it up for firewood. We’re pulling up a chair to the table we built. But in the academic realm, as in other areas, we need to seek out our experts—the thousands of Christian professors whom God has raised up in universities—and learn from their work and let them lead.
Christianity is the greatest intellectual movement in history. . . . When it comes to the academic world, we shouldn’t meekly ask for a place at the table. We should pull up a chair to the table we built.
Likewise, when it comes to other areas of cultural engagement, we need to let our most credible voices speak. In a world where Christians are seen as homophobic bigots, we need to get behind the biblically faithful, same-sex-attracted Christians God has raised up to speak for and to his church. In a world where Christianity is dismissed as a white man’s religion, we need to get behind biblically faithful men and women of color. And in a world where Christianity is thought to denigrate women, we need to get behind biblically faithful, rhetorically gifted women—particularly on issues like abortion, where being pro-life is often (falsely) equated with being anti-women.
None of this means bowing to identity politics. Truth is truth, whoever is voicing it. But God has raised up leaders whose voices can be heard. We need to field our A-team in the public square. And the rest of us must follow their lead.5. Raise Our Game
When Jesus first preached, the harvest was plentiful. The same is true in America today. Encouragingly, much of the trumpeted decline within American Christianity has come from nominal or theologically liberal denominations—while more full-blooded, evangelical faith persists. Moreover, while many Americans have switched from identifying as Christian to identifying with no religion, the traffic is by no means one-way. A recent study found that while 80 percent of those raised Protestant in the United States continued to identify as Protestant in adulthood, only 60 percent of those raised non-religious kept away from religion when they grew up, with many converting to Christianity. Being non-religious turns out to be quite hard to sustain over multiple generations.
We must ensure it’s the stumbling block of Christ our friends trip on, not an obstacle course of myths we could dispel.
Rather than battening down the hatches, therefore, we need to go on an evangelism offensive. The secular consensus is crumbling, and we must humbly make the most of every opportunity—in the dorm room, at the bus stop, or by the water cooler. But we need to raise our game.
To be sure, if we’re sharing the gospel faithfully, we’ll often meet rejection. Only God can open blinded eyes, and we must pray like people’s lives depend on it—because they do. But we must ensure it’s the stumbling block of Christ our friends trip on, not an obstacle course of myths we could dispel.
So let’s field our A-team and go on an evangelism offensive with diligence, gentleness, and respect. Because Jesus is no relic from the ancient world. He is our modern world’s best hope.
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.”
Fosdick 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.” 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.
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. 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.
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. 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.” 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).
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.”
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. 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.
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.”
Although a number of articles attacked modernism or recommended the opposing parties should compromise, other articles harshly criticized fundamentalism. 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.” 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.”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.” 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. 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.” 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.
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.”
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). 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.” 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.
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.”
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. 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? 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.”
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. 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. 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). 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).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. 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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.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? 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.
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.”
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.” 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.
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.”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].’”
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.”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.
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.
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.”
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. 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. 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.
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.
Dr. Machen then wrote a letter dated September 18, 1933, to Charles Woodbridge. Quite discouraged, Woodbridge described the letter as one of cheer and encouragement. After all, the letter came from a person whom Woodbridge profoundly admired—J. Gresham Machen.
In his memoirs, Woodbridge wrote, “The clarity of this great scholar’s teaching in the good old days at Princeton Seminary, his rugged, masterly defense of the Word of God, his class exposition of the Epistle to the Galatians, the hours of fellowship with him some of us students enjoyed on the fourth floor of the seminary’s Alexander Hall—all these items had contributed to fortifying my faith and persuading me never to yield to the blandishments of compromise.”
In his letter, Dr. Machen asked Woodbridge to consider becoming the general secretary of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions. For the rest of his days, Woodbridge treasured Machen’s carefully worded and evangelically suffused invitation as one of his prized possessions. The letter provides us with another privileged glimpse into Machen’s life and thought. We turn to a brief review of its more salient points.
First, Dr. Machen explained the reasons he and his colleagues had decided to form the new board:
At Columbus last May, it seemed perfectly clear to [H. McAllister] Griffiths and to me, as well as to others who were there, that if we really love the Bible and the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, the time for mere words was past and the time for really self-sacrificing action had come. We can criticize the [New York] Board all we please; we can point out its obvious unfaithfulness; we can express our longing for a really Christian and really Presbyterian missionary activity: but all this has no more effect than the wind blowing unless we prove our faith by our works and really proceed to show the Bible-believing people in our church how they can carry the gospel to the ends of the earth in a way which is obviously impossible under the official Mission Board.
Machen argued that “the latent missionary zeal of the Bible-believing part of the church, now checked and discouraged at every point by this wretched business of asking Bible-believing Christians to give through a Board that is predominantly unfaithful to the Bible, should at length be released.”
Second, Dr. Machen proposed the reasons he thought Charles Woodbridge would be a good candidate to serve as general secretary for the Board: “It seems to me that the man to be the instrument in releasing that latent enthusiasm and showing a channel for that consecrated service will be a young man in the fullness of his strength who will stand forth as the representative of this great cause. You have plainly shown by the blessing of God upon your words that you have the faculty of arousing people’s enthusiasm, of winning them not only to indignation against evil but also to zeal and joy in the propagation of the truth.”
Third, Dr. Machen spelled out the risks Woodbridge ran if he accepted the invitation to become the general secretary. These risks included a meager salary. Dr. Machen wrote:
I understand perfectly well that from a worldly point of view that would seem to be to ask a man to take a terrible risk. But neither you nor I nor any of the rest of us is looking at this thing from the worldly point of view. Westminster Seminary frequently does not have the money to pay our salaries until almost the very day when the salaries become due. Yet it is an established institution, and we have found that God has provided for us more surely than provision made through endowment or the like. I need not point also to the example of the China Inland Mission, and other faith missions, since you know more about them than I do, and since you know that God in their case has graciously supplied the needs of His own work.
Dr. Machen closed his letter with these words: “May God guide you and bless you in all things! I am thankful to Him for His blessing so wonderfully shown in your life.” Dr. Machen followed up this letter by sending a cable dated September 18, 1933:
EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE OF INDEPENDENT BOARD FOR PRESBYTERIAN FOREIGN MISSIONS HAS DECIDED TO NOMINATE YOU FOR GENERAL SECRETARY OF BOARD AT BOARD MEETING ON OCTOBER SEVENTEENTH (STOP) I AM TAKING THE LIBERTY OF INFORMING YOU OF THIS AND OF ASKING YOU WHETHER YOU WOULD CONSIDER THE INVITATION OF THE BOARD FAVORABLY (STOP) A WONDERFUL OPPORTUNITY IS OFFERED TO STIR THE LATENT FIRES OF MISSIONARY AND EVANGELISTIC ZEAL, AND YOU ARE THE ONLY MAN WHO CAN BE THE INSTRUMENT IN DOING THIS GREAT WORK (STOP) DOCTOR BUCHANAN IS QUITE AGREED WITH INVITATION (STOP) ED RIAN ESPECIALLY DESIRES TO JOIN IN URGING YOU (STOP) J GRESHAM MACHEN.
Charles Woodbridge was thrilled by Dr. Machen’s letter. But he did not immediately cable a response. His memoirs read, “I had scheduled a week’s trek in the jungle in the service of the Lord. I had hours of solitude on this journey. There was time for prayer, meditation, analysis, sifting of possibilities, self-examination. I emerged from the forest convinced I should accept Dr. Machen’s invitation, face squarely any missionary misunderstanding, and embark for the U.S.A.”
On October 2, 1933, Dr. Machen, perhaps wondering about the delay in hearing from Woodbridge, sent another cable to him:
I AM EAGERLY WAITING YOUR REPLY TO LETTER SENT SEPTEMBER EIGHTEENTH (STOP) DECISION TO ACCEPT INVITATION OF COURSE NOT NECESSARY NOW BUT EARNESTLY HOPE THAT YOU WILL SAY THAT YOU WOULD CONSIDER SUCH INVITATION FAVORABLY (STOP) DOCTOR BUCHANAN AND I HAVE WRITTEN AT LENGTH BUT LETTERS WILL ARRIVE AFTER BOARD MEETING (STOP) YOU ARE CHIEF HOPE OF THIS GREAT CAUSE (STOP) J GRESHAM MACHEN.
The very same day, October 2, 1933, Charles Woodbridge sent a return cable with his positive response:
ACCEPT INVITATION PLEASE CABLE DECISION WOODBRIDGE.
On that same day, Professor Machen replied in a cable:
YOUR TELEGRAM RECEIVED REJOICE GREATLY WILL CABLE ACTION OF BOARD.
The Board did in fact approve Charles Woodbridge as its general secretary of the new mission. Dr. Machen once again cabled Woodbridge:
I DESIRE TO ASSURE YOU THAT YOUR COMING IS AWAITED WITH GREAT ENTHUSIASM AND THAT WE BELIEVE WONDERFUL THINGS TO BE IN STORE.
Understandably, the appointment of Charles Woodbridge as the general secretary of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions elicited a negative response from the national office of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. After all, the new board appeared to directly challenge the constitutional authority of the established Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church in the United States. In a letter dated October 31, 1933, Woodbridge explained to Dr. Machen the reasons his departure from Africa would need to be delayed for two months: “The bomb has exploded! It may have occasioned some surprise among those connected with the new board when my cable reached [Paul] Woolley, to the effect that ‘obligations detain me two months. I wish first to explain this delay’ . . . Yesterday the field secretary of the West Africa Mission, Dr. W. Johnston, waited on me with two cables from the present board. They have practically refused to accept the resignation.”
One cable indicated:
GENERAL COUNCIL ASSEMBLY AND BOARD MEMBERS AND OFFICERS . . . CANNOT ACCEPT WOODBRIDGE RESIGNATION.
They found it unacceptable he would leave his post to become secretary of the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions because he “disregarded assembly constitutional authority.” Moreover, they refused to authorize the treasurer of the Mission, he continued, “to advance me travel money; that if I persist in my determination to withdraw, it would mean my having to raise enough money on the field to take me home.” Woodbridge indicated to Dr. Machen that he would raise the nearly $1,000 for the boat passage on his own. He would sell his “car, bicycle, gun, ice-box, etc.” Woodbridge added, “So someday there may be a ‘Woodbridge case.’ Dr. Johnston told me yesterday that he felt that such people as Machen and now of course, Woodbridge, should get out of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. Needless to say, I took issue with him there. I have written Dr. Speer telling him very clearly just why I am resigning . . . I praise the Lord that he has called out men of God to take a stand for biblical Presbyterian foreign missions.” He also noted to Dr. Machen, whereas before he had been subject to the intimidating treatment from the Presbyterian Mission Board in New York he had believed his working with the Independent Board was a “cause,” he now deemed it a “crusade.”
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. 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.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. 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.
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.
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.” 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. 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.
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.”
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.” 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!” He added a great concession: “We cannot harmonize Christ himself with modern culture. What Christ does to modern culture is to challenge it.”
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.
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.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.’”
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.”
On December 30, 1936, Charles Woodbridge sent the following Western Union telegram to Dr. Machen at St. Alexius Hospital:
SO SORRY TO HEAR ABOUT YOUR ILLNESS STOP BY ALL MEANS BE IN NO HURRY TO LEAVE THE HOSPITAL STOP WE WILL DO ALL WE CAN TO PINCH-HIT FOR YOU STOP PRAYING FOR YOU STOP WITH REAL CHRISTIAN AFFECTION=CHARLIE WOODBRIDGE
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.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.
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.
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.
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.” 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.” 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?”
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. He saw himself as a faithful Calvinist defender of the Westminster Confession subjected to attacks by unfaithful churchmen—advocates of the Auburn Confession. 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.
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!” 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.
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.
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.”
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.”
 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.
 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.”).
 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]).
 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).
 The controversy did reach into other Christian groups such as the Southern Baptist Convention and Methodist churches.
 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.”
 Cited in Paul W. Rood II, “The Untold Story of the Fundamentals,” Biola Magazine (Summer 2014), http://magazine.biola.edu/article/14-summer/the-untold-story-of-the-fundamentals (accessed May 15, 2017).
 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.
 Curtis Lee Laws, “Convention Sidelights,” Watchman-Examiner 8 (July 1, 1920): 834.
 References to the controversy filled columns of the nation’s newspapers from Berkeley, California, to Boston, Massachusetts.
 From an advertisement in the Lebanon Daily News, December 16, 1922, 1.
 “South Baptists Flay Modernism: Fundamentalism Is Stoutly Reaffirmed in Resolution Introduced,” Joplin Globe, May 16, 1924, 1.
 See “Religious Rivals Warned to Find Common Ground,” Waterloo Evening Courier, March 24, 1923.
 “An Assault upon Learning Fundamentalist Movement Attacked by Dr. Albert C. Dieffenbach of Boston,” Lowell Sun, June 7, 1923.
 “Fundamentalism—Menace to Protestantism’s Teaching Says Rev. S. Arthur Huston,” San Antonio Express, June 18, 1923.
 Quoted in Ned B. Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), 310.
 J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (1923; repr., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009).
 Quoted in Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen, 342.
 Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, 2.
 Walter Lippmann, A Preface to Morals (New York: Macmillan, 1929), 32.
 “Historic Documents in America Presbyterianism: The Auburn Affirmation,” www.pcahistory.org/documents/auburntext.html (accessed May 15, 2017).
 See Edwin H. Rian, The Presbyterian Conflict (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1940), 17–51; Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen, 365.
 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.
 See Paul Woolley, The Significance of J. Gresham Machen Today (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1977), 5.
 Von Harnack, What Is Christianity?; see Martin Rumscheidt, ed., Adolf von Harnack: Liberal Theology at its Height (London: Collins, 1989), 126–226.
 Von Harnack, What Is Christianity? 55.
 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).
 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.
 Bradley J. Longfield, The Presbyterian Controversy: Fundamentalists, Modernists, and Moderates (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991).
 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.
 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.
 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]).
 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.
 On Professor Machen’s personal relationships with Princeton Theological Seminary students see Woolley, Significance of J. Gresham Machen Today, 2–5.
 See Rian, Presbyterian Conflict, 37–56; Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen, 382–429.
 Personal memoirs of Charles Woodbridge.
 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).
 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.
 Quoted in Hart, J. Gresham Machen, 316–17.
 Quoted in Nichols, J. Gresham Machen, 32–34.
 Cited in Hart, J. Gresham Machen, 46.
 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).
 Archives of the Montgomery Library at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA (Machen/Woodbridge correspondence, Box 27–28).
 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).
 Quoted in Hart, J. Gresham Machen, 446.
 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]).
 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).
 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.
 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.
 Archives of the Montgomery Library at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA (Machen/Woodbridge correspondence, Box 1933–34).
 Copy of the letter found in the author’s personal archives.
 Archives of the Montgomery Library at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA (Machen/Woodbridge correspondence, Box 1933–34).
 Ibid. (Original of letter from Machen to Woodbridge in the personal archives of the author).
 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).
 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.’”
 See “This Day in Presbyterian History: July 5: Arthur J. Dieffenbacher,” July 5, 2013, www.thisday.pcahistory.org/2013/07/july-5-arthur-j-dieffenbacher (accessed May 15, 2017).
 J. Gresham Machen, “The Changing Scene and the Unchanging Word,” The Presbyterian Guardian (April 6, 1936), 2.
 Personal memoirs of Charles Woodbridge.
 Accounts of these trials are scattered through The Presbyterian Guardian. The 1934 mandate was confirmed by the General Assembly of 1936.
 “The Continuing Story: Dr. Machen’s Profession of Faith,” June 28, 2011, https://continuing.wordpress.com/2011/06/28/dr-machens-profession-of-faith (accessed May 15, 2017).
 Harry Emerson Fosdick, “The Church Must Go Beyond Modernism,” Riverside Sermons (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1958), 362.
 Ibid., 354–55.
 Ibid., 362. Fosdick feared what would happen if Christianity adapted itself to “contemporary nationalism, contemporary imperialism, contemporary capitalism, contemporary racialism” (p. 361).
 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.
 Personal memoirs of Charles Woodbridge. See also J. Gresham Machen, “The Church of God: A Sermon Preached at the Concluding Service of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America in the New Century Club, Philadelphia, Sunday Evening, June 14th, 1936,” The Presbyterian Guardian (July 6, 1936), 152–56; see also Robert S. Marsden, “The First Ten Years: The Orthodox Presbyterian Church 1936–1946,” https://opc.org/books/FirstTenYears.html (accessed May 15, 2017).
 Charles J. Woodbridge, “Why I Have Resigned as General Secretary of the Independent Board,” The Presbyterian Guardian (June 12, 1937), 70, www.opc.org/cfh/guardian/Volume_4/1937-06-12.pdf (accessed May 15, 2017).
 Archives of the Montgomery Library of Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA (Machen/Woodbridge correspondence, Box 1935–36).
 For an account of Machen’s death, see Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen, 506–8.
 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.
 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).
 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?”
 Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, 42.
 Quoted in Hart, ed., J. Gresham Machen, 116.
 Ibid., 109.
 J. Gresham Machen, “What Is Orthodoxy?” in “The Changing Scene and the Unchanging Word,” The Presbyterian Guardian (October 21, 1935): 38.
 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)).
 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.
 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.”
 “Tenth Church Refuses to Cancel Invitation, Dr. Machen Preaches: Affirmationist Moderator Attempts to Intimidate Session,” The Presbyterian Guardian (July 6, 1936): 163.
 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.
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?
Where were you when Apollo 11 landed on the moon? If you were alive and old enough to process the events of July 20, 1969, you doubtless remember. The surreal “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” moment of Neil Armstrong stepping onto the lunar surface left an indelible impression upon everyone who watched it.
My dad was 20 at the time and remembers watching it on a hot, humid night in Elmhurst, Illinois. My mom was a touring violinist that summer and remembers watching it in Morristown, New Jersey. My uncle listened to it on the radio while driving on the Pacific Coast Highway in Southern California. My wife’s parents were in New York City and watched the iconic moment in perhaps the most iconic setting possible: Times Square.
I have no memory of the event, of course (I was born in 1982). September 11 is my life’s major “where were you?” moment. But I grew up hearing people describe the significance of the moon landing, a profound moment I would love to have been alive to witness.
Thankfully, a spellbinding new IMAX documentary, Apollo 11—released in time for the moon landing’s 50th anniversary—offers viewers an immersive experience that brings that historic moment to life in the present. Watch the trailer below.History Come to Life
One of cinema’s greatest gifts is that it allows for time travel. Whether by dramatizing history or envisioning the future, movies transport us back and forth in time, allowing audiences to experience distant eras and occurrences otherwise inaccessible to them. Documentary cinema, using the real footage of history, can do this with particular power.
Peter Jackson’s recent World War I documentary, They Shall Not Grow Old, takes viewers back in time by restoring century-old archival footage from the actual trenches. It’s a haunting movie to watch, because it really does feel like you, a 21st-century person, are there with long-dead people from the early 20th century, seeing what they saw and hearing what they heard.
Movies transport us back and forth in time, allowing audiences to experience distant eras and occurrences otherwise inaccessible to them.
Apollo 11 does the same thing with history from a half-century ago. Edited, produced, and directed by Todd Douglas Miller, the film consists solely of primary-source footage surrounding the launch and mission of Apollo 11. Employing a “direct cinema” approach, the film has no talking-head commentators or narration. It simply assembles footage and audio from 1969 chronologically, in such a way that the events unfold as if you’re watching them happen for the first time. Even the pulsating score from composter Matt Morton uses only instruments and effects (Moog modular synthesizers, Mellotron keyboard samplers, and so on) that existed in 1969. That’s how committed the film is to presenting viewers with a direct-from-history experience.
The result is gripping and at times surreal (see it on IMAX if you can). Where did they find this footage? you will probably wonder, as I did. Much of it has never been seen—until it was unearthed by Miller, NASA historians, and archivists from the National Archives and Records Administration. The film draws from a treasure trove of unearthed 16mm, 35mm, and even 70mm reels, as well as vast amounts of previously uncatalogued audio from NASA’s archives. The cinematic feel of the 70mm footage is especially dramatic, as it was recorded in a format (know as the Todd-AO process) used in the 1960s for such widescreen epics as The Sound of Music and Cleopatra.
Watching the 90-minute film (which will also air in museums in a shorter, 40-minute version later this year), I felt awe and gratitude at the God-given creativity that so characterizes mankind. It’s a creativity that dreamed up the ability to record moving images and capture snapshots of historical moments. And it’s a creativity that dreamed up, and accomplished, the mind-bogging task of traveling to and walking on the moon.When We Were Bold
“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard,” President John F. Kennedy said in his famous 1962 pitch for the Apollo program. He didn’t live to see the mission accomplished, but his words fill our ears in the stirring climax of Apollo 11:
If I were to say, my fellow citizens, that we shall send to the moon, 240,000 miles away from the control station in Houston, a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch, carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food, and survival, on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth, re-entering the atmosphere at speeds of over 25,000 miles per hour, causing heat about half that of the temperature of the sun—almost as hot as it is here today—and do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out—then we must be bold.
Bold indeed. As we watch all of this unfold in Apollo 11, it’s hard to not feel nostalgic for a time when audacious, seemingly impossible dreams came to fruition and united people around common cause; a time when we rallied together to do hard things. One of the jarring aspects of the film is how well it captures the unifying nature of Apollo 11. Thousands of people camped out at Cape Canaveral to watch the launch live, bearing with Floridian heat and humidity, 1960s mod sunglasses and binoculars in tow. Millions more across the world watched the eight-day mission unfold on television. It wasn’t a disaster. It wasn’t a famous person’s death. It was a dream of humanity realized.
Do such moments happen today? What unites humanity in 2019? These are some of the questions that linger after watching Apollo 11. For Christians, another question is this: If humanity can be so compelled by sending man from earth to the heavens, shouldn’t we be even more compelled by the Maker of the heavens becoming a man and coming to earth? How might we tap more often into awe and wonder in the way we share the gospel?‘Where Were You?’
A great moment in Apollo 11 is the famous phone call from President Richard Nixon to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin while they were still in space. “Because of what you have done,” Nixon said, “the heavens have become a part of man’s world. . . . For one priceless moment in the whole history of man, all the people on this Earth are truly one: one in their pride in what you have done, and one in our prayers that you will return safely to Earth.”
But as much as this “priceless moment” was indeed (and rightfully) an occasion for universal pride in what man can accomplish, it was also an invitation to humility.
If humanity can be so compelled by sending man from earth to the heavens, shouldn’t we be even more compelled by the Maker of the heavens becoming a man and coming to earth?
Not seen in the film (and also sadly not included in last year’s First Man) is the moment when Buzz Aldrin read Psalm 8:3–4 (KJV) over a radio broadcast: “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou has ordained; What is man that thou art mindful of him? And the Son of Man, that thou visitest him?”
Seeing Earth’s smallness as he traversed the vast expanses of space, Aldrin rightly noted the humility that accompanied this great triumph. For as great an achievement as it was to reach the moon, how much greater was God’s achievement of creating the moon, and the stars, and the Earth, and the humans who could observe and explore it all? And in light of the vast expanses of the heavens, how awesome and humbling that God would be mindful of us, even taking on our flesh to redeem and be with us.
“Where were you?” is a question we ask ourselves of moments like the moon landing. It is also a question God asks us (Job 38:4); a question we do well to remember, especially in moments when we achieve something great: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?”
Answer: We weren’t there. But God created us with the ability to see the evidence of his creativity, to study and ponder it, to enjoy and explore it, and to worship him because of it. When we are stirred by 90-minute documentaries of amazing feats like landing on moons or free-soloing El Capitan, we should be reminded that the whole world and its entire history are actually one massive documentary—an ongoing record of God’s inexhaustible glory.
“I can’t parent in light of what’s in front of me right now or even next week. I need to parent in light of the long view. As Dennis Rainey said, ‘I have no interest in a happy 10-year-old. I want a godly 20-year-old.’ . . . But the real long view is the return of Christ, the judgment seat of Christ. And living in light of that is something we need to do with all our lives, not just our parenting.” — Erik Thoennes
Date: October 17, 2018
Event: TGC 2018 West Coast Conference, Los Angeles
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