Reformation Day History: The Dividing Line

 

 

Sunday is October 31, Reformation Sunday, remembering God’s great work of bringing the light of the gospel to Europe through the Reformation. So to help prepare you for that day I was joined by TurretinFan, and we talked about Francis Turretin, one of those used by God to help systematize and defend the truths of the Reformation. Then I spent about 25 minutes (after taking a call on John 17:12/John 6:44) discussing the backgrounds of the Reformation. I hope this helps you have a more meaningful Reformation Sunday! Here’s the program.

via Reformation History on the Dividing Line.

Calvinism Is Not An Obscure Species of Christian Theism- It Is Christianity

Speaking paraphrastically is often done in an attempt to clarify. Unfortunately, what happens many times is that the object of discourse becomes an unfocused target. Often used by magicians, bright lights and flashes cause vision problems making prestidigitation easier. Rather than the lighting making the object clearer, it actually blurs.

Machen’s years at Princeton were the two decades which are known for the ongoing modernist-fundamentalist controversy. We will see Machen’s distinctive response to Modernism if we contrast it with what was known most widely as fundamentalism. In the process of defining his response the meaning of Modernism will become clear.
He was seen as an ally by the fundamentalists; and his ecclesiastical opponents like to make him “guilty” by association with them. But he did not accept the term for himself.
In one sense fundamentalists were simply those who “[singled] out certain great facts and doctrines [i.e., Fundamentals] that had come under particular attack, [and] were concerned to emphasize their truth and to defend them” (see note 18). But there was more attached to the term than that. And Machen didn’t like that. He said,

Do you suppose that I do regret my being called by a term that I greatly dislike, a “Fundamentalist”? Most certainly I do. But in the presence of a great common foe, I have little time to be attacking my brethren who stand with me in defense of the Word of God (see note 19).

What he didn’t like was

1) the absence of historical perspective;
2) the lack of appreciation of scholarship;
3) the substitution of brief, skeletal creeds for the historic confessions;
4) the lack of concern with precise formulation of Christian doctrine;
5) the pietistic, perfectionist tendencies (i.e., hang ups with smoking (see note 20), etc.);
6) one-sided other-worldliness (i.e., a lack of effort to transform culture); and
7) a penchant for futuristic chiliasm (or: pre-millenialism).

Machen was on the other side on all these things. And so “he never spoke of himself as a Fundamentalist” (see note 21).

But none of those issues goes to the heart of why he did not see himself as a Fundamentalist. The issue is deeper and broader and gets at the root of how he fought Modernism. The deepest difference goes back to Machen’s profound indebtedness to Benjamin Warfield who died February 16, 1921. Machen wrote to his mother, “With all his glaring faults he was the greatest man I have ever known” (see note 22).

In 1909 at the 400th anniversary of Jon Calvin’s birth Warfield gave an address that stirred Machen to the depths. Warfield made plea that the Reformed Faith—Calvinism—is not a species of Christian theism alongside others, but IS Christianity come to full flower.

Calvinism is not a specific variety of theistic thought, religious experience, [or] evangelical faith; but just the perfect manifestation of these things. The difference between it and other forms of theism, religion, [and] evangelicalism is difference not of kind but of degree … it does not take its position then by the side of other types of things; it takes its place over all else that claims to be these things, as embodying all that they ought to be (see note 23).

So he says Lutheranism is “its sister type of Protestantism” and Arminianism is “its own rebellious daughter” (see note 24). Calvinism’s grasp of the supremacy of God in all of life enabled Machen to see that other forms of evangelicalism were all stages of grasping God which are yet in process of coming to a full and pure appreciation of his total God-centeredness.

What this came to mean for Machen was that his mission in defense of super naturalistic Calvinism was nothing more or less than the defense of the Christian faith in its purest form. So his biggest problem with the term fundamentalist was that, 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 (see note 25).

He was invited to the presidency of Bryan Memorial University in 1927 —a move that would have aligned him with fundamentalism outside the Reformed tradition. He answered like this:

Thoroughly consistent Christianity, to my mind, is found only in the Reformed or Calvinist Faith; and consistent Christianity, I think, is the Christianity easiest to defend. Hence I never call myself a “Fundamentalist” … What I prefer to call myself is not a “Fundamentalist” but a “Calvinist” —that is, an adherent of the Reformed Faith. As such I regard myself as standing in the great central current of the Church’s life—the current that flows down form the Word of God through Augustine and Calvin, and which has found noteworthy expression in America in the great tradition represented by Charles Hodge and Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield and the other representatives of the “Princeton School” (see note 26).

So Machen moved in a different world from most Fundamentalists. And when he took on Modernism he took it on as a challenge to the whole of Reformed Christianity. His most important book in the debate was Christianity and Liberalism, published in 1923.

The title almost says it all: Liberalism is not vying with Fundamentalism as a species of Christianity. The book is not entitled Fundamentalism and Liberalism. Instead Liberalism is vying with Christianity as a separate religion. He wrote the blurb for the book:

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 (see note 27).
Stonehouse tells us that Machen’s only regret is that he had not used the term “Modernism” rather than “liberalism” in the book, since the word “liberalism” seemed to give too much credit to the phenomenon (see note 28). The words refer in Machen’s vocabulary to the same thing.
Now what was that?

Here again Machen did not move quickly with the Fundamentalists to show that the modernists were people who denied certain fundamental Christian doctrines. That was true. But his analysis was wider and deeper. He approached the phenomenon of Modernism first through an analysis of modern culture and the spirit of the age. He tries to think through the relationship between Modernism and modernity (see note 29). He wants to understand it from the inside as it were, on its own terms. Provided by Desiring God.

Piper quotes Machen in one of his subtitles:

Machen alerts us to the danger of indifferentism – the attitude that says “affirming or denying truth is not a matter of great import . . . just leave the doctrines aside and unite on other bases.”

Machen impressed:

Calvinism is not a specific variety of theistic thought, religious experience, [or] evangelical faith; but just the perfect manifestation of these things. The difference between it and other forms of theism, religion, [and] evangelicalism is difference not of kind but of degree … it does not take its position then by the side of other types of things; it takes its place over all else that claims to be these things, as embodying all that they ought to be (see note 23)…Thoroughly consistent Christianity, to my mind, is found only in the Reformed or Calvinist Faith; and consistent Christianity, I think, is the Christianity easiest to defend. Hence I never call myself a “Fundamentalist” … What I prefer to call myself is not a “Fundamentalist” but a “Calvinist” —that is, an adherent of the Reformed Faith. As such I regard myself as standing in the great central current of the Church’s life—the current that flows down form the Word of God through Augustine and Calvin, and which has found noteworthy expression in America in the great tradition represented by Charles Hodge and Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield and the other representatives of the “Princeton School” (see note 26)…

To this Machen asserts:

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 (see note 27).

The historic church:

that flows down form the Word of God through Augustine and Calvin, and which has found noteworthy expression in America in the great tradition represented by Charles Hodge and Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield and the other representatives of the “Princeton School”

Then what remains? That is a difficult question because we are faced today with the Emergent Church and a plethora of “modernist” spirited churches. Pragmatics, rather than dogmatics, E.Y. Mullin’s latitudinarianism rather than the narrow path are the soul of conservatives such the Southern Baptist Convention. As Piper says, the infatuation with the new, the popular, breeds a desire to redefine reality. What eventuates is a post-modernist world where deconstruction of meaning leads to dissolution of the transcendent fixed reality of meaning; the dissolution of the sufficiency of Scripture. Unfortunately, the battle for inerrancy wrecked upon the rocks of opinion and a false definition of soul competency and liberty of conscience, of free-will and autonomy. No longer is it politically correct to demand of fellow believers the adherence to certain meaning in Scripture, to certain creeds (beliefs). The reality is that we are far too willing to let opposing opinions stand equally under the rubric of unity and cry “Peace, peace,” when we are at war.

I stand with Machen upon this truth that my brother’s are in error in their Arminianism. And most fundamentalism is Arminian.It is error that cannot be allowed to stand if we are to reverse the tide of modernistic advances against the dependability, that is the authority, of the Word of God. We can not admit equivocation saying that the Arminian’s doctrine is acceptable and on equal footing, for that undermines the very definition of the perspicuity of what we say we know to be true. It is also a disingenuous treatment of a watching world, and not unlike fundamentalism’s anti-intellectualism that Machen so loathed. Machen was right when he acknowledge Arminianism as the “rebellious daughter”. He recognized that she must be turned, she must repent, for from her refusal to admit to the historic clarity of Scripture arises the Phoenix of modern error. Arminianism was a return to the Roman Church and traditionalism, contemporaneous magisterial interpretations, a return to the sacramental faith of free-will and the auto-nomos, self-law. The Reformers exalted the Scripture to its rightful place and fought for the truth it contained against Rome whose fount was not unlike that of the current milieu.

Do you suppose that I do regret my being called by a term that I greatly dislike, a “Fundamentalist”? Most certainly I do. But in the presence of a great common foe, I have little time to be attacking my brethren who stand with me in defense of the Word of God (see note 19).

It was this struggle against modernism that moved him to tolerate Arminianism as a necessary ally. I have criticized Machen for this tolerance of Arminianism because tolerating it led to today’s marginalizing Reformed doctrine. He at least was not timid in his defense of Calvinism as the true Gospel. So we can thank him also in that he draws for us the battle lines of our current struggle against the diminution of Christianity. For us, at the same time, they are battle lines against any form of Arminian doctrine, and its architects, who refuse the clear language of Scripture. Obscurantism by muddled acceptation of diverse opinion, as Machen would inform us, is the source of all modern error.

What is shared among the modernist or the post-modernist, the fundamentalist and Arminian, is the very thing that Machen decried; the need to undo definition and create a new meaning for words that have long been understood. The heart of Machen’s effort as Piper remarked:

What I prefer to call myself is not a “Fundamentalist” but a “Calvinist” —that is, an adherent of the Reformed Faith. As such I regard myself as standing in the great central current of the Church’s life—the current that flows down form the Word of God through Augustine and Calvin…