J. Gresham Machen and the Transformation of Culture

Written by Keith A. Mathison |
Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Machen witnessed with his own eyes the destructive effects of liberalism in the church of his day. Conservatives who side with Machen know too well the danger of liberal doctrines of Scripture and God and salvation. But conservatives need to be aware that liberalism can slip in the back door of the church in other ways.

I have recently been re-reading J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity & Liberalism, which was published just over a century ago in 1923. Many Christians are familiar with Machen’s role in the fight against modernism in the church during the Fundamentalist–Modernist controversy. Many are also aware that Machen’s criticism of liberalism was that it is not merely a distortion of the Christian religion but a different religion altogether.

The bulk of Machen’s book is focused on the key doctrines of the Christian faith, showing the way that liberalism replaces those doctrines with those of its own invention. Near the end of the book, however, Machen discusses a topic that is a perennial issue among conservative Christians as well as liberals – the transformation of culture. Machen argues that Christians and liberals have very different views on this topic. Essentially, it boils down to the manner in which culture can be transformed.

Machen argues that “the true transformation of society will come by the influence of those who have themselves been redeemed” (p. 158). This means that “a blessed society cannot be formed out of men who are still under the curse of sin” (p. 158). The point is that the culture changes only when the hearts of those who are a part of the culture change, and the hearts of those who are a part of the culture can only be truly changed through the supernatural work of redemption.

A difference between Christians and liberals on this point is reflected in the different message of each. Machen explains:

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