J. Gresham Machen: The Power Of Theological Reflection -- By: William G. Moore

Journal: Trinity Journal
Volume: TRINJ 22:2 (Fall 2001)
Article: J. Gresham Machen: The Power Of Theological Reflection
Author: William G. Moore


J. Gresham Machen:
The Power Of Theological Reflection

William G. Moore*

I. Introduction

* William G. Moore is a Ph.D. candidate at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. He also is pastor of Dover Baptist Church in Shelbyville, KY.

The life of John Gresham Machen has been well-chronicled and much debated.1 Machen was born on July 28, 1881, into a family noted for its strong Presbyterian heritage. Born and reared in Baltimore, he enjoyed the privileges of belonging to a moderately prosperous family known for devout Christianity and a high level of cultural and social standing. The Bible, the Westminster Shorter Catechism, and a wide variety of books were staples in the Machen household.2

An excellent student, Machen attended a private school which emphasized a strong classical education. He continued his classical studies at Johns Hopkins University, graduating as class valedictorian in 1901. After a year of graduate study at Johns Hopkins and a summer studying banking and international law at the University of Chicago, he entered Princeton Theological Seminary after much soul-searching. Following graduation from Princeton in 1905, Machen studied for a year in Germany at Marburg and Göttingen, returning to Princeton as an instructor in 1906.3

Much of the remainder of Machen’s distinguished life, during which Princeton passed from the confessional Calvinism upon which it had been founded to a more pragmatic view of both theology and curriculum, was characterized by controversy as he sought to defend Reformed orthodoxy against the encroachments of liberalism. When the Presbyterian Church reorganized Princeton in

1929, Machen and other faculty members resigned to establish Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Concern about a drift toward liberalism among Presbyterian missionaries led Machen to establish the Independent Board for Presbyterian Missions in 1933. Because he refused the directive by the New Brunswick Presbytery to leave the Board, he was suspended from the ministry. Consequently, he led in the establishment of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church on June 11, 1936. He died while on a preaching tour in North Dakota on January 1, 1937.4

Among questions which arise concerning Machen is this: Why was Machen’s academic career so involved in controversial issues which would lead to separation from an esteemed institution of theological education...

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