J. Gresham Machen And The Theology Of Crisis -- By: Annette G. Aubert

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 64:2 (Fall 2002)
Article: J. Gresham Machen And The Theology Of Crisis
Author: Annette G. Aubert


J. Gresham Machen And The Theology Of Crisis

Annette G. Aubert*

[Annette G. Aubert is a Ph.D. student in Historical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary.]

I. Introduction

J. Gresham Machen (1881–1937), the brilliant biblical and New Testament scholar and apologist, is typically considered to have been a leading conservative in the Modernist-Fundamentalist conflict at the beginning of the twentieth century. There is no doubt that Machen was a man who engaged in the great debate for the defense of Christian truth. A large number of historical scholars identify Machen as a Fundamentalist;1 however, closer examination suggests that there exists an alternative view regarding the question of whether Machen may be called a Fundamentalist.

In this study it will be suggested that Machen maintained some positions of the Fundamentalists2 but not enough to justify the label “Fundamentalist.” To be sure, Machen was “not just another Fundamentalist” like William Jennings Bryan, as Mencken, Machen’s contemporary, has rightly concluded. Rather he was a man of fine scholarship and of distinct wisdom.3 Along similar lines, John

Murray noted that “Machen was in the first rank of Christian scholars.”4 At this point it is important to note the fact that those who were Fundamentalists were identified by a strong “anti-doctrinal, anti-intellectual, and anti-liturgical” disposition. 5 Giving consideration to these observations, it is argued that it is more appropriate to classify Machen as a scholar who both preserved historic Christianity and advocated the orthodox faith.6 Accordingly, the purpose of this study is to manifest how Machen was distinct in his scholarship and methodology from the Fundamentalists of his time.7

In order to demonstrate that Machen’s scholarship was distinct from that of the Fundamentalists, special attention will be paid to Machen’s encounter with European scholarship, especially with Neo-orthodoxy. As a result, it will be important to discern the manner in which Machen could have explored a synthesis between the Ritschlian school and the Barthian movement. Before considering Machen’s assessment of Neo-orthodoxy it is essential to discern Machen’s theological methodology; therefore, the first part of this paper explores th...

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