Machen on Barth -- By: Darryl G. Hart

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 53:2 (Fall 1991)
Article: Machen on Barth
Author: Darryl G. Hart


Machen on Barth*

Darryl G. Hart**

* [Editors note: Among the materials preserved in the Machen Archives, under the supervision of Grace Mullen, a previously unpublished paper by J. Gresham Machen on the theology of Karl Barth recently came to light. Because many of our readers will be interested in this essay, we are including it in the present issue of the journal. Dr. Hart, who first recognized the significance of the paper, kindly agreed to write this introductory article.]

** [Editors note: Among the materials preserved in the Machen Archives, under the supervision of Grace Mullen, a previously unpublished paper by J. Gresham Machen on the theology of Karl Barth recently came to light. Because many of our readers will be interested in this essay, we are including it in the present issue of the journal. Dr. Hart, who first recognized the significance of the paper, kindly agreed to write this introductory article.]

On December 2, 1929, W. L. Savage of Scribner’s publishing house sent J. Gresham Machen a copy of Emil Brunner’s recently released The Theology of Crisis and asked for some advice on marketing the book. Though Machen had already in the minds of many established his reputation as a cantankerous fundamentalist when he left Princeton for Westminster Seminary, he was still a natural resource for the publisher’s request. Machen himself was well acquainted with New York publishers since all of his books to that time had been published with MacMillan, and his newest, The Virgin Birth of Christ, was ready to go to press at Harper and Brothers. More importantly, Machen had heard Brunner lecture the previous year when the Swiss theologian visited Princeton. On that occasion Brunner had expressed “a special desire” to meet Machen. And according to Douglas Horton, the man responsible for the first English translation of Karl Barth, Brunner spoke of Machen’s work “in the highest terms.” Furthermore, some at Scribner’s probably thought a positive evaluation of Brunner and Barth from Machen, one of the leading spokesmen for conservative Protestantism, would boost sales among fundamentalists. Machen, however, in what became his typical response to inquiries about neoorthodoxy, said that he did not think the theology of crisis was a return to evangelical Christianity, but his limited knowledge made final judgment difficult. So for a fuller assessment Machen referred the Scribner’s executive to Cornelius Van Til, Westminster’s newly appointed professor of apologetics who eventually became one of America’s most outspoken foes of Barthianism.1

Throughout the thirties, as the Gr...

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