Founders Journal · Winter 2002 · pp. 15-26
Authority, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1984; originally published in London by Inter-Varsity Press, 1958), pb. 94 pp., $5.99
Reviewed by Ray Van Neste
This little book consists of three chapters representing three addresses originally given in 1957. I suppose a book like this can be read and reviewed from a number of different angles, such as the historical angle seeking to understand what was going on in evangelicalism or the ministry of Lloyd-Jones at this time. My concern, however, was simply how this book might speak to my current situation personally and denominationally.
In the foreword, Lloyd-Jones suggests that the church and culture are facing an authority crisis with the church having lost its authority and the culture looking for authority somewhere. This is still true today. The chapters then address this focusing on the authority of Jesus Christ, the Scriptures, and the Holy Spirit. I must confess that I purchased the book with only an interest in the chapter on Scripture but benefited the most from the other two chapters!
Lloyd-Jones appropriately begins with the authority of Jesus, tracing how the manifestation of this authority is a major theme of the gospels. This is a well-known truth, but precisely for that reason it can be overlooked. Lloyd-Jones provides a stirring treatment, which caused me to turn aside to ponder afresh the majestic authority of our Lord as He boldly and frankly asserts His authority. “Here is One who does not hesitate to speak in a kind of totalitarian manner when He commands them, ‘Follow me.’ And they went and followed Him” (20). Lloyd-Jones then aptly applies this to his fellow preachers writing,
So often when we ministers preach through the Gospels we take these things and turn them into parables, accompanied by nice, soothing little messages. But we are really missing the point. We should be preaching the Lord Jesus Christ and asserting His authority (21).
Amen! He also applies this to how we do evangelism, taking particular aim at the peddling of the gospel as the remedy to whatever aches or ails you. Cults can promise results. We are to proclaim Christ in His authority.
Chapter 2 takes up “The Authority of the Scriptures,” and in his first few sentences makes the point so often made in the battles within the SBC concerning this issue: “We are concerned about the matter [biblical authority] because it involves the whole question of evangelism” (30). He dismisses any idea of affirming the message of the Bible without worrying over the accuracy of the facts, rightly noting that this leaves us at the old liberal position where man’s understanding is still the authority since it decides which parts of Scripture can and cannot be trusted. He sounds like he is addressing our recent convention as he takes up the charge of “Bibliolatry” asking, as others have done recently, “What do you know about the Lord, apart from the Scriptures?” What follows then is a good presentation of the regular arguments. However, Lloyd-Jones prefaces the arguments with a warning about over-confidence in apologetics (a theme which runs throughout the book). While apologetics has its place, at the end of the day “it is the preaching and exposition of the Bible that establishes truth and authority” (41). This is, of course, true and an important point for Southern Baptists at this time. Why is it that at a time where there is widespread assent to the notion of Biblical inerrancy there is so little impact of the Bible’s actual authority in the lives of the people? Perhaps it is because in spite of the lip service paid to the Bible, there is not enough of the regular sustained exposition of its actual contents to bring home to our hearts its authority so that we tremble before it (Isaiah 66:2).
The third chapter, “The Authority of the Holy Spirit,” was the one which at first seemed to me unnecessary and out of place. In the end, though, it was the most challenging and useful. Lloyd-Jones seemed to anticipate thoughts like mine by making several statements such as: “If I were to hazard an opinion I would say that no aspect of the Christian faith has been so tragically neglected and perhaps misunderstood Here, I truly believe, we are dealing with the main source of weakness in modern Evangelicalism” (64). He powerfully reminds us of the inability of all our efforts and programs apart from the work of the Spirit–indeed, this is the point behind his regular chiding of an over-confidence in merely rational arguments. This is of course an area where we tend to extremes.
I grew up around a lot of talk about “unction” and “revival” but as I matured theologically much of this seemed quite thin, manipulative and most often not coupled with any depth of doctrine. Indeed it sometimes led to anti-intellectualism. However, one must not throw out the baby with the bath water. It is too easy to overreact by becoming over-reliant on the intellectual and having no place for the less objective areas such as the empowering of the Spirit. This does not imply anything hokey, but simply a reminder that the most brilliant address with the best exegesis may be received well by the people but will not come with life-changing power without the empowering of the Spirit. These are lessons which we all, no doubt, know, but ones that I, at least, need to be reminded of and Lloyd-Jones provides an apt reminder. Having told a story of an old Welsh preacher, Lloyd-Jones concludes:
He was wise enough, and had sufficient spiritual discernment to refuse to preach until he knew that he had his authority, and that the Holy Ghost was going with him, and would speak through him. You and I, however, often preach without Him, and all our cleverness and learning, and all our science and all our apologetics lead to nothing because we lack the authority of the Holy Ghost (88).
This is not anti-intellectualism but a proper assessment of the necessity of both study and prayer as Thomas Boston wrote, “thou wilt not dare study without prayer, nor yet pray without study.” Lloyd-Jones, himself, summarizes his point well.
Let us go on, however, and seek knowledge and equip ourselves as perfectly as possible. But, in the name of God, let us not stop at that. Let us realize that even that, without the authority and power of the Spirit, is of no value at all (92).
I heartily recommend this book as a good reminder of the need and source of authority from one whose ministry bore the marks of such authority.
A Pastor’s Sketches, Conversations with Anxious Souls Concerning the Way of Salvation, Ichabod Spencer (Vestavia Hills, AL: Solid Ground Books, 2001; reprint edition) pb., 285 pp., $12.95
Reviewed by Jeff Robinson
There are more books presently available on the subject of evangelism than at perhaps any time in the history of the church but virtually none that provide a theologically sound approach to dealing with “anxious souls concerning the way of salvation.”
But along comes “A Pastor’s Sketches” by Ichabod Spencer and never has so much glory been found in the words of one named “Ichabod.”
It should come as no surprise that Spencer’s book–subtitled “conversations with anxious souls concerning the way of salvation,”–is not actually a new title but is the reprint of a book first published in 1850.
Unlike the standard fare which issues from contemporary publishing houses on evangelism, “A Pastor’s Sketches” offers no cotton-candy, formulaic approach to soul-winning, no “spiritual laws,” no facile four-point outline with a prayer tacked on at the end.
Instead, Spencer provides a much-needed paradigm for pastors and believers who would seek a patently biblical approach to evangelism, one undergirded by the unshakeable foundation of a full-orbed theology, and lashed immovably to an inspired body of truth.
The book is a collection of 40 personal sketches and interviews recorded by Spencer during the 25 years in which he labored in ministry. It is unique in both form and function and is a rare jewel which shines with theological fidelity to give pastors and believers an expert model of doing evangelism biblically.
Spencer served as pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, NY from 1832-54, during which time the church experienced remarkable numerical and spiritual growth.
At Spencer’s arrival, the church had no building and about 40 persons. By the time of his death, the church had grown to become one of the largest and most influential in the state of New York.
Spencer’s method of church growth would likely confound many of today’s seeker-church gurus; this “Bunyan of Brooklyn” as he was known, committed to visit every member of his church at least once every year, an approach similar to that of Puritan Richard Baxter.
Spencer averaged nearly 800 appointments annually. Additionally, he regularly visited those who were not directly tied to his church. It is from these personal visits–both with souls inside and outside his church–that the majority of these sketches arise.
The theological tides of Spencer’s time were washing forth a tsunami of revolution. The church was rapidly moving away from the theology of Jonathan Edwards toward the pragmatic New Divinity of Charles Finney. Spencer speaks often of the enthusiasm intrinsic to the revivals of his time.
But Spencer continued unmoved as a stalwart in the classical Reformed tradition, his feet planted firmly upon the biblical doctrines of grace. His commitment to biblical doctrine provides the reader with an expert example of how systematic theology should be put into practice in order to point “anxious souls” to their need for the Redeemer. Spencer was no “speculative theologian.”
All the doctrines are wisely and fittingly deployed in Spencer’s evangelistic method and they function within the Scriptures. In one sketch, Spencer details a young man who is wrangling with issues of election and predestination. As in all his other encounters, Spencer shows uncommon sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s work (“I am to conspire with the Holy Spirit,” he writes of his endeavors) and offers sage council to the somewhat perplexed young man, unpacking for him the three-fold purpose of election (“ to teach men the character of God, to repress the audacity of the wicked, and to comfort God’s people ”) and demonstrating how the doctrine in no wise eliminates human responsibility. He fervently admonishes the man to “Do what God bids you. Obey the invitations of his grace. Flee to Christ and be saved.” He does not argue with anyone on the basis of philosophy, but always reasons directly from Scripture. As Spurgeon said of Bunyan, Spencer “bleeds bibline.”
Spencer’s style of interaction varied depending on the psychological makeup of the individual and here the reader sees his remarkable sensitivity toward those to whom he sought to minister. Often Spencer tells of visiting a seeker many times, day after day, unpacking the gospel to them over several weeks and even months. Though he called for immediate decision he never rushed simply for the sake of putting another notch in his “gospel gun.” Spencer’s love for people and his patient care for their souls and a concern for true Spirit-wrought conversion permeates each story.
During one encounter Spencer said he found it best to be silent after presenting Christ to one man. Wrote Spencer, “He (the man) sat in silence for a long time. I did not think it best to interfere with his thoughts.” He knew when to talk, when to listen, and when to simply be silent as the Spirit applied God’s truth to the heart.
Spencer also demonstrated unusual savvy in presenting the gospel’s unvarnished truth in love. One person whom Spencer counseled told him that she had been comforted by a friend. Though she still remained outside the grace of God the lady told Spencer she “felt better about herself” because of the friend’s words. Spencer’s reply slashed directly to the heart of the matter: “Feel better? Mary, you are resting on a lie. You are miserably deceived. Doing well? How can you be doing well while an impenitent sinner rejecting Christ and exposed every moment to the wrath of God forever?”
Spencer was the very embodiment of the pastor/theologian, a man who practiced Acts 20:27 with the greatest of God-ordained skill and was “always ready, in season and out of season.” A Pastor’s Sketches is required reading for anyone who would seek to proclaim the gospel to individuals in a way that is thoroughly God-centered and who would accurately light the narrow way down which anxious souls will be drawn to the One True Sovereign Lord.
Spirit Empowered Preaching: Involving the Holy Spirit in Your Ministry, by Arturo G. Azurdia III (Christian Focus Publications, 1998), pb, 192 pp. £9.99/$15.99.
Reviewed by Ray Van Neste
A book from an unknown author and a title that suggests a “hyper-charismatic” content is not immediately appealing to me and would have little chance of getting on my reading list. However such a book caught my attention because I noticed that Christian Focus had published it. They use the sort of authors that I know and trust, and I have yet to find a “bad book” from them. Then a glance at the back cover with rave reviews from people like John Armstrong and Ed Clowney served to further reassure me that this was likely to be a sound book. Indeed, as I opened the pages of this Biblical exhortation I found the Lord ready to instruct, challenge, and correct me.
The author is a PCA pastor in California and describes himself as “without shame, a local church pastor of average gifts” (7). That self-description alone gained my attention. The book itself appears to have begun as a project (thesis, dissertation?) at Westminster Seminary. The goal of the book is to present a biblical theology of Spirit empowered preaching and it succeeds very well.
Azurdia argues, in the vein of Lloyd-Jones and others, that while serious and diligent exegesis is essential for preaching, it is not enough. The hard exegetical work will provide us with material but we still need power–power from on high. Indeed, Azurdia states, “It is my deep conviction that the greatest deficiency in contemporary expositional ministry is powerlessness; in other words, preaching that is devoid of the vitality of the Holy Spirit” (12). He argues clearly that if we take seriously the effects of sin on humanity we are forced to the point of absolute dependence on the Holy Spirit to make any preaching effective. Surely we would all affirm this but I, for one, admit that it is too easy to slip into a perfunctory acknowledgement of the Spirit’s role whilst actually relying on my own strength (which is weakness).
Azurdia makes the fine point that the powerlessness of evangelical churches is evident from the various other things to which so many have turned for “attractive power,” things which may have value in themselves but are not the goal of the church. He mentions specifically pop-psychology, marketing techniques and political activism. Concerning the ability of marketing techniques to draw a crowd, for instance, he writes:
they have erroneously confused the presence of physical bodies with the existence of spiritual life. In reality, many of these “seekers” have not come to flee the wrath of God. They have not come to take up the cross of Jesus Christ. Instead, they have come to add a layer of frosting to their lives (31).
Azurdia argues from the Scripture that God has shown that His intention is to work through the preaching of the Word. Then he argues that the role of the Spirit is to glorify Christ and that the whole of the Scriptures are to be interpreted Christologically. This book can be of much profit here for many who were not taught to read the Scriptures as Jesus and the apostles did (Luke 24:27). Azurdia handles the topic well not condoning sloppy interpretation but interpretation which places every text into its place within the flow of redemptive history. If we expect the Spirit’s power, he argues, we must use His means (preaching) and His method (Christ-centered interpretation).
Finally, if we would know the power of the Spirit in our preaching we must begin with an awareness of our abject need of Him. “A major step toward experiencing the power of God necessitates a thorough-going recognition of our lack of it” (143). Such awareness will drive us to careful study and fervent prayer. The author searchingly notes, “Rarely are seminarians taught to pray and fast and weep for the subjective and internal illumination of the Holy Spirit in correspondence with their diligent efforts in the sacred text” (39). Azurdia also focuses on the church’s role in supporting the preacher with prayer and by maintaining an environment eager to receive and to submit to the Word of God.
Reading this book I was reminded of much, challenged, rebuked, convicted (having frequently to turn aside to prayer), humbled, encouraged, and stirred up with a renewed desire to go at it again! My heart has truly been stirred. I want to be a part of “the proclamation of the gospel, by men clothed with an alien power to overcome the most violent resistance of sinners” (66). I yearn to know more of that “other-worldly kind of courage that can compel an ordinary man to invade the domain of darkness and demand the deliverance of people enslaved to that realm” (126). And yet, I know what it is to be “a man possessed by a holy compulsion but hobbled by human inability” (118). I have been reminded that the answer is neither to lower my expectations of the effectiveness of preaching, nor to rely subtly on human oratory to “back it up,” but to learn ever more of my weakness and to find in that weakness the power of God to glorify Himself.
Simon J. Kistemaker, Revelation. William Hendriksen and Simon J. Kistemaker, editors. The New Testament Commentary, Vol. 15 Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2001. X, 635 pp. $39.99.
Reviewed by Dr. Roger Nicole
There is always great joy when a significant and long-range work comes to its conclusion. This is the case for this volume, the fifteenth of a series inaugurated in 1953 by William Henriksen, who completed eight volumes before his death in 1982, and carried on by Simon J. Kistemaker so as to cover all the books of the New Testament not treated by Hendriksen. This series is a magnificent achievement covering the whole of the Greek Scriptures with a thoroughly conservative and Reformed standpoint that takes account of the “analogy of faith” (Romans 12:6).
Although I cannot claim intimate acquaintance with the other volumes, this one on the New Testament book which often remains puzzling to modern readers appears to be the most successful of the whole series.
Here we have a new translation from the hand of the commentator, paralleling fairly close the NIV; some 500 pages of commentary verse by verse; more than 100 pages of introduction, bibliography and indices; a new and careful articulation of the Apocalypse in terms of seven visions together with a very brief introduction (1:1-8) and a conclusion (22:6-21). Each of the visions is introduced through the words “I saw” or their equivalent, although that oft-repeated term in John’s book does not always introduce a new vision.
The remarkably lucid introduction does indeed prepare the reader for an intelligent approach to the book. The twelve headings are subdivided in more than forty subheadings whose nature is not announced in the outline of page 2, but must be gathered as the reading proceeds.
The commentary itself is divided in terms of the chapters of our Bible as evident in the Table of Contents on page V, but the development proceeds according to the very detailed outline of the book located on pp. 66-70. The text is written in such a way that a reader not acquainted with Greek may understand it. Whenever a Greek word is referred to, it appears in a transliteration in the English alphabet. At the end of each section a brief consideration is given to “Greek Words, Phrases and Constructions” where the Greek alphabet is used.
There are 1120 footnotes throughout the book referring to the labors of others or to important tools of Biblical research. These are evidence of the immense labor and outstanding scholarship of the author. His standpoint favors the amillenarian and idealist method of interpretation (if these terms appear unfamiliar to you refer to the “Introduction” in which they are carefully explained)–but even those who do not agree with him on this may profit greatly from his work. His approach has the very decided advantage that it recognizes clearly that the Apocalypse was not intended for one limited period of Church History, but that it has a perennial message for all ages from the time of composition until the final consummation of God’s redemptive plan.
If you have to limit yourself to just one book on Revelation, buy this one. Baker Book House is to be commended for the very fine work of publication manifest here.
Toward a Sure Faith: J. Gresham Machen and the Dilemma of Biblical Criticism, 1881-1915. Terry A. Chrisope, Geanies House, Fern, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 2000, 240 pp.
Reviewed by William G. Moore
When a student of church history encounters the name of J. Gresham Machen, he usually is presented with Machen’s determined opposition to theological liberalism. In Toward a Sure Faith, Terry Chrisope provides an often-unexplored aspect of Machen, examining Machen’s work in New Testament criticism prior to 1915 and its impact upon Machen’s later writings and ecclesiastical activity.
Chrisope sets forth the apology for his work in his introduction. By the time of Machen’s venture into biblical studies, historicism–the assumption that the Bible was simply a product of its culture–enjoyed almost universal acceptance among biblical scholars. Chrisope seeks to demonstrate that Machen’s mature theological thought arose from his personal, intellectual struggle with the claims of historicism. Consequently, the book’s “central thesis is that in his early years Machen developed and exhibited a profound conviction of the propriety and necessity of the historical study of the Bible, while at the same time he gradually became convinced that the New Testament and the events it relates were partially conditioned but not wholly determined by the historical environment in which they originated” (13). Because historicism’s impact remains present at the beginning of the twenty-first century and because Machen successfully answered those claims with careful, historical scholarship, Chrisope convincingly argues that this approach to Machen will prove profitable in both establishing a more complete picture of Machen and in fortifying a new generation of students of biblical Christianity.
Part One sets forth the historical setting for Machen’s work. By the end of the nineteenth century, the shift in historical outlook previously experienced in Europe had become widely popular in American academia. With this turn to historicism, “all human activities and cultural phenomena are to be entirely understood as manifestations of the particular time and place in which they originate” (26). Consequently, all that humans know or believe is the result of social development, not of supernatural revelation. Because no revelation can penetrate history from outside, truth is necessarily historically conditioned and is, therefore, relative to time and place. The claim by historic Christianity to permanent truth finds a formidable foe in historicism.
Chrisope traces the development of this historical consciousness in three major intellectual sources: the eighteenth-century philosophers of the Enlightenment, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century German romantic idealism, and nineteenth-century Anglo-French positivism. History was seen as inherently and ceaselessly progressive. This historical consciousness brought about deleterious effects upon traditional understandings of the Bible: events in the Bible were the result of naturalistic principles of development, biblical literature is to be treated no differently than other ancient documents, biblical theology is primarily a historical study, and much of the religion of Israel and of Paul resulted from pagan ideas.
In America, biblical criticism, a sub discipline of historical scholarship, began seriously to impact biblical scholarship during the last two decades of the nineteenth century. Chrisope points to Charles A. Briggs, professor at New York’s Union Seminary, as being principally responsible for the introduction of biblical criticism to American Christianity. Indicative of liberal thought for the next three decades, Briggs’ 1891 inaugural address on biblical authority presented “six barriers to the operation of the divine authority of the Bible: superstition (in the form of bibliolatry); the doctrine of verbal inspiration; anxiety over the authenticity of biblical writings; the doctrine of the inerrancy of the Bible; the conception of miracles as violations of the laws of nature; and the conception of prophecy as minute prediction” (41).
In Part Two Chrisope recounts the well-known story of Machen’s training in the home of Arthur and Mary Machen, his education at Johns Hopkins University (1898-1902) and Princeton Theological Seminary (1902-1905), and his experiences at Marburg and Göttingen (1905-1906). At Johns Hopkins, Machen received rigorous training in classical studies, earning both his undergraduate and graduate degrees. At Princeton Machen was involved in no less rigorous studies, but now in an institution committed to Reformed confessionalism, a high view of the inspiration and authority of the Bible, a modified adherence to the philosophy of Scottish Common Sense Realism, and an emphasis on religious experience. Machen excelled in New Testament exegesis, winning the Middler Prize in New Testament Exegesis for 1903-04 for the best paper on the exegesis of John 1:1-18. During his final year he won a fellowship in the field of New Testament, writing the best paper on the assigned topic, “A Critical Discussion of the New Testament Account of the Virgin Birth of Jesus.” Chrisope summarizes the significance of this paper by the twenty-three-year-old scholar:
It reveals Machen’s early view of the Bible, displays his presuppositions and modes of argumentation in handling critical schools of thought, and provides a means for assessing his promise as a young scholar–a means of which the Princeton faculty clearly availed themselves. It is also noteworthy that the subject matter of the essay, the virgin birth of Jesus, which was to constitute a major focus of Machen’s scholarly work for the rest of his career, was not a topic of his own choosing but one assigned for the fellowship competition (70).
Chrisope concludes his analysis by noting that, while Machen “fully recognized the historical origination of the biblical documents, he was unwilling to accept the antisupernaturalistic assumptions which characterized the historicist outlook” (75).
Winning the fellowship allowed Machen to pursue a year of additional study in Germany, a year which would create great spiritual and intellectual anguish as he struggled with attacks upon biblical orthodoxy. The first of these attacks came in the form of Ritschlian liberalism, effectively represented by Wilhelm Herrmann, professor of dogmatics at Marburg. Herrmann’s passion for Christ produced an attraction to liberalism which Machen had never before witnessed. Machen came to sense, however, that the biblical criticism which Herrmann taught and the theology which the German championed were inconsistent. The second attack came from the history of religions school, represented for Machen at Göttingen by Wilhelm Bousset. Here Machen saw the profound influence of historicism upon biblical studies. While Machen struggled with where the truth lay, as Chrisope notes, “it could not be with both camps at the same time: traditional Christianity could be true, or the modern theology could be true, but they could not both be true” (85). Machen’s struggles, though, reveal a character which found unacceptable the provision of superficial answers made in isolation. Machen’s later fervency for biblical orthodoxy cannot be explained apart from his meeting the claims of liberalism with intellectual integrity, regardless of where his investigation should take him. Machen’s struggles also reveal a character which could not consider the ordination to ministry before settling fundamental, theological issues in his own mind. Machen would later be “filled with indignation at those who formally subscribed to the Bible as the Word of God and to the Westminster Standards while rejecting the theological substance which they contained” (94-95).
Part Three examines the focus of Chrisope’s study, “The Decisive Years, 1906-1915″: “a natural epoch in Machen’s life [because] the period begins with Machen’s appointment as Instructor at Princeton Seminary and concludes with his installation as Assistant Professor in May 1915″ (99). Chrisope first investigates Machen’s early book reviews, which appeared in the Princeton Theological Review from 1907-1912. These reviews, which comprise almost all of Machen’s writings during this period, reveal a progression from relatively tentative theological statements to much more definite theological assertions. Toward the end of this period, one can see “concerns and convictions” that “were becoming characteristic of his essential position”:
He was convinced that the historical difficulties presented by the New Testament are capable of reasonable and scholarly explanation when the documents are correctly understood. Furthermore, he stoutly maintained that Christianity was at its center a religion of supernatural redemption and that any contrary interpretation misconstrued its essential character. In addition, he was exceedingly anxious for the future of the church , fearing that the expanding influence of naturalistic biblical criticism and liberal theology would alter the historic identity of Christianity, to its own spiritual impoverishment and weakness. Back of this anxiety was his evident frustration that the church was not vigorously addressing the intellectual challenges it faced, but met them rather with “astonishing indifference (109-10).
The struggles with which Machen entered this period had become evidently settled by 1912.
Chrisope provides further evidence of the resolution of Machen’s intellectual struggles with his 1912 publication of four major essays. Three of the essays dealt with the virgin birth of Jesus and the fourth investigated the relationship between Jesus and Paul. Machen continued to exhibit the work of a first-rate scholar with even Adolf Harnack reviewing his articles and expressing admiration of them, though obviously disagreeing with their conclusions. While using historical methods, Machen contended that certain issues, such as the virgin birth and the origin of Christianity, ultimately were determined by one’s presuppositions. Because historicism advocated at the outset a closed universe, any historical data supporting the traditional Christian view was rejected.
Chrisope concludes Part Three by examining Machen’s survey of New Testament history and literature, his ordination to the ministry, and his installation to the Princeton Seminary’s faculty, all of which took place during 1913-1915. The events of this period “saw the gradual resolution of his intellectual problems and the development of an open and unqualified commitment to the content and goals of the Princeton theological tradition” (137). Machen’s New Testament survey was a one-year series of Sunday School lessons prepared for the Northern Presbyterian Church. Chrisope notes that the lessons were historically grounded without capitulating to the naturalistic assumptions of historicism; they emphasized the authority of the Bible; they adopted conservative positions on questions of authorship; they emphasized Presbyterian confessionalism; and they forthrightly applied biblical teaching to the contemporary church and culture.
At his installation service to Princeton’s faculty, Machen presented his inaugural address, “History and Faith.” Here Machen maintained that history and faith cannot be separated. Chrisope aptly notes that “‘History and Faith’ provided the capstone and marked the culmination of Machen’s intellectual and spiritual maturation, not only for the years 1913 to 1915, but also for that whole period of his life which was consummated with his installation at Princeton in his thirty-fourth year” (153).
In Part Four, “The Mature Years, 1915-1937,” Chrisope observes that “the views to which Machen had begun to give forceful public expression in the years 1912 to 1915 provided the unifying ideological foundation for both his scholarly work and his ecclesiastical activities during his later years” (157). Chrisope analyzes four later works to show the theological continuity: The Origin of Paul’s Religion (1921), The Virgin Birth of Christ (1930), Christianity and Liberalism (1923), What Is Faith? (1925). While the first two dealt with New Testament studies and the latter two with theological concerns, all dealt with issues such as historicist assumptions regarding history, the influence of philosophical presuppositions, and the truth of supernatural Christianity–issues with which Machen had struggled and answered by 1915.
Chrisope’s Toward a Sure Faith will prove to be a welcomed and needed addition to the libraries of Christians in general and of pastors in particular for at least four reasons. First, pastors will find the book to be an aid in their counseling of young converts shaken by the still rampant historicism found in both secular and religious institutions of higher learning. Those involved in personal intellectual struggles will be instructed and encouraged as they engage with Chrisope’s presentation of Machen’s own struggles and discover the oft-overlooked fallacies of historicism.
Second, Chrisope’s representation of Machen will encourage Christians to think deeply concerning the claims of orthodox, supernatural Christianity. Because we do not live in a closed universe, the saving truth of Christ cannot be comprehended through convincing proofs based upon historical findings alone. Chrisope notes, “[Machen] believed that there is a subjective element in human knowledge; that philosophical presuppositions may influence one’s evaluation of historical evidence; that the evidence in itself is not necessarily convincing; and that the human mind is incapable of attaining to truth (in the sense of recognizing the truthfulness of Christianity) or of exercising faith by its own power, but that for these ends the operation of the Holy Spirit is necessary” (189). Presuppositions are changed through the work of the Holy Spirit in changing deeply held perceptions. In our day when evangelistic success is measured by an acquiescent prayer at the end of a prescribed gospel presentation, we would do well to remember that conversion is the result of the working of the Holy Spirit in the life of the individual.
Third, Chrisope’s study of Machen reminds those seeking to enter the ministry of the need for intellectual integrity. While Machen would debate and tolerate academics who rejected orthodoxy Christianity, Chrisope notes that “he manifested a distinct unwillingness to consider liberal churchmen as anything other than dishonest traitors who were denying the faith they professed” (131). Certainly those who use the terminology and expressions of orthodox Christianity merely to gain religious employment are little more than base hirelings. Machen sought ordination only after his intellectual struggles concerning historic, supernatural Christianity were resolved in his own mind.
Last, we are reminded that truth matters, and neither the attainment of truth nor its defense are without high personal costs. Machen underwent intense, personal struggles in his seeking after truth. Once he was convinced of the truth of supernatural Christianity, he could not remain silent while fellow churchmen were undermining orthodoxy. Consequently, he endured intense ecclesiastical struggles in opposing heterodoxy. Twenty-first-century Baptists will do well to follow the example of this twentieth-century Presbyterian defender of the faith.