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God and Man

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
July 25, 2023 12:01 am

God and Man

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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July 25, 2023 12:01 am

If the church downplays the holiness of God or the depth of our sin, disaster will follow. Today, Stephen Nichols explains the biblical response of J. Gresham Machen to several theological distortions about God and humanity.

Obtain the 100th Anniversary Edition of J. Gresham Machen's Book Christianity and Liberalism and Stephen Nichols' Teaching Series on Machen's Life and Work with Your Gift of Any Amount:


The first thing liberalism is going to say is that God is not knowable. God is felt. That God is not understood.

God is experienced. That's the view of liberalism. One hundred years ago, J. Gresham Machen's classic book, Christianity and Liberalism, was released. In its pages, he exposes the folly of liberalism and how, according to what they believe, liberalism is not Christianity at all.

As I mentioned yesterday, you can request a special hundredth anniversary edition of that book with your donation of any amount at Here's Ligonier teaching fellow, Stephen Nichols, as he unpacks Machen's chapter on how liberalism attacks the Bible's view of God and man. We're going to start where we should always start in theology. Doctrine or theology, the word theology means literally the study of God. So, we're talking about who God is and his plan for this world that he made, which is a way of saying theology is about everything. But we're going to start with the doctrine of God, and that's where Machen starts us. In fact, in chapter two of this book, after the introduction, we've got doctrine, and then we've got God and man.

He puts them together. These questions really do go hand in hand. The answer to the question, who is God, has everything to do with understanding who we are. And once we understand who we are, we look back to understand who God is.

So, these two go together. Machen starts with Christ's view of God. Again, he's understanding where the liberals are coming from, and they're always talking about Christ, and they're always talking about Jesus. So, let's start there, and let's let Jesus tell us about who God is. And Machen says, as he reads through the gospels, he sees that Christ will point to nature. He will talk about the lilies of the field.

He will talk about the sparrow, right? I heard recently there's something like over 6,000 species of birds, and Jesus chose the sparrow to talk about God's care for us. So, nature reveals who God is. The moral law reveals who God is. And then, if you haven't figured out what that is yet, it's an open book, which is to say Scripture tells us who God is.

What do we learn from nature? Well, we learn from nature that God is Creator. God is Creator. What does Paul say? But in Him, we live and move and have our being. And there he is, pointing to that statue, to the unknown God.

I'm here to declare to you who that is. Where did all this come from? What is the cause of this? As the philosophers like to ask, why is there something rather than nothing? And the moment you recognize that there is something, you have to give an account for it. In apologetics, in theology, we call this the theistic proofs, the cosmological argument, the teleological argument. Today we speak of intelligent design arguments. All of these are looking at the effects, looking at what we can see, what is knowable, to go behind those effects to what is unseen and unknowable, and that is the cause. So, nature points us, the theistic proofs point us, to see that there is a Creator.

Machen also talks about how Christ speaks of the moral law, that sense of righteousness, that sense of right and wrong, that sense of justice. How do we account for justice in the world? You hear sometimes of the argument for evil against God, or the argument from suffering against God. So, if there is a God, how can there be evil in this world?

Well, you can analyze that argument right at its very core. On what basis do we even use the word evil? On what basis do we have categories of right and wrong, good and evil, even better and best?

If there were not some eternal supreme lawgiver or eternal supreme standard of justice. To speak about evil, which is a deviation from a standard, we need a moral ethical standard. Now, if you've had kids, one of the things you realize is a sentence that you never have to teach them is the sentence, that's not fair. You don't have to teach them that at all.

Right after they say mama or dada or doggy, it's the next thing they say, that's not fair. Now, where does that come from? But this moral law that is pointing to the fact that there is this concept of justice in the universe, because this is the world that God has made. And so, we have God who is Creator. We have the God who is just.

Now, what does that mean? That means, fundamentally, that we are now accountable to this God. That we are accountable to this God for our very existence and our being and our life. It also points us to learn more about this God, which we learn in Scripture, and ultimately now we learn that God is not only Creator, but God is Redeemer. The triune God behind the work of redemption, the election of God, the providing of the atonement by God the Son and Jesus Christ, and then the application of redemption through God the Holy Spirit.

The triune work of God the Redeemer is only revealed to us in Scripture alone. So, who is God? He's Creator. He is just and a judge, and it certainly matters.

That certainly matters. Someday we all will give an account, and then we learn through Scripture that God is our Redeemer, our Rock and our Redeemer. So, this is who God is. God is fundamentally knowable. He's knowable fundamentally through revelation. We'll come back to this next chapter when we talk about the Bible, but nature and moral law is what theologians call general revelation, revealed in creation, revealed generally, or revealed universally. Scripture is what theologians call special revelation, which is revealed within and contained within the inerrant revealed Word of God, contained for us in the canon, the sixty-six books of Scripture. But God is knowable.

Machen is going to have a very succinct sentence. This comes early on in the chapter on God and man, and he says this, rational theism, right? So, by that he means not some abstracting thing, but a God who is knowable and known, a God who exists, a God who is demonstrable and arguable through the theistic proofs. Rational theism, the knowledge of one supreme person, maker and active ruler of the world, known through nature and the moral law, is at the very root of Christianity.

A God who is knowable and a God who is knowable according to the revelation that He has self-disclosed. Now, where does liberalism fall on this notion of God? The first thing liberalism is going to say is that God is not knowable. God is felt. That God is not understood, God is experienced. So, God is felt by experience.

That's the view of liberalism. Machen is going to say, or says, the view of Christianity is God is known through revelation. God is felt by experience versus God is known through revelation. The God known through revelation has particulars, has elements, specificity to it.

The God felt, there's ambiguity there, there's an opaqueness there. The second thing of liberalism concerns this fundamental teaching, if you will, of liberalism of the universal fatherhood of God and, while we're on the subject of man, the universal brotherhood of man. The universal fatherhood of God. We are all God's children. This leads to what we sometimes call universalism, or the view that everyone is saved. Everyone is a child of God.

Now, we need to sort through this in the Christian view. In a general sense, in a very general sense, it is proper to speak of the fatherhood of God of all people. It is okay to speak of the universal fatherhood of God in this sense that God is the Creator of all. And as the Creator of all, we are all accountable to Him as His creatures. But that is the only sense that we can speak of the fatherhood of God.

And Jesus is very clear to differentiate between human beings when it comes to the special fatherhood of God in a salvific sense. Because the reality, as Paul is going to say in Ephesians chapter 2, we are by nature children of wrath. Not children of God.

Children of wrath. So along comes Jesus, the God-man, who is in fact our elder brother, and through what Jesus Christ has done and our union with Him, we then can be sons, and we can be daughters of God. That is a specific application of the fatherhood of God, and it is only to believers, and it is only to those who trust in Jesus Christ, God's beloved Son. And it's not because of us. It's not because we're special, and we're more special than those who aren't. In fact, if you want to draw a parallel to the election of Israel, go back and read Deuteronomy 7, Deuteronomy 10, Deuteronomy 14. You know what God says to Israel? I didn't choose you because you're the best.

I didn't choose you because you're the greatest. I'll let you in on a little secret, Israel. You're the least of all the nations, and yet I put my elective love on you. This is to humble us when we understand that through Christ we are the children of God. It's never a source of pride or we are in the exclusive club because we are better than that other person. Jesus dealt with those kinds of people in the gospels.

He didn't deal with them kindly. So, this is a mistake. This is an error. This is a deadly error, a heresy to speak of the universal, soteric, salvific fatherhood of God and the universal, soteric brotherhood of man. So, liberalism is wrong on saying God is felt by experience. Liberalism is wrong on fatherhood of God.

And, you know, we could take this out of the trappings of liberalism. You can plug that in right today to that good old cultural Christianity, that nominalism that is so prevalent that just assumes that all is well, and I'm a good person, and God is my Father. That's not the teaching of Jesus.

Well, thirdly, the distinctions between liberalism and Christianity. In Christianity, Machen speaks of God as awful. Now, you know, when we use this word today, it's bad, right? To be awful is bad.

When Machen uses the word, and in the history of the word, it's a way of saying awesome. Awful literally means full of awe. When we're talking about God, that should cause us to tremble on our very knees. It should cause us to be absolutely horrified when we realized how awesome God is. So, the awesomeness of God is truly an awful experience for us. The awesomeness of God is actually a horrible experience for us when we truly realize what we're talking about here. Now, a vivid example of this happens back in Isaiah chapter 6, where Isaiah is confronted with the awesomeness of God, and he's stopped in his tracks.

He's undone, right? That's the Christian view of God. The Christian view of God starts with a great gulf of separation between the Creator and the creation, because God is awful in His transcendence. Now, theologians will talk about the transcendence of God, which is above and beyond, right? To be transcendent is above.

There's Mount Everest, and then there is beyond Mount Everest. That's transcendence. The other side to that is immanence. Immanence is the idea of sort of permeating, and within. Transcendence is beyond, immanence is permeating. Now, there is a sense in which we get from Scripture that God is imminent in His universe. We speak of God's omnipresence. David tells us, wherever I go, you're there. I go to the highest mountain, I go to the depth of the sea. There you will be. God is omnipresent in everywhere, and God is intimately involved in the lives of His people.

You remember Hagar? She's out at that well in the desert, and what does Yahweh say to her? I see you, which means I care for you, intimately care for you. That's the immanence of God.

Here's what the liberals do. They say that's God. That's all that God is. He is fully immanent, not transcendent. That's a convenient God. That's having your cake and eating it too, God. God is not immanent only, and God is not transcendent only. God is both transcendent and immanent, and that is actually the orthodox view of God within Christianity. Luther says God is the deus absconditus. I like to, every time I hear that, I think of like, that's something the dentist says to you.

You've got a little absconditus back there and those back molars. It means hidden. God is the hidden God. He's absconded, but He's also the deus revelatus. He's the revealed God. He is unknown and known, transcendent and immanent. Liberals only want an immanent God, and here's why.

Because now, what does that mean about me? Well, if God is transcendent and I am the created, then I am accountable to Him. But if God is not transcendent and He's just immanent, well, as Machen is going to say, and what I think is a brilliant quote, that this is the bright side of God. He'll go on to say, just to put this into a particular example, to say that God is love only is not God.

And we can apply that to this discussion. To say that God is immanent only is not God. That's a God of our making, a God of our wanting, a God of our wishing, and that's not who God is. So against liberalism, we have a God who is knowable by His revelation.

We have a God who is Father of all in a generic way as Creator, but Father only of His children who believe in Jesus Christ. And we have a God who is both immanent and transcendent, awfully transcendent. Now, what does that mean about man? Well, Machen says, if you've lost that great sense of the gulf between God and man, you're going to be skewed in your view of man. And fundamentally, you're going to lose a consciousness of sin. The more we can push God out, or maybe the more we can domesticate God and tame Him and bring Him down, the less we see ourselves as separated from Him, which means the less we see ourselves as sinful. We see ourselves as good people.

The fundamental problem with liberalism is it views that human nature is good, that it says any evil or bad that exists in this world is in fact overcomeable by us, and we are by nature good. That only works if we have a low view of God, a slight view of God, a wrong view of God. Well, what is the Christian view of man? Man should humble himself before God, not exalt himself. Humble himself before God and see himself as a sinner. But what is Isaiah's first word of response?

Whoa, I am in big trouble. I am in huge trouble because I am a sinner. But then Machen says it is only from that vantage point that we can see grace. If we see ourselves as good, there is a pride there. There is a pride there in the human heart that will not allow room for the grace of God. Only when we humble ourselves and ourselves are seen as absolutely worthless before God, now we are vessels ready to be filled up by God's grace. But when there is pride in that human heart, there is no room for God's grace. So, this fundamentally flawed view of God leads to a fundamentally flawed view of man, which leads to a fundamentally flawed view of why Christ came in the first place, which means this is not a message of good news. This is not salvation.

In fact, this is how Machen ends this chapter. The fundamental fault of the modern church is that she is busily engaged in an absolutely impossible task. She is busily engaged in calling the righteous to repentance. Modern preachers are trying to bring men into the church without requiring them to relinquish their pride. They are trying to help men avoid the conviction of sin. The preacher gets up into the pulpit, opens the Bible, and addresses the congregation somewhat as follows. You people are very good.

You respond to every appeal that looks toward the welfare of the community. And now we have in the Bible, especially in the life of Jesus, something so good that we believe it is good enough even for you good people. You people are so good that there's a message in here that actually is good enough for you. Such is modern preaching. Well, we know that's not the gospel because that is not the biblical view of God and man. That is not a doctrine that is healthy for the church. In fact, it's downright deadly for the church.

That's why we must be grateful for men who preach and teach the Bible faithfully. That was Stephen Nichols helping us understand J. Gresham Machen's book Christianity and Liberalism. This book is urgently needed today. And although it was published a hundred years ago, it unfortunately speaks sharply to our modern context as well. And a special hundredth anniversary edition can be yours with your donation of any amount at And while you'll be able to add this book to your personal collection, we'll also send you Dr. Nichols' 12-message series, walking you through each chapter and grant you digital access to all those messages and the study guide.

So I encourage you to visit or call us at 800 435 4343. We're often here today. That's your truth. I have my truth. In Machen's day, he also dealt with attacks upon truth and the Bible. That's what we'll discuss tomorrow here on Renewing Your Mind. Thank you.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-07-25 09:30:58 / 2023-07-25 09:39:03 / 8

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