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Machen and Apologetics

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
November 7, 2023 12:01 am

Machen and Apologetics

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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November 7, 2023 12:01 am

Apologetics is the defense of the Christian faith, and it was crucially important to J. Gresham Machen. Today, Stephen Nichols explores Machen's approach to exposing unbiblical teaching and defending the truth of the gospel.

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A Christianity that avoids argument is not the Christianity of the New Testament. Macon's telling us there that apologetics is not only something we are commanded to do in Scripture, it is essential to the nature of Scripture itself.

Why do you believe what you believe? How do you defend those beliefs in a society that has largely rejected the existence of God and especially a religion that only has one God and one way of salvation? We face opposition today as Christians and so did J. Gresham Macon in the early 20th century. Welcome to Renewing Your Mind as we spend several days considering Macon and his classic book, Christianity and Liberalism. Macon pulled no punches when it came to declaring that liberal Christianity was not Christianity at all, and he sought to engage and defend his positions. Looking back on Macon as an apologist in the 20s and 30s is both instructive for us today and an encouragement.

There really is nothing new under the sun. Here's Stephen Nichols. Last time that we were together, we talked about Macon and the church. In this episode, we're going to talk about Macon and apologetics, and I want to look at this in terms of apologetics in the church, especially recognizing that within the church, there's this great deal of liberalism and departure from the truth. So, I want to look at apologetics in the church. I want to look at apologetics in the culture. What did Macon have to say with modernism if he didn't agree with the liberal response to modernism and the liberal church's answer to modernism, if he disagreed with that?

Well, what answer did he give to modernism? So, we'll look at that. And then lastly, sometimes we're talking about apologetics. We're not just talking about defending the faith. We're also talking about knowing not only what you believe, but knowing why you believe it. Because when you explore why you believe something and you come to hold those beliefs as true personal convictions, it can help us in times of doubt and in times of discouragement. So, I'm sort of in a tongue-in-cheek way calling that apologetics to you.

So, what does Macon have to say about why it's important to know why we believe and be able and be able to contend for the faith for our own Christian life and our own Christian walk? Well, to begin, let's define this word apologetics. It's a word from two Greek words. It literally means to speak, and you see in apologetics the word logos, and we know that means word or to speak. And the first word here, apo, apo, is a preposition in Greek. It means to or towards. So, the word literally means to speak to.

But it's a technical term. It occurred in legal language and philosophical language to mean a reasoned defense. And so, we can go back to 399 BC, and there's Socrates standing on the Aeropagus in Athens, and he gives his apologia. He gives his apology, his defense.

He's being accused of heinous crimes, and the penalty is death. And so, if you were on trial for your life, you'd probably think about the argument you were about to make. It would be reasoned.

It would also be full of passion. It would be intended to persuade. It's all bound up in this word of apologetics. When we come to the New Testament, we find this word apologia occurs 18 times in the pages of the New Testament.

Ten of those are in Luke and Acts, and in those references, they are two literal trials, either Jesus's trials before the Sanhedrin or the Pharisees, or the trials of the apostles before the Jewish officials or Roman officials, and they are literally on trial and giving an apology. But we also find that word used in what we might call a theological context in the New Testament. So, in Philippians 1.6 and in Philippians 1.14, Paul says, I am put here, right? In a Roman prison, I am put here for the apologia, for the defense of the gospel. That's what Paul was doing. As he was chained to that Praetorian guard, and as he was under house arrest, he was defending the gospel. He was being an apologist. And then we find the word in 1 Peter 3.15, to give an answer for the hope that is in us.

Right? Apologetics, apologia. It means a rational defense of the Christian faith. That's what apologetics is. A rational defense of the Christian faith. One thing it doesn't mean is going around and saying, I'm sorry. Sorry for being a Christian. Sorry for believing in the Bible. That's not what apologetics is, right?

It's the opposite. A reasoned defense, a rational defense, giving an answer for the questions that we are asked. You remember, I read this quote to you from Machen our last time together, a Christianity that avoids argument is not the Christianity of the New Testament. Machen's telling us there that apologetics is not only something we are commanded to do in Scripture, it is essential to the nature of Scripture itself. The New Testament is an apologetic for who Jesus is as the God-man and for his work of redemption as the only hope for one who is lost and in sin and is under judgment under the wrath of a holy God. The New Testament itself is an apologetic for the gospel. Well, you remember I had mentioned this text, the attack upon Princeton Seminary, this wonderful text from 1927 that Machen wrote. Well, in it, he has an extended paragraph where he talks about apologetics. And I think it's very helpful. I find it very instructive for us. He says, we do not indeed begin with the conviction that the Bible is the Word of God in our defense of the Christian religion.

Now, you might pause there for a second and say, hold on. I thought for Machen, the divine origin, the truthfulness of Scripture was the ballgame. And is he now tossing that aside?

This is what he says. We do not indeed begin with that conviction that the Bible is the Word of God. We don't begin there with our defense of the Christian religion. So, what's he talking about? Well, he's talking about what we call classical apologetics.

But let me show you how he builds the case. When, for example, we argue in favor of our belief in a personal God. What he means by that is, you know, not our own personal God, but the idea that God is a person, the idea that God is not some abstract proposition that there's just this sort of perfection that's out there, but that God is a being, that God is a being, all right, a personal God. He says, when we argue in favor of the existence of God, we don't base our argument at all upon the Bible.

What we say in that sphere, therefore, may commend itself to many whose view of the Bible is very unfavorable indeed. So, we start first with the existence of God. We don't even need to talk about the Bible. Let's talk about that there is a God. Then he goes on to say that, or when we defend our belief in the resurrection of our Lord. Again, our argument is independent of the question of whether the Bible is infallible or not.

Even prior to any belief in the infallibility of Scripture, right? A scientific treatment of the sources of information. Now, let me pause and tell you what I think Machen means by that. Being a good historian.

That's what he means by that. A scientific examination or a scientific treatment of the sources of information. What he means by that is being a careful and a good historian.

And what is a careful and a good historian but one that gathers the sources and analyzes the sources? Are the sources by credible figures? Are the sources backed up by other sources? What is the source's relationship in time to the event to which they are testifying? Have decades or centuries lapsed, or were they eyewitnesses? Is there some kind of archaeological or sort of physical evidence that corroborates the written record or testimony that is left by the witnesses?

Those are all the things that a careful, good historian will do. Machen says that when we do that, we are led to hold that Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead on the third day. That to see Jesus of Nazareth as a, as an historical figure who died in history, who was buried in history and who rose again the third day, that there is evidence to support that, historical data to support that. He says there are many Christians who can go with us that far and yet cannot accept our view of the Bible, and we rejoice in the measure of their agreement with us. Our view of the Bible is not the beginning, but rather it is the end of any orderly defense of the Christian religion. Now, I want to give you a summary of what Machen says here.

So, this is Machen's summary. First, the general truth of the Bible and its great outlines as an historical book. Then, the supernatural origin of the revelation that it contains. Then, the true, full truthfulness of the Bible as the Word of God.

That is the order of our apologetic. So, the Bible is a unique book with all sorts of corroboration of the Bible, with all sorts of corroboration to show its authenticity and accuracy as an historical book. Then, we see that the Bible itself claims to be supernatural in its origin. It has already proven itself to be trustworthy. Now, we see that it claims to be supernatural in its origin. Now, we see that if it is supernatural in its origin, then it is the authoritative, inerrant, and infallible Word of God.

See the apologetic he just did there? From seeing the Bible, taking it at its face value, does it show us that it is, in fact, accurate and authentic? And if so, then it's reliable.

And if it's reliable, what does it say about itself? And not just in one small corner or one place here, but everywhere in Scripture it claims to be the Word of God. If you were to go through and do a concordance search on, thus says the Lord in the Old Testament, hundreds of references would show up.

Hundreds. Paul would say again and again and again, my authority is because I'm an apostle, and my authority is because these are the Words of God. Everywhere the biblical authors say this is the Word of God, so therefore it's authoritative. So, the Bible is reliable.

We see what it says about itself. It claims to be a divine revelation. As a divine revelation, it is truthful. Machen also says, let's just talk about a personal God, that God is the perfect being. And then let's talk about Jesus Christ as an historical figure. And do you have an answer for the empty tomb?

Do you have an answer for the overwhelming data of the historicity of Jesus Christ? And now let's talk about the truthfulness of the Bible. That's the apologetic that Machen was constructing.

That was the apologetic approach that Machen took. So, let's see how he works this out in terms of within the church, within the culture, and then for you. So, within the church. The issue in the church was the rejection of the idea that the Bible is an historical, authentic witness.

What liberalism was about and whether it was the German higher criticism or whether it was the American liberalism that was coming from the pulpits and from the preaching of people like Kerry Emerson Fosdick, and we'll talk about him more when we get into Christian liberalism. What they were about was saying it is not necessary to have these events as real time, real space, real historical events. All that matters is your encounter with the divine the divine and your experience. It was in one sense pitting history versus experience.

I'll put a fine point on this. The New Testament scholar Rudolf Bultmann would say it doesn't matter if Jesus Christ rose from the dead in history. What matters is, did Jesus Christ rise from the dead in your heart? Now, I don't know what that means.

I have no idea what that means. I do know it is a rejection of 1 Corinthians 15. And I do know that what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, that if there is not a bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, then pack it up and go home. We're done, and there's no church here.

We are of all men most pitied. So, at its base, what liberalism was doing was dispensing with the historicity of Christianity— that Jesus was born, that Jesus lived, that Jesus died, that Jesus was buried, that Jesus was resurrected, and that Jesus ascended to the right hand of God the Father, and that he is bodily coming again at a point in time yet in the future. All that's rejected. For the sake of seeing Christianity as the pious experience of an encounter with the living God. And in fact, this is what the liberals will say. This is a weak faith to need some historical moment. This is what faith is about.

This is knowledge or science. This is faith, the experience of the encounter with the divine. So, what does Machen do with all this? Well, one of the things he does is he writes this book, and it was published in 1931. I love this edition of it. This is a British edition from the 1950s, but he publishes this book, The Virgin Birth of Christ. It was a scholarly book. He's coming out of the Great Depression.

He's getting kicked out of Princeton Seminary. He's founding Westminster, and he is writing a scholarly tome on the virgin birth of Christ. But what this was saying was that the virgin birth of Christ is essential to the Christ of Christianity because it begins a chain of events that point us to the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. You can talk about the gospel, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ without a reference to the virgin birth, but you can't talk about Christianity as a whole without a reference back to the virgin birth.

And they all hold together. And it's very fascinating. The attack on the virgin birth of Christ is really the first domino, and once that falls in the wrong direction, all of the dominoes of who Jesus is as the God-man fall in the wrong direction, including the domino of why Jesus went to the cross and what he accomplished there on our behalf. Before he wrote this book, he wrote a book back in 1921 called The Origin of Paul's Religion. There was a view among German scholarship that Jesus was not about doctrine. Jesus was about lifestyle. They loved the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus was about ethics. He didn't care what you believed.

In fact, he went after the people who crossed the T's and dotted the I's. All Jesus cared about was how you lived. And then along came this guy Paul, and Paul invented doctrine. Paul turned Christianity from a religion of behavior to a religion of belief. He turned Christianity from an ethic to a theology. And Paul is the origin of Christianity.

So, Machen takes that head on. And what he does is he shows a direct line, even back to the Sermon on the Mount, to all of the doctrines that are in Paul. And so, the question, what is the origin of Paul's religion?

Jesus. That's the origin of Paul's religion. Jesus was not about a religion of behavior versus a religion of belief. Jesus was about a religion of belief. Jesus was about a Christianity of doctrine.

And so, he writes two big books, Origin of Paul's Religion, Virgin Birth of Christ, to show that Christianity is an historical religion, and it is predicated on real events that occurred in real time. Well, he was also an apologist to culture. I mentioned this as modernism. Machen had a lot of words for modernism. He called it the metallic age, which he didn't like. He called it the mechanistic age. He called it the collectivist age. That was his view of modernism. In the end, he saw modernism as creating an unparalleled impoverishment of human life. One interesting piece he wrote was called Skyscrapers and Cathedrals. He wrote this for McCall's Magazine in 1931.

This is not an academic journal or a theological journal by any stretch. McCall's Magazine, Skyscrapers and Cathedrals. He loved going to New York City. He had just been to New York City, had just been to the Empire State Building, and rode the elevator from the bottom to the top.

This is what he says. The modern builders can uplift the body. They uplifted my body in express elevators 1,200 feet in record time. But whereas the modern builders in an age of unbelief can uplift the body, the ancient builders in an age of faith could uplift the soul.

Skyscrapers, modern achievements. At one point, Machen is going to make the case that our modern achievements have left us with a lack of a view of our fundamental problem, our sin. And so, lulled into a sleep, a numbness, anesthetized to our true human condition, all we think about is human betterment, not paying attention to the hollow soul that we are in the need for our soul. Machen says there will come a time when men will wonder at their obsession with these material things, when they will see their inventions in themselves as valueless, as the ugly little bits of metal type in a printer's composing room, and that their true value will be found only when they become the means of expressing some glorious poem or some glorious work of art. Even today, catch this, even today, amid all the noise and shouting and power of the machinery, there are hearts hungry for bread.

That is bread indeed, hearts thirsting for the living water. So, as he looked into culture, as an apologist, what he tried to do is show how empty it is, show how vain it is, show how shallow it is, that it doesn't fundamentally answer the true issues of the human condition, which is our sin and our need of a Savior. And so, he pointed to the needs of the soul. Well, I mentioned not only is it apologetics to the church, apologetics to the culture, it's also apologetics for us, because we faced out. We faced discouragement.

Machen wrote a piece in 1933. I just want to read the final paragraph of it to you. We can, if we are Christians, be confident and joyous in these days. This is not the first time of unbelief in the history of the church. There have been other times equally or almost equally dark, yet God has brought His people through. Even in our day, there are far more than seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to the gods of the hour.

I think we need to hear that now, not just from 1933. But our real confidence rests not in the signs of the times, but in the great and precious promises of God. Contrast the glories of God's Word with the weak and beggarly elements of this mechanistic age.

Contrast the liberty of the sons of God with the ever-increasing slavery into which mankind is falling in our time. And I think we shall come to see with a new clearness, despite the opposition of the world, that we have no reason to be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That's Machen and apologetics. We really do have no reason to be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It's not that we shamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It's one of the things that I love about being involved with Ligonier's youth apologetics events, seeing these teenagers gain further confidence as they see that the claims of the world, that Christianity is being debunked, are simply false. We can have confidence and we can stand upon the truth. That was Stephen Nichols on this Tuesday edition of Renewing Your Mind.

I'm your host, Nathan W. Bingham. J. Gresham Machen released Christianity and Liberalism in 1923. And what is sad is that 100 years later, you can read it and think that he possibly wrote it today.

Machen's line in the sand is a line that we must draw as well. And we have a special 100th anniversary edition of Christianity and Liberalism that will send you for your donation of any amount at And when you give your gift, whether by calling us at 800-435-4343 or online, you'll also receive digital access to Dr. Nichols' 12-part study of Machen's life and his walkthrough of this classic book. So visit today and read the remarkable clarity with which Machen assessed the liberalism of his day and an assessment that still holds true today. We have mentioned Machen's book Christianity and Liberalism a number of times already this week. Well, tomorrow Stephen Nichols will introduce the context that led Machen to write it and the main argument of the book. That's tomorrow here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-11-07 04:01:48 / 2023-11-07 04:11:11 / 9

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