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Bitesize Biography – J Gresham Machen

By Sean Michael Lucas
February 2016 | Review by Ben Wilkerson
  • Publisher: EP Books
  • ISBN: 978-1-78397-057-5
  • Pages: 130
  • Price: 6.99
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Book Review

If one is looking for a brief insight into one of the world’s leading theologians and apologists of the twentieth century, this is an excellent choice.

Machen was born on 28 July 1881 to Arthur and Mary ‘Minnie’. They taught him the Scriptures and Shorter Catechism from an early age. He was a Presbyterian from the beginning and devoted his life to promoting orthodoxy in the Northern Presbyterian church.

Machen wrote many works that are still in use today, such as Christianity and liberalism, The virgin birth of Christ and What is faith? While his stance against liberalism and modernism is well known, the author brings to our attention that Machen was not always so well founded in his faith, and at the start struggled with his calling.

When at Princeton Theological Seminary, he struggled over the relationship between faith and history. He found the answers presented both by conservative evangelicals and ‘higher critics’ inconclusive; both sides were ‘anti-intellectual’ and did not get to the heart of the issue. It took him over eight years of study and teaching to finally resolve the matter.

Lucas focuses the majority of this biography on Machen’s career as a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary. While his beginnings there produced great fruit and joy, his final days were fraught with strife from the tensions between orthodoxy and liberalism.

Lucas shows with great clarity how staunchly Machen defended the faith and how it affected his relationship with other church leaders. Due to his stand against liberalism, the more influential liberal pastors of his own denomination removed him from his position at Princeton Seminary and from his office as a pastor and elder in the denomination.

Dedicated to orthodoxy, Machen, along with like-minded pastors and theologians, started a new seminary — Westminster Theological, in Philadelphia — and a new Presbyterian denomination (later, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church).

Both seminary and denomination had a rocky start, with a small following and schisms amongst its pastors. However, their stand for Reformed and Presbyterian doctrine and confessionalism remains to this day.

Machen died in Bismarck, Nebraska, of pneumonia. He was only 55 years old and still in his academic prime. I found this account readable and very insightful, not only in terms of Machen’s life, but also of twentieth-century American Presbyterian history.

Ben Wilkerson

Columbia, South Carolina

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