Friday, February 18, 2011

Machen on the radio

In 1935 J. Gresham Machen gave a series of talks on Philadelphia radio station WIP. They were published under the title The Christian Faith in the Modern World. Best I can tell it's out of print, but I scored a copy at a used book sale at our church. This is vintage Machen -- clear, concise and unflinching in defense of truth.

The world was a scary place in 1935. Machen remarks in the first talk called "The Present Emergency" that humanity is standing over an abyss. The "war to end all wars" was still fresh in the public mind, America was in the grip of the Great Depression, and another world war loomed on the horizon. Yet with all that Machen had the audacity to go on the radio and affirm that the most pressing emergency facing mankind had to do with God and the unseen world. More specifically, the most urgent question facing humanity is how can one be right with God. The world is still a scary place, and that question still presses in on sinners who wake up to their perilous position under the wrath of a holy and just God.

Machen began by sketching a rudimentary doctrine of the knowability of God and then proceeded to explain and defend basic Christian doctrines in confessional Protestant terms. As a leading New Testament scholar it's not surprising that Machen spent a good chunk of these talks on the doctrine of Scripture. How can we say that the Bible is God's word? How can we believe every word in the Bible is inspired? What does that mean exactly?

After answering those questions and explaining what it means to say we believe in the full "plenary" verbal inspiration of the Bible -- and just as importantly what it doesn't mean (e.g. the human authors weren't mere stenographers for the Holy Spirit, nor were their natural abilities and literary styles obliterated by the receipt of divine revelation) -- Machen ends by affirming that for the Bible to be good news it must be more than a record of inspiring religion. It must be more than a manual for living. For the Bible to be good news for sinful men and women it must be a record of facts.

The Bible does tell me the facts. It tells me Jesus died on the cross to save me; it tells me He rose from the dead to complete His saving work and be my living Lord. What do I say when it tells me that? Do I say: "That is history and not religion: I am not interested in it; it may be true or it may not be true for all I care; the Bible is a book of religion and not a book of science or a book of history"? No, my friends, I do not say that. I say rather: "Praise be to God for that blessed story of the resurrection and the cross; upon the truth of it all my hope depends for time and for eternity; how I rejoice that God Himself has told me in His holy Book that it is true!"

Here is a rule for you, my friends: no facts, no good news; no good news, no hope. The Bible is quite useless unless it is a record of facts.

Quote from "Do We Believe in Verbal Inspiration?"

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