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Toward a Sure FaithJ. Gresham Machen and The Dilemma of Biblical Criticism

Toward a Sure Faith

J. Gresham Machen and The Dilemma of Biblical Criticism

Terry Chrisope
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J. Gresham Machen is one of the pivotal figures of modern theological thought. He was involved in many major theological battles, holding the line until he had to leave his seminary and denomination, but at no time being a close-minded obscurantist.

As David Calhoun says in his foreword 'with his rigorous methodology and his complete honesty, Machen in no way contributed to "the scandal of the evangelical mind". Machen was a thinker and a first rate theologian - but he carried his conclusions further than most would dare.

Previous biographies of Machen have tended to emphasise the disputes he was involved in and ignore his early intellectual development that led him to take the positions he did. Previous biographical attempts have tended to stereotype him as a fundamentalist (an identification which he himself generally rejected) and therefore fail to seriously consider Machen in his own terms and in the context of the broader intellectual currents of his day.

Terry Chrisope

About Terry Chrisope

Professor of History and Bible at Missouri Baptist College, St Louis, Missouri.


  • Author: Terry Chrisope
  • Release Date: January 1970
  • Pages: 240
  • Format: Large trade paperback
  • Dimensions: 216 x 138
  • ISBN: 9781857924398
  • Imprint: Mentor
  • Category: Bible Study > Theology > General


Chrisope's Toward A Sure Faith will prove to be a welcomed and needed addition to the libraries of Christians in general and 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 the 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 truths based on 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 recognising the truthfulness of Christianity) or of exercising faith by its on 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 ell 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 orthodox Christianity, Chrisope notes that
he manifested a distinct unwillingness to consider other 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 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.

The Founder's Journal

"In the last decade J. Gresham Machen has attracted the attention, and gained the appreciation, of even some Roman Catholic and main-line Protestant writers. Terry Chrisope's excellent study of Machen as a New Testament scholar adds another dimension to the understanding of this conservative theologian of the early 20th century who yet speaks into the post-modern culture of the 21st century. Machen upheld principles that still serve well the Christian faith more than two generations after his death in 1937."

William Barker, Professor of Church History, Emeritus, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
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