This conversation about doctrine and Liberalism that Machen has in chapter 2 is much deeper than I expected. Machen lays out the importance of doctrine in Christianity before revealing the faults of liberalism ignoring this doctrine.
On page 15 Machen says this of liberalism, “Few desires on the part of religious teachers have been more harmfully exaggerated than the desire to “avoid giving offense.” Only too often that desire has come perilously near dishonesty; the religious teacher, in his heart of hearts, is well aware of the radicalism of his views, but is unwilling to relinquish his place in the hallowed atmosphere of the Church by speaking his whole mind.”
Machen doesn’t back down from pitting the philosophy of liberalism against the upholding of the core Christian doctrine. I enjoy reading this book because it reveals the dangers of ignoring Christian doctrine, especially those doctrines of our faith which are essential to the growing of the Kingdom.
Our faith depends on what the Lord has given us in his word. Without what is in his word, we cannot know the gospel that we believe today. Oral tradition is not the way that God has chosen to pass down the beauty of his gospel, and we have the Bible.
“But if any one fact is clear, on the basis of this evidence, it is that the Christian movement at its inception was not just a way of life in the modern sense, but a way of life founded upon a message. It was based, not upon mere feeling, not upon a mere program of work, but upon an account of facts. In other words it was based upon doctrine.”
Misunderstanding about the Christian faith comes when we ignore scripture and seek our own understanding. God has always spoken with his people so that we may know what to do and how to worship him.
Liberalism, Machen says, is trying to rediscover the religion that Jesus taught but his disciples sorely misinterpreted. This religion is less doctrinal than what Paul writes about in the New Testament. It is less offensive, less redeeming, less incredible.
It is a man’s religion, not God’s ordained way of worship. The true Jesus is not taught in liberalism. Liberalism stresses only life change, but Christianity emphasizes that our lives are led by what we believe. Christians, true Christians, change because our belief in God changes. Liberalism says we are already right with God and that finding Jesus just makes our lives better. No, instead, Christianity says that we are at enmity with God and that Jesus restores our relationship with him!
Towards the end of the chapter, Machen makes two important points about doctrine. The first, he says, is that Christianity does not mean “sound doctrine = no life change.” Rather, Christianity says that sound doctrine is what leads our lives to live for Christ.
The second point Machen writes is that not all points of doctrine are equally important. He shares different issues, such as millennial perspectives, sacrament positions, or Calvinism v Arminianism, do not divide the true gospel. Understanding these second-tier issues does not divide Christians from being in the Church.
Machen closes the second chapter by writing, “Christianity is based, then, upon an account of something that happened, and the Christian worker is primarily a witness…If we are to be truly Christians, then, it does make a vast difference what our teachings are, and it is by no means aside from the point to set forth the teachings of Christianity in contrast with the teachings of the chief modern rival of Christianity…[Liberalism]”