J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937) is still an esteemed name among some conservative Reformed Christians in America. It was Machen who wrote the classic book, Christianity and Liberalism, in which he argued that consistent liberalism in theology was not Christian. He also authored a number of other well-regarded books such as: The Virgin Birth and The Origin of Paul’s Religion. A graduate of Johns Hopkins University and Princeton Theological Seminary, Machen was deeply influenced by pious parents of Southern demeanor and sympathy. He was also profoundly marked by the famous B. B. Warfield, and the older Calvinism, favored by Charles and A. A. Hodge.

During the 1920s Machen was at the very center of the theological debates that rocked the Presbyterian Church in America. He was a champion for orthodox Christianity and saw some real dangers ahead for the Presbyterians. He eventually left Princeton, after  serious shuffles changed the school internally, and helped found Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia in 1929, where he was both the president and a New Testament professor. When the Presbyterian Church disciplined Machen in 1935 he then helped found what became known, just a few years later, as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC). He was the first moderator of this new church. He was gravely disappointed that so few of his conservative friends left the old denomination to go with him. He died only two years later.

Machen has always represented some of the best of serious scholarship among very conservative Reformed people who left the mainline. (There is no debate about the fact that liberalism had begun to impact the church, the question was really about how to deal with it.) After Machen’s departure from Princeton things there clearly followed a more liberal course, as an abandoning of the older, stricter Calvinism of the 19th century quickly followed. Entire books and dissertations have been produced about all of these events, events which are far better known to professional historians than I care to go into in this blog.

Several years ago Professor John Frame, who taught at Westminster Seminary, both in Philadelphia and California, wrote a magnificent article titled: "Machen’s Warrior Children." John now teaches at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando and remains a friend that I admire and love personally. We do not agree on several things but we retain a true friendship, albeit from a distance since we try to see one another once a year. John would generally defend Machen, and what he stood for, in ways that I would not. Actually, it is safe to say that John loves Machen. But John’s own written work angers some of Machen’s present-day children. That’s the rub. If you wonder why then read his most excellent article that I have linked above. It is cogent and clear to anyone who cares to see what Frame means by Machen’s present-day "warrior children."

What amazes me is that some of these "warrior children" now Machen_bear_2 openly advocate this appellation as a designation for themselves. They seem to enjoy being known as "warriors" and thus wear this special label as a badge of honor.Machen_shirt
Even more amazing to me is that a small industry has grown up around Frame’s original title re:  Machen. These folks are serious about their reliance upon Machen’s "warrior" spirit. Indeed, some theologians promote this stuff openly. Now we have a whole line of products,
clearly offered in good-natured fun but nonetheless demonstrating that some people think this is more than just a bunch of fun. Maybe these folks are so terribly serious about this that they want to make a statement by wearing these shirts and using these mugs. What they seem openly proud of in all of this is being called: "Machen’s Warrior Children."

Dog lover that I am I was tempted, for a brief moment, to order one of their products—a Machen shirt for Neo. But she already gets called "Neo-Orthodoxy" Machen_dog_2enough I reasoned. I think she would never wear this shirt with a great deal of pride given her training, but what can you expect from the training I gave to her in her infancy. One never knows, however, since German dogs can be particularly funny about their likes and dislikes, just like German theologians. Maybe such a shirt would be seen as a loyalty pledge on my part. On second thought, I rather doubt it. Since I am not a "warrior child of Machen" I suppose I have no right to even order a shirt for my little Neo. I suspect that she will thank me someday, being the catholic twenty-first century dachshund that she is. 

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  1. Keith Duff January 16, 2008 at 9:25 am

    I am currently in the midst of reading Machen’s “Christianity and Liberalism” so I was interested to see you referring to it your blog today. What has surprised me is that if I didn’t know this book as almost 100 years old I would assume it was written today as it seems so relevant to issues of today.

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