Intellectual Piety or Blind Faith?

English: Rev.John Gresham Machen. Orthodox Pre...

A couple of weeks ago I penned a few thoughts regarding a biography I am reading by Steven J. Nichols on the great defender of truth, J. Gresham Machen.  I am still finishing it up (because I am an ADHD reader and always have too many interests to read just one book and finish it before starting another. Sorry, it is what it is.) So I am more than halfway through with J. Gresham Machen: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought, and every time I read or listen to anything by Machen I am so overjoyed at his fortitude and commitment to fight the good fight.  He truly is a hero to me.  His mother, also, has become an inspiration to me as I strive to learn to be a godly wife and mother as well as a defender who trains my children to walk in the truth and not be afraid to face the enemy head on armed with the mighty sword of God: The Holy Word. The following excerpt is such an inspiration as we see Machen face what many of us, no doubt, have faced when engaging those who are known to be mystics.  One of the greatest struggles I had when being awakened to the deception  that Henry Blackaby, Beth Moore,  and others had taught me, was the fear that I would swing too far to the other end.  No doubt, it is an accusation thrown toward me many times; particularly, because I now take the cessationist view of Scriptures.  However, it is really impossible to have a true piety in the true God without having a true knowledge of His Word.  The following excerpt gives a glimpse into the struggle that Machen had to face with this regard.

“‎Much has been made of this time at Germany as a time of severe crisis for Machen. The ambiguities of his future continued to dominate his letters home, only now they contained the added dimension of spiritual unrest. Darryl hart, however, has pointed out that this was not the first time Machen had struggled with issues of his faith. In fact, Machen himself wrote, “It was not Germany…that first brought doubts into my soul.” Nevertheless, Germany, and largely the lectures by Wilhelm Herrmann at Marburg, proved a challenge to Machen. Well trained by his Princeton professors to engage liberalism in the arena of biblical criticism, Machen was not ready for Herrmann’s vital piety. “I can’t criticize him,” Machen exclaimed in a letter to his father, adding, “I have been thrown all into confusion by what he says–so much deeper is his devotion to Christ than anything I have known in myself during the past few years.” Yet Herrmann’s piety was not rooted in orthodox Christianity. Interestingly, Herrmann had a similar impact on his two other famous students, Rudolf Bultmann and Karl Barth, although in their cases (especially Bultmann’s), they did not see a robust defense of orthodox Christianity as the antidote.” What Machen was searching for was neither an intellectualism devoid of faith nor a faith devoid of intellectual merit. Nor was he after either a rigorous scholarship without piety or a vital piety without roots in scholarship. He longed for piety and intellect fused into one, an intellectually informed and compelling faith. And this is what the year crisis in Germany led him to grasp. Although, his mother helped him to see this as well. In the course of corresponding during this time, his mother mentioned that she was not in favor of Machen’s thinking of staying in Germany to pursue a Ph.D. Machen mistook this remark as her attempt to shield him from further exposure to the liberals or prospect. On September 14, 1906, having just returned from Germany, he told his father that he was “distressed”, thinking that his mother did not have “faith enough in the truth of her religion to be willing to open the way to free investigation.” It also brought forth a twenty-five-page letter to his mother. She began her reply, dated September 17, 1906, “I understand you far better tan ever before. But I am almost hopeless of making you understand me.” She continues the mild rebuke: My son, my whole life has been a protest against the very position which you suppose me to take. When I was sixteen, I rebelled against the trampling of the intellect. I could not have a blind faith. This required some boldness and independence, for I was little more than a child, and I lived in an environment that discouraged freedom of thought. All my life long I have held that free investigation is the only way to climb to the mountain-top of intelligent faith…I do not and never have looked at free probing for truth as anything to be afraid of. I am [an] apostle of the opposite position. Certainly if a man is to be a scholar and a teacher he cannot investigate too much. Machen needed to hear these words. He had forgotten the vital piety he had seen in his home and, for that matter, at Princeton. But he also needed to hear that vital piety was founded on intellectual merit. The faith that Machen would be defending in the years to come would be no blind faith.” -Steven J. Nichols

Today, as I listened to an audio of one of Machen’s sermons, I honestly was not expecting to hear a defense of faith, but rather a teaching on the Triune God, but once again, how pleasantly surprised and impressed I was with Machen’s boldness both for truth and for countering error with regard to intellectual piety. The following being a great example:

“Now we ask more in detail what the Bible tells us about God. When we ask that, I know we shall be met with an objection. We are seeking to know God. Well, there are many people who tell us that we ought not to seek to know God. Instead of seeking to know God, they tell us, we ought simply to feel Him; putting all theology aside, they say, we ought just to sink ourselves in the boundless ocean of God’s being.

Such is the attitude of the mystics ancient and modern. But it is not the attitude of the Christian. The Christian, unlike the mystic, knows Him whom He has believed. What shall be said of a religion that depreciates theology, that depreciates the knowledge of God?” Machen

It is somewhat comforting to know that what we face today; what we battle today in the evangelical visible church is nothing more than the ongoing battle that was started in the Garden of Eden by the serpent when he whispered, “Hath God really said?” A study of the Scriptures and church history will reveal that this continued battle rages on with the assured victory in the end for Christ’s church. So lose not heart little ones. Many great heroes have gone before us and if the Lord tarries many more are sure to be raised up, but it is to this age now that we have been appointed to, “guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding worldly and empty chatter and the opposing arguments of what is falsely called “knowledge”— some have professed and thus gone astray from the faith.” (1 Timothy 6:20b-21)

So when it feels like it is hopeless and no one is even hearing the truth or your voice, rest assured that there is One who sees and knows and has, in fact, called you out of this present darkness and into His marvelous light. Let us go on as those who have gone before us girding our loins, firmly placing our helmet of salvation over our heads, carrying the good news of the peace of the gospel to sinners with the breastplate of our Lord’s righteousness over our hearts and let us wield that great sword against the enemy of truth. And especially take comfort in this:

The Bible is not afraid of speaking of God in a startlingly tender and human sort of way. It does so just in passages where the majesty of God is set forth. “It is He that sitteth upon the circle of the earth,” says the fortieth chapter of Isaiah, “and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers.” “All nations before Him are as nothing; and they are counted to Him less than nothing, and vanity.” But what says that same fortieth chapter of Isaiah about this same terrible God? Here is what it says: “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: He shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those who are with young.”

How wonderfully the Bible sets forth the tenderness of God! Is that merely figurative? Are we wrong in thinking of God in such childlike fashion? Many philosophers say so. They will not think of God as a person. Oh, no. That would be dragging Him down too much to our level! So they make of Him a pale abstraction. The Bible seems childish to them in the warm, personal way in which it speaks of God.

Are those philosophers right or is the Bible right? Thank God, the Bible is right. The philosophers despise children who think of God as their heavenly Father. But the philosophers are wrong and the children are right. Did not our Lord Jesus say: “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.” -J. Gresham Machen, The Triune God


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