Mencken and Machen

This morning I came across an obituary of J. Gresham Machen written by H. L. Mencken (For the full obituary click here). While Machen was a devout Christian, theologian, and churchman, and Mencken was an avowed skeptic, Mencken nevertheless valued Machen’s intellectual abilities and his complete devotion to the Scriptures (He didn’t agree with him, but he respected his integrity). I would like to quote a paragraph out of the obituary which caught my attention.

Mencken described Machen’s decision to found Westminster Seminary with the following paragraph:

What caused him to quit the Princeton Theological Seminary and found a seminary of his own was his complete inability, as a theologian, to square the disingenuous evasions of Modernism with the fundamentals of Christian doctrine. He saw clearly that the only effects that could follow diluting and polluting Christianity in the Modernist manner would be its complete abandonment and ruin. Either it was true or it was not true. If, as he believed, it was true, then there could be no compromise with persons who sought to whittle away its essential postulates, however respectable their motives.

Mencken (although a non-Christian) was able to understand that theological liberalism and orthodox Christianity were like oil and water, they could never mix. Once a belief in an inerrant and infallible Bible is jettisoned, Christianity falls like a house of cards. It is imperative to understand that the Bible does not contain the Word of God; it is the Word of God. It is not a Luby’s Cafeteria where one can pick and choose what he likes and pass over what he dislikes; it is all God’s Word to us and is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” (2 Tim. 3:16)

Mencken went on to describe the emasculation of Christianity that takes place when one discards its essential truths:

It is my belief, as a friendly neutral in all such high and ghostly matters, that the body of doctrine known as Modernism is completely incompatible, not only with anything rationally describable as Christianity, but also with anything deserving to pass as religion in general. Religion, if it is to retain any genuine significance, can never be reduced to a series of sweet attitudes, possible to anyone not actually in jail for felony. It is, on the contrary, a corpus of powerful and profound convictions, many of them not open to logical analysis. Its inherent improbabilities are not sources of weakness to it, but of strength. It is potent in a man in proportion as he is willing to reject all overt evidences, and accept its fundamental postulates, however unprovable they may be by secular means, as massive and incontrovertible facts.

While I disagree with Mencken’s contention that Christianity is illogical, I do agree with his belief that many have attempted to turn Christianity into a pallid, tasteless, and nebulous wasteland which has as its only tenet, “why can’t we all just get along.” I thank God for men like Machen, who understood the importance of devotion to the truth of God’s Word, and stood like steel against the waves of Modernism (and Postmodernism), even if that meant standing alone.


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