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Paperback Defending the Faith: J. Gresham Machen and the Crisis of Conservative Protestantism in Modern America Book

ISBN: 0875525636

ISBN13: 9780875525631

Defending the Faith: J. Gresham Machen and the Crisis of Conservative Protestantism in Modern America

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Book Overview

A study of Machen's thought and career that says much about the issues that unsettled mainstream Protestantism's hold on American intellectual and cultural life.

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Amazing book about an extraordinary man

If there is one individual in American history that punctuates the struggle in the church to prevent the separation from reason to religion, fact to faith, it is J. Gresham Machen (1881 - 1937). Hart does an incredible job of putting this larger-than-life character in his proper historical significance and the book is a must read for any person who wants to more fully understand why the church is so impotent in her ability to relate in a relevant manner to the real issues of the day. Machen's struggle was primarily against the efforts within the Presbyterian church at the turn of the century to modernize and become more relevant to the cultural around them. Machen strongly believed that God's Word was timeless and the emphasis need to remain on educating and equipping the leaders of tomorrow with a strong foundation of theology and understanding of the truth and tenets of Scripture and the celebrated historical creeds of the faith. He became one of the most celebrated professors at Princeton Seminary, but was forced out of this position because of his unwillingness to compromise on the importance of solid biblical scholarship as well as his refusal to kowtow to the political structure within the church. After leaving Princeton, Machen and a few others founded Westminster Theological Seminary, which has gained a reputation for its Calvinistic theology as well as a reputation for solid scholarship, especially in the fields of biblical studies and theology. Machen's primary battle was with the church's move toward anti-intellectualism, the embrace of the emotional and sensational evangelicalism of the day that "won soles" but didn't change lives. Machen was an incredible figure that clearly demonstrated the power and influence of the church's slide away from her historical roots and moorings into the cultural drift we can so easily see in a vast percentage of our churches today - especially in Machen's beloved Presbyterian Church! The historical significance of Machen is only matched by his amazing and colorful personality. He passed away at a relatively young age really at the peak of his significance to the movement attempting to reestablish the importance of intellectual pursuits in the Christian walk; but his legacy is felt today through the lives and works of those who picked up the torch and continued the battle including the works of Francis Schaeffer, Cornelius Van Till, B.B. Warfield, and even Nancy Pearcey.

A Superb Job

We have long needed a superior biography of Protestantism's leading conservative theologian of the first half of the 20th century. Hart has written an excellent work, in the process showing that he is as much at home in general American intellectual history as in the more narrow field of church history. The observations are perceptive, the prose clear. After mastering Hart's work no will be able to talk about "fundamentalism" in the same way again. Justus D. Doenecke, Emeritus Professor of History, New College of Florida


D.G. Hart has proven himself to be one of the finest contemporary historians who focuses on American evangelicalism. For fans of Machen or contemporary North American Presbyterians - this book is absolutely a must read. What distinguishes this work from other biographies of Machen is Hart's tremendous ability to bring out the historical situation and cultural currents that swirled around the pivotal events in Machen's life. Hart provides us with a richly textured vision of the tensions within North American protestantism during the first half of the twentieth century. The book is ably written in clear prose. Even though the issues and arguments surrounding Machen's work are often quite complicated, this book is as much of a "page turner" as any work of such meticulous scholarship can be. Hart's theological astuteness is also indirectly evident throughout the book. This allows him to portray individuals on all sides of the various issues as full and interesting individuals rather than as cardboard characters. We can easily understand why many would find Machen's opponents to be attractive figures, even though one suspects that Hart would often have sided with Machen. Highly recommended.

Very Informative Look at Crucial 20th Century Figure

This is a very good book by Hart. Both admirers and detractors of J. Gresham Machen will likely have their views of him challenged by this biography in healthy ways. Hart's most provocative premise in this book is his argument that Machen actually had quite a bit in common with skeptics like H.L. Mencken at least so far as their mutual criticisms of modernist theology and the mainline churches that became infected with it. Machen was the famous 'fundamentalist' who did battle against the encroachment of modernistic philosophy and theology in the mainline Presbyterian denomination, as well as at Princeton Seminary - battles that Machen ultimately lost. But Hart goes to great lengths to demonstrate that Machen was no typical fundamentalist, but was in fact one of the few evangelicals who commanded a high degree of respect within secular academic circles for his astute and intellectually rigorous critiques of liberal theology as well as his strong defenses of orthodox Christianity. Hart further highlights Machen's clear differences with the fundamentalists of his time on a number of issues. These differences were defined mainly by Machen's loyalty to presbyterianism and the Westminster Confession, both of which were not endorsed within fundamentalist circles of the time.Hart's examination of Machen's social conscience as well as his attitudes toward matters of the state are very illuminating and are likely to cause many readers who thought they knew Machen well to do some double-takes. Machen strongly resisted both fundamentalist and liberal tendencies to inject the church into politics and matters of state policy, though the fundamentalists and liberals clearly disagree (and continue to disagree even now) about the role of church in political and social activism. Machen rejected both. Hart draws from many personal correspondences that Machen wrote to his mother and others to paint a picture of a very complex man who held views that were very distinctive.I was very surprised and impressed that Hart, a teacher at the seminary Machen founded, and an elder in the denomination that Machen started, gives us a very balanced and sober look at Machen. This is not a book that fawns over Machen as might be expected by an author of Hart's theological and ecclesiastical pedigree. Instead we have here a thoughtful examination of a critical Protestant figure of the 20th century that puts forth an extensively documented look at Machen and the times in which he lived. A very good book.


This is a terrific summation of Machen's life and thought. It also nicely positions Machen within his cultural and historical moment. Hart writes well, too. I highly recommend this book to others. But also be sure to read Machen himself. His book Christianity and Liberalism is excellent for general readers; The Origin of Paul's Religion is excellent for scholars and Christian history buffs.
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