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Christianity and Liberalism: Chapter 6

Well! I intended to put up a new post last night, and then work on this post, too, but the power went out and stayed out for a couple of hours. By the time it came back on I was ready to put on my jammies and wind down for the night. Then I’d just got things in order this afternoon and settled down on the back deck to blog when the power went out again. Here’s hoping I can get this post on Chapter 6 of Christianity and Liberalism up now, because it’s been hanging over my head for too long. (You remember that I am reading it because I am participating in this round Tim Challies’ Reading Classics Together, right?)

In this chapter, Machen spells out the contrast between the Christian view of salvation and that of modern liberalism. As with all the other doctrines covered so far in this book, the view of modern liberalism and true Christianity on the doctrine of salvation are completely different. I’ve listed some of the contrasting beliefs on the various teachings related to salvation below—not, mind you, in the exact order you’d find them in the book, but in an order that makes sense to me.

  • The purpose of Christ’s death: Christianity teaches that the death of Christ was designed to have an effect upon God, but modern liberalism teaches that it was designed to have an effect only on man.
  • The nature of the atonement: Christianity teaches that Christ’s death is substitutionary for sinner; modern liberalism sees it as merely an example for humankind or a demonstration for us. What’s more, the modern liberal argues that it is an absurd idea for one person to suffer in place of another, while Christianity argues that Jesus could do what he did because he “was no mere man but the eternal Son of God.” 
    It is perfectly true that the Christ of modern naturalistic reconstruction never could have suffered for the sins of others; but it is very different in the case of the Lord of Glory.
  • The exclusivity of the gospel: The Christian gospel “binds salvation to the name of Jesus”; modern liberalism prefers a message  of “right living whatever creed men may chance to have.”
  • The nature of God: Christianity claims that God needs to be reconciled to us; modern liberalism claims that is is only we who need to be reconciled to God.
  • The necessity of the atonement: Christianity teaches that God’s wrath must be appeased; modern liberalism teaches that God can just “let by-gones be by-gones.”
  • The necessity of the new birth: Christianity teaches that we can be saved only by a supernatural work of God; modern liberalism teaches that “the world’s evil may be overcome by the world’s good.”
  • The nature of faith: The faith of Christianity is dogmatic; the faith of modern liberalism is undogmatic.
  • The object of faith: In Christianity, the object of faith is Christ and his work; in modern liberalism the object of faith is our obedience to God’s law.
  • The nature of our hope: The ultimate Christian hope is in the life to come; the hope of modern liberalism is making things better in this world now.
  • The purpose of evangelism: The purpose of Christian evangelism is leading individuals to faith in Christ—the “saving of souls”; in modern liberalism it’s “spreading the blessings of Christian civilization (whatever that may be)….”

What a long, dense chapter this is! But it’s also glorious, especially in Machen’s description of the salvation that comes through Christ. Can you see from the list above why Machen begins the chapter by writing that “Liberalism finds salvation (so far as it is willing to speak at all of ‘salvation’) in man; Christianity finds it in an act of God”?

I’ve decided to post my favourite quote from this chapter tomorrow rather tack it on the end of an already lengthy post. And it’s time for me to go make supper now, anyway.


Theological Term of the Week

recapitulation theory of the atonement
The view, first emphasised by Iranaeus, that Christ came to the earth to reverse the curse of Adam by living the perfect human life, remaining obedient through all the phases of human life, succeeding where Adam failed, and thereby restoring those united with him to the state in which Adam existed before the fall.

  • From Irenaeus, quoted from The Christian Theology Reader by Alister McGrath: 

    But when [Christ] was incarnate and became a human being, he recapitulated in himself the long history of the human race, obtaining salvation for us, so that we might regain in Jesus Christ what we had lost in Adam, that is, being in the image and likeness of God. 

  • From Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof:  
    Irenaeus, who also expresses the idea that the death of Christ satisfied the justice of God and thus liberated man, nevertheless gave prominence to the recapitulation theory, that is, to the idea, as Orr expresses it, “that Christ recapitulates in Himself all the stages of human life, including those which belong to our state as sinners.” By His incarnation and human life He reverses the course on which Adam by his sin started humanity and thus becomes a new leaven in the life of mankind. He communicates immortality to those who are united to Him by faith and effects an ethical transformation in their lives and by His obedience compensates for the disobedience of Adam.

Learn more:

  1. Got What are the various theories on the atonement?
  2. Frank Griffith: The Nature of the Atonement (pdf)
  3. Reclaiming the Mind Ministries: What is the recapitulation theory of the atonement? (video)

Related terms:

1From Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof

Filed under Defective Theology.

Do you have a term you’d like to see featured here as a Theological Term of the Week? If you email it to me, I’ll seriously consider using it, giving you credit for the suggestion and linking back to your blog when I do.

Clicking on the Theological Term graphic at the top of this post will take you to a list of all the previous theological terms in alphabetical order.


Status Report: July

Sitting…in my living room, watching Bill O’Reilly. That is, I’m fast-forwarding through it because it’s all about Casey Anthony and I’m completely sick of the story, so I refuse to watch anything more on it. I will say this: There’s something to be said for publication bans on news about high profile cases until after the case is over.It preserves a pool of unbiased possible jurors who are more representative of the general population, and by that I mean potential jurors who haven’t just crawled out from under a rock yesterday.

Ready…for a couple of quiet days without visitors or appointments or dogs with digestive problems and special diets.

Choosing…to just go with the flow and enjoy whatever the days bring. Except for the doggy digestive problems. There’s no way to enjoy those.

Looking forward…to a road trip. The first really big road trip in several years. I can’t wait. 

Anticipating…being a Grandma. 

Planning…to make a batch of strawberry-rhubarb jam with the rhubarb I just picked. 

Reading…How to Write a Sentence by Stanley Fish. My opinion? It’s a book that starts with a bang and fizzles as it moves forward. Yep, the first chapter was the best. I am going to finish it, though; I am going to finish…

Also reading40 Questions About the Law by Tom Schreiner. It’s slow going because it requires concentration while reading. In other words, it’s not bedtime reading and bedtime reading is about all the reading I’ve been able to do lately. 

Enjoyed…a few hours of work the backyard and garden this afternoon. It was sunny, but not too hot, and the dogs were content to just rest on the grass and watch me. Perfect…except for the mosquitoes.

Thinking…about music in the church. The music in my church is changing and it’s making it less enjoyable for me to participate. There are so many songs I don’t know and quite a few songs that are, frankly, not singable for a congregation. And sometimes the music is so loud that it’s actually painful for me and I’ve caught myself involuntarily cringing. I love the people in my church—I love my church—but the first half of the service is often an endurance session. How can I stop dreading the first half of the service? And how important is this, anyway?

Reflecting…on time. History. Life. Generations growing old, new ones coming after. Old roles given up and new roles taken on. And God who is sovereign over it all, carrying things along according to his plan, giving and taking away, always faithful, with mercies that never come to an end.



Round the Sphere Again: Three Points x 2

On Redemptive History
from Jonathan Edwards.  

  1. All of history is redemptive history.
  2. This great work is carried on through the application of redemption to individuals throughout history.
  3. God has been steadily saving a people through one great plan worked out in successive eras of history.

Read the whole piece by Joe Rigney at Desiring God Blog.

On OT Sacrifices
from Hebrews 10. 

  1. The OT sacrifices shadowed good things to come.
  2. The OT sacrifices never saved anyone.
  3. The OT sacrifices reminded of sin.

Read the whole piece by David Murray at Head Heart Hand.


A Catechism for Girls and Boys

Part II: Questions about The Ten Commandments

41. Q. Is God pleased with those who do not love and obey him?
       A. No. ‘God is angry with the wicked every day’ 1 Cor 16:22).

(Click through to read scriptural proof.)

Click to read more ...