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‘Christianity and Liberalism’ by Machen

I have in my library an old paperback copy of J. Gresham Machen’s “Christianity and Liberalism.”  Although he is working through ageless Christian beliefs this book is definitely set in a specific era.  Machen wrote this little book (first issued in 1925) to inject a heavy dose of theological common sense into the doctrinal battle of the time.  Even so “Christianity and Liberalism” is like a slow burning candle that continues to give light.

‘It was named one of the top 100 books of the millennium by World magazine and one of the top 100 books of the twentieth century by Christianity Today.’

The reason for its staying power is the way Machen approached his topic.  He was not a bridge burner nor did he try to throw darts in every direction (like many Fundamentalists of late).  He is thoughtful – not painting with a broad brush.  He was a Presbyterian, but as you read through you can tell he was not a partisan Presbyterian.  His logic is precise, but he is gentle.

Christianity and Liberalism by Machen (printed 1940) from Wheatley-Olivero Library

Look how Machen begins his book.  Here is the first sentence:

“The purpose of this book is not to decide the religious issue of the present day, but merely to present the issue as sharply and clearly as possible, in order that the reader may be aided in deciding it for himself.”

Notice how Machen respects his readers.  He doesn’t try to shoe horn you into his thesis.  He invites.  He invites the reader to think alongside of him – to sit and ponder for a while what he is setting forth.  This approach – an approach that invites you toward his thoughts so as “the reader” you “may be aided in deciding” yourself – is one that is not only precise, but pleasant.

margins notes in pencil on page 174 of Christianity and Liberalism

I am not sure whether the notes and underlining in this copy were done by my grandfather, Rev. H. A. Wheatley, or a previous owner.  What is worth noting is that whoever the reader is he doing just what Machen hoped in his very first sentence.  See how the reader is joining into the conversation that is the book.  The penciled scrawl says:  “Sometimes contenders were also destroyers – “ That’s good insight.  It appears that this penciled remark is playing off Machen’s statement on that page:

“But He [God] has always saved it [the Church] not by theological pacifists, but by sturdy contenders for the truth” (p. 174).

There is a lot of good wisdom in this little book.  One more thing I want to share with you is Machen’s wisdom for how to deal with opposition – not opposition from the enemy, but the kind of opposition you get from within your own fortress.  Here Machen’s gentleness comes out again.

'Christianity and Liberalism' - advice for seeing essentials on varying levels of importance

In his chapter entitled ‘Doctrine’ Machen clearly lays out the boundaries of biblical doctrine.  He says,

“Nothing in the world can take the place of truth” (p.48).

Look at the next sentence.  This is the example I want to show of Machen’s ability to see that everything is not on the same level of importance though it may indeed be true.  He teaches me that not everything is fundamental.  If that were the case, then nothing would be.  Machen’s wisdom is not executed with a broad swing of his saber. He shows his wisdom by unembarassingly stating that not”all points of doctrine are equally important.”

“We do not mean in insisting upon the doctrinal basis of Christianity that all points of doctrine are equally important.”

There are core truths and then there are supporting truths.  Knowing this wise thought is the thought that precedes gentle interaction with persons who are different than we are.  I have still a lot to learn.


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‘Come and Welcome’ by John Bunyan

front page of my copy of 'Come and Welcome' by John Bunyan

This past Sunday, November 28th, was John Bunyan’s birthday.  I was too busy to post this on Sunday, but here it is.  I am fortunate to have a copy of John Bunayn’s ‘Come and Welcome’ printed in 1815.  The leather is in fairly good condition although it is a bit dry.  The pages are all in tacked – some at the cover ends are breaking apart as you might expect.  Overall it has weathered the past two centuries quite well.

John Bunyan was a particular Baptist in England.  As a staunch 5 point Calvinist he was nonetheless eager to spread the Gospel of Christ as far and wide as he could.  He is in a group of old Reformed Puritans referred to as “free-offer Calvinists.”  I remember reading several times as a boy his book, Pilgrim’s Progress.  That book and my Bible were both very key in helping form my trust in God and in seeing that the Gospel of Christ is for all the Christian’s life not just the beginning of it.  I thank the Lord for John Bunyan.

title page of 'Come and Welcome' by John Bunyan

Notice also the size of ‘Come and Welcome.’  Books at the time were going through a process of change much like publishing is now with books going digital.  The publishers of books were by the 18th century confronted with the need to make books more accessible to the common man.  This edition of ‘Come and Welcome’ falls on the side of accessible.  It is small, thus easy to carry, less costly to print, bind and ship.  If it costs less, then more people will buy it and then more people will benefit from it.

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preaching without anxiety – can it be done?

Stuart Mitchell was a Presbyterian minister in various places across the Northeast.  While pastoring a congregation in Bloomsburg PA he wrote a small, but delightful book about Jonah.  I have an first edition copy which is still in splendid condition – leather still supple and pages crisp.  There something special when a pastor writes a book that is an outpouring of his personal ministry to his people.  Such is Jonah: The Self-Willed Prophet.  I imagine he preaching sermons through Jonah to the people in his care and finding he could offer them continued shepherding he wrote a book on the same material.  He dedicated the book to his congregation.

In our Sunday Bible study we are considering how sermons are made and what is the purpose of sermons.  He are some well crafted words from Pastor Mitchell on this very topic.  May they encourage you too.

“…the Christian minister, though not so particularly guided in his words as the Prophets and Apostles, is happily not left to his own discretion to choose what system of doctrine he shall teach.  He is to preach not whatever he or his fellow-men may think beneficial, but the Word – the revelation given him by God.  He is not to add to it nor take from it; and the Scripture itself shows what truths are to be made most prominent and frequent in his teaching.  When he does this, he preaches the preaching that God bids him and may leave the results with God, free from personal anxiety.

“If he alters it, whether to explain away what may seem difficult to the unbelieving intellect or to soften down what may seem severe to the ungodly heart, he takes upon himself a double responsibility – responsibility for the salvation of the souls entrusted to him and responsibility for his own disobedience.”

(Stuart Mitchell, Jonah: The Self-Willed Prophet, 1875, p.161)


Favorite Books for strengthening your Christian walk

We had another good question in our Sunday School class a couple weeks ago: “What books have helped you in your spiritual walk?”  Kristina and I had fun updating our lists of favorite reads.  We do read secular books, but we always value most The Word of God and Christian books that point to God. 

Here are our lists of books that have helped us in our Christian walk.  (you’ll notice that the Shack isn’t here.  there’s a good reason for that.  in a future post you’ll hear the quesion: what went wrong in the Shack?)  Our lists change over the years as we find new gems.  We have decided in this post to limit the list to easy-reads (there are some weighty books that every Christian should read – more on that later).   Our lists show basic books that have advanced our understanding of who God is, the power of Truth, the wonder of the Gospel and the necessary choices we must make if we are to live in devotion to Christ. 

Needless to say The Bible is for us is not a book that is first among other great books.  It is in a category all its own.  It is Divine Revelation and thus supersedes all other books in the world.  Over the centuries the Church has been blessed by many thinking and spiritual men.  As a result, outside the orb of Divine Revelation, there are many books that can help us learn and enjoy the truths found in God’s Word.   Our best advice, we believe, is that we should make the most of God’s Word in our lives and then chose other books, DVDs or favorites of whatever kind which will draw us into the God’s words. 


What books have helped you in your Christian walk?


my Top 20 easy reads for Christian growth

  1. Strong’s Concordance – James Strong (most used, also online)
  2. Nave’s Topical Bible (topically arranged references, also online)
  3. Pilgrim’s Progress in Modern English – John Bunyan*
  4. Knowledge of the Holy – A. W. Tozer (free online)
  5. The Prodigal God Timothy Keller*
  6. The Holiness of God – R. C. Sproul
  7. Knowing God – J. I. Packer
  8. How to Pray – W. Graham Scroggie
  9. Disciplines of a Godly Man – R. Kent Hughes
  10. The Names of God – Andrew Jukes
  11. Through Gates of Splendor – Elizabeth Eliot*
  12. Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret – Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor
  13. Peace Child – Don Richardson*
  14. Confessions – St. Augustine (free online)
  15. If  – Amy Carmichael*
  16. Mere Christianity – C. S. Lewis
  17. The Westminster Catechism (free online)
  18. God’s Promises – Stewart Custer
  19. Secrets of the Vine – Bruce Wilkinson
  20. The Pursuit of God – A. W. Tozer (free online)


some of Kristi’s Favorites

The Golden Alphabet – C. H. Spurgeon

Treasury of David – C. H. Spurgeon

Morning by Morning – C. H. Spurgeon

Abide in Christ – Andrew Murray*

Shepherding a Child’s Heart – Ted Tripp*

A Woman of Prayer – Betty Henderson

Knowing God – J. I. Packer

The Disciplined Life – Richard Taylor

The Excellent Wife – Martha Peace

Finding Your Purpose as a Mom – Donna Otto


In a future post I’ll share a longer list of must reads for every Christian in addition to the Holy Scripture.  We hope our lists encourage you to learn more about God, the Gospel and the Word.  If you have a question about a book let us know.     

* these books have a special focus on the Gospel, the core of our Christian faith.  For a list of Christian classics see http://www.ccel.org/index/classics.html



posted by – Mark