Machen Had His Chance and Blew It

Or so the neo-Calvinists and theonomists would have us believe. You see, in 1926 Machen testified before Congress as the representatives were deliberating on the formation of the Federal Department of Education. Machen’s testimony is here. What should be noted is that Machen appeared before Congress as a representative of the Sentinels of the Republic, a libertarian organization formed by Massachusetts small government types (this was no Christian Democratic Party). Even though identified as a minister in the Presbyterian Church and a professor of New Testament at Princeton, Machen avoided any attempt to make Christianity the norm for public education, especially when it came to teaching morality in schools. Here is an intriguing exchange:

SENATOR FERRIS: For my own information I wish to ask what you regard as the basic element or elements in moral conduct. Perhaps that is a foolish question.

DR. MACHEN: The basic elements in moral conduct?

SENATOR FERRIS: Yes, sir. What is the basis. I judge from your remarks that experience received minor consideration.

DR. MACHEN: Yes, sir — Well, I am an adherent of a certain religious group. We have our definite notion as to the basis of morality, and it is in my belief altogether a religious one. I intend to proclaim that basis of morality is the will of God as revealed by God, and I am interested in the right of all others to maintain that as the only basis of morality. I belong to what is often called a very strict sect, the Presbyterian Church, but it is a sect which has always been devoted to the principles of liberty; and I am unlike a great many of my fellow citizens — tolerance to me means not only tolerance for that with whichI am agreed, but it means also tolerance for that to which I am most violently opposed.

I was thoroughly opposed, for example, to the Lusk laws in the State of New York which were intended to bring about the closing of the Rand School in the city of New York. I cannot imagine anything more harmful than the Rand School; there is nothing to which I am more opposed, which I think more subversive of morality; and yet I was absolutely opposed to any such law as that. I believe in liberty, and, therefore, when I believe I have a right to proclaim the basis of morality which I think is only in the will of God, I also claim the right for other persons to proclaim whatever else they may hold with regard to it. But to proclaim in our public schools that morality is only the result of human experimentation — “this is the conduct which Uncle Sam has found in the course of American history to be right” — that, I think, is subversive of morality; and I do not believe that anyone can encourage moral conduct in others unless he has first in his own mind the notion of an absolute distinction and not a merely relative distinction between right and wrong.

I do not know whether that at all answers your question.

SENATOR FERRIS: I am just wondering whether there is any such thing as moral conduct in the United States Congress or among the citizens of the United States apart from a distinctively religious basis. I am just wondering whether the public schools have any function in the way of teaching morality which is not distinctively religious in its basic idea.

DR. MACHEN: I think that the solution lies not in a theoretic teaching in the public schools as to the basis of morality, because I do not think you can keep that free from religious questions; but I do hold that a teacher who himself or herself is imbued with the absolute distinction between right and wrong can maintain the moral standing, the moral temper of a public school.

SENATOR FERRIS: Is the ethical culturist ruled out from the consideration of morality in his views and conduct?

DR. MACHEN: I am not ruling out anybody at all, sir — the ethical culturist or anyone else.

SENATOR FERRIS: No; but if religion is the basic element in all morality, then can we have a morality that is not founded on a religious idea?

DR. MACHEN: I myself do not believe that you can have such a morality permanently, and that is exactly what I am interested in trying to get other people to believe; but I am not at all interested in trying to proclaim that view of mine by any measures that involve compulsion, and I am not interested in making the public school an agency for the proclamation of such a view; but I am interested in diminishing rather than increasing the function of the public school, in order to leave room for the opportunity of a propagation of the view that I hold in free conflict with all other views which may be held, in order that in that way the truth finally may prevail.

If Machen had wanted to take every thought captive, if he believed that the United States was founded on biblical teaching, why did he whiff on a softball that is right in a neo-Calvinist’s wheelhouse. Why nothing on no neutrality? Why nothing on the antithesis between the followers of Christ and the followers of Satan? Maybe he was a coward. Or maybe he distinguished between his duties as a churchman and those of a citizen in a republic that gave no preference to any religion.

I wonder if the transformationalists get goosebumps reading this Machen.

57 thoughts on “Machen Had His Chance and Blew It

  1. DG, those words could have just as easily been spoken by Greg Bahnsen! In fact Machen was Bahnsen’s favorite theologian.Once again you prove, that you don’t understand theonomy, Bahnsen or Machen. Why not break down read and TICE, then repent with sack cloth and ashes?

    This post exposes your soft underbelly.

    Now, when Machen was asked how the US should punish evil doers (that means criminals), Machen said we should look no further than???? You guessed it….the law of God! He meant those pesky penal sanctions you find so utterly abhorrent, that we read about in the first five books of Moses.

    Pssssssst, that is theonomy 101

    Go back to the drawing board Darryl,you just flunked! I would give you an F-

    P.S. Is there such a thing as F-?

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  2. Doug,

    Here was the perfect place for Machen to mention the law of God with all of your full throated theonomy. He passed:

    SENATOR FERRIS: No; but if religion is the basic element in all morality, then can we have a morality that is not founded on a religious idea?

    DR. MACHEN: I myself do not believe that you can have such a morality permanently, and that is exactly what I am interested in trying to get other people to believe; but I am not at all interested in trying to proclaim that view of mine by any measures that involve compulsion, and I am not interested in making the public school an agency for the proclamation of such a view; but I am interested in diminishing rather than increasing the function of the public school, in order to leave room for the opportunity of a propagation of the view that I hold in free conflict with all other views which may be held, in order that in that way the truth finally may prevail.

    Are you and I living on the same planet?

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  3. Jack, DG has confessed that he never read “Theonomy In Christian Ethics”. Therefore his opinion on the subject needs to set aside. It’s not so much that Darryl is stupid, (He seems smart enough) he’s just ignorant, not really understanding Bahnsen or Machen.

    Since Darryl misunderstands theonomy he’s off fighting ghosts of his own imagination.

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  4. DG, Those words could have just a easily been spoken by Dr. Greg Bahnsen. You’re still getting hung up on compulsion to believe. Neither God’s law, nor theonomy calls for compulsion to believe. This is what you continue to miss. I hope you realize that anything that is not of faith, is sin. EVERYTHING! But is all sin a crime?

    Can we mandate that people walk by faith? Of course not! And that is what Machen is getting at. Can we mandate true morality? Of course not! To have true morality, one must be a believer, or else everything he does is sin. Even the sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to God.

    This doesn’t even touch the subject of how we are to define, crime and or punish it. Morality is much more broad than crime, which is the what theonomy entails. That is a totally different subject. When we broach that subject Machen felt we should punish crime by God’s written law.

    You see Darryl, you keep mixing up subjects proving you don’t understand theonomy. Why not break down and read the book?

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  5. Doug, you’re just wasting your breath. Darryl hasn’t even had his brain lubed. There’s no way for him to understand Bahnsen or Machen because his brain isn’t lubed. Until Darryl gets his brain lubed he can’t do anything but mix up subjects. I will tell you who has had his brain lubed, Art Bell. Dude knows his Dark Matter.

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  6. Doug, you’re saying that one who has never read “Theonomy In Christian Ethics”… his opinion on the subject needs to set aside.

    Where else does that logic hold, hmm? If one has never read Pelegius his opinion needs to be set aside as to whether salvation is by works or grace? If one has never read Marx his opinion should be set aside as to whether a free market society is better than communism? If one has never read ancient Greek astronomy his opinion needs to be set aside as to whether the earth is flat or round? And who is fighting ghosts?

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  7. No Jack, but if one keeps misunderstanding Pelegius, then perhaps one needs to read up on him, no? DG keeps making category mistakes blurring the difference between morality, sin, and crime. There is a difference according to God’s Word, even though DG doesn’t seem to comprehend the difference.

    This has been going on for years! DG, has been fighting ghosts that don’t exist.

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  8. “DG keeps making category mistakes blurring the difference between morality, sin, and crime. There is a difference according to God’s Word, even though DG doesn’t seem to comprehend the difference.”

    Me: No lube. Ever since the fall. That’s the real reason why we are commanded to anoint the sick with oil/lube. No lube = failure to understand antithesis. Lube=harmony.

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  9. Sean, having his brain “lubed”?

    How about having his mind renewed by the word of God? I think that would be preferable.

    Moreover, DG can’t see the difference between sin and crime, based on how God sees the difference.

    Can you?

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  10. Doug, nothing is wrong with it as long as your brain is lubed. No lube, no renewal. That’s why we anoint with oil and where do we anoint? On the head. Inside of which renewal takes place, but not without lube. So, it’s lube then renewal.

    Darryl, I don’t know what you’re talking about.

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  11. And if Pelagius were alive today, I’m sure he’d be arguing that Christians who profess salvation is by grace, through faith in Christ, not having read him, are misunderstanding him…

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  12. You pose a question no one is asking (Why didn’t Machen say ____?), offer an argument from silence, and yet again seem to think the only two options are 2K and transformationalism/theonomy (lumped together)? I can’t think any reader, sympathetic or not, takes this approach seriously. These softball pitches make it not even worth playing.

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  13. Doug, ever thought of running your own blog, where you can share your thoughts about Darryl and Bahnsen freely?

    Fascinating stuff, Darryl. Thanks as always.

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  14. Doug, I know it’s a waste of pixels, but it’s not blurring the lines between morality and crime. It’s exercising the category of wisdom. That’s where most of provisional life is actually lived, not in sin or righteousness.

    ps you seem quite prone to pious sentimentalism. Machen rightly hated that.

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  15. Andrew, I share them freely right here! One good thing about DG, is that he is a strong proponent of freedom of speech. So I just wait for Darryl to stick his foot in his mouth, (almost a daily occurrence) and then point it out, for the good of the body of Christ.

    Am I always right? Of course not, that is why we all must search the Scriptures to see if these things are true.

    God bless you, and keep pressing on!

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  16. “Am I always right? Of course not, that is why we all must search the Scriptures to see if these things are true.”

    Me: and lube.

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  17. Doug wrote- So I just wait for Darryl to stick his foot in his mouth, (almost a daily occurrence)

    Doug, “Your treatment of [Dr. D.G. Hart] has revealed that you really are a lout. That the [theonomist] world would embrace you as some kind of spokesman for speaks volumes about the current state of Christendom.”

    L.M.

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  18. Trey, I am not entirely sure of your point except that you seem to think my point lacks any merit.

    Here’s the thing. The neo-Calvinists only quote one side of Machen and never attempt to account for his libertarian or Old School convictions. So this isn’t really silence.

    But also, since the neo-Cals are claiming Machen for their own without quoting all of Machen, it seems that someone else may be guilty of an argument from silence — or better, out right denial.

    Anyway, if someone is going to claim Machen as a neo-Cal, don’t you think they need to explain those moments when Machen doesn’t sound neo-Cal, or even that Machen does not invoke the antithesis unless proclaiming the gospel?

    Or are these questions beneath you?

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  19. Doug, exactly what? Machen’s point about Christian schools was political, not theological. Plus he had the good sense not to identify the Christianity of the Bible with the liberties secured by the United States of America. How on earth a theonomist celebrates religious liberty when Calvin’s Geneva or David’s Israel never promoted it is beyond everyone without the lube job.

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  20. Liam says: Doug, “Your treatment of [Dr. D.G. Hart] has revealed that you really are a lout. That the [theonomist] world would embrace you as some kind of spokesman for speaks volumes about the current state of Christendom.”

    Me: Ouch! FWIW, I am not a spokesman for theonomists, thank God. I am just a Christian who holds to theonomy.

    BTW, I really like what you have been saying! Me? I do get carried away, so keep me on your prayer list, and keep pressing on!

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  21. Doug, I know you say that. You want the Bible to rule civil life. But that’s like wanting a pope to rule all of ecclesial life. But neither nearly solves things the way each thinks. The naivete is staggering. Worldviewers and Paradigmers Together.

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  22. Zrim says: “Doug, I know you say that. You want the Bible to rule civil life.”

    Wrong Zrim! The Bible doesn’t say what speed limit we are to drive our cars. There are many civil laws that we will not find in Scripture. But when it comes to the general equity found in God’s law, that should be obeyed by all nations, including the penal sanctions that the Bible does speak about.

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  23. “Wrong Zrim! The Bible doesn’t say what speed limit we are to drive our cars. There are many civil laws that we will not find in Scripture. But when it comes to the general equity found in God’s law, that should be obeyed by all nations, including the penal sanctions that the Bible does speak about.”

    Yeah Zremlen! you need some lube! You’ve been Sowersd! Word to your mother! Kick his arse Doug and don’t let him up. He’s slippery, even without lube.

    I’m waiting for Darryl to er again too!

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  24. Good word Sean! You are a shining example of how an OPC church Elder should comport himself. While I am merely a layman, I can only hope to aspire to your knowledge of God’s Word and encouraging diatribe.

    Keep pressing on!

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  25. Doug, the Bible also doesn’t say whether democracy beats monarchy, as in the form of governance is way more up the scale than speed limits. Yet here you are pushing the idea that America was framed by the Bible. No, it wasn’t, it was patterned after an idea of governance designed in the bastions of paganism. Or take another theo favorite, reproductive legislation. That’s an important question (in fact, the whole of western civ hangs in the balance, to listen to you guys rant). But the Bible doesn’t tell us whether it should be left to local powers to decide or federal powers to either legalize or outlaw in every nook and cranny of the union. What’s the general equity of the Bible say about any of that that, Doug? The question isn’t only may she or mayn’t she but also who gets to decide. What’s the Christian answer about who gets to decide?

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  26. Doug, I agree. If only all OPC elders could be like me, there’d be no problems and no clip-ons or polyester. It’s all about having the anointing, with lube.

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  27. Zrim says: Yet here you are pushing the idea that America was framed by the Bible.

    Me: No, that was Machen, I just happen to agree with him.

    On reproductive legislation? Thou shall not kill. That was the law of the land until RoeVWade, as it should be right now. That’s what God’s word says, Zrim.

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  28. Between lube and what I read at another blog which will not be named here, this ranks as one of the wackier interweb days I know of. Feeling a bit sowersd, if you catch my drift, and it’s not even 5 o clock yet. Well, I guess it’s true what they say, it’s five o clock somewhere (happy emoticon).

    Happy Friday, gents. Pour me a glass, would you?

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  29. Doug, nobody needs the Bible to know that. It’s written inwardly. Still waiting to see how civil life needs the Bible.

    But your historical ignorance strikes again: it was not the “law of the land” pre-1973. Abortion was legal in certain areas, outlawed in others. If that’s what you theos mean by the reversal of RvW then agreed says the paleo-conservative. But if what you mean is outlawed in every nook and cranny of the union then get behind me, neo-con.

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  30. On reproductive legislation? Thou shall not kill. That was the law of the land until RoeVWade, as it should be right now. That’s what God’s word says, Zrim.

    This is a bold statement. Curious that this prolife stance that was supposedly the law of the land prior to RvW was really up for grabs in the 1960’s. Christianity Today’s infamous 1968 issue advocating for birth control and abortion, the pre-RvW southern baptists endorsing abortion, and conservative stalwarts like Criswell speaking out in favor of abortion rights all point to something other than settled policy among conservative protestants. Of course all of these groups upon further reflection came around to a pro-life stance, but the key thing is that they came around on the issue. 50 years ago, it wasn’t obviously wrong in the minds of most protestant believers. How could an issue be so obvious in scripture and missed by so many faithful believers? Maybe a bit more humility on your part is warranted?

    The other part of your statement is simply wrong. The law of the land did not ban abortion prior to RvW. Prior to RvW abortion was legal in 20 states. Four allowed abortion on demand. The others to protect the health of the mother, rape, incest, or fetal abnormality…pretty broad exceptions. The states with these relatively liberal abortion laws were mostly southern and sunbelt states.

    Going back a bit further, one our founders, James Wilson, wrote in “Of the Natural Rights of Individuals” in the 1790’s that

    With consistency, beautiful and undeviating, human life, from its commencement to its close, is protected by the common law. In the contemplation of law, life begins when the infant is first able to stir in the womb.

    This echos William Blackstone who wrote “Life …begins in contemplation of law as soon as an infant is able to stir in the mother’s womb.” In other words, abortion was only banned in common law beyond the second trimester. Thus about 90% of abortions that occur today would have been legal under common law. I don’t think you would have any trouble banning abortion after 16weeks with exceptions
    to protect the health of the mother, rape, incest, or fetal abnormality, and thus return to where we were pre-RvW in a large swath of the country.

    I’m not saying this is where we should be on this issue, but it is false to claim that abortion was uniformly outlawed prior to RvW. Further, the scriptures do not obviously prohibit abortion. Careful exegesis may lead one to that conclusion, but it was not obvious to a lot of conservative protestants in the 1960’s.

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  31. Zrim attempts: “Doug, nobody needs the Bible to know that. It’s written inwardly.”

    sdb adds: ” Christianity Today’s infamous 1968 issue advocating for birth control and abortion, the pre-RvW southern baptists endorsing abortion, and conservative stalwarts like Criswell speaking out in favor of abortion rights all point to something other than settled policy among conservative protestants.”

    Me: Which is it Zrim? First you babble about nobody needing God’s word, because we have it written inwardly, then sdb points out that some Christians were advocating abortion in the sixties.

    Zrim, you are in incoherent mess! Go dunk your head in a bucket of ice water a few times to try to get the cobwebs out. As sdb points out with careful exegesis God’s Word does condemn abortion, even though some practicing Christians are pro-abortion. What happened to God’s Word written on Obama’s heart? He’s for partial birth abortion, you boob. I guess he needs God’s word, no?

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  32. Doug, I’m plumb out of ice (I used it all up the last time you raged against me). But sdb’s point and mine about your historical ignorance is the same. But if your point is that civil society needs the Bible to know how to govern things because so many people don’t seem to understand that murder is wrong then there’s that paradigmer-like logic showing again. Ever heard of people knowing what’s right and still getting things wrong? The Bible won’t solve human foible in the civil arena anymore than a pope will solve those same foibles in the ecclesial.

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  33. Zrim, the Bible properly understood carries the very authority of God! According to our Confessions it’s the final court of appeal, it’s how we settle our disputes. Haven’t you ever heard of Sola Scriptura?

    Isn’t that the reformed way to settle disputes? Aren’t we to look to God’s Word, according to our Confessions? Get with it Zrim, you are so un-reformed.

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  34. Doug, who’s this we? Believers and unbelievers? That’s what civil society is made up of, in which case do you really expect unbelievers to look to God’s Word to settle civil disputes?

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  35. Is their evidence that Machen thought America was formed on Christian principles? A lot of the founding fathers were deists. Also more broadly Machen defines Christianity and liberalism as two different religions. I don’t think liberalism was such a new thing in Machen’s time. For example it seems around the time of Jonathan Edwards a number of pastors converted to Christianity while leading churches. I think liberalism is not such a new thing but comes and goes in a culture where Christianity is common. Machen frequently spoke about his great respect for those with doubts and seems to have deep respect for the liberal theologians (probably because he strongly considered the position) although placing them outside of Christianity.

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  36. Danny, Machen didn’t talk about the founding much, but my sense is that he thought the American founding came out of the British tradition of rights and freedoms going back to Magna Carta.

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  37. Danny – For example it seems around the time of Jonathan Edwards a number of pastors converted to Christianity while leading churches.

    Erik – Those who fell under the spell of the New Schoolers, anyway.

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