An Evangelical Warrior Child

Here is what may be the turning point in John Frame’s development:

PEF (Princeton Evangelical Fellowship) was dispensational in its viewpoint, as Barnhouse was, but Gerstner thought dispensationalism was an awful heresy. I never accepted the dispensational system, but neither could I accept Gerstner’s harshly negative verdict about it. My friends at PEF were godly people who loved Jesus and the Word. We prayed together every day and visited dorm rooms to bring the gospel to fellow students. Princeton was a spiritual battleground, and the PEF folks were my fellow soldiers. Struggling together for Jesus against opposition tends to magnify the unity of believers and to decrease the importance of disagreement. Surely Jesus intended for his people to wage this battle together, not separated into different denominations and theological factions. My experience with PEF (and earlier with Graham) prevented me from ever being anti-evangelical, as are many of my Reformed friends. At Princeton, I became an ecumenist.

I majored in philosophy and also took courses in religion, literature, and history. The religion courses, together with the denominational campus ministries, gave me my first introduction to theological liberalism. Although I had toyed with similar ideas during my high school years, I sharply rebelled against liberalism in college. Princeton liberalism was casual religion: no authoritative Bible, no passion for souls, no desire for holiness, no vitality. Indeed, the Christ of Scripture simply wasn’t there. Later, I read J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism, which argued that liberalism was an entirely different religion from Christianity, and I found it entirely persuasive. Although liberalism has changed its face in the years since, I still see it as the opposite of the biblical gospel.

The problem for Frame and others in the conservative Presbyterian world that Machen hatched was that some, like Frame, stopped reading Machen after 1923. Between then and the founding of the OPC in 1936, Machen’s opposition to liberalism also included battles with evangelicals who tolerated liberalism and a recognition of the need for church discipline with Presbyterianism being the best (and most biblical means) for maintaining and regulating the gospel ministry. Whether he got those tussles right is one thing. But somehow thinking that Presbyterian controversy was merely about liberalism is to do history without being licensed to do historical science.

What John Frame might have understood had he kept reading Machen is that — to take liberties with Bob Dylan — you’re gonna fight somebody. He’s battled with Machen’s Warrior Children who in turn have battle with Frame’s Evangelical Warrior Children and both of those groups have sometimes contended with Liberalism’s Warrior Children.

So many fronts, so little ammunition.


18 thoughts on “An Evangelical Warrior Child

  1. How could he become and ecumenist, but rebel against liberalism (for all the right reasons, as he lists)? Seems like the synchronism associated with ecumenism automatically forces one into a liberal camp whether he wants to admit it or not.


  2. To my knowledge Frame has never spoken at TGC (not svelte enough?) but does get a fair amount of love at their site. Here he says (almost) all you need is love, quoted with a metrosexual and an Anglican.

    Young pastors need above all to learn how to show godly love to people—in evangelism, counseling, church administration. Twenty years ago I said the same thing, but I would also have emphasized their need to study logic, so that they will be able to make a good case in their preaching and teaching. I still think logic is important, but second to the ability to display the love of Christ.


  3. Dr. Hart, our pedigree perhaps explains aspects of our story, but is it ever determinative?
    I too spent my undergrad years with PEF, was greatly blessed by the godly counsel and rich fellowship in the Word. Growing up Southern Babdist, I went to college assuming that Christians generally didn’t live north of Richmond. Presuming the Lord wanted me to be a missionary to the heathen in NJ, to my chagrin, I found the PEF had a vital (and continues to this day) ministry to the students. Through our study of Romans, I became a convinced Calvinist (as far as soteriology is concerned), eventually landed at DTS. Many years later, I’m happy to say that I’m home now in the OPC.

    Thanks for reminding me of my journey of becoming one of Machen’s Warrior kids!


  4. Hey Andrew,

    longtime lurker here at OLTS! Always appreciate your contributions.
    And yes, very much like your church logo (my design guy said ours was original…at least as original as ‘old celtic cross look’ can be)!

    Time to get back to prep for tomorrow’s work!



  5. Tim (Andrew here, under my OLTS preferred handle),

    God be with you and your ministry. My hat’s off to those of you who have dedicated your lives in service of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I can not say thank you enough.


  6. Interesting. Being part of CRU during my college years radicalized me into becoming Old School in my Reformed convictions, that and, being part of (still am) a Redeemer church helped me see that these churches are all talk and no walk.

    The most successful they’ve been, is when they do Word and Sacrament. What a thought.

    And when I was in InterVarsity, everybody was a dispensationalist, but we all argued with each other in love. We all thought we were wrong, but they’re coming to my wedding.

    I don’t know.

    My girlfriend’s going to an artist’s residency in Kansas CIty. I found a URCNA church I could go to if I can get a job there so I could marry her, etc. Really the most exciting prospect about all of this is that i can experience unadulterated Reformed churchmanship without an agenda.

    Some people become softer in the light of evangelicalism. Me? I harden. I guess Origen had a point.


  7. so many fronts

    My favorite basketball players (Curry and Durant) are on the Warriors

    Bill Evans—Machen sometimes evinced a breadth of vision and tolerance, and one that I would suggest doesn’t fit without remainder into the “warrior children” thesis. For example, the seminary he founded included faculty members representing the range of conservative Reformed thinking at that time—American Presbyterians … the mild dispensationalist Allen MacRae, Dutch Reformed such as Cornelius Van Til and R. B. Kuiper, and the Scot John Murray. The fact that that that broad faculty coalition could not be sustained for a variety of reasons after Machen’s death does not detract from the breadth of Machen’s inclusive vision for the school. Furthermore, the church Machen helped to found—the Presbyterian Church of America (not to be confused with the current Presbyterian Church in America)—was, even by our standards today, a sort of big-tent conservatism embracing…. premillennial fundamentalist stalwart Carl McIntire. Once again, the fact that this rather broad coalition did not long survive Machen’s death does not detract from the broader impulse he evinced.

    The hyper accuser (of hyper protestants) asks a leading question.

    Evans–Some of the fundamentalists I know are cerebral; they pride themselves on their reason and scholarship. The problem is that their reason and scholarship are sometimes skewed or misdirected and this tendentiousness can lead to odd results….The problem lies in a lack of balance, an inability to hold together perspectives that are needful for good theology and church life. Cultural pressure is leading some to choose the binary logic of either/or when both/and may be more appropriate.

    Evans–Reformed theology at its best has sought to do justice to the both/and of what the neo-Calvinist tradition has called “common grace” (e.g., the epistemological potential that belongs to all by virtue of God’s creation grace) and the “antithesis” (the difference between what God intended for humanity and the post-fall human condition as it actually obtains)…..Fundamentalism, it seems to me, tends to camp out in the antithesis, and effectively to deny the doctrine of common grace. ..They have problems with human endeavor as enculturated and embodied in time and space. Is there an analogy to be drawn between the Gnostics of the second century and modern fundamentalism? I’m still pondering that one, but I suspect more parallels could be drawn.


  8. Bill Evans–Keller’s argument sounds suspiciously like a would-be member of the cultural elite bemoaning how the hoi polloi are complicating his efforts to minister to the politically progressive up and outers in Manhattan. At the end of the day, he seems to be trying to carve out some space for a politically progressive, albeit theologically conservative evangelicalism that reflects his own sensibilities. I understand all that, but he could show a bit more sympathy and respect for the evangelical brothers and sisters who differ with him politically. And there is a certain irony here that should not be missed—Keller wants to affirm traditional sexual morality, but he recoils from those politically active conservative Christians who are TRYING TO PROTEC Keller and other conservative Christians from the secular progressive onslaught.

    Dan Strange — there are numerous examples (the prophetic literature being a pointed example) of the nations outside Israel being condemned and called to repent not simply of moral natural-law sins but ‘religious’ sins especially idolatry…Whether one calls it ‘natural’ or ‘biblical’, the worship of any god other than the transcendentally unique Yahweh, is idolatrous and accountable

    Todd Bordow–I have found that churches that allow politics into the pulpit tend to attract the same types of people– political conservatives who are angry about the direction of their country and want to hear how bad things are to make them feel better about their own anger. I have spoken to many a visitor who left our church frustrated that I would not attack their most despised liberal organizations; whether the ACLU, Democratic party, United Nations, or Planned Parenthood.

    Westminster Confession 31:4—Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate.

    Todd Bordown– One could debate how consistently the Westminster Divines applied this principle, especially considering the many sermons preached by the Divines before the English Parliament, which from normal eyes looks as if those preachers were intermeddling into the civil affairs in England. And considering the Divines’ desire for the state to enforce tithing, punish heretics, etc., they may not have been entirely consistent in their application of WCF 31:4


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