J. Gresham Machen: Selected Shorter Writings

By D. G. Hard, ed.
Phillipsburg, N.J. : Presbyterian and Reformed (2004). vii + 590 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Dennis Swanson
16.1 (Spring 2005) : 160-161

Although most seminary students may remember J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937) only as the author of the Greek grammar with which they began their Greek studies, he is perhaps best remembered in the wider world as the instigator, and ultimately, one of the founders of Westminster Theological Seminary.

Following the Archibald Alexander, Charles and A. A. Hodge, and Benjamin B. Warfield, Machen is generally regarded as last in the line of the “Old Princeton” tradition and theology. He was at the center and in many respects the flashpoint of the modernist/liberal ascendancy that began in earnest with the death of Warfield in 1921, culminating in the reorganization of Princeton Theological Seminary in 1929. The reorganization led Machen, Cornelius Van Til, Oswald Allis, Robert Dick Wilson, and others to resign from Princeton and form Westminster. Near the end of his life Machen was defrocked by the now liberal-dominated PCUSA. He helped found what is now the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC).

Machen was the author of three seminal works, Christianity and Liberalism, What is Christianity, and The Virgin Birth. Additionally, he authored scores of essays and reviews, some of which this volume contains. Originally, the essays in this book were in a larger three-volume set that included J Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir, God Transcendent, a collection of sermons, and a collection of essays entitled What is Christianity, written and compiled by Ned Stonehouse. Though the biography and sermons have remained in print, the collection of essays dropped away, and this volume, as the editor states, “is an effort to make up for this curiosity in publishing history” (2).

The editor, who has written extensively on Machen’s life and work, provides an introductory chapter, “The Forgotten Machen?” (1-22), which alone is worth the price of the entire book. It is an excellent examination of Machen, particularly in relation to the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy of his day and the theological decline of his own denomination.

The essays in this collection are divided into ten categories. Many articles deal with controversies raging in the PCUSA during Machen’s last days at Princeton. Those articles illuminate the issues that led to the formation of Westminster Seminary and finally the OPC. Some of the articles are classics, such as the section “The Task of Christian Scholarship.” Others, though a little odd-sounding, give the history of a previous era, such as the essay on the 18th Amendment and the laws enacting Prohibition. His essay on “The Christian and Human Relations” (421-28) furnishes up-to-date advice about relating to unsaved friends. He emphasizes that strong friendships with unbelievers are essential in personal evangelism. “Without such friendship, any persuasion will usually be mere empty words” (427). Machen was particularly concerned with interaction between Christianity and culture, as several other essays demonstrate. His essays on the Virgin Birth (57-74) and the Resurrection of Christ (75-87) are both classic treatments of the subjects.

This work contains two lengthy bibliographies for additional reading (16-20 and 571-75). Though lists of the complete bibliography of Machen’s works are in an out-of-print work, this volume would have been an appropriate location for that bibliography. It also contains a useful, albeit brief, subject and name index.

The reissuing of this collection of Machen’s writings, combined with additional materials supplied by the editor, is a welcome addition to evangelical literature. Machen’s main works have remained in print since their original publication over 70 years ago, but Machen himself is perhaps not as well remembered as his stature warrants. This book will open a door into the life, times, and thinking of his day.