Modern materialism, especially in the realm of psychology, is not content with occupying the lower quarters of the Christian city, but pushes its way into all the higher reaches of life; it is just as opposed to the philosophical idealism of the liberal preacher as to the Biblical doctrines that the liberal preacher has abandoned in the interest of peace. Mere concessiveness, therefore, will never succeed in avoiding the intellectual conflict. In the intellectual battle of the present day there can be no “peace without victory;” one side or the other must win.  J. Graham Machen [Christianity and Liberalism, p. 5]

“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong.” 1 Cor 16:13-14

The Christian faith is based upon objective truth. It is historical and verifiable. But, it has its enemies and critics. In every age Christianity has had to defend its faith against powerful and influential adversaries. But the truth of the gospel, like a fortress upon a hill, stands firm and faultless.

In the early 20th century, the Church was in combat with the fallout of modernism. Our world was caught up in the rewards of scientific discovery and technological applications. The standard of living had risen in America and the confidence in science seemed to have no limits. What was ultimately true was only that which could be seen and measured by the senses. Because of the great advances being made, the past with its traditions was considered inferior to what modern man was discovering in the present. Religion, which was once accepted by most, was now under scrutiny and being subjected to the same scientific inquiry as every other aspect of life.

This posed a problem for many within the church. The liberals were captured by the spirit of the age. They saw science as a legitimate threat to historic Christianity. A critical approach to the scriptures was casting doubt on the historical accuracy of the content of the Bible. Some were coming to the conclusion that beliefs in the virgin birth, the incarnation, miracles, the cross, the sinfulness of man, the atonement, and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, were unsustainable. They were seen as myths that originated from a culture less sophisticated than their own. So, they no longer felt the need to hold on to these pre-scientific ideas.

They were concerned with the question, “How can Christianity survive in a scientific age?” Their solution was to remove from Christianity anything that might seem objectionable to the modern mind. They reasoned that what was essential was not the historical content of the scriptures, the miracles or ultimate claims of truth, but the “experience” of religion. The incarnation, virgin birth, cross and resurrection were merely “symbols” of religion, not historical or spiritual realities. So, they jettisoned belief in the particulars of the Christian religion and held to general principles that they regarded as the “essence of Christianity.”     

It was this “concessiveness” that J. Gresham Machen spoke out against. He noted in the quote above that materialistic science will never be satisfied with a few concessions at the lower parts of the city. It seeks to rule over all. It is not content with co-existing with religion. It is a religion. A few concessions will not satiate its thirst. It will continue up the hill until it overwhelms and occupies the highest fortress.

According to Machen, by their concessions, the liberals were destroying the very thing they thought they were preserving. He wrote,

Our principal concern just now is to show that the liberal attempt at reconciling Christianity with modern science has really relinquished everything distinctive of Christianity- so that what remains is in essentials only that same indefinite type of religious experience which was in the world before Christianity came on the scene….Here as in many other departments of life it appears that the things that are sometimes thought to be hardest to defend are also the things that are most worth defending. [6]

The authenticity and truth of all experiences and teachings within Christianity rest upon an event. Paul puts it like this.

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. 1 Cor 15:1-4

This is the core. This is the rock. This is the fortress. God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to earth to save sinners by dying on a cross. God validated Christ’s death and work by raising him from the dead. To make concessions here does not shore up Christianity. It creates another religion. If we hold to any other form, we believe in vain. This is of first importance. Upon this confession we stand and hold our ground.

We need not be timid about waging a defense of our faith. Nor should we get nervous when critics apply scientific methods to their investigation of the historical data recorded in the scriptures. Gresham explains, “The primitive church was concerned not merely with what Jesus had said, but also primarily, with what Jesus had done. The world was to be redeemed through the proclamation of an event.”

On one hand, the historicity of that “event” and the accuracy of the report has been verified by friend and foe. In the December 30, 1974 edition of Time magazine, one writer summed up the results of all the attacks have had upon the credibility of the Bible: “After more than two centuries of facing the heaviest scientific guns that could be brought to bear, the Bible has survived- and is perhaps the better for the siege. Even on the critics own terms, historical fact- Scriptures seem more acceptable now than they did when the rationalists began the attack.”

On the other hand, the claim that science has proved to be the salvation of man can be legitimately challenged. Gresham points out that “the material betterment has gone hand in hand with spiritual decline. He asks, “Where are the great poets, sculptors, and musicians?” “The art that still subsists,” he observes, “is largely imitative, and where it is not imitative it is usually bizarre.” Then, he wonders what made the men of the past so great and the men of the present so small. Someone has rightly observed, “When small men cast long shadows it is a sign that the sun is setting.”  

Our conclusion is that Christianity does not need to concede any of its beliefs or claims to truth in the 20th or 21st century. There will always be pressures both inside and outside the church to give up a little of land for the sake of respectability and acceptance. But, we don’t have to, we can’t give in or give up one inch. We have been given life’s greatest truth. Our lives have been transformed by the gospel. So, Paul reminds all of us, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel. [Phil 1:27-28]

There will be shots fired at us accusing us of arrogance and intolerance.  Attempts will be made to intimidate us. The battle will intensify. We are in a titanic battle and only one side will win. But, we offer no concessions! We hold the truth. Our fortress will stand. We will win. We have God’s Word on that.