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D.G. Hart explains the background for an article that we know as “Christianity and Culture” by J.G. Machen:
An address that the young professor delivered to the Philadelphia Ministers’ Association in the spring of 1912 revealed his maturing thoughts on the ministry. The address was to be a defense of “scientific theological study” that he repeated at the seminary’s opening exercises in the fall of that year. A forthright declaration of the aims of theological education at Princeton, the lecture also contained Machen’s personal confession of faith. It was published a year later in the Princeton Theological Review under the title “Christianity and Culture.” (D.G. Hart, Defending the Faith: J. Gresham Machen and the Crisis of Conservative Protestantism in Modern America, p. 30).
Machen was concerned about the growing divide between intellectual scholarship and piety that he observed from his role as a teacher. “In his six years as instructor he had become painfully aware of a tendency among students, as well as in the Church as a whole, to set up a sharp disjunction between knowledge and its pursuit, on the one hand, and piety and cultivation, on the other” (Ned B. Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir, p. 155). The wedge of anti-intellectualism from the Fundamentalist camp had a tendency to weaken and undermine the Christian apologetic to the non-Christian world. In Machen’s view, Christianity was being sidelined at the table where important ideas and worldviews were battling it out, and to him this was not acceptable.
It is true that the decisive thing is the regenerative power of God. That can overcome all lack of preparation, and the absence of that makes even the best preparation useless. But as a matter of fact God usually exerts that power in connection with certain prior conditions of the human mind, and it should be ours to create, so far as we can, with the help of God, those favorable conditions for the reception of the gospel. False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel. We may preach with all the fervor of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation or of the world to be controlled by ideas which, by the resistless force of logic, prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion. Under such circumstances, what God desires us to do is to destroy the obstacle at its root. Many would have the seminaries combat error by attacking it as it is taught by its popular exponents. Instead of that they confuse their students with a lot of German names unknown out side the walls of the universities. That method of procedure is based simply upon a profound belief in the pervasiveness of ideas. What is to-day matter of academic speculation begins to-morrow to move armies and pull down empires. In that second stage, it has gone too far to be combatted; the time to stop it was when it was still a matter of impassionate debate. So as Christians we should try to mould the thought of the world in such a way as to make the acceptance of Christianity something more than a logical absurdity.
Christianity, as the religion of Truth, must engage the minds as well as the hearts of unbelievers, according to Machen. Combatting false ideas is an important aspect of the Christian witness because ideas have consequences. It was just one year after publication of “Christianity and Culture” that the Great War began in Europe, the first of two World Wars in the 20th century. Machen himself served in Europe during the war in a non-combatant role. But above all, in the witness of his life and work, Machen “remains Mr. Valiant-for Truth par excellence” (Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir, p. xiii).