Saturday à Machen: The Problem of Christianity and Culture

“If physical strength and health and the companionship of human friends may be made useful in the Christian life, surely the same thing is true of intellectual gifts. […] If the principle of consecration is true at all—if it is true that God desires, not the destruction of human powers, but the proper use of them—then surely the principle must be applied in the intellectual sphere.

“The field should not be limited too narrowly; with the purely logical and acquisitive faculties of the mind should be included the imagination and the sense of beauty. In a word, we have to do with the relation between ‘culture’ and Christianity. For the modern Church there is no greater problem. A mighty civilization has been built up in recent years, which to a considerable extent is out of relation to the gospel. Great intellectual forces which are rampant in the world are grievously perplexing the Church. The situation calls for earnest intellectual effort on the part of Christians. Modern culture must be either refuted as evil, or else be made helpful to the gospel. So great a power cannot be safely ignored. Modern culture is a stumblingblock when it is regarded as an end in itself, but when it is used as a means to the service of God it becomes a blessing. Undoubtedly much of modern thinking is hostile to the gospel. Such hostile elements should be refuted and destroyed; the rest should be made subservient; but nothing should be neglected. Modern culture is a mighty force; it is either helpful to the gospel or else it is a deadly enemy of the gospel. For making it helpful neither wholesale denunciation nor wholesale acceptance is in place; careful discrimination is required, and such discrimination requires intellectual effort. Here lies a supreme duty of the modern Church. Patient study should not be abandoned to the men of the world; men who have really received the blessed experience of the love of God in Christ must seek to bring that experience to bear upon the culture of the modern world, in order that Christ may rule, not only in all nations, but also in every department of human life. The Church must seek to conquer not only every man, but also the whole of man. Such intellectual effort is really necessary even to the external advancement of the kingdom. Men cannot be convinced of the truth of Christianity so long as the whole of their thinking is dominated by ideas which make acceptance of the gospel logically impossible; false ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel. And false ideas cannot be destroyed without intellectual effort.

“Such effort is indeed of itself insufficient. No man was ever argued into Christianity; the renewing of the Holy Spirit is really the decisive thing. But the Spirit works when and how he will, and he chooses to employ the intellectual activities of Christian people in order to prepare for his gracious coming.”

(J. Gresham Machen, The New Testament: An Introduction to its Literature and History [Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 1990], pages 377-8.)

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