Not Because Of, But Despite

“During the winter semester 1905-1906, I was a student at Marburg. Since I was intending to be a teacher of the New Testament, I confined myself for the most part to New Testament courses. But I did hear the lectures on systematic theology by W. Herrmann, and I have always rejoiced greatly that I had that privilege. In one’s contact with any great movement, it has always seemed to me important to attend to its best, and not merely to its worst, representatives; and Herrmann certainly represented Ritschlianism at its best” (Gresham Machen, Christianity in Conflict; underlining mine–CD).

Correct.  No need to go after the low hanging fruit when attacking damnable heresy.  Go after the best and most popular representatives of antichristian teaching.

“W. Herrmann was a deeply religious man; no one who came into contact with him can doubt that. But was the religion of which he was so noble an adherent really the Christian religion? That may well be doubted. If Herrmann was a Christian, he was a Christian not because of but despite those things that were most distinctive of his teaching. At the heart of Christianity is a view of sin whose profundities were a sealed book to Herrmann and to all of his school. A man under true conviction of sin will never be satisfied with the Ritschlian Jesus, but will seek his way into the presence of that Jesus who redeemed us by His precious blood and is ever living to make intercession for us at the throne of God” (Gresham Machen, Christianity in Conflict; underlining mine–CD).

In Machen’s estimate, Herrmann was the best representative of Ritschlianism; its noble adherent.  Machen then asks whether or not Herrmann’s religion was “really the Christian religion”?  His answer is, “That may well be doubted” with the caveat that:

“If Herrmann was a Christian, he was a Christian not because of but despite those things that were most distinctive of his teaching” (Machen).

According to “church” historian Carl Trueman, Machen’s early impressions of Herrmann were different than his later “That may well be doubted.”  Trueman writes:

“Like many a theological scholar before and after him, Machen’s experience of liberalism at university precipitated something of an intellectual crisis. The liberals with whom he came into contact were filled with a passion and dedication to their cause which took his breath away. One in particular, the brilliant and wild-eyed Wilhelm Herrmann, made a stunning impression on the young American. In Herrmann, Machen saw not only somebody of a passionate piety but, more important, somebody who embodied the very ideal of the union of a zeal for theology with the stature of a university professor. Like many a Christian student since, Machen found himself somewhat confused and startled by the combination of such liberal views with such an apparent passion for Christ in the great German. In a letter to his brother, he made the following statement:

‘Herrmann, in his religious earnestness and moral power, has been a revelation to me….[He] affirms very little of that which I have been accustomed to regard as essential to Christianity; yet there is no doubt in my mind but that he is a Christian, and a Christian of a peculiarly earnest type. He is a Christian, not because he follows Christ as a moral teacher; but because his trust in Christ is…unbounded. It is inspiring to see a man so completely centred in Christ, even though some people might wonder how he reaches this result and still holds the views he does about the accounts in the New Testament’ [2]” (Carl Trueman, Christianity, Liberalism and the New Evangelicalism). [underlining mine–CD

[2]  Quoted in Stonehouse, p. 107.

[Note:  Ned B. Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954).  Stonehouse was Machen’s Westminster Colleague.–CD]

So, according to Trueman’s citation of Stonehouse Machen had “no doubt in [his] mind” that Herrmann was a “Christian of a peculiarly earnest type” despite affirming “very little” of what Machen had “been accustomed to regard as essential to Christianity.”  Taking the two sets of quotes together it appears that while Machen MAY WELL DOUBT that Herrmann is a noble adherent to Christianity, he has NO DOUBT that he IS a “peculiarly earnest type” of Christian.  Thus, to Machen, it IS possible to be a Christian without being an adherent to Christianity.

“The second of the general conditions favourable to any spiritual advance is honesty — just plain old-fashioned honesty of speech. That condition in certain religious circles is largely absent today. Traditional terminology is constantly being used in a double sense. Plain people in the church are being told, for example, that this preacher or that believes that Jesus is God. They go away much impressed; the preacher, they say, believes in the deity of Christ; what more could be desired? What is not being told them is that the word ‘God’ is being used in a pantheising or Ritschlian sense, so that the assertion, ‘Jesus is God,’ is not the most Christian, but the least Christian thing that the modernist preacher says. The modernist preacher affirms the deity of Jesus not because he thinks high of Jesus but because he thinks desperately low of God” (Gresham Machen, God Transcendent, pp. 44-45; underlining mine–CD).

Despite what Machen says here about the pantheising Ritschlians in general, he certainly did NOT apply it to Herrmann (the Ritschlian of Ritschlians) in particular.  Machen did NOT accuse Herrmann of thinking “desperately low of God.”  Rather, he said Herrmann thought about God and “trusted” in Jesus in some “particularly earnest” and “unbounded” sort of way.

Sadly, Machen’s damnably ignorant thinking is commonplace among multitudes who profess the name of Christ (most notably those who profess to believe in the doctrines of sovereign grace).  God through the apostle Paul addressed this zeal without knowledge in Romans 10:1-4 and the false “jesus” of one’s own vain and fertile imagination in 2 Corinthians 11:4.  Judging by his benighted opinion of Herrmann, Gresham Machen (founder of the Orthodox Presbyterian Synagogue of Satan) was a scholarly heretic who believed that the ONLY ESSENTIAL GOSPEL DOCTRINE was that there were NO ESSENTIAL GOSPEL DOCTRINES.

“We are not dealing here with delicate personal questions; we are not presuming to say whether such and such an individual man is a Christian or not. God only can decide such questions; no man can say with assurance whether the attitude of certain individual ‘liberals’ toward Christ is saving faith or not. But one thing is perfectly plain — whether or no liberals are Christians, it is at any rate perfectly clear that liberalism is not Christianity” (Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, p. 160).

Blah, blah, blah.  Machen is a flaming hypocrite.  Machen certainly DID “say with assurance” that very thing about Herrmann that he admonishes others not to do.

“Therefore, I said to you that you will die in your sins. For if you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).

Perhaps Machen could adopt the fashionable tolerant Calvinist line by saying that Herrmann needs time to “grow out of” his “imperfect” belief and understanding of Jesus and “grow into” a “more consistent” and “less muddled” belief and understanding.  This fashionable tolerant Calvinist strategy is NOT to lovingly approach Herrmann as an unregenerate God-hater who is commanded to repent and believe the true gospel.  Instead, the tolerant Calvinist strategy is to approach Herrmann as a “muddled regenerate Christian” who having been blanketed in layers of tradition, needs his “blessed” (i.e., cursed) inconsistencies to be “lovingly” (i.e., hatefully) challenged.

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