John Gresham Machen

John Gresham Machen

Infobox Person
name= John Gresham Machen

caption= Conservative American Presbyterian
birth_date= birth date|1881|7|28|mf=y
birth_place= Baltimore, Maryland
death_date= death date and age|1937|1|1|1881|7|28|mf=y
death_place= Bismarck, North Dakota
occupation= Theologian & Church Leader

John Gresham Machen (July 28, 1881January 1, 1937) was an American Presbyterian theologian in the early 20th century. He was the Professor of New Testament at Princeton Seminary between 1915 and 1929, and led a conservative revolt against modernist theology at Princeton and formed Westminster Theological Seminary as a more orthodox alternative. As the Northern Presbyterian Church continued to reject conservative attempts to enforce faithfulness to the Westminster Confession, Machen led a small group of conservatives out of the church to form the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. When the northern Presbyterian church (PCUSA) rejected his arguments during the mid-1920s and decided to reorganize Princeton Seminary to create a moderate school, Machen took the lead in founding Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia (1929) where he taught New Testament until his death. His continued opposition during the 1930s to liberalism in his denomination's foreign missions agencies led to the creation of a new organization, The Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions (1933). The trial, conviction and suspension from the ministry of Independent Board members, including Machen, in 1935 and 1936 provided the rationale for the formation in 1936 of the OPC.

Machen is considered to be the last of the great "Princeton Theologians" who had, since the formation of the college in the early 19th century, developed Princeton theology: a conservative and Calvinist form of Evangelical Christianity. Although Machen can be compared to the great "Princeton Theologians" (Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, A. A. Hodge and B. B. Warfield) he was neither a lecturer in theology (he was a New Testament scholar) nor did he ever become the seminary's principal.

Machen's influence can still be felt today through the existence of both institutions that he founded - Westminster Theological Seminary and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. In addition, his textbook on basic New Testament Greek is still used today in many seminaries, including PCUSA schools.

Asked how to say his name, he told "The Literary Digest" "The first syllable is pronounced like "May", the name of the month. In the second syllable the "ch" is as in "chin", with "e" as in "pen": "may'chen". In "Gresham", the "h" is silent: "gres'am"." (Charles Earle Funk, "What's the Name, Please?", Funk & Wagnalls, 1936.)

Early life

Machen was born in Baltimore to Arthur Webster Machen and Mary Jones Gresham. Arthur, a Baltimore lawyer, was 45 and Mary was 24 when they married. While Arthur was an Episcopalian, Mary was a Presbyterian, and taught her son The Westminster Shorter Catechism from an early age. The family attended Franklin Street Presbyterian Church.

Machen's upbringing was considered to be privileged. He attended a private college and received a classical education including Latin and Greek. Although no records exist, it was probably "The University School for Boys". He was also taught the piano.

Early Adulthood

American Student Life

In 1898, the 17-year old Machen began studying at Johns Hopkins University for his undergraduate degree, and performed sufficiently well to gain a scholarship. He majored in classics and was a member of the Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity. Machen was a brilliant scholar and in 1901 was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa Society after graduation.

Despite having some indecisiveness about his future, in 1902 Machen opted to study theology at Princeton Seminary, whilst simultaneously studying a Master of Arts in Philosophy at Princeton University.

Encountering German Liberalism

He also pursued theological studies in Germany for a year in 1905. In a letter to his father, he admitted being thrown into confusion about his faith because of the liberalism taught by Professor Wilhelm Herrmann. Although he had an enormous respect for Herrmann, his time in Germany and his engagement with Modernist theologians led him to reject the movement and embrace conservative Reformed theology more firmly than before.

Pre War Period

Princeton 1906-1916

In 1906, Machen joined Princeton Seminary as an instructor in New Testament after assurances he would not have to sign a statement of faith. Among his Princeton influences were Francis Patton, who had been the prosecutor in a nineteenth century heresy trial, and B. B. Warfield, whom he described as the greatest man he had ever met. Warfield maintained that correct doctrine was the primary means by which Christians influenced the surrounding culture and he emphasised a high view of scripture and the defence of supernaturalism. It appears that under their influence Machen resolved his crisis of faith. In 1914, he was ordained and the next year he became the Assistant Professor of New Testament.

World War One

Machen did not serve "conventionally" during World War I, but instead went to France with the YMCA to do volunteer work near and at the front. Though not a combatant, he witnessed first-hand the devastations of modern warfare.

Post War Period

Princeton 1918-1926

After returning from Europe, Machen continued his work as a New Testament scholar at Princeton. During this period he gained a reputation as one of the few true scholars who was able to debate the growing prevalence of Modernist theology whilst maintaining an evangelical stance.

"The Origin of Paul's Religion" (1921) is perhaps Machen's best known scholarly work. This book was a successful attempt at critiquing the Modernist belief that Paul's religion was based mainly upon Greek philosophy and was entirely different from the religion of Jesus.

"Christianity and Liberalism" (1923) is another of Machen's books that critiqued theological modernism. The book compared conservative and Protestant Christianity to the rising popularity of Modernist (or "Liberal") theology. He concluded that "the chief modern rival of Christianity is Liberalism".

These books, along with a number of others, placed Machen firmly in one theological camp within the Presbyterian Church. His work throughout the 1920s was divided between his time at Princeton and his political work with evangelical Presbyterians.

Despite his conservative theological beliefs, Machen was never able to fully embrace popularist fundamentalism either. His refusal to accept premillennialism and other aspects of Fundamentalist belief was based upon his belief that Reformed Theology was the most biblical form of Christian belief - a theology that was generally missing from Fundamentalism at the time. Moreover, Machen's scholarly work and ability to engage with modernist theology was at odds with Fundamentalism's anti-intellectual attitude.


Between 1924 and 1925, relations among the Princeton faculty deteriorated when "The Presbyterian" questioned if there were two different parties on the faculty. In response Machen remarked that his differences with Charles Erdman related to the importance they attributed to doctrine. He noted that Erdman was tolerant of those in doctrinal error. Erdman wrote privately ‘he (Dwight L. Moody) knew that controversialists do not usually win followers for Christ.’

Westminster Theological Seminary

The 1929 General Assembly voted to reorganise Princeton Seminary and appointed two of the Auburn Affirmation signatories as trustees. The Auburn Affirmation was a response by liberals [ [ The Auburn Heresy ] at] within the Northern Presbyterian Church that condemned the General Assembly's response to the controversy arising out of Harry Emerson Fosdick's May 1922 sermon "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?". Machen and some colleagues withdrew and set up Westminster Theological Seminary to continue reformed orthodox theology.

The Orthodox Presbyterian Church

In 1933, Machen became concerned about liberalism tolerated by Presbyterians on the mission fled and formed The Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions. The next Presbyterian General Assembly reaffirmed that Independent Board was unconstitutional and gave the associated clergy an ultimatum to break their links. When Machen and seven other clergy refused, they were suspended from the Presbyterian ministry. The controversy divided Machen from many of his fundamentalist friends including Clarence Macartney who dropped away at the prospect of schism. Ultimately, Machen withdrew from the Northern Presbyterian Church and formed the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.


Much to the sadness of those who had been involved in the movements that he had led, Machen died in 1937 at the age of 55. Some commentators (notably Stonehouse) point out that Machen's "constitution" was not always strong, and that he was constantly "burdened" with his responsibilities at the time.

Machen had decided to honor some speaking engagements he had in North Dakota in December, 1936, but developed pleurisy in the exceptionally cold weather there. After Christmas, he was hospitalized for pneumonia and died on January 1, 1937. Just before his death, he dictated a telegram to long-time friend and colleague John Murray -- the content of that telegram reflected deeply his life-long faith: "I’m so thankful for active obedience of Christ. No hope without it." [ [ J. Gresham Machen's Response to Modernism :: Desiring God Christian Resource Library ] at] He is buried in Greenmount Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland.


In addition to those mentioned in the main article, Machen's works include:
* "The Origin of Paul's Religion" (1921) [ online]
* "Christianity and Liberalism " (1923) ISBN 0-80281-121-3
* "What is faith?" (1925)
* "New Testament Greek for beginners" (1927)
* "The virgin birth of Christ" (1930)
* "The Christian faith in the modern world" (1936)
* "The Christian view of man" (1937)
* "God transcendent" (1949) edited by Ned B. Stonehouse from Machen's sermons, ISBN 0-85151-355-7.
* "What is Christianity? and other addresses" (1951) edited by Ned B. Stonehouse
* "The New Testament : an introduction to its literature and history" (1976) edited by W. John Cook from two sets of Machen's course materials, ISBN 0-85151-240-2.


* Noll, M. A. (1988). "John Gresham Machen". In S. B. Ferguson, D. F. Wright, and J. I. Packer (Eds.), "The New Dictionary of Theology". Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester. ISBN 0-8308-1400-0
* Stonehouse, Ned B. (1987). "J. Gresham Machen - A Biographical Memoir" (3rd ed.). Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh. ISBN 0-85151-501-0. (Republished by the Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. ISBN 0-934688-97-4.)
* Hart, D. G. (2003). "Defending the Faith: J. Gresham Machen and the Crisis of Conservative Protestantism in Modern America". P & R Publishing. ISBN 0-87552-563-6
* Machen, J. Gresham (1923). "Christianity and Liberalism". Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. ISBN 0-8028-1121-3


External links

* [ "The Origin of Paul's Religion"] by Machen
* [ "Christianity and Liberalism"] by Machen
* [ "Christianity and Culture"] an essay by Machen
* [ "A Brief Bible History: A Survey of the Old and New Testaments"] by Machen and James Boyd
* [ On the Diety of Christ] by Machen
* [ "A Short History of the Life of J. G. Machen"] by Professor Craig S. Hawkins
* [ "Christianity, Liberalism, and the New Evangelicalism"] by Carl Trueman
* [ J. Gresham Machen] Sean Richardson's links to articles by Machen on various sites.
* [ "Machen's Warrior Children"] by John M. Frame
* [ "The Machen trial"] by an unidentified newspaper of the time.
* [ John Gresham Machen's Gravesite]
* [ J. Gresham Machen: A Forgotten Libertarian| The Foundation for Economic Education: The Freeman, Ideas on Liberty ] at J. Gresham Machen: A Forgotten Libertarian]
* [ Machen and the OPC ] at Machen and the OPC

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