I was reading a couple reviews of Brian McLaren’s new book and his response to them, and I had to wonder why McLaren still thought he should have a voice among evangelicals. To him, he is “just asking questions” that make conservative believers “uncomfortable” and “angry” but really it is his answers to those questions that elicit the uneasy conscience of those that see themselves committed to New Testament Christianity.
J. Gresham Machen confronted some of the ways McLaren does theology in the 1920s in a little book entitled Christianity and Liberalism, which made the modest argument that liberal Christianity was simply a different religion than “historic Christianity.” What Machen means by this is what he finds in the pages of the New Testament, the Creeds, and the Reformation. Yes, one might be able to quibble with this or that protestant interpretation of this or that text, but his purpose is to show that even when the great sects disagree they are still far more unified in faith and practice than what emerges out of liberalism. And it is a sad fact to consider Machen’s work is still so remarkably relevant to what is being peddled today.
Machen writes with a clarity and succinctness that is often better expressed than even CS Lewis, who Machen predates by 20 years. The famous “trilemma” of the “liar, lunatic, or Lord” question was used by Machen before Lewis and its enduring strength carried on, though it is now a bit dated. Back then liberal scholars accepted the premise that the Gospels were generally reliable documents of history (even if they considered them errant). Today, after considering the problems posed by trilemma, they don’t accept them anymore.
I have not read McLaren’s book, but it would be interesting for the readers of it to read Machen’s right afterword. They might not find what they are looking for, but at least they would know that there are boundaries to what can be believed and that certain things cannot be discarded without losing the Christian faith altogether.