Machen on the Emergent Church


On a whim we stopped at a thrift store on Thursday, ostensibly to look for a night stand for our bedroom. This particular thrift store had more books than usual, among them I found a pamphlet by J. Gresham Machen entitled Christianity and Culture and two other items of interest. And no, there was no suitable night stand.

Ever since attending the “Missional Theology” conference at Biblical Seminary (Biblical in name only), I have been interested in the question of how the true Church should interact with 21st Century American Culture.
There was much discussion at that conference about what is called the “Emergent” church. This classification is difficult to pin down to any particular set of beliefs or strategies; the common thread seems to be the idea that the church should do a better job of relating to the “postmodern” culture in America.

While I am certainly on board with communicating the timeless truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in language that is understandable to a non-churched generation, there are elements of this movement that seem to think that there are no timeless truths and that new truths need to be developed. In fact, I can’t remember if it was stated at the conference or on a podcast, but I have heard one emergent leader say that we need to develop “postmodern Christianity.”

All this leads up to the last paragraph of Machen’s pamphlet:

“The Church is puzzled by the world’s indifference. She is trying to overcome it by adapting her message to the fashions of the day. But if, instead, before the conflict, she would descend into the secret place of meditation, if the by clear light of the gospel she would seek an answer not merely to the question of the hour but, first of all, to the eternal problems of the spiritual world, then perhaps, by God’s grace, through His good Spirit, in His good time, she might issue forth once more with power, and an age of doubt might be followed by the dawn of an era of faith.”

I am reminded of Paul’s words in Ephesians 6:12 where we are told that we do not fight with flesh and blood; our battle is a spiritual one that should be fought with spiritual weapons. Why should we expect a spiritual victory when we use the method of changing the message to appease men?

The preaching of the Cross has always been foolishness to non-believers (1 Corinthians 1:18). Yet, that is what we are commanded to preach. We dare not change this message simply because some find it offensive or antiquated.