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A Passion for Light

May 13, 2009

J. Gresham Machen begins his book Christianity and Liberalism with this sentence, “The purpose of this book is not to decide the religious issue of the present day, but merely to present the issue as sharply and clearly as possible, in order that the reader may be aided in deciding it for themselves.” This very approach, Machen realizes, will prompt an immediate protest. He continues:

Presenting an issue sharply is indeed by no means a popular business at the present time; there are many who prefer to fight their intellectual battles in…a condition of low visibility. Light may seem at times to be an impertinent intruder, but it is always beneficial in the end. The type of religion which rejoices in the pious sound of traditional phrases, regardless of what they have been made to mean, or shrinks from “controversial” matters, will never stand amid the shocks of life.

The popularity of presenting an issue “sharply and clearly” has not grown in the 90 years since Machen penned these words! Clearly defining our terms, boldly facing the logical implications of our views, rigorously weighing the (de)merits of our claims against the authority and totality of Scripture is seen as uncultured and very likely unChristian. In fact a whole movement has grown up within the evangelical church that gives ambivalence and ambiguity pride of place in our thinking and speaking about God. Just a few months ago, I sat in a classroom as a prominent pastor and president of a seminary insisted that it was “far more valuable to be asking the right questions than to receive the right answers.” It is therefore far more fashionable today, even in the church, to raise our eyebrows in a prolonged “hmmmmm!” to a question that is asked than it is to close our eyes in prolonged worship over an answer given that glorifies the merit, sufficiency, and truth of Christ.

As we see this going on and increasing in the church – with leaders free to muddle the truth by asking questions they feel no need to answer, by not being willing to disclose their presuppositions for fear of losing their place in the church or academy, by using tensions in Scripture to undermine faith in God’s Word rather than be willing to do the hard work of thinking until they can see and show the unity of those two ideas at their root, by subverting the very idea of truth in their admission that it is not objective, external and universal – my question is, “what is the role of a forerunner in this culture?” Given that this is our “ground”, what does it look like to level the mountains, to raise the valleys, to straighten the crooked paths in order that human hearts are prepared to embrace the One who is Light, who is Truth, and who is coming back as Supreme Judge? 

While this is not the place to articulate all of the “practical” responses, I do believe that the most eternally relevant banner we can wave over all of our individual answers comes a little later in Machen’s first chapter, “my sympathies are with those [he casts his lot with those] who have a passion for light!” May we be a people who humbly, dependently, joyfully and unwaveringly walk with a passion for light!


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