Should we be actively contending for the faith (Jude 3)?
J. Gresham Machen was the Professor of New Testament at Princeton Seminary, 1906 – 1929. However, he led a conservative revolt against modernist theology at Princeton and formed Westminster Theological Seminary where he taught New Testament for the rest of his earthly stay.
In response to the steadily encroaching liberalism, he argued that Christians had to retake contemporary thinking so that it would be amenable to the reception of the Gospel:
· “It should be ours to create, so far as we can, with the help of God, those favorable conditions for the reception of the gospel. False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel. We may preach with all the fervor of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation or of the world to be controlled by ideas which…prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion. Under such circumstances, what God desires us to do is to destroy the obstacle at its root.” (Machen’s 1912 address at Princeton Theological Seminary)
Should this be our goal – “to destroy the obstacle [to the Gospel] at its root?” Instead, isn’t salvation of the Lord and not our argumentation? Must not God grant faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) and repentance (2 Tim. 2:25-26)? If so, why should it be our responsibility to destroy the false ideas that oppose the Gospel?
In response to this challenge, I want to argue that although salvation is of the Lord, He calls upon us to participate in this process. Let’s first look at the fact that faith is “gift of God and not a work” (Eph. 2:8-9) and that God “grants repentance”:
· And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps GRANT THEM REPENTANCE leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:24-26; ESV)
Notice that although it is God who “grants…repentance,” this doesn’t mean that God does not use our efforts. Rather, He commands them. The minister of the Word must be “kind…able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting…with gentleness.”
The same is true about God’s gift of faith. This doesn’t exclude us from the process. This is why we are called to evangelize and even to persuade through argumentation:
· And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. (Acts 17:2-4)
Paul persuaded them to believe, but, of course, God had to also be at work to open their hearts and minds to receive Paul’s reasoning.
This brings us back to our original question. If reasoning at the synagogue brought faith, why not also reasoning at even a greater arena – our culture?
There are so many examples, even in the Hebrew Scriptures, that teach us that even though God is at work in a certain area, whether in salvation or sanctification, this doesn’t mean that we then throw up our hands and say, “Well since God is responsible here, I have no role to play in this matter.” Instead, we see that both parties are in play, as this verse demonstrates:
· Keep my statutes and do them; I am the LORD who sanctifies you. (Leviticus 20:8)
While Israel had to keep themselves holy by obeying God’s commandments, God also declares that it is He who sanctifies them.
All of this demonstrates that although it is God who saves and sanctifies, we too must play our part. This also pertains to our responsibility for the thought-life of our society. We have a responsibility to challenge unbiblical thinking, which has taken captive society and even our churches:
· For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:4-5)
Our God requires us to be engaged in warfare. What kind of warfare? We are required to “destroy arguments and…opinions” which challenge “the knowledge God” and the Biblical worldview.
I am thankful for the vision that our Lord had given Machen. As a result, he was instrumental in founding a seminary which has trained up servants to glorify God through His Word for 87 years.