Dr. William Dennison, pastor of Emmanuel OPC in Kent, Washington, speaks about J. Gresham Machen’s theological method as disclosed through his radio addresses just a few years prior to his death. Machen understood that the modern world and the church were in a state of emergency. While many of Machen’s listeners would have thought about the economic volatility of the depression or perhaps the political unrest of fascism and communism. Moreover, many of these listeners would have expected Machen to discuss solutions to these ailments along the lines of those advocated by progressive modernists. Yet, Machen called his listeners to Christ and his kingdom, which transcends this visible world.
Machen speaks often about the benefits of reason, experience, and common sense. In these radio addresses, however, he states clearly that all these elements are to be viewed in subordination to the truth of God’s Word. Specifically, they function in the manner that God, the Creator and Ruler over all things has created them to function. We know this from the Bible.Dennison, “J. Gresham Machen’s Theological Method”
Machen rejected a general appeal to categories such as reason, experience, empirical facts, common sense, and rhetoric as a means of establishing common ground because of his deep understanding of the effects of sin upon all of man’s faculties. Dennison connects this aspect of Machen’s theology to that of his colleague at Westminster Seminary, Cornelius Van Til.
As a man whose theology appears to still be under development, Machen was neither blindly following the evidentialist tradition of Old Princeton leaning upon Thomas Reid and Scottish Common Sense Realism nor that later mature apologetic system of Van Til.
- William Dennison, “J. Gresham Machen’s Theological Method” (PDF article)
- Machen, J. Gresham. Things Unseen: A Systematic Introduction to the Christian Faith and Reformed Theology. Glenside, PA: Westminster Seminary Press, 2020.
- Bahnsen, Greg L. “Machen, Van Til, and the Apologetical Tradition of the OPC.” In Pressing Toward the Mark: Essays Commemorating Fifty Years of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, edited by Charles G. Dennison and Richard C. Gamble, 259–94. Philadelphia: The Committee for the Historian of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 1986.
- Hart, D. G., and John R. Muether. “Why Machen Hired Van Til.” Ordained Servant 6, no. 3 (July 1997): 65–68.
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