Monday, January 17, 2011

John V. Fesko: Machen and the Gospel


Dr. John V. Fesko is currently the academic dean at Westminster Seminary California. His talk is entitled Machen and the Gospel. He structured his talk under three sections: 1) the nature of the battle, 2) What Machen believed about the Gospel, and 3) Its abiding relevance for us.

In the beginning of the 20th century, a 7-volume study on missions was commissioned by John Rockefeller. The results of that study was the promotion of the Liberal missiology that 1) All religions lead to God, 2) Christianity has the fullest truth; other religions have a part of the full truth, 3) Missions therefore is about loving people and showing them that Christianity gives them the fuller truth compared to the truths they already have. The one volume summary of the series remained relatively obscure until it was promoted by a prominent media person (the Oprah of that time) upon which it was widely disseminated.

It is against the Liberal gospel as seen in that book that Machen responded to. While Liberalism is all about life (practical living), Machen claimed that Christianity first and foremost is build upon a message and upon doctrine. This doctrine then produced life, and without this doctrine so-called Christian living is impossible.

Machen belonged to the Reformed tradition which traces itself back formally to the Reformation [and materially to the Apostles, but that is for another time]. The Reformers re-discovered the Gospel in a time of darkness, and this Gospel impacted many for Christ.

So what is this Gospel? The Gospel which Machen believed is the full Gospel consisting of the imputation of our sin to Christ and Christ's righteousness to us. Adam as our representative head failed the probation in Eden and fell from his state of original righteousness. In him we too fell and are borned into this world sinful and under the wrath of God. We are helpless to save ourselves and were destined for hellfire. But God from eternity has chosen a people for Himself, and has sent His Son to be a propitiation for our sins, so that through Christ we are able to be saved. In Christ's suffering and death He paid the punishment that should be justly meted out to us. Through His life, He merited the righteousness that He can give to His people by imputing it to them. In other words, Christ died the death we should have died and lived the life we should have lived so that we can be saved from the wretched state we have inherited from Adam.

Machen therefore rejected the false gospels of his time. He rejected mysticism and pantheism as gospels. He similarly rejected general morality as there is no such thing as general morality, unless one wishes to agree that killing Jews in Nazi Germany during Hitler's reign was morally correct. Biblical morality he rejects as the Gospel because the Law only terrifies and cannot save. Synergism is the Galatian heresy and therefore wrong, as is salvation by character. The only Gospel that saves is salvation by grace alone through faith alone.

Fesko goes back to the idea of Christ's righteousness. Quoting Rom. 5:18-19, he says that it is no use for Christ to suffer in order that we are placed back in the same state as Adam in the garden of Eden to be tested a second time. We not only need Christ to pay for our sin but we need Him to bring us to heaven with His robes of righteousness. Turning to Gal. 3:12, we are reminded again that the Law is not of Faith. Salvation is therefore about faith, not works. Whereas Liberalism is about the imperative and is thus law, Christianity is about the indicative of the Gospel.

Fesko continues with one pertinent case whereby Machen and the Gospel is important today. Mark Noll's book Is the Reformation Over? has been answered in the affirmative. However, is that really the case? Fesko asked us to consider the following statements from the 2nd Vatican Council:

... But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohamedans [i.e. Muslims], who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things, and as Saviour wills that all men be saved. Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. ...

(Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Chapter 1, section 16)

Again the most relevant portion:

... But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Muslims ...

Is the Reformation really over? From the teachings of the 2nd Vatican Council, it is clear that the Reformation is far from over. In fact, as 2nd Vatican promoted the heresy of inclusivism, it can be seen that the Council of Trent was even more orthodox than 2nd Vatican.

In this light, the Gospel and its defence is still and is even more relevant today. We must therefore remain vigilant and valiant for the truth.

No comments: