What Hath The West To Do With Jersusalem?

Although he advanced a simple explanation—some would call it no explanation at all—Machen’s analysis did not lack historical awareness. In addition to questioning the dominant position in New Testament studies, Machen thought that a study of Paul would resolve several problems surrounding Christianity’s emergence as a world religion. One concerned the Bible’s enormous influence on Western society. How could a “thoroughly Semitic book,” Machen wondered, come to a place of prominence even greater “than the glories of Greek literature” in a civilization shaped by the language, literature, and philosophy of Greece and Rome? The intrinsic value of the Bible could not explain this phenomenon since “the race from which the Bible came” had been despised throughout Western history. Christianity’s influence upon the West was also worthy of historical investigation because this religion originated among a “very peculiar people.” In A.D. 35 Christianity appeared to be nothing more than “a Jewish sect” but within thirty years was “plainly a world religion.” Such questions gave The Origin of Paul’s Religion a tone that clearly separated his criticisms of liberal scholars from fundamentalist diatribes against higher criticism.

D.G. Hart, Defending the Faith: J. Gresham Machen and the Crisis of Conservative Protestantism in Modern America

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5 Responses to What Hath The West To Do With Jersusalem?

  1. Chris Donato says:

    Curious: Where does Hart “lay the blame” (assuming a locus) for the conflation of classical/confessional Protestantism and fundamentalism? Does Machen not serve in any way as a bridge between the two (at least for Presbyterians)?

  2. Zrim says:


    So far, it hasn’t struck me that the book has the specific purpose of blame in mind. It may be that conflating the two is just par for the course in the American context, and it falls to the likes of Hart (and Machen) to make careful and necessary distinctions. Speaking of which, did you see this post? The author commented there—maybe he’ll show up here and you can get it from the horse’s mouth.

    But when Machen himself describes fundamentalism as “something sounding like a strange new sect,” I get the sense he charges a high toll for Presbyterians wanting to cross his bridge.

  3. Chris Donato says:

    Good point, that. To my mind the Princetonians (and possibly Mercersburg) stand as examples of those “halycon days” of confessional Presbyterianism in America (Machen, I suppose, notwithstanding)—unafraid to read and engage (liberally and graciously) the world of ideas, and even emend their own views publically when deemed necessary. That’s pretty much anathema to the fundamentalist mindset (pejoratively understood).

    I did see that post you link to and found it, as is typical, helpful and thought-provoking. I had a few great ideas to carry on the TV analogy one late evening, but by morning they all seemed just plain stupid.

  4. Chris Donato says:

    The new banner, incidentally, is much more pleasing to the eye.

  5. Zrim says:

    As a confessionalist having descended from liberalism and married into fundamentalism, I am persuaded that Machen had both their numbers. And insofar as he has shown both are two sides of the same American evangelical coin, 21st century Hartianism is 20th century Machenianism perfected.

    Speaking of which, glad the new banner goes easy on the eye. I think it also captures the evangelical-household-versus-the-confessional-outhouse theme around here.

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