I was listening to Christ the Center, and they were joking about how in the OPC, pretty much everybody knows everybody. “Two degrees of Machen,” they said. Pretty funny, but it got me thinking.
Surely you’ve heard of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Because the OPC is (like the community of film actors) pretty small and interconnected, the OPC surely has max 4 degrees of separation; person A knows their pastor, person B knows their pastor. If the pastors know each other, that’s a separation of 3. If the pastors don’t know each other directly, then through Presbyteries and GA, they must know somebody in common, for a separation of 4.
It seems a cinch to throw the PCA into the mix and probably only bump up the max separation by 1 (although maybe I have a skewed view, since I’m in a PCA that used to be an OPC). URC, CRC, let’s just toss in all of NAPARC. I’m sure every member-in-good-standing of a NAPARC congregation is separated from any other by no more than 6 links. (I bet it’s still true even if you throw in the CREC — but what about PCUSA? LCMS?)
A predecessor of the Bacon number is the Erdős Number, the degree of publishing separation from legendary Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdős. (Because I was fortunate enough to publish a paper with legendary computer scientist Dick Karp, and Karp’s Erdős Number is 2, I have an Erdős Numer of 3.)
We can play the same game with J. Gresham Machen. Here are the rules.
- If you are J. Gresham Machen, then your Machen Number is 0.
- If you are (were) personally acquainted with Machen, then your Machen Number is 1.
- If you are personally acquainted with somebody with a Machen Number of 1, then your Machen Number is 2, etc.
So I’ll start. It is remotely possible that one of the more ancient of my Hopkins professors might have had the opportunity to know Machen, which would make me a 2. Unfortunately, I have no such evidence. But, the lovely organist in my church (who is like a 3rd Grandmother to my boys!) is the daughter of an OPC pastor from North Dakota, who pastored the church that Machen was visiting when he got sick and died. So my Machen number is 3.
And if you know me, your Machen number is no worse than 4! Can you get to 3 (or 2?!) on your own? (If there are any 1’s out there, they would have had to know him when they were children, and they’re probably too old to be blogging now!)
[UPDATE: Andrew Moody is a little too clever: “if you take into account the indwelling of the Holy Spirit I could be a 1.” Rule clarification: yes, the Holy Spirit can have a Machen Number of 1, but that doesn’t make every Christian a 2. If you are personally acquainted with a human person with a Machen Number of 1, then your Machen Number is 2, etc…]