Six Degrees of Gresham Machen

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…]

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28 Responses to Six Degrees of Gresham Machen

  1. RubeRad says:

    Or maybe it was Minnesota, but I’m pretty sure it was North Dakota.

  2. Bruce Settergren says:

    I’m a two.

  3. "lee n. field" says:

    Hmm. 20-ish years ago, in my CRC days, there were a few OPC types who were in our congregation during their sojourn in that college town. So, I’m probably a 5 or 4.

  4. Camden Bucey says:

    Thanks for the mention to the show. Personally, I’m a two. Rev. John Galbraith attends Calvary OPC in Glenside, PA where I am a member. He was a student of Machen’s.

  5. RubeRad says:

    Hey cool! I recommended Reformed Forum a while back, but I’m way out of date. My CTC catch-up was put on the back-burner for a while because I discovered Table Talk Radio, but I finally caught up there, so I’m back to enjoying CTC. Thanks for all the work you do!

  6. RubeRad says:

    Yes, that’s another interesting question. If every (current) member-in-good-standing is connected with every other by max 4 links, surely they are connected to Machen by max 4 links (their pastor (1) might know somebody (2) who knew Machen (3), and certainly their pastor (1) knows somebody (2) who knew somebody (3) who knew Machen (4)). So I’ll grant your 5, but to get a 4 you’ll have to come up with some names!

  7. Andrew Moody says:

    I’m a 2. I sell portraits of Machen and own a J. Gresham Machen bobblehead. Does that earn any bonus points???? 😉

  8. RubeRad says:

    Are you a 2 the same as Camden Bucey, through Galbraith, or are you somehow claiming a mystical union between the bobblehead and the thing signified?

  9. dgh says:

    Surely there has to be a better rating system than this, if Camden is a 2. How about 1-star, 2-star, 3-star, etc. within the numbers. In which case, I’ll see Camden’s Galbraith and raise him a Mary Gresham Machen, an Arthur Machen, and a Betsy Palmer, to whom Machen was an uncle.

  10. Jim Cassidy says:

    I’m a ZERO. No, I’m not Machen. I’m really just a plain ‘ol zero. 😛

  11. RubeRad says:

    Well, there is such a thing as a fractional Erdős Number, but it’s reserved for people with #1 already; two papers with Erdős gets you 1/2, 10 papers 1/10, etc. I’m not sure how we could adapt that principle in this situation.

  12. RubeRad says:

    The imputed active and passive obedience of Christ has to count for something (no hope without it!)

  13. Andrew Moody says:

    Yup. However, if you take into account the indwelling of the Holy Spirit I could be a 1. 😉

  14. Andrew Moody says:

    I think DG wins when it comes to Machen and Coen brothers films…..

  15. RubeRad says:

    Very clever. Actually that would still make you (and every Christian) a 2, so I had to update the rules to disallow this devious maneuver. Tit 3:9

  16. Bruce Settergren says:

    Donald Poundstone. Although it may be a reach. He sang a solo at Machen’s funeral.

  17. Zrim says:

    Oy, as if Dutch bingo for a Slavanian goyim isn’t bad enough. I’m not ons volk, now I have to gauge my friggin’ Machen factor? But I once met Rube…

  18. lee n. field says:

    Arthur Machen the Welsh writer of horror fantasy?

  19. dgh says:

    No, Arthur Machen, the father, brother, and nephew of J. Gresham Machen, all of whom were attorneys in Baltimore.

  20. Camden Bucey says:

    I concur. It’s not fair that DGH and I could be considered at the same level. On another note, if a Machen bobblehead gives Moody bonus points, what does the life-size wax statue of Machen in DGH’s living room give him?

  21. RubeRad says:

    It depends. Is it candle-wax, carnuba-wax, turtle-wax, or ear-wax?

  22. Chris Sherman says:

    Does reading Machen count?

  23. RubeRad says:

    Only if you sat in his lap and he read to you personally…

  24. Pingback: Preaching on the Plains | The Confessional Outhouse

  25. Bruce says:

    The late Bob Atwell–who, late to the meeting and unaware of the substance of the vote (but who remembered well his instruction in polity), had the dubious honor of being the sole “nay” vote on the question of bringing the OPC into existence at the 1st G.A.–This Rev. Atwell was for a few years a childhood pastor of mine. My father was his (much, much younger) Associate Minister.

  26. RubeRad says:

    Give that man a 2!

  27. Went to church with Henry Coray, here at El Camino OPC in Goleta CA before he passed away.

    What’s interesting to (all about) me is that I found this blog post from the fact that heidelblog today was all about the John Calvin bobblehead, and I was thinking if the Machen Bobble head was out there (was looking for an image):

    Camden Bucey says:
    May 12, 2011 at 1:36 pm
    I concur. It’s not fair that DGH and I could be considered at the same level. On another note, if a Machen bobblehead gives Moody bonus points, what does the life-size wax statue of Machen in DGH’s living room give him?

    Amazing where google leads us.

    Thanks for the post outhousers!

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