A Sure Foundation
The narration of the facts is history; the narration of the facts with the meaning of the facts is doctrine. “Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried” – that is history. “He loved me and gave Himself for me” – that is doctrine. Such was the Christianity of the primitive Church.
Although first published nearly a century ago J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity & Liberalism feels incredibly contemporary. Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising. Despite the Second World War, the atom bomb, the sexual revolution, landing on the moon, the electronics revolution, and the digital revolution we are living in the modern world just as Machen was; albeit the late-modern world. Machen identifies the key cultural shift happening around 1850. This was the shift from a Western civilization that ‘was still predominantly Christian’ to one which is ‘predominantly pagan’.
Paganism as defined by Machen is,
That view of life which finds the highest goal of human existence in the healthy and harmonious and joyous development of existing human faculties. Very different is the Christian ideal. Paganism is optimistic with regard to unaided human nature, whereas Christianity is the religion of the broken heart.
Paganism refuses to acknowledge the reality and power of sin, which means that while Paganism can create much that is glorious (Machen cites ancient Greece) its foundation is rotten. By contrast, Christianity acknowledges sin,
But then, after sin has been removed by the grace of God, the Christian can proceed to develop joyously every faculty that God has given him.
This is why we need doctrine! Doctrine enables us to build a sure foundation and then something glorious on top of it. At this stage in our cultural revolution it feels that the edifice of paganism is beginning to crumble and reveal its rotten foundation. Paganism simply cannot provide the answers we need to the questions raised by our quest for identity, value and love. Only the truth can. Yes, Jesus loved me and gave himself for me. That is a foundation on which to build our lives.