On November 3, 1921, J. Gresham Machen presented an address entitled, “Liberalism or Christianity?” In that famous address, later expanded into the book, Christianity and Liberalism, Machen argued that evangelical Christianity and its liberal rival were, in effect, two very different religions.
Machen’s argument became one of the issues of controversy in the Fundamentalist/Modernist controversies of the 1920s and beyond. By any measure, Machen was absolutely right: the movement that styled itself as liberal Christianity was eviscerating the central doctrines of the Christian faith while continuing to claim Christianity as “a way of life” and a system of meaning.
“The chief modern rival of Christianity is ‘liberalism,’” Machen asserted. “Modern liberalism, then, has lost sight of the two great presuppositions of the Christian message — the living God and the fact of sin,” he argued. “The liberal doctrine of God and the liberal doctrine of man are both diametrically opposite to the Christian view. But the divergence concerns not only the presuppositions of the message, but also the message itself.”
Howard P. Kainz, professor emeritus of philosophy at Marquette University, offers a similar argument, warning that it is now modern secular liberalism which poses as the great rival to orthodox Christianity.
Observing the basic divide in the American culture, Kainz notes: “Most of the heat of battle occurs where traditional religious believers clash with certain liberals who are religiously committed to secular liberalism.”
Kainz offers a crucial insight here. He suggests that one of the most important factors in the nation’s cultural divide is that persons on both sides are deeply committed to their own creeds and worldviews — even if on one side those creeds are secular.