The Protestant Prophet: J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism at 100

In a time when the political, religious, and cultural challenges strikingly parallel those of Machen’s day, his arguments and actions offer us a set of timeless and timely insights. We would all do well to observe them.
We align with people who are pro-reality, who respect core community values such as truth and honesty, and who see the human being as a whole: body and soul. There is no metaphysical “gendered soul” separate from the body. Teaching body dissociation to kids (“born in the wrong body”) has led to a tidal wave of self-hatred, body dysmorphia, depression, anxiety, and self-harm.
While the digitized promises of meta-man may entice us, they are ultimately false promises based on a rejection of fundamental aspects of human embodiment. There is an integrated wholeness to man that requires both resting in the givenness of human identity and actively engaging with the world.
As young people prepare for college and early adulthood, they should reject conventional narratives that celebrate self-fulfillment and careerism. Instead, they should foster commitment to people, places, and ideas, and prepare for hardship and sacrifice. These countercultural habits and practices are difficult to establish, but they will serve one well in all stages of life.
The recent anniversary of Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena” speech provides an opportunity to reflect on the enduring relevance of his insights into the role of virtue and action in education, the importance of family life that is ordered towards the creation and formation of the next generation, and the need to build political community based on truth and integrity.
Among the ruins of family and faith, amid gender deconstruction, surrounded by endless intersectional identities, and with countless constructed categories being hastily erected in their place, where can a sure and stable identity be found?
Church is not just a place to sing, listen, think, or emote. It is where God delivers Christ and his forgiveness through Word and Sacrament into the whole human person. Privatized, digital worship services subtly spurn physicality and community, unintentionally endorsing a mind–body dualism that runs counter to Christianity’s holistic view of the human person.
When gendered embodiment is treasured, maleness and femaleness are understood not as acts we perform, but as our very bodily essence. Being a man or a woman is not simply what one does, it is who one is.
Eric Voegelin’s warnings about the dangers of gnostic politics apply to the right as well as the left. Christians must make a clear and unequivocal distinction between the historic Christian faith and the misleading political religion that is more pervasive on the right than anyone seemed to realize.
If we combine the beauty of art and the power of narrative with rational argument, we can convince people of the worthiness of marriage and family life more effectively than by argument alone. Anna Karenina is an example of how to do this. It beckons the reader to choose the better path, contrasting the destructive adultery of Vronsky and Anna with Levin and Kitty’s enchanting journey into the life of married love.
While autonomous vehicles sound freeing at first, they also have the potential to increase passivity and decrease human agency.
A powerful antidote to such atomistic existence, loneliness, and alienation, is found in the family: productive, resilient, and together. A family-centered life with the home as the engine of education and economics orders one’s vocations and roles in ways that build lasting familial bonds and provide stability amid a changing world. COVID-19 quarantining provides an opportunity for this reality to sink in.