The Abrogation of Common Honesty, part 2

[continued from part 1]

In critiquing the liberal Protestant’s misleading use of traditional Christian terms, Machen continues:

“In another way also, liberalism within the ‘evangelical’ churches is inferior to Unitarianism. It is inferior to Unitarianism in the matter of honesty. In order to maintain themselves in the evangelical churches and quiet the fears of their conservative associates, the liberals resort constantly to a double use of language. A young man, for example, has received disquieting reports of the unorthodoxy of a prominent preacher. Interrogating the preacher as to his belief, he receives a reassuring reply. ‘You may tell everyone,’ says the liberal preacher in effect, ‘that I believe that Jesus is God.’ The inquirer goes away much impressed.

“It may well be doubted, however, whether the assertion, ‘I believe that Jesus is God,’ or the like, on the lips of liberal preachers, is strictly truthful. The liberal preacher attaches indeed a real meaning to the words, and that meaning is very dear to his heart. He really does believe that ‘Jesus is God.’ But the trouble is that he attaches to the words a different meaning from that which is attached to them by the simple-minded person to whom he is speaking. He offends, therefore, against the fundamental principle of truthfulness in language. According to that fundamental principle, language is truthful, not when the meaning attached to the words by the speaker, but when the meaning intended to be produced in the mind of the particular person addressed, is in accordance with the facts. Thus the truthfulness of the assertion, ‘I believe that Jesus is God,’ depends upon the audience that is addressed. If the audience is composed of theologically trained persons, who will attach the same meaning to the word ‘God’ as that which the speaker attaches to it, then the language is truthful. But if the audience is composed of old-fashioned Christians, who have never attached anything but the old meaning to the word ‘God’ (the meaning which appears in the first verse of Genesis), then the language is untruthful. And in the latter case, not all the pious motives in the world will make the utterance right. Christian ethics do not abrogate common honesty; no possible desire of edifying the Church and of avoiding offense can excuse a lie” (J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1923], p. 111–12).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s