I REMEMBER … The Day Bruce Christian Brought The House Down

THERE we all were, budding young students for the ministry. Most of us were studying for the ‘United Faculty of Theology’ certificate while a few rooms away our more academically gifted brethren were studying for the Bachelor of Divinity degree of Sydney University. One of the BD lecturers, well-known for her ‘liberal’ views on Christianity, gave Bruce Christian a copy of one of her books. After Bruce had read it, she asked for his opinion.

     Bruce said that since she was obviously intending it for a Christian readership, in the interests of openness and honesty she should include in the Introduction a statement of her understanding of the gospel. She said she followed Søren Kierkegaard’s definition of ‘faith’, which is ‘treading water in 60,000 fathoms’ to which Bruce replied: ‘If you choose to tread water, when God has given you a “Rock” to stand on, that is not “faith”, but “stupidity”.’ The lecturer was unimpressed, to say the least, and stormed off.

     Bear in mind that Bruce was a young student back then, labouring to study under someone whose views were poles apart from his own. With the passing of time and growth in grace, we’ve come to know him as a particularly gracious man and meticulous scholar, so that his reply has morphed into a challenge which can more suitably be offered to anyone who relies on the existentialist approach to life for guidance: ‘Why would I want to tread water when I can put my feet on the Rock?’

     This incident points up the difference between Christianity and Liberalism – on the one hand the clarity, certainty and confidence of Christianity; on the other hand, the shifting sands of uncertainty, subjectivity and shallowness of Liberalism. Well might the Apostle Paul warn Christians against being ‘tossed back and forth by the waves and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming’; urging us instead, ‘speaking the truth in love, in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ.’ (Ephesians 4.4-16)

     Strangely enough, it was through another lecturer at the college that I came to know about J. Gresham Machen. Jock Brown was the Professor of New Testament Language and Literature. Of all the Greek grammar books available in those days, Jock insisted that we use Machen’s New Testament Greek for Beginners, on the grounds that ‘there’s no crib for Machen’ (a ‘crib’ being a little book in which all the exercises at the end of each chapter had already been done, so, with Machen, students had to do them for themselves). But there was something more: a list of ‘Other Books by the Same Author’. These included ‘Christianity and Liberalism’, ‘The Virgin Birth of Christ’, ‘The Christian Doctrine Of Man’ and several others. What a treasury of truth was unfolded in these books, which I read voraciously.

     Several decades before, Machen had been wised up to the matter, manner and methods of the Liberals. In ‘Christianity and Liberalism’ he compared and contrasted the two and gave a compelling case for their not being variants of one another, but different religions altogether.

     There are many and various kinds of people for whom Christians must pray (see the Westminster ‘Directory For The Public Worship Of God’ for a long but by no means exhaustive list). High on our list in these days must be the Liberals, many of whom were once strong in their faith until they yielded to the serpent’s question, ‘Did God really say … ?’

     Christians believing in the Divine inspiration of the Bible, living under its authority, rejoicing in its sufficiency and relevance for today’s world and awestruck by its sheer wonder must take their stand against all who question it, who reject its authority, who fail to find its help in every time of need and who are not slow to draw others away from the ‘religion which is pure and undefiled’. And they must be the subject of believers’ prayers, for they are as lost as any adherent of any other religion or none.

     Liberalism is such a poor shadow of Christianity that it has degenerated into another religion as it has turned salvation by grace through faith for the doing of good works (Ephesians 2.8-10) into works, works and works, having stripped the Lord Jesus Christ of His divine nature and bidding us try to be like Jesus so that as our bodies decompose in death we will be well remembered by those who are still living.

     Christians must say, not with any skerrick of pride but with the deepest humility and thankfulness under the amazing grace of God, ‘We’re better than that. Oh yes, “we believe that ‘the best way of life is Jesus’ way, the way of service, self-sacrifice, joyfulness, brotherlikindness and love” (thus, E.H. Vines in his booklet ‘What Is Christianity?’ – as theological liberals redefine it), but we can only live like this because in the first place God drew us to Himself, convicting us of our sin, forgiving and cleansing us from sin on account of Christ’s blood shed for us on Calvary’s Cross and granting us abundant, eternal life in Him.’

     Or, as Mrs Alexander puts it in Machen’s favourite hymn:

            ‘Oh dearly, dearly has He loved, and we must love Him too,

            and trust in His redeeming blood, and (then, and only then) try His works to do.’

– Bob Thomas