J. Gresham Machen

From 1881
 to 1936

One of the most articulate defenders of orthodox Christian theology against the liberalizing and rationalizing trends of the early twentieth century was J. Gresham Machen. Influenced by his Reformed Protestant background, Machen was trained as a pastor at Princeton Seminary (once the center of conservative Calvinism), and authored numerous religious texts. Distressed by the forces of theological liberalism, Machen left his teaching post at Princeton to found the Westminster Theological Seminary and the Orthodox Presbyterian denomination.

Yet the radical ideas Machen resisted were not exclusively theological. His historical significance also lay in his opposition to the increasing encroachment of the state in the lives of American citizens. According to historian George Marsden, Machen's politics were “radically libertarian.” As Marsden explains, Machen “opposed almost any extension of state power and took stands on a variety of issues. Like most libertarians, his stances violated usual categories of liberal or conservative.”

In his most important work on freedom, Christianity and Liberalism, he made his case for individual liberty. In it he wrote that “Personality can only be developed in the realm of individual choice. And that realm, in the modern state, is being slowly but steadily eradicated.” He saw theological liberalism and increasing state control growing at the same time and warned that as the church withdrew from its biblical obligations to its fellow man, a void was created filled by the state.