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Machen, J.G. – Importance of Christian Scholarship

The Importance of Christian Scholarship
by J. Gresham Machen

In this book by Machen, he examines why Christians should be extremely concerned with excellence in education. The first section is Christian excellence in education’s bearing on evangelism. The second section is its bearing on the defence of the faith, our basic foundational beliefs, and the third section is its bearing on the building up of the church.



Modern Teaching
“Religious Education”


New Testament Evangelism
Christ and the Woman of Samaria
Paul’s Missionary Preaching
The Simplicity of the Gospel!
Life Founded on Truth
How to be Saved


The Need for the Defence of the Faith
The Importance of Argument
The Place of Christian Apologetics To-day
Controversy in the Church
Prayer and Theological Differences
Controversy and Revival
The Holy Spirit and Doctrine
Positive Preaching!
The Method of Defence
A Scholarly Defence of the Faith
Knowledge of Truth and Error
Past History of the Church


The Apostolic Practice
Doctrinal Preaching
Modern Preaching
The Revelation of God in the Bible
The Revelation of God in Nature
The Need for a Fuller Revelation
The Revelation of Man in the Bible
What is Wrong with the World?
The Gospel Unfolded in Scripture


It seems to me, as I stand here before you to-day, that there is one blessing in these days of defection and unbelief which we have come to value as we never valued it before. That is the blessing of Christian fellowship in the presence of a hostile world, and in the presence of a visible Church which too often has departed from the Word of God. To-day, during the three meetings of this League, in the portion of the meetings which has been allotted to me, I am to have the privilege of delivering three addresses on the subject, “The Importance of Christian Scholarship.”

It is no doubt unfortunate that the person who speaks about this subject should have so limited an experimental acquaintance with the subject about which he is endeavouring to speak; but in these days of anti-intellectualism you may be willing to hear a word in defence of the intellect, even from one whose qualifications for speaking on that subject are so limited as mine.

There was a time when the raising of the question as to the importance of Christian scholarship might have seemed to be ridiculous; there was a time when a man who does so much talking as a minister or a Sunday School teacher ought to do, in the propagation of the Faith to which he adheres, would have regarded it as a matter of course that he ought to know something about the subject of which he undertakes to talk.

Modern Teaching

But in recent years we have got far beyond all such elementary considerations as that; modern pedagogy has emancipated us, whether we be in the pulpit or in the professor’s chair or in the pew, from anything so irksome as earnest labour in the acquisition of knowledge. It never seems to occur to many modern teachers that the primary business of the teacher is to study the subject that he is going to teach. Instead of studying the subject that he is going to teach, he studies “education”; a knowledge of the methodology of teaching takes the place of a knowledge of the particular branch of literature, history or science to which a man has devoted his life.

This substitution of methodology for content in the preparation of the teacher is based upon a particular view of what education is. It is based upon the view that education consists primarily, not in the imparting of information, but in a training of the faculties of the child; that the business of the teacher is not to teach, but to develop in the child a faculty which will enable the child to learn.

This child-centered notion of education seems to involve emancipation from a vast amount of drudgery. It used to be thought necessary to do some hard work at school. When a textbook was given to a class, it was expected that the contents of the textbook should be mastered. But now all that has been changed. Storing up facts in the mind was a long and painful process, and it is indeed comforting to know that we can now do without it. Away with all drudgery and all hard work! Self-expression has taken their place. A great pedagogic discovery has been made — the discovery that it is possible to think with a completely empty mind.

It cannot be said that the results of the discovery are impressive. This child-centred notion of education has resulted, particularly in America, where it has been most ruthlessly applied, in a boundless superficiality of which we Americans certainly have little reason to be proud; but it has probably not been confined to America by any means. I wonder when we shall have that revival of learning which we so much need, and which I verily believe might be, in the providence of God, as was the Renaissance of the fifteenth century, the precursor of a Reformation in the Church. When that revival of learning comes, we may be sure that it will sweep away the present absurd over-emphasis upon methodology in teaching at the expense of content. We shall never have a true revival of learning until teachers turn their attention away from the mere mental process of the child, out into the marvellous richness and variety of the universe and of human life. Not teachers who have studied the methodology of teaching, but teachers who are on fire with a love of the subjects that they are going to teach are the real torch-bearers of intellectual advance.

“Religious Education”

Certainly the present view of education is, when it is applied to the work of the preacher and of the teacher in the Church, sceptical to the core. It is summed up in what is called “religious education.” I wonders sometimes at the readiness with which Christian people — I do not mean Church-members, but real Bible-believing Christians — use that term; for the ordinary implications of the term are quite opposed to Christian religion. The fundamental notion underlying the ordinary use of the term “religious education” is that the business of the teacher in the Church is not to impart knowledge of a fixed body of truth which God has revealed, but to train the religious faculty of the child. The religious faculty of the child, it is supposed, may be trained by the use of the most widely diverse doctrinal content; it may be trained in this generation, perhaps, by the thought of a personal God; but in another generation it may be trained equally well by the thought of an ideal humanity as the only God there is. Thus the search for objective and permanent truth is given up, and instead we have turned our attention to the religious faculties of man. In other words, men have become interested to-day in religion because they have ceased to believe in God.

As over against such scepticism, the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, presents a body of truth which God has revealed; and if we hold the Biblical view, we shall regard it as our supreme function, as teachers as well as preachers and as Christian parents and as simple Christians, to impart a knowledge of that body of truth. The Christian preacher, we shall hold, needs above all to know the thing that he is endeavouring to preach.

But if knowledge is necessary to preaching, it does seem probable that the fuller the knowledge is, the better the preacher will be able to do his work. Underlying preaching, in other words, is Christian scholarship; and it is in defence of Christian scholarship that I have thought it might be fitting to say a few words to you to-day.

Christian scholarship is necessary to the preacher, and to the man who in whatever way, in public or in private, endeavours to proclaim the gospel to his fellow-men, in at least three ways.

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