The chief obstacle to the Gospel

“What is the cause of this tremendous defection? For my part, I have little hesitation in saying that it lies chiefly in the intellectual sphere. Men do not accept Christianity because they can no longer be convinced that Christianity is true. It may be useful, but is it true?…The thought of the day, as it makes itself most strongly felt in the universities, is profoundly opposed to Christianity, or at least it is out of connection with Christianity. The chief obstacle to the Christian religion today lies in the sphere of the intellect.

That assertion must be guarded against two misconceptions.

In the first place, I do not mean that most men reject Christianity consciously on account of intellectual difficulties. On the contrary, rejection of Christianity is due in the vast majority of cases simply to indifference. Only a few men have given the subject real attention. The vast majority of those who reject the gospel do so simply because they know nothing about it. But whence comes this indifference? It is due to the intellectual atmosphere in which men are living. The modern world is dominated by ideas which ignore the gospel. Modern culture is not altogether opposed to the gospel. But it is out of all connection with it. It not only prevents the acceptance of Christianity. It prevents Christianity even from getting a hearing.

In the second place, I do not mean that the removal of intellectual objections will make a man a Christian. No conversion was ever wrought simply by argument. A change of heart is also necessary. And that can be wrought only by the immediate exercise of the power of God. But because intellectual labor is insufficient it does not follow, as is so often assumed, that it is unnecessary. God may, it is true, overcome all intellectual obstacles by an immediate exercise of His regenerative power. Sometimes He does. But He does so very seldom. Usually He exerts His power in connection with certain conditions of the human mind. Usually He does not bring into the Kingdom, entirely without preparation, those whose mind and fancy are completely dominated by ideas which make the acceptance of the gospel logically impossible.

… The situation is desperate. It might discourage us. But not if we are truly Christians. Not if we are living in vital communion with the risen Lord. If we are really convinced of the truth of our message, then we can proclaim it before a world of enemies, then the very difficulty of our task, the very scarcity of our allies becomes an inspiration, then we can even rejoice that God did not place us in an easy age, but in a time of doubt and perplexity and battle.”

Christianity & Culture by J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937) published in The Princeton Theological Review, Vol. 11, 1913.

8 replies
  1. Ross
    Ross says:

    The process started (slowly) on 24 Nov 1959, when Charles Darwin published his fantasy novel, “On the Origin of the Species”.

    It has since gathered momentum, and the public has been forced-fed the propaganda. The consensus of scientists is usually correct, isn’t it?
    Just like the (alleged) Climate Change problem!

  2. Robin Boom
    Robin Boom says:

    To believe that the Son of God, was born to a virgin 2000 years ago, walked the earth, and was crucified and died and rose again after 3 days, seems far too much of a fairytale to most modern men/women. We call Him our Saviour, because we believe in this dogma, but it is essentially dogma (or should I say theology, as most people don’t like the term dogma). Is it anymore appealing to today’s society than Buddhism or Islam? Probably it is compared to the latter, but thats because of terrorism/Jihad. Most people concur with the principles of Christian lifestyle, but not necessarily the salvation story.

    However, if we could genuinely lay hands on the sick and see them recover, and be conduits of Gods miraculous power, we (or even 1 man/woman so totally immersed in God), then the world will take notice. Our inability to appropriate what Jesus says we should be doing, shows our spiritually bankrupt state, and therefore the world understandably rejects the dogma we offer.

  3. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    I would tend to say that sacrificially loving other people (enemies included) is a miraculous demonstration of Gods reality, and I would concur that there are varying levels of bankruptcy in this too (among those who call themselves Christians). Yet there are many modern day shining examples, as there also are in ‘demonstrations of the power’ of the Spirit. It appears that they are not happening in the places, or with the exposure, which you (and I) desire them to happen. What is important to God does not appear to line up with what we think important.

    Yet, is it not also apparent that those with a strong belief and faith in naturalism can never be swayed … even by miracles? They do not understand how it could happen, but steadily holdfast to the claim that a ‘natural solution will eventually be found’. I am aghast at the lack of reasoning behind this belief system – matter follows and adheres to laws, thus every event that has ever happened must come from these laws (for the natural world is all there is).

  4. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Dear Ross,

    I think you mean 1859.

    And you should note that the Modern era was in full swing by Darwin’s publication of Origins, and before that was the Enlightenment, where most intellectual challenges to Christianity began to shown themselves more openly.

  5. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    Most people concur with the principles of Christian lifestyle, but not necessarily the salvation story.

    I think this is true. It is quite possible to live a fully reflective and ‘spiritual’ life without Christianity. And this is the key, obviously. How does a non-christian do this? How do people arrive at the principles without the dogma; the edicts?
    I find it quite interesting the the fear of an afterlife just doesn’t factor anymore. I get the impression that in antiquity this really got to people; they were really fearful of hell. Not today, I think. After all, a benign and loving being is not going to send me to hell just because I didn’t buy the salvation story. Because there are perfectly good reasons why I don’t, and such a being would have intimate and empathetic understaning of my psychology.

    Yet, is it not also apparent that those with a strong belief and faith in naturalism can never be swayed … even by miracles?

    The trouble is, Jonathan, that naturalism is not a worldview built upon the wilful ignoring of the evidence of miracles over the centuries. Rather it is a worldview based, in large part, on an expectant past. Expectant of promised miracles, and careful consideration of the evidence. And the further we go without an iota of evidence, the stronger naturalism gets.

    There are many, many things which, if I was shown them, would convince me of a god on the spot. Rather, it is the christian who can never be swayed and convinced that there are no miracles, because they believe in them despite the absolutely no evidence whatsoever.

  6. Jonathan
    Jonathan says:

    Gidday Other Simon, I wasn’t exactly sure of your intent but I got …

    a) You claimed that all documented miracles are false because people wanted them to occur?

    b) Then you said that there is not an iota of evidence for miracles. Without any backing to this statement I presume it followed from (a)

    c) Christians believe in miracles without any evidence (presumably leaning on b)

  7. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Hello Other Simon,

    After all, a benign and loving being is not going to send me to hell just because I didn’t buy the salvation story. Because there are perfectly good reasons why I don’t, and such a being would have intimate and empathetic understaning of my psychology.

    Such as being might also (i) know you better that you know yourself, and understand that you are deceiving yourself. That is at least a possibility. (i) Such a being might also comprehend that your so-called “perfectly good reasons” are fundamentally flawed. I recall “Simon’s reasons for abandoning Christianity” post – or is that not you?

    The trouble is, Jonathan, that naturalism is not a worldview built upon the wilful ignoring of the evidence of miracles over the centuries. Rather it is a worldview based, in large part, on an expectant past.

    Naturalism is a worldview – witness the ‘ism’ at the end – and as a worldview that is committed to the belief that the only things that are real and exist are that which are natural, naturalism does rule out the possibility of miracles a priori.

    There are many, many things which, if I was shown them, would convince me of a god on the spot.

    I’m curious as to exactly what would be convincing to you?

    Rather, it is the christian who can never be swayed and convinced that there are no miracles, because they believe in them despite the absolutely no evidence whatsoever.

    I’ve witnessed a miracle, and know many people who can give testimony of either performing miracles in the name of Jesus or of being healed themselves. The fact is God is active and working today, and this work is apparent for any who care to look.

  8. Other Simon
    Other Simon says:

    Can’t believe I forgot about this thread!

    Such as being might also (i) know you better that you know yourself, and understand that you are deceiving yourself. That is at least a possibility.

    Oh, completely! I agree. But my point is that if this is true, so what? It doesn’t matter what my reasons are, they are all psychological mechanisms. And a god which would put a person in hell for eternity for these psychological mechanisms is hardly a respectable being.
    I notice that, for many christians, ‘an eternity in hell’ has already been softened to ‘an eternity without god’s presence’. (I don’t know of the biblical justifiations here)

    Naturalism is a worldview – witness the ‘ism’ at the end – and as a worldview that is committed to the belief that the only things that are real and exist are that which are natural, naturalism does rule out the possibility of miracles a priori.

    Okay, but I never said that naturalism wasn’t a worldview. My point is that naturalism is a worldview arrived at via empirical observation. My comment still stands: “The trouble is, Jonathan, that naturalism is not a worldview built upon the wilful ignoring of the evidence of miracles over the centuries. Rather it is a worldview based, in large part, on an expectant past. Expectant of promised miracles, and careful consideration of the evidence. And the further we go without an iota of evidence, the stronger naturalism gets.”

    I’m curious as to exactly what would be convincing to you?

    Well, a miracle, for one. A personal one even. I’m not concerned whether it be public, it could be private.
    But in the public sphere, how about strong empirical evidence for a god? Empirical on the level that science demands of any claim. How about prayer studies confirming undeniable effect?

    I’ve witnessed a miracle, and know many people who can give testimony of either performing miracles in the name of Jesus or of being healed themselves. The fact is God is active and working today, and this work is apparent for any who care to look.

    I witnessed a ‘miracle’, too. A personal one, when I was a teen. But I learned later it was a psychological-emotional thing.
    I think that you may need to upgrade your notion of ‘fact’. I contend that if you were born a muslim, you would claim the same for islam. Would you agree? Ergo, it IS the religious person who cannot be convinced that there are no miracles.

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