Protestant Profiles #29: J. Gresham Machen

J. Gresham Machen (1881 – 1937)


Born: Baltimore, United States
Role: theologian, Princeton university scholar, pastor, founder of Westminster Theological Seminary, Orthodox Presbyterian Church (America) & Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions.
Emphases: historical, doctrinal/confessional Christianity; plenary inspiration/inerrancy of Scripture; reality of the supernatural elements of Christianity; full divinity & humanity of Christ; reality of sin; penal substitutionary atonement; exclusivity of salvation in Christ
Protested against: theological liberalism

J. Gresham Machen was schooled in the Westminster Catechism of his mother’s Presbyterian faith and grew up attending Presbyterian churches with his parents. In his early twenties, he entered Princeton Theological Seminary – the fortress of American Reformed academia and ministry training. He graduated in 1905 with dual degrees in theology and liberal arts and travelled to Germany to undertake further studies, while evaluating his future career paths.

Machen experienced personal difficulties as a result of being confronted with the theological liberalism that characterised the German theological environment. While wrestling with the incompatibility between the conservative, Bible-based Presbyterianism of his upbringing and the critical, modernistic, scholastic faith of those he was studying under – Machen eventually came down squarely on the side of theologically conservative,  confessional Presbyterianism.

Returning home to take up positions at Princeton and within the Presbyterian Church, Machen became perhaps the most prominent champion of reformed orthodoxy against the advent of theological liberalism in early 20th century America. As an academic he challenged the liberal scholars of biblical studies by refuting their theories about Paul’s theology departing from Jesus’ teachings. As a theological writer, he attacked liberalism as a different religion that claimed to be Christianity, but differed from it substantially. His best known work, Christianity and Liberalism, remains insightful as an exploration of the key differences between the two different kinds of faith that claim the name of Christianity even today.

The Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy – over the relationship between Christianity’s core doctrines, Scriptures and creeds and the rationalistic mindset of modernism – was the major battle in American churches in the early 1900s. What at first appeared to be a contest concerning the public Christian ‘mind’ became a vicious war for the heart and soul of the church.

Liberals in almost every denomination perverted almost every key orthodox doctrine imaginable in order to ‘reconcile’ their ancient faith with the modern world. The miraculous and supernatural elements of Christianity were downplayed or even denied: Christ’s virgin birth could be explained away; the signs and wonders of the Old and New Testament were pre-modern, unscientific descriptions of natural, explainable phenomena; Scripture itself was not divinely inspired in the way it was commonly understood.

Most seriously, doctrines that pertained directly to salvation, such as the nature of Christ’s atonement and the historical reality of His resurrection were increasingly questioned by ministers and theologians who perceived these dogma as being out of step with modern sensibilities.

Machen pulled no punches in fighting against these pernicious reinterpretations of the Christian faith. But his attempts to keep liberalism from taking over the Presbyterian Church eventually resulted in his expulsion from it – putting him in that great line of rejected reformers who were forced to carry on their work outside of the church they sought to transform for the better.

In 1929, he had founded the Westminster Theological Seminary as an alternative to Princeton Seminary – which was increasingly tolerant of liberal theology and less committed to the robust Reformed theology of previous generations of faculty. A few years later he set up a rival Presbyterian mission sending-agency to the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, due to dissatisfaction with the latter’s vetting of missionary candidates in line with orthodox theological standards. This was too much for his denomination, which took action against Machen, resulting in the suspension of his ordination in 1935.

Together with other ministers who were gravely concerned at the state of their denomination, Machen formed the Presbyterian Church of America (which was forced to change its name, for legal reasons to the ‘Orthodox Presbyterian Church,’ as it remains today). It was a denomination where the fundamentals of the faith and subscription to the Westminster Confession of Faith would be treasured and guarded by all its ministers.

Machen died of pneumonia just 6 months after the formation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. While this meant that he would play little to no role in the development, growth and ongoing activity of the new denomination, his theology and outlook were profoundly imprinted upon the OPC and the other institutions he was instrumental in founding and thus he continued to have a considerable impact upon them long after his death.

John Frame summarised this impact with the following words:

J. Gresham Machen, a lifelong bachelor, left no biological children but many spiritual ones. The story of American conservative evangelical Reformed theology in the twentieth century is largely the story of those children.[1]

“Machen’s Warrior Children,” as Frame has described these theological descendants, have continued to contend for the truths their forefather stood for in the face of widespread liberalism and doctrinal infidelity. While by no means all of Westminster Theological Seminary’s graduates would appreciate that moniker, its breadth of notable alumni demonstrates something of Machen’s lasting impact upon reformed evangelicalism.

Popular pastors and preachers such as Tim Keller and Alistair Begg; theologians such as Wayne Grudem and Kevin Vanhoozer; apologists such as Francis Schaeffer and Robert Bowman; and seminary presidents like Edmund Clowney (of WTS itself) and Philip Ryken (of Wheaton College) are all graduates of the seminary. The current Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Australia, Glenn Davies is also an alumnus of WTS.

Thus, Machen’s legacy has had a considerable impact on many of the shapers of contemporary, 21st century evangelicalism in America and internationally. 80 years after his death, there is still a great need for godly and faithful Christians to contend earnestly for the faith in their respective denominations and, indeed, form new institutions and even church networks where reform proves impossible. Machen should be a valued guide to any evangelical church leader who finds themselves in such a situation.

You can read an online copy of Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism here.


[1] John Frame, “Machen’s Warrior Children”

P.C. Kemeny, “Machen, J.G.” Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals.

“John Gresham Machen” wikipedia



Protestant Profiles #28: Amy Carmichael

Amy Carmichael (1867 – 1951)


Born: Millisle, Northern Ireland
Role: missionary, children’s shelter and rescue missions founder
Emphases: evangelism and love towards the outcasts, vulnerable and needy
Protested against: Hindu temple prostitution

Amy Carmichael was an irrepressible Irish girl who ended her life as an 84 year old invalid in India. The period in-between saw her impact countless lives in the U.K. and India and become one of the most well-known Christian women of the 20th century.

As a young woman she was heavily involved in ministry to girls who worked in factories in Belfast and later in Manchester. A Sunday school class for these young women grew into regular meetings at a Welcome hall, where Carmichael and others ministered to this group who were being neglected by many of the churches in the area.

In her mid-twenties, she had a strong sense that she should volunteer for missionary service in Asia. From one perspective, this decision appears questionable, as Carmichael suffered from neuralgia and was probably not physically up to the rigours of overseas, cross-cultural mission. She arrived in Japan in 1893 and began to reach out to people with the gospel, but was forced to leave due to illness after only a year.

After some time to recover, Carmichael sought to begin afresh in India, where it was hoped the climate would prove kinder to her health. She never left India again, until her death in 1951. Carmichael consistently sought to share Christ with people in India and display His love in the way she loved – but there were also grave social issues in the country which were difficult for a compassionate Christian to ignore.

Temple prostitution was a heinous practice of some local Hindus, which robbed many young girls of their dignity. Carmichael began to provide shelter to those who did not wish to persist in these circumstances and resisted efforts by locals to bring the children and youths back to the temple and force them to return to exploitative practices. She started a home for girls in 1901 and another one for boys in 1905.

The Donhnavur Fellowship, as Carmichael’s ministry came to be known, is still going today and their website recounts the growth of the community:

Baby nurseries led on to cottage homes, schools for all ages from toddlers to teenagers, a dairy farm, rice lands, fruit and vegetable gardens, tailoring departments, kitchens, laundries, workshops, and building offices with teams of builders, carpenters and electricians. From the small beginning of one obedient woman and one small child came a ‘model village’, complete with its own simple Indian facilities and even a hospital to serve the sick and in which to preach the Gospel to the thousands from the villages who flocked to it for help.[1]

During the past 113 years, about 1875 girls and 670 boys have been rescued from situations of moral and physical danger and brought into the safety and love of the Dohnavur Family.  There are hundreds of men and women, who grew up in Dohnavur, who are now serving  in many different professions and occupations throughout India, and overseas as well.[2]

Carmichael spent the last 20 years of her life basically bedridden, after a nasty accident in 1931. Despite this she continued to exercise spiritual leadership and organisational management of the activities in the Dohnavur community. She never married, but was in every sense a spiritual mother to hundreds of Indian children and adults, whom had come into her care.

Amy Carmichael is an excellent example of someone who “should never have become a missionary” and yet became one of the most significant servants of the gospel in the past century. The illness that brought an abrupt end to her service in Japan must have seemed like a dead-end at the time, and yet over half a century of fruitful ministry in India lay ahead of her. Likewise, her crippling injuries in her sixties would have caused many to give up or wind back their efforts for Jesus, but Carmichael somehow continued to press on and bless so many. Truly God’s strength was displayed through her weakness.

Carmichael was once asked about her experience of missionary life, to which she famously replied: “”Missionary life is simply a chance to die.” God alone knows how many thousands of lives have been impacted by this woman’s willingness to “die” for the sake of Christ and His love.




L. Wilson, “Amy Carmichael,” Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals. 

“Amy Carmichael” wikipedia.

Protestant Profiles #27: Abraham Kuyper

Abraham Kuyper (1837 – 1920)


Born: Maasluis, Holland
Role: pastor, theologian, church leader, Prime Minister of the Netherlands
Emphases: Calvinism, divine sovereignty, political pluralism, “sphere sovereignty”/pillarisation of society, work of the Holy Spirit
Protested against: liberal/modernist theology; political revolutionarism, non-Christian ‘worldviews’

Abraham Kuyper, the son of a Dutch Reformed minister, followed his father’s footsteps to study theology and enter the ministry in 1863, at age 25. Throughout his studies and into the early years of his ministry, Kuyper’s faith was infected with a theological modernism that led him to filter the truths of the gospel through a rationalistic framework. He was a spiritual bankrupt whose job was supposed to be instructing others in a faith he did not personally possess in truth.

It was Pietje Balthus, a single woman in his first congregation, who God used to give Kuyper a good shake-up and cause him to reconsider the evangelical faith. Balthus reportedly turned the tables on Kuyper during his first pastoral visit to her and confronted him with spiritual realities concerning salvation and eternity. Kuyper repeatedly returned for conversations with her and the Holy Spirit worked to change his heart and renew his mind in the gospel.

A few years later, Kuyper was serving as a pastor in Amsterdam – the largest city in the Kingdom of the Netherlands – where he became one of the nation’s leading proponents of Reformed, evangelical orthodoxy. He acquired key newspapers to promote Reformed theology and Christian thinking in Dutch society and became increasingly active in various religious and political matters.

This mixture of a principled drive for religious and political reform led to Kuyper founding his own political party in 1879; a Reformed university in 1880; and a breakaway denomination, committed to the historical Reformed confessions, in 1886. These three endeavours encapsulated the multi-faceted significance of Kuyper as a political leader, church leader and internationally renowned theologian.

Kuyper was involved in Dutch politics from 1876 until his death in 1920. His Anti-Revolutionary Party was formed as a response to troubling, revolutionary manifestations of popular sovereignty in Europe, especially the French Revolution and the rise of Marxism. It sought to approach democratic politics from a uniquely Calvinistic/Protestant standpoint and build strategic alliances with Catholic political forces in order to withstand socialist and liberal movements within society that operated on assumptions that were antithetical to Christianity.

Kuyper’s great contributions to Christian political and social thought are “principled pluralism,” “pillarisation” and “sphere sovereignty.” Kuyper believed that when a nation like the Netherlands was apportioned into several major groupings with significantly different religious convictions (i.e. Reformed; Catholic; Socialist and ‘Liberal’) that each should have the freedom to operate as distinct society within one the nation-state and that the state should not preference or discriminate with respect to any single group, nor unnecessarily interfere with their self-expression of their religious identities.

Principled pluralism was about being committed to religious freedom, power-sharing and mutual, civic respect between such groups, rather than a “winner-takes-it-all” or “revenge-cycle” approach to national politics. Pillarisation was the belief that each group would do best if they were allowed to form and operate their own institutions (churches, schools, media etc;) in line with their convictions. “Sphere sovereignty” denied the state unrestrained authority over each area of people’s lives, by insisting that different spheres of human life had legitimate authority to govern their own affairs (eg; churches, families and schools were not properly under the jurisdictional control of the state government).

Kuyper made an enormous contribution to Dutch and European politics through his promotion of these principles, the effect of which is still seen in some European countries and Christian Democratic Parties today. His political success saw him serve one term as Dutch Prime Minister from 1901-1905. Some of his most significant achievements during office were related to his vision for robust, independent religious schools throughout the Netherlands.

As a church leader, Kuyper led a Reformed resurgence in the Netherlands, which put him at loggerheads with proponents of the modernistic theology he himself had held to as a young man. Like Martin Luther’s attempt to reform the Catholic Church, Kuyper’s efforts at reform were repudiated by the hierarchy of the Dutch Reformed Church and he ended up on the outside. Kuyper’s followers and allies became known as the Doleantie – a Dutch term describing profound grief. They soon merged with an earlier breakaway denomination from the Dutch Reformed Church and established the “Reformed Churches in the Netherlands” in 1892, as a Reformed-orthodox alternative to the increasingly liberal state church.

As a theologian and academic scholar, Kuyper led the Free University in Amsterdam and ensured that students of the Reformed faith received a quality tertiary education that aligned with their religious convictions. He wrote and lectured in theology and socio-political issues, producing an Encyclopedia of Sacred Theology, a serialisation of articles on the Work of the Holy Spirit and delivering his famous Lectures on Calvinism at Princeton University in the United States.

The impact of Kuyper’s legacy has been widespread in Reformed Christianity in the century since his life. There are a range of NeoCalvinist figures and institutions in the United States that are heavily indebted to Kuyper’s thought and a number of organisations seek to approach political and cultural issues in a manner that follows his example and implements his key principles. On the darker side, Kuyper’s concept of pillarisation was bastardised by Afrikaners to justify the racial discrimination of apartheid in South Africa for many years, while theonomists and Reconstructionists in the United States have also misappropriated his ideas to claim support for their vision of a nation rearranged under biblical laws.

Kuyper’s most famous quote: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry ‘Mine!'” summarises his significance as a Protestant figure. His belief in the absolute sovereignty of God led him to earnestly seek the reform of church and society so that God’s people could live in a way that declared the glory of their Heavenly King.

Kuyper did not possess all the answers in response to the challenges of modernism, nor can we expect him to provide a fully-formed response to the post-modern era we find ourselves in. But he is an invaluable, historical dialogue-partner for Christians in the West today who are seeking to live out their faith in ‘liberal,’ ‘secular’ ‘democracies’ and wrestling with how to do so in a way that is faithful to the breadth and depth of our evangelical convictions.


J.D. Bratt, “KUYPER, Abraham” Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals.

“Abraham Kuyper” wikipedia

P.H.A. van Krieken “Some third-hand information about Abraham Kuyper’s conversion”

Eric Miller, “How a Dutch Neo-Calvinist helped Birth an Intellectual Movement”


Protestant Profiles #1-25 Index

This week, The Lion & Phoenix brought you our 26th Protestant Profile (on Charles Spurgeon) as part of our series leading up to the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. We’re bringing you 31 of these biographical features of notable Protestant Christians in the 31 weeks leading up to the 31st October.

That means we only have 5 left to go!

If you missed any of the profiles in our series and would like to catch up on reading about the lives of any of these significant figures from our theological and spiritual heritage, you can find a list of those we’ve published below.


0 Faithful Fightin’ FathersIrenaeus, Athanasius and Augustine
00 “Protestant before it was Cool”: Peter Waldo, John Wycliffe and Jan Hus.

Protestant Profiles

1 Martin Luther (1483 – 1546)
2 Ulrich Zwingli (1484 – 1531)
3 Jean Calvin (1509 – 1564)
4 Philip Melancthon (1497 – 1560)
5 Heinrich Bullinger (1504 – 1575)
6 Theodore Beza (1519 – 1605)
7 William Tyndale (1494-1536)
8 John Knox (1513 – 1572)
9 John Bradford (1510–1555)
10 Queen Jane of England (c. 1537 – 1554)
11 William Perkins (1558–1602)
12 John Owen (1616–1683)
13 Thomas Watson (1620-1686)
14 John Bunyan (1628 – 1688)
15 Jonathan Edwards (1703 – 1758)
16 John Wesley (1703 – 1791)
17 Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon (1707 – 1791)
18 George Whitefield (1714 – 1770)
19 Granville Sharp & co. (1735 – 1813)
20 William Carey (1761–1834)
21 Adoniram Judson (1788 – 1850)
22 David Livingstone (1813 – 1873)
23 J.C. Ryle (1815-1900)
24 Fanny J. Crosby (1820 – 1915)
25 Hudson Taylor (1832 – 1905)

Any guesses who will feature in #27-31? You won’t have to wait long to find out!

Protestant Profiles #26: Charles Spurgeon

Charles Spurgeon (1834 – 1892)


Born: Kelvedon, Essex, England
Role: influential Baptist preacher, pastor, author, tract-writer
Emphases: justification by grace through faith, sola Scriptura, penal substitutionary atonement, Calvinism, believer’s baptism
Protested against: Roman Catholicism; baptismal regeneration; theological liberalism/the downgrading of evangelical doctrine by fellow Baptists (and others)

Charles Spurgeon grew up in a thoroughly Christian environment, where classics like Pilgrim’s Progress and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs were part of his childhood diet. But he had a conversion experience at the age of fifteen when he heard a Methodist preaching from Isaiah 42.

Less than 2 years later he was already pastoring a church, aged 17. Thus the man who would come to be widely known as “The Prince of Preachers” began his ministry as the “boy preacher.”

Spurgeon became pastor of the New Park Street Chapel (a prominent London Baptist church) in 1854, before he had turned 20. It was this pastorate that propelled him into great renown as a preacher in England. Seven years after taking on this role, the London Metropolitan Tabernacle was built to accommodate the huge crowds who wished to hear Spurgeon’s weekly preaching. During Spurgeon’s ministry, the Tabernacle had the largest regular attendance of any congregation in the UK during the 19th century and became the largest Baptist church in the world.

Spurgeon impacted thousands upon thousands of lives through his powerful preaching and his other ministries, including the founding of orphanages,urban missions, a pastor’s training college and his numerous publications. He was able to present the gospel with great clarity and conviction and saw countless people come to a saving knowledge of Jesus through his sermons. He was by no means a fanciful or theoretical preacher – but had a heart for the ordinary man and woman. This is well displayed in his printed sermons, but particularly in his John Ploughman’s Talk, where he assumes the persona of a rustic, farming man and dispenses Christian wisdom to the people of the land.

Spurgeon’s notability lies chiefly in his gift for faithful preaching and he famously preached to the biggest indoor crowd on record in 1861 (more than 23 000 people) and to Britons from all sections of society (possibly even an incognito Queen Victoria on one occasion!). More than 3500 of his sermons have remained in print – a record which exceeds any other figure in Christian history. While there is no way of accurately determining how many people Spurgeon preached to during his ministry, it has been estimated at as many as ten million.

But Spurgeon’s significance as a Protestant figure is connected to his epitomisation of one branch of Protestantism (the Reformed Baptist movement) and his defense of the truths recovered at the Reformation against Catholicism and the emerging theological liberalism of his day.

Spurgeon was staunchly opposed to the doctrines of Catholicism which necessitated the Reformation, at a time when many of his contemporaries in the Anglican church were downplaying the differences between the different strands of Christianity and some were even embracing Rome as converts. In a tract from 1865, Spurgeon blasts the situation in the Anglican church as he saw it:

There seems to be an unlimited license for papistical persons to do as they please in the Anglican Establishment. How long are these abominations to be borne with, and how far are they yet to be carried? Protestant Dissenters, how can you so often truckle to a Church which is assuming the rags of the old harlot more and more openly every day? Alliance with true believers is one thing, but union with a Popish sect is quite another. Be not ye partakers with them. Protestantism owed much to you in past ages, will you not now raise your voice and show the ignorant and the priest-ridden the tendencies of all these mummeries, and the detestable errors of the Romish Church and of its Anglican sister.

In the same tract he urged evangelicals within the Church of England to recognise the seriousness of their predicament and leave the church (an issue which remains live more than 150 years later).

When Spurgeon’s own denomination, the Baptist Union began to compromise its own commitment to sound doctrine – through flirtation with textual criticism, theological liberalism and the Darwinistic theory of evolution – he showed that he was not only prepared to dispense this advice to others, but to follow through on it himself. In 1887, he withdrew himself and the Tabernacle from the British Baptist Union and remained separated from it for the remainder of his life and ministry. His supporters within the Union pushed for English Baptists to adopt an Evangelical statement of faith, but this did not eventuate – effectively demonstrating that Spurgeon’s concerns about the theological health of the denomination were valid.

Spurgeon died at his place of frequent vacation and recuperation in Mentone, France in 1892, aged 57. His life was widely celebrated in England in the wake of his passing into glory. Spurgeon was arguably the greatest ever figure in the Baptist movement (even more so if we look at the history of Reformed or Particular Baptists in the UK) and possibly the greatest English-speaking preacher in the history of the church.

While some will balk at what they perceive to be dogmatism and divisiveness in his approach to Catholicism and theological liberalism, to dismiss his example of biblical faithfulness on such a basis would be foolish and even perilous. Given that our own times are filled with all too many convictionless, theological cowards and dithering denominations, Spurgeon’s uncompromising stance for clear, evangelical truth challenges us to ask a key question in this 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Do we own these truths as our own (and even suffer for them) – or let unfaithful Christians and false teachers muddy the waters?


“Charles Spurgeon” wikipedia

J. Armstrong, “SPURGEON, Charles” Dictionary of Evangelical Biography

Mark Hopkins “Downgrade Controversy

Spurgeon, Sword and Trowel No. 16 “Tract against Romish Anglicanism

Patricia Kruppa, “The Life and Times of Charles H. Spurgeon

Protestant Profiles #25: Hudson Taylor

Hudson Taylor (1832 – 1905)


Born: Barnsley, Yorkshire, England
Role: pioneer inland missionary; founder of China Inland Mission (later OMF International); author & speaker
Emphases: the faithfulness and sovereign provision of God; reaching unreached and neglected people groups with the gospel; contextual mission and close identification with indigenous people through their customs and culture
Protested against: culturally inflexible approaches to Christian ministry

That we know James Hudson Taylor today as one of history’s most notable missionaries is a remarkable fact in itself when we consider the very rough start to his ministry. Taylor arrived in China as a 21 year old and would remain there until illness forced his return to England in 1860, aged 28. This period was invaluable for his personal formation as a missionary and he was able to share the gospel with many Chinese during this stint. He also met and married his wife Maria during this time – which naturally had a great impact upon the rest of his life and ministry.

But Taylor had a series of difficulties with his original sending agency, the Chinese Evangelistic Society and this led to him resigning midway through his first term of service and operating more independently for the remainder of the period until his return to England. Difficulties with one’s sending agency, operating independently and returning home due to illness are all factors with the potential to render a missionary ineffective or see them permanently leave the field. But this was not to be the case with Taylor.

While back in England he became increasingly determined to found a new kind of missions organisation that would operate on the principles of trusting in God’s provision (rather than borrowing money and going into debt); focus on reaching the neglected inland population of China with the gospel and approach mission in a different way to many of the existing European sending agencies.

In 1866, Hudson and his family, along with sixteen other missionaries, travelled to China aboard the Lammermuir. This was the beginning of the China Inland Mission’s operations within the country. The early days were not rosy. There was conflict amongst the CIM team, dangers and difficulties connected to travelling where Europeans were not previously present and the constant threat of disease – which claimed the lives of 3 of the Taylor’s children between 1867 and 1870, with Maria herself succumbing to cholera in 1870. But the mission did continue to grow and Chinese were being steadily reached with the gospel.

Hudson returned to England in 1871 and remarried before returning the following year. His second wife Jennie would live and work with him until her death, which occurred less than twelve months before Hudson’s own. They did however spend extended periods of time apart on occasions when Hudson travelled to China from England without her.

A decade after the Taylors and CIM missionaries arrived on the Lammermuir, the organisation had grown to have 52 missionaries. John Piper relates how incredible the growth was in the subsequent three decades until Taylor’s death in 1905.

At the time of Hudson Taylor’s death, the China Inland Mission was an international body with 825 missionaries living in all eighteen provinces of China with more than 300 mission stations, more than 500 local Chinese helpers, and 25,000 Christian converts.

This is a demonstration of how Taylor’s vision to see the inland regions of China reached with gospel was used by God to mobilise many believers into action. In turn, God used the labours of these hundreds of faithful men and women to bring rural and regional Chinese to Himself through the gospel of Jesus.

Taylor later in his life in Chinese dress

Hudson Taylor’s approach to missions was always bold and often controversial. Many other missionaries and their agencies disagreed with his policies of operating by faith without guaranteed salaries for workers; sending single women into the interior to evangelise and adopting Chinese dress and customs to the greatest extent possible (as summed up in his famous saying “Let us in everything not sinful become like the Chinese, that by all means we may save some”). His headstrong personality could be perceived as either tenacity essential for the role he was carrying out, or overpowering stubbornness – depending on who was giving the assessment. He was without a doubt the strong leader the CIM needed to be effective and grow in the early stages of its existence, but his insistence on some of his personal perspectives was jarring to some of his co-workers who found it difficult to operate under his leadership.

But it can be stated with certainty that whatever his flaws, God used Taylor – directly and indirectly – to bring the gospel to countless Chinese who otherwise may have never had a chance to hear it. One of the mottoes of the Protestant Reformation is Post tenebras lux – “after darkness – light.” Our commitment to the treasures of the gospel recovered from the darkness of perverted medieval Catholicism by Luther, Calvin and others is only as good as our desire to see that same light come to places that have lain in the darkness of paganism for centuries on end.

Taylor is one of history’s greatest models of someone who was not content for that light to remain on show in the comfortable Christian existence of the English parish church, nor even in the European trading settlements along the Chinese coastline. He saw a vast region full of millions of souls lying in undisturbed darkness and he never stopped pushing himself and others to take the light of the gospel deeper and deeper into the unreached country. 150 years on from Taylor and 500 since the Reformation, those with evangelical convictions cannot afford to hide them under a basket when there remains millions around the world that need the gospel clearly presented to them – that they too may have salvation by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ.

Below is a great video overview of OMF International’s history – detailing Hudson Taylor’s founding of the CIM through to the organisation’s activities in the present day.



“James Hudson Taylor” Wikipedia

John Piper, “The Ministry of Hudson Taylor as Life in Christ”

“Hudson Taylor: Faith Missionary to China”



Is it (really) OK to vote YES? (Pt. 2)

Is it really OK to vote YES in the government’s same-sex marriage postal survey? Do the motivations some Christians have for ticking YES stack up? And are they good enough to justify a YES when the proposed legal changes could have some drastic consequences for marriage, families and our freedoms of speech, conscience and religion in Australia?

Previously, I looked at one reason Aussies who identify as Christians might be inclined to support the proposed changes to the Marriage Act. My aim in this post is to tackle another…

Motivation #2.

Christians should promote a vision of society where people are free to pursue whatever they understand to be necessary to living “the good life,” without being constrained, compelled or coerced by Christian beliefs about virtue and morality.

While our previous motivation/justification was concerned with the issues of how we understand law and human rights, this one is more about the intersection between theology, philosophy and politics (with our approach to changing or maintaining laws, like the Marriage Act, being determined by these considerations).

Understanding this motivation for voting YES

Christians who adopt the above stance are positively saying that God’s people should seek a society where every citizen has maximal freedom to pursue what they believe to be essential for happiness and human flourishing (the usual proviso being that this pursuit does not cause significant harm to others or infringe their rights to do the same). Freedom to define and practice marriage in accordance with one’s personal convictions falls within this framework.

This motivation is driven by a commitment to liberty…

Negatively, Christians who hold this position are saying that it is not our role to engage in politics in such a way that restricts our fellow citizens from pursuing their understanding of “the good life,” if our desire to restrict is based on Christian notions of morality, rather than concerns over harm being caused to others.

Some concrete examples of this position

Creek Road Presbyterian Church in Brisbane is intentionally refraining from telling Christians how (or even whether) to vote, but they have suggested the following reasoning a Christian might use to vote YES:

A believer in the Gospel of Jesus might vote yes in the survey because we enjoy the freedom to practice our faith, and uphold our own Christian definition of marriage within the broader community, and we believe it is right to extend that freedom to others. This might keep preserving our freedom, and it does treat others as we would have them treat us.

Lee Herridge, an Australian political libertarian and self-identifying “conservative, evangelical, Protestant” has written in the Spectator Australia that Christians cannot be consistent if we refuse to tolerate same-sex marriage, while tolerating the legality of others things we think are harmful to society.  If we are willing to extend freedom of speech and religion to heresy and non-Christian religions – when these things are harmful to people’s souls – why not accept that our gay and lesbian neighbours are free to have their understanding of marriage legally recognised?

If we tolerate “false religions” why not other understandings of marriage?[1]

It is important to recognise that both examples I’ve cited equate the freedom of same-sex marriage advocates to change the definition of marriage with religious freedom.

In the first example, the freedom of our gay neighbours (and their “straight allies”) to legally redefine marriage to match their convictions about the goodness of committed, long-term male-male and female-female relationships is the same kind of freedom Christians currently have to define and practice marriage according to the Bible.

In the second example, extending the freedom to gay and lesbian couples to practice “marriage” on their terms is the same kind of freedom as allowing our Muslim and Hindu neighbours to practice “worship” on their terms.

In sum, to adopt this kind of motivation for voting YES, it would seem that it is necessary to understand the freedom to marry according to your convictions as being analogous to the freedom to worship according to your convictions. Christians shouldn’t legally interfere with the former, because we don’t legally interfere with the latter. And because we wouldn’t want someone who disagreed with our understanding of marriage/sexuality or worship to prevent us from practicing our convictions freely, we shouldn’t restrict those who we disagree with.


Responding to this motivation

There are a few reasons that I believe this motivation/justification doesn’t really make it OK for Christians to vote YES in the survey.

1. The equation of the right to define marriage according to one’s personal convictions with the right to freely practice one’s religion is dubious. 

Religious freedom allows Australians of all faiths to worship God according to their understanding, freely practice the tenets of their religion (to the extent that it does not harm others, cause public disorder or infringe upon others’ right to religious freedom) and teach/propagate the doctrines they hold to be true. This is a precious freedom in and of itself and those who enjoy it should be wary of anything that might muddy the waters concerning the nature of this fundamental liberty. This would include treating the rights being claimed in the SSM debate as analogous or equivalent to freedom of religion.

Even if we grant that unbiblical sexual practices and understandings of marriage are by-products of idolatry (i.e. they proceed out of absolutising/worshipping something other than God/Jesus), saying YES to the legal recognition of marriage is less like an acknowledgement of the freedom to be idolatrous and more like an acknowledgement of an idol as true.

Christians have the freedom to practice their religion, but not the entitlement to compel others to treat our religion as though it is true. You can’t stop me from proclaiming “Jesus is Lord,” but I can’t force you to acknowledge that he is. A Catholic can call their priest “Father,” but a Protestant isn’t legally obliged to do so.

Nor can we force others to redefine their religious institutions to accommodate our convictions or demands. A Pentecostal church that ordains women as ministers can’t force a Presbyterian church to recognise Pastor Sue as a pastor or elder. And an atheist can’t demand a Muslim recognise a pork sandwich as halal. 

Marriage under Australian law is not about freedom to do whatever you believe with the person you love and leave others to do what they want. It comes with the expectation that all Australians will recognise anyone married under the Marriage Act as validly married. Religious freedom does not (and indeed cannot) compel the citizen who says “Jesus is Lord” to also confess “Muhammed is the Prophet” (or vice versa). But people who believe marriage is a divinely-instituted union between one man and one woman will be expected to acknowledge SSM with declarations that gay and lesbian couples are validly married.

2. Endorsing a change to the legal status of marriage that is incompatible with one’s own biblical beliefs is not necessary for the promotion of maximal freedom of religion/worship.

Some Christian groups (notably Baptists & other Independent/Free church movements) have had a theological commitment to freedom of religion and separation of church and state from the early days of their movement. Western societies adopted this kind of approach as part of a recognition that while most people in their society had a religion – there were significant disagreements over a range of issues. The religious toleration we now take for granted only gained universal acceptance in the West after ugly conflicts and oppression arising from religious intolerance.

While many Christians who believe in the principle of religious freedom are averse to the idea of coercing non-Christians to live like Christians, through legislative measures – it does not follow that one must promote alterations to the law where it reflects what one sincerely believes to be the best for society.

Many, perhaps most, Christians who have been deeply committed to religious freedom in the period since the seventeenth century have not adopted a neutral or indifferent stance to public shifts away from values or institutions that are biblically attested to as good. Seeking to preserve God’s good and gracious gifts to our society is not the same as seeking to impose our morality on an unwilling populace.

As brighter Christian minds than mine have pointed out, all laws are coercive to some degree (the legal consequences for illegal activity compel obedience) and all certainly proceed from and promote a real moral framework (i.e. every law reflects a belief about what is good/bad or right/wrong and commends this understanding to the public). It is not a stretch to see the proposed changes to the Marriage Act as the state declaring that it is wrong to withhold recognition from some gay relationships as “marriages,” because such unions are a recognised public good with full equivalency to that of heterosexual marriages. And it is not unreasonable to anticipate wide-ranging legal penalties for those who disagree with the “goodness” or “rightness” of these “marriages.”

It seems paradoxical for Christians to vote YES in the name of principled non-coercion, when doing so will hand the government and sexual revolutionaries a means to coerce dissenting Christians and non-Christians alike to accept an unbiblical view of marriage and sexuality.

Which brings us to the next point.

3. It is unloving and irresponsible to grant a legal freedom to one group in society that will be feasibly claimed as an inherent right and used to interfere with the genuine rights of others. 

Our previous post established that SSM is not a human right, nor is denying it to people an act of legal discrimination. The key verb in the postal survey is “allow.” In this case “allow” means granting a freedom and legal entitlement to citizens that do not have an inalienable right to what is being granted. Australian law may grant such a freedom/entitlement, but there is no violation of rights if this does not occur.

International evidence strongly suggests that if SSM is granted as a legal entitlement in Australia, it will be used by some members of the political faction lobbying for marriage redefinition to infringe upon actual, fundamental rights belonging to citizens who conscientiously object to the “truth” of SSM. A Christian who votes YES for the sake of extending freedom to their gay neighbours must recognise that they are gambling the rights to freedom of speech and religion of a wide range of other neighbours by taking such action.

Evangelical Christians may be willing to suffer persecution for their fidelity to biblical beliefs about marriage if faced with legal coercion to go against our consciences. But is it really loving our neighbours if we are inviting legal ramifications or violation of conscience upon Australians from outside our religion? Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Jews, Muslims, members of smaller religious minorities and even people with traditional cultural beliefs about marriage that aren’t terribly religious – will all face potential problems if the law compels them to recognise gay partnerships as marriage, against their beliefs.

4. This approach removes any grounds for Christians to seek to preserve any other aspects of the present, legal definition of marriage in the future. 

If Christians should not oppose marriage being redefined to change the gender requirement of one man and one woman – we have no basis to oppose the abolition of any of the other requirements that determine what a marriage is. By the above reasoning, as long as we can continue to practice marriage according to our own convictions, we should not express opposition to marriage being redefined to include an indefinite number of people or an incestuous union between consenting adults.

If we are to positively “vote in” the freedom of same-sex couples to “marry,” we in effect admit that it is something we should have been advocating for all along. Therefore, Christians should be at the forefront of encouraging those Muslims whose vision of the “good life” includes polygamous marriage to push for their rights in society – even though we don’t agree with their understanding of marriage.

Further, we all know people whose life seems to revolve around a pet or an inanimate possession. Are we so detached from the general, societal definition of marriage that we should hypothetically support the right of Australians who idolise their cat or absolutise their sports car to redefine marriage according to what they regard as the most meaningful “relationship” in their lives?

There are of course real differences between the above examples and same-sex relationships and it may be unlikely that these hypothetical marriage redefinitions ever receive the same kind of public push as SSM. I’m merely seeking to point out that Christians who adopt the above position don’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to opposing any such redefinitions.


At the time of publication it is unclear to the author as to whether online communications shared on personal blogs fall under the legal purview of the Marriage Law Survey (Additional Safeguards) Act 2017. Should that prove to be the case, the author acknowledges that this piece attempts to persuade Australians entitled to vote in the survey to do so in a certain manner and that this has been done in good faith without any intention to vilify, intimidate or threaten to cause harm. Should the Act require it, this communication is authorised by Y. Johnston, Brisbane. 


[1] Michael Coghlan Adelaide Mosque flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)