A Liberal Theologian Remembers J. Gresham Machen

In 2001, liberal Anglican theologian Norman Pittenger provided the Princeton Seminary Bulletin with some of his memories of his youth in Princeton, NJ where he was born in 1905. Nick Batzig noted Pittenger included his memories of J. Gresham Machen:

My increasing acquaintance with Seminary students, coupled with my newspaper connections, made it natural for me to take an interest in, and write news reports about, the controversy in Presbyterianism (especially at the Seminary) between a very conservative and a more or less “liberal” theology. (I thought it a very mild variety of liberalism.) And so I got to know Dr. Machen personally. He was kind to me, polite and cooperative. I thought him a charming, vigorous, traditional but kindly man. I can remember only one somewhat biting comment he made: the reason “liberal Protestants” were so much concerned with ethics—to the exclusion of a deep theological interest—was that they had nothing much else to believe in!

Immediately after this period I decided to go ahead with my plan to enter the Episcopal Church ministry, and I planned to go to General Seminary in New York. Just then I had a visit, at my parents’ home, from Dr. Machen. How he discovered that I had these plans I do not know, but I was deeply moved when he appeared, asked to see me, and then sat and talked with me for a few minutes on our veranda. I recall especially, and have always been grateful for, his closing remark as he said farewell: “My best wishes to you, my young friend—and may you prosper!” His thoughtfulness made me understand why so many students in the Seminary adored him. I think that one may say that of all the faculty there at that time, J. Gresham Machen was the most loved and most influential, both with those who followed his conservative line and with those who disagreed with his position but loved the man—his generosity of spirit to students, his ready hospitality to them in his rooms in Alexander Hall, and his genuine and deep piety.

This reminds me of Pearl Buck’s memories of Machen’s courtesy.