Vital Signs

The Heart's Own Instinct

Presbyterians have a particular reputation. We are a rather staid bunch, more comfortable in the environs of the country club than those of the chicken farm, more atuned to the hoity-toity, less to hoi polloi. We're called the frozen chosen, more for accuracy's sake than for endearment. We read old and dusty books about doctrines that have been washed away from the public consciousness by tire raging rapids of modernity. We are, depending on the level of grace with which you wish to conjugate the adjective, either smart, egg-headed, or pedantic.

Though we affirm with great vigor that his doctrine was Presbyterian, there is a reason John the Baptist was called "the Baptist." No self-respecting Presbyterian would live in the wilderness, dine on locusts, or do anything but assure the local powers-that-be that God is on their side. If a Presbyterian wanted to let his hair down, the worst he might do is sneak behind the dog kennel and read a few pages of Chronicles. We do not rant. And, while we affirm with a pious zeal that God not only knows the future but that He ordained it, we likewise deny that we can know it. In short, we are short on being prophetic—at least, most of the time.

Early in the 20th century, God raised up a prophet among us. J. Gresham Machen was a walking paradox. He was a careful and meticulous scholar and a popular ideologue. He taught New Testament at Princeton...

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