J. Gresham Machen was born to a prominent Presbyterian family living in Baltimore, Maryland in 1881. He attended John Hopkins University where he majored in classics and graduated first in the class of 1901. After attending a graduate program for a year; Machen enrolled in Princeton Seminary. Machen graduated in 1905 and studied in Germany for a year before returning to Princeton Theological Seminary to teach as a professor of New Testament. While in Germany, Machen studied at the universities of Marburg and Gottingen.
His career as a professor of New Testament literature and exegesis began in 1906-1929 and Machen was ordained in 1914 after teaching at Princeton for eight years.
During World War I, Machen worked with the Young Men's Christian Association in the French Army and with the American Expeditionary Force (1918-1919).
J. Gresham Machen became well known for his scholarly writings on various subects concerning the New Testament. He was known for one who took his studies seriously.
Machen became a staunch defender of conservative orthodox theology especially concerning the authority of the Holy Scriptures. In 1923, Machen published "Christianity and Liberalism" which brought him national recognition. He firmly believed and taught that liberalism was not a variation of true Christianity but actually a different religion.
"Liberalism appeals to man's will, while Christianity announces, first, a gracious act of God."
Machen firmly believed and taught that historic Christianity was founded upon the saving act of Jesus Christ's death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. True Christianity was not a general set of religious principles concerning the ethical moral teachings of Jesus. Liberalism reduced Christianity to a general moral code of ethics of Jesus by which one should live his or her life.
J. Gresham Machen was an outstanding conservative Christian apologist and theologian. Consequently, Machen became a controversial Christian within the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. his denomination and at Princeton Seminary. Princeton and his denomination were increasinly influenced by liberal modernism theology with which Machen staunchly disagreed. Machen was offered the presidency of several schools
but continued to refuse the offers.
Machen sought to keep Princeton faithful to the creeds of the Presbyterian church but the drift toward liberal theology at Princeton wounded his heart.
J. Grecham Machen vigorously encouraged faculty to take a firm stance for:
"the full truthfulness of the Bible as the Word of God and for the vigorous defense and propagation of the Reformed or Calvinist system of doctrine, which is the system of doctrine that the Bible teaches."
In 1929 Princeton chose to officially reorganize to ensure a more inclusive theological curriculum. Machen became deeply concerned about the lack of sound evangelical training for future Presbyterian ministers at Princeton. Machen and several Reformed theologians sadly left Princeton and founded Westminster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania.
Westminster became a seminary which stands for theological orthodoxy and academic excellence. Machen served as president of Westminster and continued to teach as a professor of New Testament from 1929 - 1937 his death. He continued to defend Protestant Christianity from liberalism which infiltrated the Presbyterian Church.
Machen continued to protest the liberalism of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign missions. The conservative Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions was created through his assistance to counteract liberalism which crept into Presbyterian foreign missions.
The mission board was rejected by the Presbyterian General Assembly. Machen was charged with insubordination, tried, found guilty, and suspended from the ministry of the Presbyterian Church for refusing to break his ties to the new Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions. Sixteen other clergymen and laymen withdrew with J. Gresham Machen in 1936 to found a new denomination.
J. Gresham Machen played a pivotal role in the creation of a the Presbyterian Church of America which eventually was renamed the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The new church of which he played a central role in creating upheld theological orthodoxy a high view of Scripture. Machen was chosen to be their first moderator.
Among the works which Machen wrote are these documents: "The Origin of Paul's Religion," "Christianity and Liberalism," "New Testament Greek for Beginners," "What is Faith?," "The Virgin Birth of Christ," "The Christian View of Man," and "The Christian Faith in the Modern World."
J. Gresham Machen never married. Hence, he has no descendants but those of a legacy of a conservative orthodox faith in Christ.
Machen was addressing an assembly in Bismark, North Dakota in 1936 when he contracted pneumonia. It was bitterly cold but Machen continued to preach although he was very sick. A friend visited him on New Year's Eve while he was hospitalized. Machen confided in his friend about a vision of heaven which he experienced while in the hospital:
"Sam, it was glorious, it was glorious!"
J. Gresham Machen experienced the glory of which he spoke to his friend when he died the following day on January 1, 1937.