J. Gresham Machen may very well be the most under-appreciated theologian of the 20th century. Thankfully his influence and accomplishments far outstrip his fame (or lack thereof) in the Christian community.
Within a span of only about seven (7) years he started Westminster Theological Seminary (1929), the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions (1933), and the denomination known as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, or OPC (1936). Not only that, but his writings continue to instruct and edify believers over 75 years after He went home to be with the Lord.
If you are looking for a book to serve as a basic introduction and overview of his life & teaching, then look no further than Stephen J. Nichols’s book, J. Gresham Machen: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought. It is a very good mix of both biography and literary analysis.
Nichols spends the first three (3) chapters on the basic biographical details of Machen’s life, and the last nine (9) chapters delving into his writings on such subjects as theology, culture, and the church. One of the most helpful aspects of the chapters on the writings of Machen was the way in which the author discusses the background and history surrounding those writings. (In other words, he does not abandon history after chapter three.)
He also ends each chapter with a brief note about the sources used in putting those chapters together. This may seem tedious to some, but for the student who wants to know more about Machen, it is very helpful.
Of particular note are the chapters on what are perhaps Machen’s most well-known books, Christianity & Liberalism and What Is Faith? He does a very good job summarizing Machen’s arguments for the reader. Concerning Christianity & Liberalism, Nichols writes,
Machen captures the essence of Paul’s summary of the gospel in the early verses of that chapter [i.e. 1 Corinthians 15] when he writes, “‘Christ died’ – that is history; ‘Christ died for our sins’ – that is doctrine. Without these two elements, joined in absolutely indissoluble union, there is no Christianity” (p.89).
This book not only made me want to read more about Machen, but more by Machen as well. I highly recommend this volume to you. You can order a copy here: J. Gresham Machen: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought