Book Review: Things Unseen, By J. Gresham Machen

Things Unseen, by J. Gresham Machen, is (as the subtitle puts it), “a systematic introduction to the Christian faith and reformed theology.” And what an introduction it is!

For those who may not be familiar with Dr. Machen (1881-1937), he might be the greatest theologian of the 20th century whom no one has ever heard of before. He was a long-time professor at Princeton Seminary, before leaving that institution to found Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia in 1929. He was instrumental in forming the Orthodox Presbyterian Church denomination in 1936 as well. (If you would like to learn more about Machen, Stephen J. Nichols has written a very good biography which I would enthusiastically commend to you – J. Gresham Machen: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought.)

The chapters in this book were originally written for a series of radio broadcasts via the WIP radio station in Philadelphia. Those broadcasts were intended for a general audience, in many ways even with unbelievers in view. There is a decidedly evangelistic tone throughout.

He lays out the basic essentials of the Christian faith in a systematic fashion, in much the same logical order found in much more complex systematic theology texts, and yet he somehow does so in such a way as to remain remarkably accessible and readable.

He cites the Westminster Shorter Catechism liberally (pun!) throughout. At least half of the 50 chapters of the book contain direct references and quotes from the catechism. He also refers the reader to such eminent Reformed theologians as Charles Hodge, Benjamin B. Warfield, John Murray, and Geerhardus Vos throughout the book.

He addresses such topics as the inspiration and authority of Scripture, the Trinity, the Deity of Christ, God’s sovereignty and the freedom of man, predestination (3 full chapters), Providence, the doctrine of original sin, the threefold office of Christ (as Prophet, Priest, and King), the atonement of Christ, and the active obedience of Christ. And somehow he manages to make all of these things clear and accessible to regular, everyday Christians.

I just wish the book were longer, and that he could have lived to complete the work. Nevertheless, the ground that he covers is more than enough to get anyone well on their way in seeking to understand the Christian faith and reformed theology. If you are looking for an accessible & readable introduction to the Reformed faith, I would highly recommend this volume to you.

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