Here is another tidbit from J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism which is of particular interest. Machen was not of a piece with the fundamentalists of his day who were embracing a revived form of chiliasm, that is, premillennialism. Neither, by the way, was his contemporary, the prominent layman and fundamentalist hero William Jennings Bryan. Machen could appreciate the fundamentalist emphasis on the authority of the Bible and other doctrines under attack by the modernists. In his chapter on doctrine, he delineated several areas in which faithful Christians could disagree and still be in fellowship. Eschatology was one such area, although Machen was quite emphatic in his disagreement with the popular thought of his day.
One such difference of opinion, which has been attaining increasing prominence in recent years, concerns the order of events in connection with the Lord’s return. A large number of Christian people believe that when evil has reached its climax in the world, the Lord Jesus will return to this earth in bodily presence to bring about a reign of righteousness which will last a thousand years, and that only after that period the end of the world will come. That belief, in the opinion of the present writer, is an error, arrived at by a false interpretation of the Word of God; we do not think that the prophecies of the Bible permit so definite a mapping-out of future events. The Lord will come again, and it will be no mere “spiritual” coming in the modern sense–so much is clear–but that so little will be accomplished by the present dispensation of the Holy Spirit and so much will be left to be accomplished by the Lord in bodily presence–such a view we cannot find to be justified by the words of Scripture. What is our attitude, then, with regard to this debate? Certainly it cannot be an attitude of indifference. The recrudescence of “Chiliasm” or “premillennialism” in the modern Church causes us serious concern; it is coupled, we think, with a false method of interpreting Scripture which in the long run will be productive of harm. Yet how great is our agreement with those who hold the premillennial view! They share to the full our reverence for the authority of the Bible, and differ from us only in the interpretation of the Bible; they share our ascription of deity to the Lord Jesus, and our supernaturalistic conception both of the entrance of Jesus into the world and of the consummation when He shall come again. Certainly, then, from our point of view, their error, serious though it may be, is not deadly error; and Christian fellowship, with loyalty not only to the Bible but to the great creeds of the Church, can still unite us with them. It is therefore highly misleading when modern liberals represent the present issue in the Church, both in the mission field and at home, as being an issue between premillennialism and the opposite view. It is really an issue between Christianity, whether premillennial or not, on the one side, and a naturalistic negation of all Christianity on the other.
The renewed interest in chiliasm during Machen’s day, it should be noted, was driven less by an interest in precise eschatology and more by a desire to uphold the absolute inerrancy and authority of Scripture. Machen, not being bound by the wooden literalism which enslaved the fundamentalists, could argue convincingly that a more holistic reading of the biblical narrative painted a broader picture than that painted by a few isolated proof-texts.