Each week, Mr. Reed will relate the stories of people whose choices and actions make them heroes. See the table of contents for previous installments.
Of the Presbyterian theologian J. Gresham Machen (1881–1937), Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and Nobel laureate Pearl S. Buck declared,
The man was admirable. He never gave in one inch to anyone. He never bowed his head. It was not in him to trim or compromise, to accept any peace that was less than triumph. He was a glorious enemy because he was completely open and direct in his angers and hatreds. He stood for something and everyone knew what it was.
Lest you be tempted to dismiss Buck’s praise as predictably biased because, after all, she was raised by Presbyterian missionaries living in China, consider the view of H.L. Mencken.
Mencken was known for his caustic criticisms of Christians in general and ministers in particular. He described the Creator as “a comedian whose audience is afraid to laugh” and once wrote, “Shave a gorilla and it would be almost impossible, at twenty paces, to distinguish him from a heavyweight champion of the world. Skin a chimpanzee, and it would take an autopsy to prove he was not a theologian.”
And yet, Mencken pronounced great admiration for Machen:
Dr. Machen is surely no mere soap-boxer of God, alarming bucolic sinners for a percentage of the plate. On the contrary, he is a man of great learning.… His moral advantage over his Modernist adversaries, like his logical advantage, is immense and obvious. He faces the onslaught of the Higher Criticism without flinching, and he yields nothing of his faith to expediency or decorum.
When Machen died, Mencken compared him to another prominent Presbyterian, politician William Jennings Bryan, with these words: “Dr. Machen was to Bryan as the Matterhorn is…