When the Levee Breaks: J. Gresham Machen and “The Good Fight of Faith”

In this article, I rhetorically analyze J. Gresham Machen’s final
chapel sermon at Princeton Theological Seminary entitled “The
Good Fight of Faith” to reconstruct and situate a watershed
moment in the American church. Machen, although unknown to
many rhetorical scholars, was one of the most important
evangelical voices in the cultural shift that occurred at Princeton
theological seminary during the early twentieth century. As the
threat of Modernism overtook the conservative orthodoxy of the
school through a scientistic discourse, Machen vigorously
defended the boundaries of historic Christianity both in his
speaking and writing. In this final sermon before the seminary’s
reorganization and his resignation, Machen employs a rhetoric of
orthodoxy to clarify the reformed faith’s doxa and thus draw
distinctions between historical Christianity and Modernism.
“The Good Fight of Faith” uniquely demonstrates the ritualistic
nature of celebrating orthodoxy and how, in doing so,
interlocutors can be called to stand and struggle for the
continuation of tradition. Such research also calls for a renewed
interest in the intersection of rhetorical tradition and homiletics
in lieu of their profitable relationship for drawing boundaries,
maintaining orthodoxy, and advancing the gospel.