Any Christian worth listening to loves the cross and is loath to see it robbed of its glory. To ridicule what the cross accomplished is to make war with the heart of the gospel and the comfort of God’s people.

J. Gresham Machen understood this well:

They [liberal preachers] speak with disgust of those who believe ‘that the blood of our Lord, shed in a substitutionary death, placates an alienated Deity and makes possible welcome for the returning sinner.’ Against the doctrine of the Cross they use every weapon of caricature and vilification. Thus they pour out their scorn upon a thing so holy and so precious that in the presence of it the Christian heart melts in gratitude too deep for words. It never seems to occur to modern liberals that in deriding the Christian doctrine of the cross, they are trampling upon human hearts. (Christianity and Liberalism, 120 [pagination may differ])

No doubt, some Christians get worked up over the smallest controversies, making a forest fire out of a Yankee Candle. But there is an opposite danger–and that is to be so calm, so middle-of-the-road, so above-the-fray that you no longer feel the danger of false doctrine. You always sound analytical, never alarmed. Always crying for much-neglected conversation, never crying over a much-maligned cross. There is something worse than hurting feelings, and that is trampling upon human hearts.

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40 thoughts on “Trampling Upon Human Hearts”

  1. If Christianity has nothing clear and definite to say what is the point of it. If all we have is a vague moral philosophy, the world is full of vague moral philosophies. But if Christ through the cross has conquered sin, hell and the grave, then we have something worth living for and worth dying for. The cross and the truth of the cross makes all the difference.

  2. April says:

    Big loud “Amen” to that one, Mike! Great article, Kevin.

  3. Erin says:

    Who does this? (Robbing the cross of its glory, that is.) I know secular people portray the Christian God as short-tempered, moody, etc., but do liberal Christian preachers as well? I assume they must have for Machem to be writing about them… are there examples today?
    As you’ve said (quoting Chesterton?), we open minds so that we can close in on the truth, and I agree that many are afraid to do that because of social/political implications.
    But at the same time, I wouldn’t say that every Christian with bad theology is trampling on the cross, I would say they’re wrong.
    So what (within Christendom) constitutes truly scorning the cross, and where is it seen today?
    Thanks to any/all who can comment.

  4. Chris says:

    If you’ve been around nearly any one of the mainline denominations for a substantial amount of time and you don’t hold to a more liberal theology, chances are you’ve witnessed this. Maybe not in as direct of terms as Machen presents it, but it’s there. A kind of scoffing, condescending attitude of “This is what we once believed, but we’re beyond that now.” In one sense I think some are trampling on the cross unknowingly, while others do so knowingly. I think the battles that Machen was fighting had to do with something very specific, namely the takeover of the ivy league seminaries, so he had a need to make distinct clarifications about what this whole being Christian thing really means. We are in a time now where it’s reoccurring, in places like the postmodern movement for example, so the distinctions have to be made again for a new generation, and thank God for faithful servants like Kevin who are willing to do so.
    The trampling may not be quite as overt as in Machen’s time. Sometimes it comes in a different form. But I’ve seen and experienced it personally and read it in many popular authors, who, although they like to couch their ideas in seemingly winsome or irenic language, it’s true purpose is to tear down and recreate into something that is (in their view) better.
    Also, I think that in Machen’s case, it wasn’t just the notion that he differed with his liberal counterparts, which he did, but that he sensed that they were not open and honest in their disagreements. I’ve seen it today. Commitments, doctrines and ordination vows that were previously so lovingly embraced, later become ideas to deride and overcome 5 minutes after a person is “in.”
    This may seem harsh and almost like hyperbole, but I’ve witnessed it firsthand.

  5. Andrew says:

    Kevin – so true. If the maligners of the Cross don’t sincerely care about God’s glory, maybe knowing the effect of their words on human hearts would get their attention.

  6. S. Jones says:

    Anyone know of a denomination where liberal theology has not taken over? I’m looking for one.

  7. Tad says:

    Denominations where the churches are predominately conservative as opposed to liberal:
    Sovereign Grace
    The General Associate of Regular Baptist Churches

    And plenty of others.

    * they swung liberal for a bit but are now back conservative for the most part, read the most recent baptist faith and message.

  8. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    “[LibProts] Always crying for much-neglected conversation, never crying over a much-maligned cross. There is something worse than hurting feelings, and that is trampling upon human hearts.”

    It’s true that LibProts emote far too much and put a primacy on emotions and feelings. That being said, they don’t realize that they are actually trampling over human hearts with their liberal theology.

  9. Erin says:

    Thanks, Chris.
    I had no idea that Machen had a part in addressing the ivy league seminaries; I can see how that would call for and inspire firm words.
    I get really frustrated by the blaise dismissal of faith that I hear from opinion news sources, and by the caricature of Christians (epsecially in movies) as naive biggots. But those attacts are from outside the church.
    Within the realm of practicing Christians today — let’s say practicing protestant Christians, to keep focus — do you feel anyone you know is deliberately tearing down the cross? I ask because I don’t understand what their goals would be. (While Jews or Catholics may identify as such for cultural reasons while being atheistic or agnostic personally, usually if people don’t think the death and resurrection of Christ is of paramount truth and importance then quit identifying themselves as Christians.)

    I guess my concerns are two-fold:
    1. While I connected to the secular world through work, media, etc., and I am deeply involved with my local church and its global efforts, I am not well informed on goings on of the level — the national discussions that are happening within the Christian community.
    2. Coming from, as I’ve alluded, a position of ignorance on much of this, I am still reminded of the quote, “Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.” When people are diminishing the power of the cross they should be called out on it, but we should not accuse brothers and sisters in Christ of dishonoring the cross when they are merely taking a more liberal stance on something. Ordaining women (for instance) and trampling upon the cross are two very different things.

    I say this because I know many Christians with pretty liberal opinions who have as much revelry for the heart-melting power of the cross as I or more conservative peers have. Call them wrong, call them poorly informed, even accuse them of not accurately interpreting scripture (or not — but that’s another story) but be careful when judging people’s hearts.

  10. Erin says:

    Oh and for S. Jones –
    I go to a PCA church (Presbyterian Church in America)and Pastor Kevin serves a Reformed Church in America congregation. Both would be considered pretty conservative denominations, to the best of my knowledge.

  11. David says:

    Thank you for saying this

  12. Bob says:

    Very helpful post, Kevin.
    You are both a prolific and succinct writer. very rare. thank you and may God continue to bless you, your family, and the flock of which you shepherd.

  13. John Thomson says:

    So much better than, ‘I’m so thankful for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.”

  14. Now before I became a Christian I was under the impression that the first thing Christians had to believe was one particular theory as to what the point of this dying was. According to that theory God wanted to punish men for having deserted and joined the Great Rebel, but Christ volunteered to be punished instead, and so God let us off. Now I admit that even this theory does not seem to me quite so immoral and so silly as it used to; but that is not the point I want to make. What I came to see later on was that this theory nor any other is Christianity.

    C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, published by HarperCollins, 2001 edition, page 54.

    It seems to me that the “Mere Christianity” movement has greatly advanced the view of penal substitutionary atonement as an optional element, as not at all definitional of Christianity, and as something we ought not to divide over.

    Lewis was a brilliant writer, and a lot of his material is helpful to Christians, but he was wrong on the atonement; dangerously so.

  15. S. Jones says:

    Thanks Tad and Erin. Actually the RCA is part of the liberal theology crowd in my book. Based on Kevin’s writings, his church may be an exception to the rule but the denomination as a whole is very liberal. I have visited a couple of PCA churches (while out of town so not an option for a permanent home) and they seem like a good fit but when Erin equates them with the RCA, that sounds like a good reason to keep looking. OPC is on my radar but have never been to one.

  16. Don’t look for a denomination. Look for a church that teaches and lives by Scripture. Every denomination will have good churches and bad churches. Look for biblical distinctives, not branding.

  17. Erin says:

    I probably shouldn’t have made any assumptions about the RCA. While I attended Pastor Kevin’s church in college, I didn’t go through membership classes there so don’t know much about the denomination’s stance, just my experience there.
    My experience with the PCA is also based on just on church, though I’m a member there so know a bit more about it. I know, for instance, that they don’t have women as pastors or elders, which in and of itself may not be a critical issue but it can give a sense of things.
    But like Gabriel said, it has more to do with the individual church. Best of luck in finding a good church home!

  18. Chris says:


    “Within the realm of practicing Christians today — let’s say practicing protestant Christians, to keep focus — do you feel anyone you know is deliberately tearing down the cross?”

    I can hear the frustration and puzzlement in your question. I was right there with you. My tendency, I think like yours is to give people a break and not think the worst in terms of their motives. People I knew in a previous church were really for the most part really great people and there was a mix of views from more conservative to more liberal with the conservatives being in the minority. I would find it really hard to say that people were intentionally trampling the cross. But there were some that hard strong ties to the greater denomination where a lot of the more “enlightened” information was coming from. Nameless faces to me that seemed to want nothing more than to change some very basic understandings of historic Christianity. I think though for the most part, as you said, people just really saw things differently. But others I’m aware of wanted to change things and they did it in a, shall we say, less than up front way. I don’t want to name names because that would serve no purpose. But maybe I can give a little sense of how the cross can get trampled in a more theologically liberal church.

    When you hear a sermon in your average mainline church and the scripture reading is the narrative of Jesus calming the storm, Isn’t the application usually something like this: Brothers and sisters, what are the storms of your life that Jesus can calm? Now can a legitimate application like this be made? Surely. I think so. But if this is the ONLY type of application a preacher can make or it’s all you ever hear, take note. Why? Because something in this kind of application is lost. The thing that would be lost is the sense that this was a real event, on a real day, in real history that really truly occurred. The same thing with the Easter story. In a more liberal church isn’t it the case that in more liberal churches the narrative has something to do with “new beginnings?” How we may look at life anew, with a fresh start. Again, there may be times when an application like this is appropriate. But if this is all you were to ever hear, the true message of the cross is lost. This in my opinion is trampling, not just on hearts, but on Jesus’ very sacrifice.
    We want to be as generous as we can in our disagreements, being very reluctant to believe that we have any kind of a handle on the eternal destinies of others, but we also need to be loving but firm when encountering distortion and perversion.

    Hope this helps.

  19. Chris says:


    Also, count yourself lucky that you’re not well informed on the goings on at the national level. It can get really ugly.

  20. Erin says:

    Ah that makes a lot of sense. Thankfully I haven’t found myself in church that primarily uses the Bible as good life parallels, but I can certainly see how that would water down the truths of the cross and the overwhelming sacrifice it entails.
    Also, in between now and my first question, I was reminded of the “Love Wins” book recently critiqued. I haven’t read it, but from the review it sounds like it presents not just a very open view of salvation, but also an attack on traditional teaching. I can see how this would be an attack on the cross too.
    Thanks again, Chris, for your thoughtful response.

  21. kateg says:

    I have not been a Christian for so very long, but I hear the trampling of the cross when someone says that a God of love would not send anyone to hell, when told that our culture is beyond bloody sacrifices, that the cross was cosmic child abuse, and when I hear people tell me they can’t forgive themselves, that people go to heaven if they are good enough, and that people are basically good… for starters. The hearts of people who have known the beauty of that hideous cross, and count their lives from the day they believed, are trampled because our Savior’s sacrifice is minimized or dismissed. Thank you, Kevin, for speaking when it is needed.

  22. Michael J. Bridge says:

    Anglican Church North America (ACNA) is very conservative/orthodox, having just been formed in the last two years out of a split with the very liberal Episcopal Church who is a perfect example of whom Machen is speaking. The ACNA is very orthodox and has taken a stand that the bible is our central authority.

    To the point of finding a church, recommendations like ACNA and PCA are just guidlines (though OP, Orthodox Presbyterian would be pretty darn orthodox/conservative and very bible based), and it is right that the best thing is to go into a church- maybe using some of the recommendations given here and above- and listen to the sermon and see what the theology in it is. Also, pay attention to the rest of the service. Who is the object of worship? Is the whole service about those in attendance or is it about God?

    Finally, on points like the sermon, many liturgical churches, such as the ACNA, have the Nicene Creed directly following the sermon, and this is specifically for the purpose of checking the preaching against heresy. Since the Nicene Creed was developed to protect against heresies that change the doctrine of God and the Trinity, it serves as a good measuring stick for determining if the sermon given was in line with the historic Christian faith or not. If the preacher denied the virgin birth or that Jesus is God, and then you say the Creed and affirm the virgin birth and divinity of Jesus, you just figured out that you are in one of those liberal churches Machen was warning against.

  23. Allan McKinnon says:

    Just to say how much I appreciate your blogging and your rigorous defense of the Christian faith – you are a true ‘contender’. I have just read your book review on the Bell Ding Dong and found it most helpful. Thank you for finding and taking the time to do that… God bless you.

  24. Kevin,

    Both liberal and conservative, traditional and emerging, evangelicals to get worked up at times. The main issue is speaking truth with inner thoughts, motives, attitudes, and deeds of Christian love.

  25. John says:

    Kevin, I’ve spent the last day thinking about this post, and to be honest, I still have no idea what it means. Are you suggesting that truth can only be apprehended by emotion? To put it another way, is our coming to terms with Scripture, and being submitted to its teaching – in short, our faith – is it somehow dependent upon a person’s emotional range or gift of expression?

    Why would you associate calm demeanor with preferring conversation over the cross (hint: not every preacher is John Piper!)? Perhaps more importantly, why is there no mention at all of the deceptive nature of our heart and emotions? For far too long now I have seen evangelicals decry Oprah’s false gospel, only to operate within the exact same paradigm of “following one’s own heart.” People have different emotional complexes, and different capabilities of expression. In every case these structures are fallen. It seems odd to associate “any Christian worth listening to” with “feeling” false doctrine.

  26. Bob says:

    Kevin, what happens if you are wrong? I think it is very strange that you think you are right all the time and you have to realize that you could be wrong. Will you be ok not being one of the elect even if you believe you are?

  27. Bob says:

    Also, have you ever heard of mutuality? I would believe no because you don’t practice it. Do you know that Jesus did? I know thats crazy for you to comprehend, but it happened.

  28. Jeff says:


    Kevin is not saying “that truth can only be apprehended by emotion.” That is one of the worst ways to discern truth. I think he’s talking about believers who hear false doctrine being proclaimed and feel no alarm, no sense of danger for those who will listen to it and believe it. They may even start to believe it themselves. “Well, I’ve always believed that Christ’s substitutionary atonement was necessary for our salvation, but, who knows, maybe this guy is right and Scripture doesn’t say that. After all, is Scripture really clear about anything? Let’s start over at Square One.” 2 Timothy 3:7 speaks of people who are “always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

    Some of today’s most influential false teachers are apparently soft-spoken people (though they “speak” more loudly in what they write) who casually demolish virtually every major Christian doctrine. I think many of their followers take a cue from them, and believe that any idea is worth entertaining if it’s spoken about calmly. If someone objects vehemently, that person is dismissed because of his “tone.” It’s the triumph of style over substance in our rather superficial time.

  29. Wonderful post, Kevin, something we all can agree with. BUT…It is never difficult to speak in generalities. Everyone can give a nod to this, but when we start to speak specifically, and actually start naming names of those that teach false doctrine, this is when things start to unravel. We suddenly become judgmental, unkind, and prideful and of course that dreadful word used to intimidate…unloving.

    It is easy to point to a Rob Bell or Joel Osteen; they seem to have cornered the market on false teachings. But when we find an evangelist, who has aligned himself so closely with God’s Word, then apostasies’, but still retains his rank among sound Biblical teachers, we find it hard to mention his name. These are the men who are the most dangerous of all, because the closer to the truth they get, the more people they are able to deceive.

    I can think of one particular pastor who has been criticized for naming names, and that is John MacArthur. But praise God for men like him. Christ led the example of naming people specifically, and as I was reading about some of the different creeds the other day, there was absolutely no compunction on the part of these men to name names.

    Btw, I always enjoy your articles. You are a very prolific writer with deep and important thoughts. Rare, indeed!

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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