Thursday, October 28, 2010

Warfield's Apologetics & Presuppositionalism

I was listening to this interview with Fred Zaspel the author of a new book on B.B. Warfield. It is a good interview covering some basics on Warfield. He is probably second only to Jonathan Edwards in ranking America's best and brightest theologians. Unfortunately, he has garnered little respect, and as Zaspel points out where he is occasionally cited he is often used as an easy foil. So for example, we often hear that he invented the term 'inerrancy' and that was a unique product of Old Princeton. Warfield's chief theological opponent at the time argued that and was soundly defeated by Warfield's account of the history. 

Warfield was considered a master in New Testament, Systematic Theology and Old Testament studies. He wrote profoundly in a number of areas, including apologetics and defending the faith against radical Biblical criticism and liberal theology in its hay day at that time.

One criticism that is often leveled against Warfield is that his apologetics methods were basically evidentialist and he did not let his Reformed theology influence his apologetic method. This critique is basically leveled by the heirs of Van Til and the presuppositional method. So Van Til took the influence of Kuyper's reformed theology who was careful to argue for the division between the unregenerate mind and the regenerate mind. From Warfield, Van Til took a passion for apologetics and confronting the unbeliever. Van Til expresses indebtedness to both Warfield and Kuyper while voicing serious criticism against both.

However, the critique remains that Warfield's Reformed theology did not sufficiently influence his apologetic method.

To this Fred Zaspel's basically suggests that Van Til got this aspect of Warfield wrong when it is argued that Warfield basically had a natural view of human reason. Zaspel notes that Warfield said that not amount of evidence could make a Christian. Right reason was not a capacity of the unregenerate. Although one could appeal to evidence the believers mind was altered and note capable of right reason. To the extent that Van Til (and his followers) represent Warfield as bare evidential who appealed to reason apart from the need for regeneration of the mind, according to Zaspel, Warfield is misrepresented.

So on the audio interview (here) at about 16:55 in the interview, Zaspel says, "Warfield was basically presuppositional in that he recognized that only the Spirit of God could change the man in giving him the ability to recognize the divinity of Scripture and so on."

To me, this is important and I hope that it will be explored further in scholarly articles. Of course, Van Til 'invented' the presuppositional method--and I think the notion of appealing to the transcendence of God's truth and showing the unbeliever's unbelief to be self-destructive on its own terms are important to apologetics.

Too often however Van Til's apologetics are scene as being opposed to evidence. This has been shown to be false as Van Til himself said 'Christianity provides the roof for evidence.' Or to say it another way, Van Til was not opposed to facts but "brute facts". To say "the facts speak for themselves" is to naively assume that my reason is unfaltering in its ability to understand facts.

If Zaspel is right however, Warfield was closer to Van Til than he is given credit. He was consistent in his Reformed Theology as it related to apologetics. He believed in evidence and reason but equally saw the need for the mind to be regenerated. I hope to read Zaspel's book and see if he deals with it more in his chapter on Warfield and apologetics. For now, listen to Zaspel's interview. Hopefully more research will be published on the relationship between Warfield's and Van Til's apologetic methods.

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