Reason and Worldviews from Owen Anderson

The views regarding the theology that flows from Old Princeton and their professors has been mixed at best. Some throw the whole system under the bus and label it as Scottish Common Sense Realism, thereby denying its validity for a rounded approach to apologetics. They label the main faces of Princeton, namely Hodge and Warfield, as evidentialist and simply end their dealings with Old Princeton on that foundation alone.

Owen Anderson has done a well-rounded job in Reason and Worldviews Warfield, Kuyper, Van Til and Plantinga on the Clarity of General Revelation and Function of Apologetics (Rowman and Littlefield 2008) by providing a clear understanding of the issue at hand when it comes to the field of apologetics. Anderson does show that Hodge and Warfield found an attachment to Scottish Common Sense philosophy but not to the extent that many others have pointed to. Anderson shows that the mantle which was taken up by Archibald Alexander and passed down to the Hodges and Warfield in hopes that they would take it up and continue on the legacy which Old Princeton was famous for, was taken up with veracity and a continual need to show that God can be known through reason . Anderson notes that, “Princeton was proud that it had not changed in the face of continued intellectual attacks from sources such as Arminianism, Deism, and Unitarianism over the course of the 19th century”. They continued to fight on these fronts until 1929 which led to the split of Princeton and the formation of a new seminary whose legacy would produce some of the finest thinkers of the 19th and 20th centuries, Westminster Theological Seminary.

Anderson points out that Princeton Theological had its eyes, so to speak, on heaven and the need for reason. I would have liked to see Anderson point out that their eschatological views  rotated around their views of right reason. Their view of heaven was distorted because their reason was not based on scripture, rather it was based on having proper reason as a foundation for knowing God and the rest flowed from there. Warfield wanted to first ask the question, “What counts as scripture?”, before he wanted to reason based on the scriptures themselves. Princeton wanted to argue that in order for one trust that scripture is authoritative, it must first be proven that scriptures are actually the words of God and that there is a God who can be known.

“For Hodge (and the Princeton Theologians) there is, within Christian doctrine, no tension between reason and faith. People place faith in what they understand to be trustworthy, and understanding requires reason.”

The view that Hodge and Warfield took led Princeton to reorganize on the belief that there was a system which was better suited to make sense of this life. Enter Abraham Kuyper. While not a part of the Princeton schism Kuyper was an important figure in the battle over reason and the use of apologetics. Kuyper saw that the revelation of God was necessary for people to know God, whereas Warfield argued that reason was necessary for the believer to know God exists. Kuyper did not blatantly reject the use of reason but did diminish the necessity of apologetics by saying that the goal of the human life is heaven. By a regenerating act of the Holy Spirit the believer has, in a broad sense, their ticked stamped as a proof of future entrance into heaven. This leaves little room for the need to show proofs or the use reason as a viable argument.

The split between Warfield and Kuyper was one of varied importance. Some side with Kuyper and other with Warfield and others. as we will see in Van Til, sought to merge the two systems of thought into one coherent and biblical system of apologetics. Cornelius Van Til was forming a middle ground between the two views, a system based on presuppositions, hence the term Presuppositional Apologetics.

“Van Til defined apologetics as: ‘the vindication of the Christian philosophy of life against the various forms of the non-Christian philosophy of life’. Like Warfield, Van Til saw the crux of apologetics in the proof of the theistic God’s existence.”

Van Til brought to the mix, a synthesis of Warfield and Kuyper, by showing that the role of an apologist is to establish the truth of the Christian worldview against all other views and philosophies. This fit well within the framework of both Kuyper and Warfield and is a system of apologetics currently taught at the Westminster Seminaries, showing the long-lasting synthesis of Van Til’s apologetic method.

After 65 pages with no mention, Alvin Plantinga gets a short 13 pages dedicated to his method of thinking and his contribution to the field. This chapter on Plantinga feels a bit like an orphan child trying to fit into a tight-knit family. I don’t mean to say that Plantinga hasn’t greatly contributed to the study of apologetics but so have C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, and more recently, John Frame. Without making the book into a series of volumes on the subject, Anderson has left these men out of the discussion. I can see the discussion revolving around Van Til, Kuyper, and Princeton Theological Seminary, but to add Plantinga in the mix seems a little out-of-place in this particular discussion.

From Plantinga, Anderson moves on to point out that Modernity in the form of Skepticism and Fideism have led the apologists to think in broader categories. The issue of sin has been pushed to the forefront of modern thought and at the same time dismissed by the masses. If we (humans) are in fact our own masters then what place has sin among the members of humanity? Anderson points out, rightly in my opinion, that in order to answer objections like these the Christian must use natural theology as a tool against these lofty ideals.

“Historic Christianity has been exclusivist, believing that redemption is through Christ alone. It also believes that Christ’s redemption is for all people. If people are called away from competing worldviews to the Christian worldview, reasons for the truth of its exclusive claims which do not beg the question must be given. This requires natural theology.”

Overall, I think this book lends well to the discussion among theologians regarding the apologetic methods used among the body today. The text flows well and interacts with the critics well. I feel that Anderson was fair in his assessment of each of the methods mentioned and offers some good insight as to how we can begin to think more in-depth regarding apologetics. At the end of each chapter Anderson includes a list of study questions ideal for personal or small group study. Also included with this text is a glossary of terms for those who may not be well versed in the lingo of the discussion. It would be helpful to review the glossary first before diving into a text like this. I agreed with most of the conclusions that Anderson drew and would recommend this text to those who want to dive deeper into the discussion regarding Warfield, Kuyper, and Van Til. This has been very helpful in my own understanding of the historical context of Old Princeton Theological method and the ideas that flowed from there and formed other institutions. This text isn’t only for Reformed readers but will include very helpful insight for those outside the halls of Reformed Orthodoxy.

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