Warfield vs. Presuppositionalism

Dr. Buswell continues his critique of Van Til’s approach to apologetics, almost as if it is taking a sustained effort on his part to draw Van Til’s attention and response.

Warfield vs. Presuppositionalism


Probably the most valuable article for the general reader, in Warfield’s works on the Bible, is the sixty page article entitled “The Real Problem of Inspiration.” Fortunately this has been preserved in the reprint in its entirety. Those who are weak in the faith are frequently heard to say that they accept the Bible as a spiritual guide but that they reject its inerrancy. Warfield shows with overwhelming evidence that Christ and the apostles themselves were most emphatically committed to the doctrine of the inerrancy of the Scriptures. He cogently argues that to reject the inerrancy of the Scriptures necessarily involves the rejection of the spiritual authority of Christ and the apostles. The facts prove that if one is to be consistent in his position, either one must accept the inerrancy of the Scriptures, or reject Christ’s authority, and so reject the Christian faith altogether.

A large part of the material in the older Warfield volume is taken up with New Testament higher criticism. This happens to have been a major field of my own studies in the University of Chicago some years ago. I sincerely wish that I had had at hand in those days Warfield’s masterful handling of the facts, and his powerful refuting of the arguments against the integrity of the New Testament books. The material is by no means out of date in 1949. I am glad now to have in my possession these data, both for the purpose of strengthening believers and for the problem of dealing with unbelievers and leading them to the Lord.

It is very unfortunate that the new publication has omitted so much of this valuable material. Take for example the following illuminating remarks:

Now, the Bible, as a whole, is a result or. an effect in the universe, and it must have had, as such, an adequate cause, which, since the result is an intelligent one, must have been an intelligent cause: there is the ontological argument, and it proves a superhuman intelligent cause, for the Bible. It consists of orderly arranged parts, of an orderly developed scheme; there is the cosmological argument, and again it proves the activity of an intelligent cause (and much else not now to be brought out) of at least fifteen hundred years’ duration. It is itself a cause of marvelous effects in the world for the production of which it is most admirably designed, and its whole inner harmony and all its inner relations are most deeply graven with the marks of a design kept constantly before some intelligent mind for at least fifteen hundred years: there is the argument from design, attaining equally far-reaching and cogent conclusions as in the realm of nature. The analogy need not, however, be drawn out further. An atheist of the present day spoke only sober truth when he declared that the divine origin of the Bible and the divine origin of the world must stand or fall together. The arguments which will prove the one prove also the other. Butler proved this proposition long ago. It stands indubitable; so that absolute atheism or Christianity must be our only choice. (Revelation and Inspiration, p. 438. Italics not in original.)

Why did Prof. Van Til and/or Dr. Craig omit the entire article “The Divine Origin of the Bible, The General Argument,” in which this passage is found? A plausible answer is apparent to one who has read the article on Presuppositionalism in The Bible Today for November, 1948. The author of the introduction to the new publication rejects the ontological argument, rejects the cosmological argument, rejects the design (or teleological) argument, and emphatically rejects the arguments of Bishop Butler, all of which arguments Warfield whole-heartedly accepted. (See Van Til’s Introduction, p. 20)

The fact is, as I have shown, Prof. Van Til has, in his own clear statements, rejected the old Princeton tradition of which Warfield was the embodiment. The question is, then, not so much why this particular paragraph and this particular article have’ been omitted, but why one who so clearly, opposes Warfield’s fundamental method of defending the Scriptures, should have undertaken to write an introduction to Warfield’s work on that subject! The name of Warfield carries great weight among Bible believing Christians the world around. My particular copy of the original book contains copious notes written in Japanese, with sufficient English words to indicate that some devout Japanese Bible student has made a careful study of it. I do not believe there was any deliberate motive of deception, such as advancing this anti-Warfield philosophy under cover of his name. Rather, the adherents of this paradoxical view seem to fail to realize what a contradiction is.

It is not only in the portions omitted from the new. reprint that the contrast is patent. . Warfield says

. . . they [the critics] will agree in telling us that the high doctrine of inspiration which we have called the church-doctrine was held by the writers of the New Testament. This is common ground between believing and unbelieving students of the Bible, and needs, therefore, no new demonstration in the forum of scholarship. (P. 61. New edition, p. 115. Italics not in the original)

Presuppositionalism denies that there is any such common ground. Van Til says

. . . there is no fact and no law on which the two parties to the argument agree .<. . (Introduction p. 39)

Warfield argues that

… the truth of Christian teaching and the foundations of faith are suspended . . . rather upon (he previous fact of revelation: and it is important to keep ourselves reminded that the supernatural origin arid contents of Christianity, not only may be vindicated apart from any question of the inspiration of the record, but, in point of fact, always are vindicated prior to any question of the inspiration of the record. We cannot raise the question whether God has given us an absolutely trustworthy record of the supernatural facts and teachings of Christianity, before we are assured that there are supernatural facts and teachings to be recorded. The fact that Christianity is a supernatural religion and the nature of Christianity as a supernatural religion, are matters of history; and are independent of any, and of every, theory of inspiration. (P. 67. N.e. p. 121)
The Christian scholar desires, and thank God, is able to supply a thoroughly trustworthy historical vindication of Supernatural Christianity; (P. 68; N.e. p. 122)

Contrary to Warfield Prof. Van Til states in his own words

In particular it must be noted that the traditional view of authority leads to self-frustration. Nowhere is this more clearly the case than when it sought to deal with the facts of history. The notion of absolutely authoritative revelation with respect to the facts of history is a contradiction in terms. (Introduction, p. 10)

Warfield constantly appeals to inductive reasoning and assumes the “Law of Contradiction.” He says

We follow the inductive method. . . .
Nor let it be said that we are desirous of determining the true, as distinguished from the Scriptural, doctrine of inspiration otherwise than inductively
. . . . And we are certainly averse to supposing that this induction, if it reaches results not absolutely consentaneous with the teachings of Scripture itself, has done anything other than discredit those teachings, or that in discrediting them, it has escaped discrediting the doctrinal ‘authority of Scripture. (P. 205. N.e. p. 205f)
If the facts are inconsistent with the doctrine, let us all know it, and know it so clearly that the matter is put beyond doubt. (P. 216; N.e., p. 217)
. . . it would be a crime to refuse to consider most carefully and candidly any phenomena of Scripture asserted to be inconsistent with its inerrancy
. . . which, if real, strike at the trustworthiness of the apostolic witness to doctrine. . . (P. 217; N.e., p. 218)
. . . the inaccuracy of the teaching of the Scriptures as to their own inspiration . . . would vitiate the whole result … we are in a position to judge by comparison … whether this fact of teaching is in accord or in disaccord with those facts of performance. If it is in disaccord, then of course this disaccord is the main factor in the case: the writers are convicted of false teaching. If it is in accord, then, if the teaching is not proved by the accord, it is at least left credible . . . (P. 223; N.e., p. 223f.)
. . . to shake this doctrine, Biblical crticism must show: either, that the New Testament writers do not claim inspiration; or, that this claim . . . is . . . negatived by the fact that they contain along with the .claim errors of fact or contradictions of statement. (P. 400; N.e., p. 423)

The same appeal to the law of contradiction is emphatically set forth on pages 219, 223, 408, 420 and 421. (N.e. p. 220, 224, 429, 439, 440).

Now the “Law of Contradiction” is the simple, logical principle that contradictory propositions cannot both be true at die same time and in the same sense. Presuppositionalism emphatically rejects this simple, logical law. See Prof. Van Til’s Introduction, p. 21, 28, 43, 45. A former student of his, a Christian of distinguished attainments in the field of theology, after reading my article on Presuppositionalism in the November issue of The Bible Today wrote me as follows:

When you indict Dr. Van Til on the score of cavalierly playing fast and loose with the law of contradiction, you lay the axe to the roots, it seems to me. It is utterly beyond me how Dr. Van Til can claim that formally the law of contradiction is different for the Christian than it is for the non-Christian. Formally, A is not non-A is the universal qua fact. The meaning the Christian may give to the law, when related to his metaphysical ultimate, may differ; but the law qua law is either the same for all men or it is meaningless to expect men to see their inconsistencies and come to Christ.

Of course, when Warfield says that if the Bible contradicts itself or contradicts the facts, it is not true, he does not mean that there is any such contradiction in the Bible. Warfield’s work is remarkable for the enormous mass of evidence he presents showing that the Bible is true, both as to consistency with fact, and as to consistency with itself. Warfield takes the ordinary criteria of critical scholarship as common ground, and triumphantly shows that the Bible meets every test. He says

. . . it is important to keep ourselves reminded that the doctrine of inspiration which has become established in the Church, is open to all legitimate criticism, and is to continue to be held only as, and so far as, it is ever anew critically tested and approved. And in view of the large bodies of real knowledge concerning the Bible which the labors of a generation of diligent critical study have accumulated, and of the difficulty which is always experienced in the -assimilation of new. knowledge and its correlation with previously ascertained truth, it is becoming to take this occasion to remind ourselves of the foundations on which this doctrine rests, with a view to inquiring whether it is really endangered by any assured results of recent Biblical study. (P. 172f.; N.e., p. 172f. See also P. 222; N.e., p. 223)

He does not fail to recognize the value of probable evidence.

. . . the evidence for its truth is, therefore, as we have also already pointed out, precisely that evidence, in weight and amount, which vindicates for us the trustworthiness of Christ and His apostles as teachers of doctrine. Of course, this evidence is not in the strict logical sense “demonstrative;” it is “probable” evidence. It therefore leaves open the metaphysical possibility of its being mistaken. But it may be contended . that it is about as great in amount and weight as “probable” evidence can be made, and that the strength of conviction which it is adapted to produce may be and should be practically equal to that produced by demonstration itself. (P. 218; N.e., p. 218f.)

Perhaps the sharpest, keenest statement of Warfield’s scholarly method is the following:

But thus two claimants to the name of criticism appear, and the question arises, before what court can the rival claims be adjudicated? Before the court of simple common sense, it may be quickly answered. Nor is it impossible to settle once for all the whole dispute. By criticism is meant an investigation with three essential characteristics: (1) a fearless, honest mental abandonment, apart from presuppositions, to the facts of the case, (2) a most careful, complete and unprejudiced collection and examination of the facts, and (3) the most cautious care in founding inferences upon them. The absence of any one of these characteristics throws grave doubts on the results; while the acme of the uncritical is reached when in the place of these critical graces we find guiding the investigation that other trio, — bondage to preconceived opinion, — careless, incomplete or prejudiced collection and examination of the fads, — and rashness of inference. (Pp 408f.; N.e., p. 429f.)

Nothing could be farther from Prof. Van Til’s philosophy than the above straightforward appeal to common sense on the part of Warfield. Warfield continues

A ‘theist, believing that there is a personal God, is open to proof as to whether any particular message claiming to be a revelation is really from him or not, and according to the proof he decides … an honest theist, thus, is open to evidence either way . . . (P. 410, footnote; N.e., p. 430)

There is evidence that neither the editor nor the author of the Introduction to the new edition read the original work very carefully. Not only is the main theme of Warfield incongruous with the point of view of the Introduction, but a few typographical errors which a theologian could hardly fail to catch, are not corrected. A very obvious error in Hebrew which any type setter who could set Hebrew type would notice, is corrected (P. 19, lines 9, 10 up.; N.e., p. 87, lines 9, 10, up). But the omission of the Greek p from empneomenoi, and the reading “Butt he men,” for “But the men . . .”, in footnote 61, page 262, lines 9 and 7 up (New edition p. 278) are ridiculously perpetuated. The word “wings” obviously mistaken for “winds” on page 284, line 15 up, is not corrected.

I am tempted to give a detailed analysis of Prof. Van Til’s Introduction. I am reminded, however, that I have recently devoted a considerable amount of space to his philosophy in The Bible Today. Suffice to say that for sixty-eight pages he presents his Presuppositionalism which is not only foreign to, but also incompatible with, Warfield’s great work in the defense of the faith.

I do not mean to say that there have been no important developments in Warfield’s scholarship since Warfield’s death in 1921, New Testament criticism has gone through the Form Geschichte stage. There have been important studies in the linguistic background of the New Testament. The synoptic problem itself has been considerably developed. It would have been possible for a New Testament scholar to have carried forward some of Warfield’s detailed studies, applying Warfield’s methods to the newer aspects of New Testament problems. Thus an introduction of similar length might have contributed considerable value to a reprint of Warfield’s work. Unfortunately this has not been done.

Series Articles :
1. Buswell, J. Oliver, Jr., “The Arguments from Nature to God: Presuppositionalism and Thomas Aquinas—A Book Review with Excursions,” The Bible Today 41.8 (May 1948): 235-248.
2. Schaeffer, Francis A., “A Review of a Review,” The Bible Today 42.1 (October 1948): 7-9.
3. Buswell, J. Oliver, Jr., “The Fountainhead of Presuppositionalism,” The Bible Today 42.2 (November 1948): 41-64.
4. Young, G. Douglas, “Dr. Young’s Letter”, The Bible Today 42.2 (November 1948): 65.
5. Buswell, J. Oliver, Jr., “Warfield vs. Presuppositionalism,” The Bible Today 42.6 (March 1949): 182-192.
6. Van Til, Cornelius, “Presuppositionalism,” The Bible Today 42.7 (April 1949): 218-228.
7. Anonymous, “Presuppositionalism,” The Bible Today 42.8 (May 1949): 261.
8. Van Til, Cornelius, “Presuppositionalism Concluded,” The Bible Today 42.9 (June-September 1949): 278-290.