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The Westminster Confession and the Amendments of 1903.

In J. Gresham Machen, J. Oliver Buswell on 11/08/2012 at 16:45

According to this account by Dr. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., there was apparently some confusion during the Second General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church [nee Presbyterian Church of America], over the matter of how exactly to dispose of the 1903 PCUSA amendments to the Westminster Confession. Buswell writes here in THE CHRISTIAN BEACON, 17.17 (5  June 1952): 2, 4.


We who are Calvinists are such not because we admire the work of a man, but because we admire the work of a man who clearly expounded the system of doctrine taught in the Scriptures. When we speak of great historical Calvinistic documents the word “Calvinistic” signifies the preservation in sharp and clear outline of what the Bible teaches. The Westminster Confession of Faith, for example, is a basic document for all English-speaking Presbyterian, Reformed, Congregational, and Baptist churches. The Savoy Confession of the historical Congregational Churches (Congregationalism before the apostasy of that denomination) is The Westminster Confession with a change in one chapter only. The Philadelphia Confession, which is a basic document for large groups of Baptist churches in the Southern states and in England, is The Westminster Confession with changes in two chapters only. The New Hampshire Confession, which is accepted by many Baptist churches in the Northern states is largely adapted from The Westminster Confession. It is therefore an interdenominational document in the truest sense. It is a rich deposit of treasure in the common heritage of Bible-believing Christians. We Calvinists accept The Westminster Confession not as being an infallible document, not as being verbally inerrant, but as being thoroughly based upon the Scriptures, and as setting forth in clear and positive language the integrated system of doctrine which the Scriptures teach.

In 1903 the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. adopted certain amendments in order to please groups which were doctrinally weak and poorly instructed. Dr. Benjamin Warfield, one of the greatest Calvinistic teachers of the past generation, strongly protested against the adoption of these amendments, but when they were adopted, Dr. Warfield declared (as Dr. J. Gresham Machen related the matter to me) that these amendments, weak and misleading as they were, did not actually change “the system of doctrine.”

In the months preceding May, 1936, Dr. Machen explained to me that he did not wish to take his stand as contending for any change in the constitution of the Church (Presbyterian, U.S.A.) as it then existed, though he hoped that the amendments of 1903 might sometime be eliminated. His great fight at that time was that the Foreign Mission Board (and other agencies of the Church) might at least be true to the simple elementary principles of the Gospel. He could be loyal to the constitution as it was then, since, as Dr. Warfield had said, the constitution, in spite of the weak and misleading character of the 1903 amendments, still set forth the system of doctrine taught in the Scriptures.

I understood Dr. Machen to advocate that if we should be compelled to form a new church, it would be wise to start with the doctrinal constitution just as it had been in the U.S.A. Church at the time the controversy arose. It was on this basis that Dr. Machen organized the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions. Read the rest of this entry »

Warfield vs. Presuppositionalism

In Benjamin B. Warfield, J. Oliver Buswell on 07/07/2011 at 07:40

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) Read the rest of this entry »

F.A. Schaeffer : “A Review of a Review” (1948)

In Francis A. Schaeffer, J. Oliver Buswell on 02/07/2011 at 09:04

Though not widely known, this work is significant among Dr. Schaeffer’s writings as it sets out the general direction of his apologetic and evangelistic method. Essentially, he finds a middle path between evidentialism and presuppositionalism while at the same time refusing to be confined to either posture. Instead, his overwhelming emphasis is on the presentation of the gospel, utilizing whatever tools are at hand to expose each person’s sin and need of the salvation which is in Christ alone.

Schaeffer mentions “the articles” (plural) and that caused me to look back in some of the earlier issues of THE BIBLE TODAY. While our focus here begins with Buswell’s article in the May issue, the fuller scope begins with an earlier review by Buswell of Gordon H. Clark’s book, A CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION in the October 1947 issue. That review led in turn to three replies by Clark plus an article by Vernon Grounds titled “Does the Bible Sanction Apologetic?” All of these appeared prior to the exchange that I am now posting. Perhaps at some later date I’ll post the earlier exchange between Buswell, Clark and Grounds.

A Review Of A Review
Presuppositionalism, THE BIBLE TODAY, May, 1948
[originally printed in The Bible Today, October, 1948, pages 7 – 9.]

Editor [i.e., Buswell] : Considerable interest in the question of Presuppositionalism and traditional Christian evidence in evangelism has been created by recent book reviews and articles in The Bible Today. We are delighted to present this article by the Rev. Francis Schaeffer, a former student and a friend and admirer of Dr. Van Til’s.

The material which has appeared in The Bible Today dealing with what Dr. Buswell calls “Presuppositionalism” has interested me greatly. I have before me these articles in The Bible Today, and on the other hand I remember vividly the good things I received from Dr. Van Til’s courses. It seems to me, as I understand it, that the problem is not unsolvable.

1. Both sides agree that the unregenerate man cannot be argued into heaven apart from the Sovereign Call of God. (The Bible Today, May 1948, page 242, “Certainly the Scriptural doctrine of the Sovereignty of God forbids the elimination of compulsion,…” Page 244 “The distinction between Presuppositionalism and the philosophy of traditional Christian evidence is not by any means that the one recognizes the power of the Holy Spirit more than the other. It is agreed that arguments, inductive and deductive, are never sufficient to work the work of regeneration.” “Nothing but the specific work of the Holy Spirit in conviction and regeneration can be regarded as the efficient cause of individual salvation.”

2. From the human viewpoint, neither side would say, I am sure, that it is possible for a man (remembering the fall) to simply reason from nature to a saving knowledge of nature’s God without an act of personal faith. Bare knowledge without faith cannot save. (Page 244, “one may be intellectually convinced that Christianity is true and yet may reject Jesus Christ.”)

3. Neither side, I am sure, would say that it is no use talking or preaching to the unsaved man. Both sides do. Neither would either side say that the Holy Spirit does not use Christian apologetics when it pleases him to do so. Both sides certainly use apologetics in dealing with the intellectual unbeliever.

4. As I remember Dr. Van Til’s practical approach, it was to show the non-Christian that his world view, en toto, and in all its parts, must logically lead back to full irrationalism and then to show him that the Christian system provides the universal which gives avowed* explanation of the universe. It is Christianity or nothing.
[*As per a correction issued in the November 1948 issue of The Bible Today, the words “avowed explanation” should have read “a valid explanation” ]
Read the rest of this entry »

Buswell Reviews Carnell’s Apologetics

In J. Oliver Buswell on 01/07/2011 at 13:06

Next up will be a related series of posts covering Dr. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr.’s further comments on presuppositionalism, with two replies by Dr. Cornelius Van Til and even a word from Francis A. Schaeffer.  The previous exchange between Buswell and Van Til occurred in 1937. This next series of volleys appeared just over a decade later. And of course apologetics at this level isn’t necessarily of interest to everyone, so we’ll intersperse some other articles along the way.

Buswell left Wheaton College in 1940 to become president of the National Bible Institute in New York City. The house organ of the Institute was a publication titled THE BIBLE TODAY, and beginning in May of 1948, an interesting series of articles on apologetics appeared on the pages of this little journal. Buswell himself led the charge with a review of the recent book on apologetics by E.J. Carnell.  Then Francis A. Schaeffer offered his input with “A Review of a Review,” in which he lays out where he stands as over against both Buswell and Van Til. In the next issue of the journal, Buswell reviews Van Til’s latest book, COMMON GRACE, after which all seems quiet for a while. Then in March 1949, Buswell stirs the pot again with “Warfield vs. Presuppositionalism,” a review of the P&R edition of Warfield’s INSPIRATION AND AUTHORITY OF THE BIBLE. Then Van Til offers a lengthy reply in the April issue of THE BIBLE TODAY.  An anonymous reader throws in some humorous poetry in the May issue, and Van Til finishes his reply in the June issue. At that—and ever the gentleman—Buswell gives Van Til the last word and that is the end of the series. 

For your convenience, here is a list of those articles for citation purposes, with links to be embedded as the articles post:

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.

Of historical interest, too, is Buswell’s early statement in this article that it was Dr. Allan A. MacRae who coined the term “presuppositionism”.  For the moment, and without further input or correction, I’ll assume that “presuppositionism” quickly became the more fluid term “presuppositionalism” (as evidenced even within this article by Buswell), and that credit does effectively go to MacRae for coining the term.  

The Arguments From Nature To God

Presuppositionalism and Thomas Aquinas
A Book Review with Excursions by

An Introduction to Christian Apologetics
By Professor Edward John Carnell.

GOOD intensive workmanship over a surprisingly extensive field, true loyalty to the Bible, and that clarity of expression which will make the book popular and readable, characterize this prize volume; written by a brilliant, devout young man only twenty-eight years of age.

For a clear understanding of presuppositionism, as advocated in our day by a significant group of earnest Bible-believing scholars, Professor Carnell’s Apologetics is doubtless the best work thus far produced. The term “presuppositionism” was given me by my good friend Dr. Allan A. MacRae in a casual conversation some months ago. I caught up the word immediately as an accurate designation for a significant school of thought.

What Is Presuppositionism?

Professor Carnell illustrates the opposite of presuppositionism in the following words:

If a coin is lost on a plot of grass, obviously one can start here, or there without jeopardizing his chances of finally finding the piece of money, providing, of course, that he has enough time to cover the entire area before he turns away. (p. 123) Read the rest of this entry »

Buswell – Van Til Exchange (1937)

In J. Oliver Buswell on 29/06/2011 at 19:19
This is interesting. In 1937, Cornelius Van Til sent a pre-publication copy of his work on Christian Apologetics to J. Oliver Buswell with a request for his review. The book was later published in 1939 by the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Episcopal Church. At 113 pages in length, the published version was slightly shorter than the version supplied to Buswell.
Dr. Buswell read the book and wrote an initial reply. Van Til then responded to that letter, and finally, Buswell replied with the substance of his critique of Van Til’s work. What is still unclear all these years later is how it was that the three letters were then gathered together, transcribed and reproduced. It is at least that the correspondence was distributed to a wider audience, since the same compilation,
on 8.5″ x 14″ paper, is found in several different collections here at the PCA Historical Center.
The first two letters are reproduced below, followed by the first portion of the third. To do justice to the real substance of Buswell’s critique, as it appears attached to the third and final letter, really demands inclusion of the referenced portions of Van Til’s book. That will take some work, but perhaps by the end of the summer. Or if someone wants a summer project . . .
[There was a later Buswell-Van Til exchange in 1948, and I will plan to post that in the near future.]


January thirty

Professor Cornelius Van Til
Westminster Theological Seminary
1528 Pine Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
My dear Professor Van Til

I have read all but twenty pages of your Apologetics. I could not quite finish the book before reaching home last night, but shall probably read the last twenty pages tomorrow. I think I understood your position in reading the first part of the work, but your reaction toward various historical schools of thought clarifies the whole question in my mind. I shall write up my notes which I made as I went along and send them to you sometime next week if possible, but in the meantime may I ask for just a word to clarify certain general matters?

(1) By what logic can you include the ad hominem destructive argument with an unbeliever without including the direct constructive argument? If your oft-repeated statement is true in regard to the futility of the type of apologetics represented by Dr. Wilson, then knowledge and reason fall to pieces instantly when we begin to talk with an unbeliever. We cannot argue destructively any more than we can constructively. It takes the theistic assumption to prove to an unsaved man that his system is inconsistent or to prove anything for that matter.

(2) In excluding the underlying assumptions of Orr, Hodge, and Wilson, do you also exclude the underlying assumptions of Machen’s two books “The Origin of Paul’s Religion” and “The Virgin Birth”? Would you not have to say that it would be futile to present the arguments of those two books to an unbeliever? I know that Dr. Machen in the last years of his life was deeply affected by and frequently referred to what he learned from men younger than himself on the Westminster faculty. But would you not have to consider it illogical to present those two books, independent of Dr. Machen’s more recent opinions, to an unbelieving student in the University of Chicago?

(3) The third question is one which I have mentioned before, namely, do not your many admissions of the light of intelligence by common grace in lost humanity give plenty of ground for the apologetic method which you exclude?

(4) Several of your terms I wish might be more specifically defined. Your use of the word “interpretation” is not familiar to me and is not one which I have found in any other writer. I think I know what you mean, but I feel that the usage would be misleading to a student. You seem to include explanation, definition, decree, providence, and creation, at times all in this one word interpretation.

Sometimes the fundamental idea of interpretation, viz. explanation, seems to be absent from your use of the word.

Other terms which I wish might be more specifically defined are time, temporal, eternity, and eternal.

Your entire system, viewed constructively, is so excellent, your emphasis upon the doctrine of the trinity and the doctrine of creation is so wholesome, and the barrier by which you exclude the methods of Orr, Hodge, and Wilson, seems to me so flimsy and so non-essential to your own philosophy, that I am led to pursue the argument if you care to do so.

I do not mean to set myself up as a critic but only as an interested friend. I have learned much from reading your works. My criticism really centers about only one negative emphasis in your teaching. I shall write up my notes on details as soon as possible.

Yours in Christian fellowship


(Signed) J, Oliver Buswell, Jr.

*****************************  Read the rest of this entry »

Chaplain J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. in WWI

In J. Oliver Buswell on 25/08/2010 at 12:07

My sincere thanks to Wes Neel, a recent graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary, who has been digging into his own family’s history and along the way has turned up some information on the early ministry of Dr. J. Oliver Buswell.  During World War I, Buswell served as a Chaplain with the 140th Infantry during World War I and was cited in orders for distinguished bravery.  Wes found mention of his own great-grandfather and of Chaplain Buswell in the book From Doniphan to Verdun: The Official History of the 140th Infantry, by Evan A. Edwards (Lawrence, KS: The World Company, 1920).
On page 46 of the book, there is this glowing description of Chaplain Buswell and his ministry:

“Two Chaplains joined us in the Vosges.  Chaplain Oliver P. Buswell, Jr. [sic], a Presbyterian who was assigned tot he second Battalion.  Chaplain Buswell, a young man of twenty-three, was gifted with a magnificent physique, a splendid musical voice, brains and common sense.  He won the hearts of the men at once, and his work was of the greatest value to the regiment.  There was no more popular chaplain in the A.E.F.  He was wounded in the Argonne, and cited in orders for bravery.  He did not know the meaning of fear, and thought only of his men.  From the 17th of August, when he joined the regiment, his presence and influence was of the greatest value.  His genuine and simple Christian spirit won the respect and admiration of all who knew him.  Always cheerful, never discouraging, he deserves with Chaplain Hart the credit for making real religion respected in the regiment.”

After the war, Chaplain Buswell went on to become Dr. Buswell, serving as pastor in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Brooklyn, NY, and then appointed to serve as the third president of Wheaton College in 1926.  He served there for fourteen years before taking over the presidency of the National Bible Institute in New York City.  In 1956 he was called to be the Dean of Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri, and he remained in this post until retirement in 1970.

For more about Dr. Buswell, see the information on his manuscript collection preserved at the PCA Historical Center.  This collection comprises seventeen cubic feet of correspondence and both published and unpublished writings by Dr. Buswell.