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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 The material is by no means out of date in 1949.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 »

G. Douglas Young Reviews Van Til

In Apologetics, Presuppositionalism on 06/07/2011 at 09:20

Appended to Buswell’s article “The Fountainhead of Presuppositionalism” was the following brief analysis by Dr. G. Douglas Young. Dr. Young [1911-1980] was raised in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, educated at Acadia University (B.Sc., 1932) and studied for the ministry at Faith Theological Seminary, graduating there with both the Bachelor of Divinity and Master of Sacred Theology degrees at the Seminary’s first annual commencement exercises in May of 1938. His classmates at Faith included Francis A. Schaeffer, John M.L. Young, H. Blair McIntire Desmond Jones and Delbert P. Jorgensen. Young went on to receive his Ph.D. from Dropsie College in Philadelphia and became a noted archaeologist. He spent the majority of his adult life living and working in Israel. There he served for many years as president of the Institute of Holy Land Studies and during this time he also founded the Bridges for Peace organization.
Next up: Buswell’s article “Warfield vs. Presuppositionalism”. After that, Van Til comes to defend his approach.


[The Bible Today 42.2 (November 1948): 65.]

Since reading the review of Professor Van Til’s book, Common Grace, my colleague, Professor G. Douglas Young, Ph.D., Chairman of the Department of Old Testament in The National Bible Institute has given me the following valuable letter. I believe what Professor Young says will clarify the minds of many on the issues involved. ED.

Dear Dr. Buswell,

Thirteen years ago I studied under Dr. Van Til. Since that time I have been reading whatever of his syllabi have been available as well as your critiques of them.

I got the idea, in class and in discussion, that Dr. Van Til believed that the reason there is no common ground between us and an unsaved man, and the reason why we do not even have a common starting point, is that the unsaved man has a serious deficiency in his mental apparatus. He is not able to relate any fact to the Creator and hence he and I look at each from different viewpoints. Because of this there is no common ground between us. It is certainly true that no unsaved man can understand things in all their aspects exactly as does the saved man. This is because of the above mentioned inability on his part. If the definition of common ground is so narrowed down, then it is obvious to me, and I feel sure to many others of Dr. Van Til’s pupils, that there is no common ground.

May I illustrate? It is as if I attempted to plot on a graph two curves which could never meet. If I had first, by definition, made sure that the equations for the curves were such that they could never meet, and then I should say that the curves have no common ground, my statement is not untrue simply because I have seen to it that it could not be true. As I see it, Dr. Van Til’s definition of common ground is like this. Obviously the unsaved man can not discern the things of the Spirit. If he has to see that aspect of things before we can argue about those things—then we have no common ground at all. On his definition there is just no room for common ground or common starting point, and I feel we should simply admit it. However—does he have the right to so define it? I believe not, and for the same reasons you adduce so clearly in your critiques when you state that it makes the concept of common ground meaningless, gives it an unhistoric sense, leads us to absurd conclusions on the practical and theoretical levels, and is contrary to the plain meaning in Romans the first chapter.

I write this to you simply because I feel that there are those who, like myself for some time, have felt that your controversy is simply one of “there is” and “there is not”. On his definition, “there is not” — obviously there can not be. But — his definition must be rejected. It is not simply a matter of whether there is or is not common ground. It is a matter of whether Dr. Van Til’s definition of common ground can be accepted or not. We can not accept it. There is a very real common ground.

Further, I feel that it would help the readers of The Bible Today very materially in their attempt to understand the importance of this controversy if you would present to them the story of how subtly the false teachings of Borden P. Bowne (Personalist Idealist) worked their way into Christian circles through the teaching of evangelical men. That is what is happening while this controversy is going on. I am sure that many of your readers are totally unaware of this aspect of the whole matter.

Douglas Young

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.

The Fountainhead of Presuppositionalism

In Apologetics, Presuppositionalism on 05/07/2011 at 13:14

The following extended review by Dr. J. Oliver Buswell continues our current series on presuppositionalism. In this article, Buswell reviews Cornelius Van Til’s then recent book COMMON GRACE. For convenience, here again is the full listing of articles in this series:

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.

The Fountainhead Of Presuppositionalism

A BOOK REVIEW By Dr. Buswell

THE origin of the name “Presuppositionalism” was given in a review under that title in The Bible Today for May 1948, page 235. A friendly letter from Professor Carnell, whose recent book was there reviewed, indicates that he at least does not resent the term. He suggests “Inductivism” as a counter designation, and this of course I do not resent There is this difference, however, those who hold to presuppositionalism are advancing a negative thesis, denying that there is common ground of reasoning between those who accept Christian presuppositions and engage in the spread of the Gospel, and those who do not accept Christian presuppositions and reject the Gospel.1 The inductionist thesis is positive and partial rather than negative and universal. It is held that ordinary processes of inductive reasoning are valid as a part of the method of evangelism. As a part of the inductive reasoning process, it is further held that there are areas of common knowledge occupied by the Christian evangelist and the unsaved inquirer or doubter. If the unsaved person or persons declare, “The God of the Bible is only a mythological figure,” and the Christian evangelist declares, “The God of the Bible exists as a substantive entity, an actual Being,” there must be some element of common meaning in the terms employed in the two contradictory statements, if the Scriptural conception of “unbelief” has any meaning at all.

Whether the position which I should maintain is properly designated by the term “inductionism” or not, the view that there is common ground of knowledge which may be employed in evangelism is very adequately expressed in the following paragraph by Professor Van Til’s colleague, Professor of Systematic Theology John Murray, in an excellent article on “Common Grace” in the Westminster Theological Journal for November 1942.2

. . . when we come to the point of actual conversion, the faith and repentance involved in conversion do not receive their genesis apart from the knowledge of the truth of the gospel. There must be conveyed to the mind of the man who believes and repents to the saving of his soul the truth-content of law and gospel, law as convicting him of sill and gospel as conveying the information which becomes the material of faith. To some extent at least there must be the cognition and apprehension of the import of law and gospel prior to the exercise of saving faith and repentance. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). But this apprehension of the truth of the gospel that is prior to faith and repentance, and therefore prior to the regeneration of which faith and repentance are the immediate effects in our consciousness, cannot strictly belong to the saving operations of the Spirit. They are preparatory to these saving operations and in the gracious design of God place the person concerned in the psychological condition that is prerequisite of the intelligent exercise of faith and repentance. In other words they place in his mind the apperceptive content that makes the gospel meaningful to his consciousness. But since they are not the saving acts of faith and repentance they must belong to a different category from that of saving grace and therefore to the category of non-saving or common grace. . . . faith does not take its genesis in a vacuum. It has its antecedents and presuppositions both logically and chronologically in the operations of common grace. [Professor Murray continues in a footnote] . . . All that has been said above is simply that the operations in the individual and subjective sphere whereby that truth-content has become the property of consciousness, prior to the acts of regeneration and faith, are operations that are not in themselves saving and therefore belong to the category of common grace. 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 »