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B. B. Warfield on Faith, Reason and the Holy Spirit

(From chapter seven of my dissertation, The Lion of Princeton)   

In the forward to fellow Presbyterian Francis Beattie's book Apologetics:  or the Rational Vindication of Christianity, Warfield, ironically, if not prophetically, anticipated much of the criticism which would be leveled at him by those who are in many ways his direct theological descendants.  It is primarily based upon Warfield's remarks about reason in this essay that many of his critics have reached their negative assessment about Warfield's apologetic.  A brief evaluation of Warfield's essay will be extremely helpful in determining many of Warfield's own views on these matters, since Warfield specifically discusses several of the issues under debate.

Lamenting the twin enemies of rationalism and mysticism, Warfield notes,

The mystical tendency is showing itself in our day most markedly in a wide-spread inclination to decline Apologetics in favor of the so-called testimonium Spiritus Sancti.  The convictions of the Christian man we are told, are not the product of reasons addressed to the intellect, but are the immediate creation of the Holy Spirit in his heart.  Therefore, it is intimated, we can not only do very well without these reasons, but it is something very like sacrilege to attend to them.  Apologetics, accordingly, is not merely useless, but may even become noxious, because tending to substitute a barren intellectualism for a vital faith.

Many of these same charges have been leveled against Warfield himself.

Quickly dismissing the rationalists, since what they need is "not less Apologetics but more Apologetics," Warfield indeed seems quite perplexed about the role of apologetics proposed in the Encyclopedia of Sacred Theology, recently published by Abraham Kuyper.  There are two primary issues about which Warfield takes issue with his esteemed Dutch friend.  First, Warfield is concerned that Kuyper has adopted a "mystical" conception of apologetics, which in effect, results in the practical depreciation of apologetics altogether.  Second, Warfield is concerned that Kuyper's understanding of theological encyclopedia is unduly confused, and may in fact, amount to a departure from historic Reformed practice. 

To read the rest of this essay,
click here

Reader Comments (13)

note that his otherwise esteemed Dutch colleague had wedded himself too deeply with unbelief.
Warfield disagreed with Kuyper's conception of an epistemological dualism drawn between the
regenerate and unregenerate. And he believed that while "ideally" there would be one science, he also
noted that any perfect science is found only in the divine mind. Fallen humanity can never attain this.14
Because science operates on a continuum, however, Warfield can state, "it is the better science that ever
in the end wins the victory; and palingenetic science is the better science, and to it belongs the victory.
How shall it win the victory if it declines the conflict?"15

Warfield never backed down from a fight with unbelief- this is where I get confused sometimes about our role in the two kingdoms. There is a sense in which we are in a culture war with the unbelief that permeates both unregenerate and regenerate man. Apologetics is supposed to strengthen our minds against the unbelief which is our natural condition. It seems that this is a weakness which we do not want to face and confront. Apologetics is neglected and the Church then has no answers to the unbelief that is a stronghold in the culture. Paul confronted the unbelief all around Roman culture and got persecuted for it. He did it in a rational and not obnoxious way though. I think we run away from the confrontation because we do not know how to do it properly and we know we will get blacklisted for it when we do.

Great essay on Warfield. Like I stated many times before the whole 386 pages is worth reading. It helped clarify a lot of confusing topics for me- just like A Case for Amillenialism did in regards to eschatology.
November 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Yeazel
Some very smart people get confused about what apologetics is supposed to do and accomplish in the Church. Warfield seemed to see its purpose clearly and stubbornly refused to back down (for some very good reasons) because it did not seem to be that "spiritual" a task. Our subjective piety seems to always trump the objective truths of the faith and therefore gets more of our attention and care.

palingenetic?- what's up with that word? What does it mean? I looked it up at and even there it is not that clear. Can someone explain what Warfield meant by palingenetic science? I think it has something to do with the regenerates ability to include the metaphysical with the empirical as a science. The science of metaphysics uses special revelation as its source of data rather than the natural world God created.
November 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Yeazel
Years ago, I used to study all kinds of apologetics. I had a zeal to use all of it on every unbeliever that I encountered. When we used to spend the weekend in Santa Barbara, Lord help us if I ever saw a car in front of me with a Darwin fish.

I would follow them into a Jack in the Box, or wherever they were going, and strike up a conversation about Darwin vs. creation, etc. It never led to anyone believing in the Gospel. What a waste of time that was.

One of my Lutheran pastors told me that a lot the apologists are from the Southern Baptist camp. Much of the time, it is a method that they use to argue someone into the Kingdom of God. In other words, to get someone to "make a decision for Christ."

My apologetics now is pretty much shortend to a few simple arguments like; a. There is a great design in the universe, so there is a great designer of the universe. b. We have a moral concsience, so there is a moral conscience giver etc. c. Regarding the age of the universe; The Bible doesn't make a case for how old the universe is, only for the historicty of Adam. If you take Biblical genealogies, gaps in Biblical genealogies, non Biblical genealogies, accurate archaeology, and here is the key one -- recorded history, the universe may only be 6,000 to 9,000 years old. I will challenge them with this; anything beyond recorded history is just speculation -- which it certainly is.

It is an un-natural reading of the Gen. account to take it as anything other than a 24 hour, six days of creation. Also, if there were large gaps of years between the days, the vegetation would die during the periods of darkness.

The dinosaurs were created on day six of creation, and they became extinct either before the flood, during the flood or after the flood. Again, we don't know because there is no recorded history of it. It is just speculation. (Issues, Etc, just did a study on dinosaurs, and many of them were the size of sheep or chickens!)

The universe was created fully matured (with age); Adam and the stars etc. The key in all of this is recorded history. Anything, absolutely anything beyond that is just speculation.

To sum it all up; I just give folks the law and the Gospel, and let the Holy Spirit convert the elect. God doesn't need me to argue anyone into the Kingdom of God. As I read Luther every day, that was his approach also. I believe that both the Reformed and Lutherans use less apologetics than most. Because both camps realize that the Word of God proclaimed, and the conversion of the Holy Spirit, leads to salvation, and not human arguments.
November 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLloyd I. Cadle
I have heard your views on apologetics before Lloyd- I know you think it is a waste of time. However, you are missing the point that Warfield was making. There is a place for apologetics in the academic community where people are actually inquiring about and searching for objective truth. Only in postmodern times, where truth is looked upon as totally subjective, does the pursuit of truth seem like a waste of time. This used to be what universities were for- the pursuit of truth in all fields of inquiry. The academics in universities and seminaries across the country have a responsibility to be able to defend the rational pursuit of truth in all fields of inquiry. I could go on about this but I will stop at this point. It is true that many people get satisfied with simple explanations about the objective work of Christ on the cross and come to saving faith with simple Law and Gospel explanations. But as we grow in the faith we should be seeking to arrive at a greater depth of truth and apologetics is very helpful in this regard. It also helps explain some serious questions people have about their faith and if it is really grounded in the rational or not. This is a simple explanation of what I think Warfield was getting at.
November 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Yeazel
One last thought: I get sick and tired of people trying to use the Bible as a science book. Science needs to be read in light of the Scriptures, not the Scriptures in light of science. (Scientific arguments change by the second!)

Christians should have no fear of science, just bad science. God is the author of science.

The Bible is not a history book, although it is historically correct. The Bible is not an archaelogical book, although it is archaelogically correct. The Bible is not a science book, although it is scientifically correct. And, the Bible is not a prophetic book, although it is prophetically correct.

The Bible does not seek to cover all areas of the above referenced subjects, but, where it does, it is 100% correct.
November 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLloyd I. Cadle

Luther: These are statements of the Holy Spirit, taken from Moses, "God said, Let there be light" (Gen. 1:2). No human intellect or wisdom is able to grasp them, however high it may be. Therefore we should not consult reason in this matter but should give the Holy Spirit the honor that what He says is the divine truth. We should believe His words, meanwhile blinding, nay, gouging out, the eyes of reason."

More Luther: "St. Augustine complains that he first approached Scripture with free reason and studied in it for nine entire years, wanting to comprehend it with his reason. But the more he studied in it, the less he understood of it, until he found by sad experience that one must put out the eyes of reason and say: What Scripture says I believe with a simple heart and leave unfathomed by reason. If one does this, Scripture, formerely obscure, becomes plain and clear.... In short, it does no good to read Scripture in the light of reason."
November 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLloyd I. Cadle
I am not in a state of mind to give a clear answer right now. I have no problem with science and either did Warfield. I do not hold any delusions about reason either. Reason helps us understand revelation better. We cannot reason our way to God. That is not what I or Warfield was saying. I think Kim Riddlebarger was making that point too. God, however, is the foundation of reason and Chirst is the Logos of God. We can only trust our reason because we believe that God does not play dice with the universe. God makes his revelation clear to us and He gives us our reason to give us more clarity for our faith. Luther believed this too- even though he called reason a whore in some of his writings. Luther used his reason to understand revelation and said this many times. What Luther reacted against was reason used apart from revelation. It is this type of stuff which apologetics seeks to make clear. That is all I am saying and I think that is what Warfield and Riddlebarger are saying too.
November 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Yeazel
Also, I think Scottish Common Sense Realism (SCSR) gives us a philosophical basis for rejecting philosophical reasoning which gives no regard for revelation or gifts of God which are part of our created makeup. God gives us the ability to get his revelation but in our falleness we suppress these truths. Unless the Holy Spirit convinces us of this revelation we will reject it until the day we die. I am a monergist.
November 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Yeazel

Of course I am not against reason. I am also not against science, as I stated in my above referenced statements. I am not against apologetics. And, sometimes pre-evangelism is needed (apologetics) to take down a barrier so that you can give out the law and the Gospel.

Several years ago, when I first became a Lutheran, I would always talk theology with one of my fellow church members -- a retired professor at Concordia. We would always discuss Luther. One day, apologetics came up. I asked him how he thought Luther would handle it today. He stated, that Luther would know more about it than probably anyone, but he wouldn't use much of it. The professor stated that Luther would just give Scripture, and if the person that he was talking to rejected it, he would just move on.

Luther realized (and I study his writings daily), that the elect are converted when they hear the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit opens their eyes to understand it, and gives them the faith to believe it.

No matter how many philosophical arguments that I use, without the work of the Holy Spirit calling with the Word of God, it will be of no avail, because they "suppress the truth," Romans 1:18.

Luther would use reason, along with the Scriptures mostly to fight false doctrine. But, when it came to trying to persuade someone about Chirst, he depended on the Holy Spirit to call the person to salvation, with the Word of God.

Says Luther, "If our efforts to bring people to faith meet with no success and we cannot attain the desired goal, we should nonetheless continue to rebuke, warn, admonish, plead, and pray. If men accept the Gospel, well and good. If they do not accept it, I say: Farewell, fine world! I do not intend to grieve myself to death because of your attitude."

In summary; I do not need to reason and argue someone into the Kingdom of God until I am blue in the face. I'll take the Biblical short cut; give 'em the Word, invite 'em to church and adhere to Acts 2:47, "And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved." And cling to the promise of Acts 13:48, "And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed."
November 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLloyd I. Cadle
Hey John:

Where is the Zrim master? Hopefully he is not frozen back east somewhere, where his fingers are too stiff to blog!
November 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLloyd I. Cadle

Apologetics is more for the Christian than the unbeliever. It gives us reasons for our faith and helps us counter false arguments and every high thing which exalts itself against the knowledge of God. It also helps us answer any questions from those who have honest objections and problems with Christianity. We always need to be prepared to defend the faith with good, solid and rational answers. This is preevangelism as you stated.

I agree with you also that the Gospel is the only thing that draws people to Christ. The Holy Spirit must convince and convict people of their sin and then create faith in them to cling to Christ. The Law and the Gospel does that work. So, we really do not agree. The only thing I disagreed with you about was your saying it was a waste of time. I do not think it is a waste of time for the above reasons.

In regards to Zrim- I will let him answer that one himself. I do know that he and Pastor Kim had a bit of a tift over two-kingdom theology and his challenging him about giving political advice to others over the internet. That is as far as I will go with that one.

It is always good to bounce ideas off you from time to time- iron sharpens iron you know.
November 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Yeazel
I meant to say that you and I really do not disagree rather than "we really do not agree"
November 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Yeazel

Apologetics are good, on a smaller scale. I probably went at it way, way too much with the people that I was targeting. Most of these folks wanted no part of Christ, even if you gave them a free pass to heaven (which, by the way, is what Christ offers).

There is so much evidence for Christianity, it is almost impossible to reject it based on just logic and reason alone. (Christianity is historical and evidential.) The fact of the matter is that most men love the darkness rather than the light of the Gospel. Don't we all? And apart from us being elect (God choosing us for salvation), we would all persist in our love of darkness.

With that being the case (God electing some to salvation), apologetics on a large scale is unnecessary (although for the sake of our large ego's, where we all like to show just how smart we are, we love to club them with apologetics just to win an argument. Especially the Darwin folks).

For the most part, very little apologetics (mostly pre-evangelism) are needed before you hit them with the law and the Gospel, and thus God saves them through His means, the Word that is quickened to the heart by the Holy Spirit.

What I hate, is when Christians (in their zeal to win an argument) attempt to use Gods Word as a science book, and totally take the Scriptures out of context, in order to appeal to the evolutionists, for the sake of winning an argument on their turf. (Sucking up to them, and dragging the Word of God through the mud while doing so.)

If a person believes in evolution, and he is one of the elect, he will be converted by the Word of God, apart from apologetics. Notice how St. Paul was converted. Wow, there wasn't any apologetics needed. Christ just zapped him and saved him.

In many cases, I believe, that because of our ego's (including mine), apologetics can be a hindrance to the Gospel. Yes, God will still save them, but we just delay the process with our big mouths.

Regarding Zrim: He understands the two kingdom stuff very well. And for the sake of his conscience, if he wants to limit himself in regards to politics, so be it.
November 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLloyd I. Cadle

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