Old Princeton: Rightly Reasoning About Warfield

Benjamin Warfield (1851-1921) was professor of Didactic and Polemic theology at Princeton

“As a young boy growing up on a farm and memorizing the Shorter Catechism by six years of age, and the Larger Catechism and its Scripture proofs by the time he was sixteen, Warfield was saturated in the categories and content of the Westminster Confession.”

 

Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield (1851-1921) was professor of Didactic and Polemic theology at Princeton seminary from 1887-1921. Warfield still stands at the center of most of the significant theological controversies marking our day. Yet, despite his voluminous and accessible writings, Warfield is often misunderstood and misrepresented, even by some sympathetic to his general convictions. As the “Lion of Princeton,” he is often thought to embody the fullness of Old Princeton, thus any fruitful appropriation of Old Princeton can likely happen only if we rightly reason about him.

Misrepresentation of him breeds neglect of him, so falsehoods need refuting. Warfield was not an evidentialist as an apologist, nor dependent on Scottish Common Sense Realism, or an Enlightenment view of science for his epistemology. He was not a rationalist who failed to understand sin’s effects on human reasoning. He did not have a “stable” or “static” view of truth, nor use “right reason” to refer to neutral territory where the non-Christian and Christian could meet to discuss their differences. He did not endorse a “fact/value” split. It is misleading to think that his thought failed to “go much beyond the various Protestant confessional standards,” even though he faithfully represented those standards.

As a young boy growing up on a farm and memorizing the Shorter Catechism by six years of age, and the Larger Catechism and its Scripture proofs by the time he was sixteen, Warfield was saturated in the categories and content of the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF). He believed that the Old and New Testament were the only living and true written word, from the only living and true Triune God. Living meant they were organisms. Warfield repeatedly referred to God’s word, revelation or truth as organisms. The idea that Warfield had a “static” or “stable” view of truth would be comical were it not taken seriously. Warfield’s stress on the organic is perhaps most indicative of how he engaged with, and in some measure reflected, nineteenth-century thought.

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