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Warfield - A Case Study In Traditional Apologetic Methodolgy

As we have discussed in prior studies, modern (even reformed) apologetics is largely either based on evidentialism (faith based on empirical evidence) or experientialism (subjective religious experience is the ground of truth).  How did we get to where we are at?

The last several lessons have sought to defend the foundational truths of the scriptures, such as Christ's resurrection, His virgin birth, and His miracles.  We have defended these doctrines by quoting scripture and discussing critical views.  However, if a Christian engages the unbelieving world with such an approach, the discussion will quickly shift to the ultimate question of "first principles" or "presuppositions".  So, where do we start?  Outside of scriptures with the unbeliever trying to examine the trustworthiness of the Old and New Testaments?  Or within the scriptures?

The next few studies will explore evidentialism in more detail.  We will first trace its roots in American church history and then discuss faith's reasons for rejecting evidentialism.

Who Was Benjamin B. Warfield and Who Cares?

  • Lived: 1851-1921
  • Professor of didactic and polemic theology at Princeton: 1887-1921
  • Defended the supernatural character of Christianity.  Wrote many sound books on Christianity.  Was a staunch defender of the reformed faith.  He battled both modernism on the one hand and revivalism on the other.
  • "Calvinism is just religion in its purity. We have only, therefore, to conceive of religion in its purity, and that is Calvinism." (Selected Shorter Writings, I, p. 389)

Warfield's Apologetic

Warfield was a leading representative of "the Old Princeton apologetic", which was based on Thomas Reid's "Scottish Realism" or "Scottish School of Common Sense". Common Sense Realism claims that the world is as common sense would have it.  Objects are composed of matter, and occupy space and have size, etc.  Warfield sought to show that Christianity's belief in the supernatural was reasonable and grounded in evidence.

Warfield's argument for inspiration:
  • Major premise: The doctrinal teaching of the Bible writers is trustworthy based on a great mass of evidence.
  • Minor premise: The doctrinal teaching of the church on inspiration is the doctrinal teaching of the Bible writers based on exegetical evidence.
  • Conclusion: The doctrinal teaching of the church on inspiration is true.
His argument is invalid because he commits the "four term error" in logic (i.e. All fish have fins. All goldfish are fish. All humans have fins.).  He must say "The doctrinal teaching of the Bible is TRUE based on a great mass of evidence" in order to make a valid syllogism.

What other problems do you see in Warfield's argument?

Warfield did correctly conclude that the doctrine of inspiration is inseparably connected to other biblical doctrines.

Warfield's approach:
But certainly, before we draw it (practical theology) from the Scriptures, we must assure ourselves that there is a knowledge of God in the Scriptures.  And, before we do that, we must assure ourselves that there is knowledge of God in the world.  And, before we do that, we must assure ourselves that a knowledge of God is possible for man.  And before we do that, we must assure ourselves that there is a God to know.  Thus, we inevitably work back to first principles. - "Introductory Note" to Fancis Beattie's Apologetics
What problems to you see in this statement?

Warfield's View of Truth

We do not adopt the doctrine of the plenary inspiration of Scripture on sentimental grounds, nor even, as we have already had occasion to remark, on a priori or general grounds...We adopt it specifically because it is taught us as truth by Christ and His apostles, in the Scriptural record of their teaching, and evidence for its truth is, therefore, as we have 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. - Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield, edited by John E Meeter (P&R, 1970), 218-219.

Probability - the degree of verifiability that may be attributed to a belief.
Degree of verifiability - divide the number of confirmed test instances by the number of possible test consequences.
What is the hard part in determining a proposition's degree of verifiability?
Why is it meaningless to speak of a given belief as being probable or highly probable?

Read John 8:31-32; 1 Cor. 2:9-10;13-16; 1 John 4:13-15; 5:9-13;19-21.  What do these passages say about the issue of probability and the nature of truth?