Understanding Old Princeton’s Doctrine of God & Approach to Apologetics | Dewey Dovel

by | Jan 31, 2023 | Apologetics, Historical Theology, Systematic Theology

This article is the second in a series titled “Reforming Old Princeton: Understanding How Theology Proper Should Govern Apologeticsby Dewey Dovel. To read the first article, you can click here: https://cbtseminary.org/reforming-old-princeton-understanding-how-theology-proper-should-govern-apologetics-dewey-dovel/

Understanding Old Princeton’s Doctrine of God and Approach to Apologetics

            One of the most distinguishing characteristics of Old Princeton was its commitment to the Protestant Reformation (1517-1648) and Post-Reformation Scholasticism (1560-1789).[1] The theological culture of the seminary was shaped by a faculty that was diligent in proclaiming and defending the Reformed tradition within their unique context of American Presbyterianism.[2] At the center of Old Princeton’s confessional identity was the conviction that the doctrine of God is most important to shaping every other facet of theological speculation, in supplementation to informing one’s ability to accurately understand reality itself.[3] In his first volume of Systematic Theology, Charles Hodge portrayed the Princetonian consensus on this aforementioned, correlative relationship. 

            [The doctrine of God] underlies the whole plan of salvation, and determines the character of the religion (in the subjective sense of that word) of all true Christians… It is not too much to say with [G.A.] Meyer, that “the Trinity is the point in which all   Christian ideas and interests unite; at once [the Trinity is] the beginning and the end of all insight into Christianity.”[4]  

            When considering the scholarship of three of the most significant faculty members of Old Princeton—Archibald Alexander (1772-1851)[5], Charles Hodge (1797-1878)[6] and B.B. Warfield (1851-1921)[7]—one discovers a unified perspective on the primacy of theology proper for regulating an approach to the systematization of Christian doctrine. In principle, the faculty of Old Princeton desired for every tenet of Christian theology and secular interests to be interpreted through a distinctively God-centered lens.[8] Nevertheless, in practice, the tradition of Old Princeton failed to apply this noble and biblically warranted objective to one of the most important Christian responsibilities: the advancement and defense of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Matt. 28:18-20; 1 Pet. 3:14-15).[9] When subjected to closer scrutiny, it can be rightfully said that the methodology of Princetonian apologetics was not holistically shaped by the theology proper confessed within the Westminster Standards.[10]

            From its original formulation in 1647, the second chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith has encompassed what Reformed Christians have believed about God, in accordance with His own self-revelation contained in Scripture.[11] While there are many attributes of God provided in this portion of the confession, a holistic summarization of the divine perfections described therein is encapsulated in the doctrine of divine aseity. The term aseity comes from the Latin a se, meaning “of Himself” or “from Himself.”[12] This doctrine affirms that the reason for God is God Himself, and that God does not, in any respect, depend on something not Himself in order to know what He knows, to do what He does or to be who He is. Divine aseity affirms that the ultimate reason for anything that God is or does is God in His perfection of Godness. Said differently, God is entirely self-sufficient and self-existent in and of His own being.

            The theological heritage of Old Princeton reflects a firm commitment to the doctrine of divine aseity from faculty and students alike. In his lecture notes from Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge records that Alexander affirmed “that God cannot but be, and be what He is, and that altogether in and of Himself.”[13] In view of the classic passage for affirming divine aseity (Ex. 3:14), Alexander affirmed God as the “cause of all things and the upholder of them all… infinitely above the highest creatures, [and dependent] on none.”[14] Hodge would likewise follow in the footsteps of his mentor and the broader Reformed tradition, affirming on numerous occasions in his Systematic Theology that God is “self-existent, infinite and immutable.”[15] In the latter years of Old Princeton, leading up to the establishment of Westminster Theological Seminary, B.B. Warfield maintained continuity with the Westminster Standards by affirming the Reformed doctrine of God. In A Dictionary of the Bible, Warfield portrays a biblically informed and theologically robust understanding of the character of the Most High. 

            God [is] a personal Spirit, infinite, eternal, and illimitable alike in His being and in the intelligence, sensibility, and will which belong to Him as personal spirit. The attributes which are thus ascribed to Him, including self-existence, independence, unity, uniqueness, unchangeableness, omnipresence, infinite knowledge and wisdom, infinite freedom and power, infinite truth, righteousness, holiness and goodness, are not only recognized but richly illustrated in Scripture, which thus puts the seal of its special revelation upon all the details of the natural idea of God.[16]

            As can be seen in the scholarship of Alexander, Hodge and Warfield, the theological tradition of Old Princeton was steeped in the affirmation of divine aseity. However, instead of seeking to defend the God who is a se at every point in their apologetic methodology (Ex. 3:13-15), the faculty of Old Princeton preferred to begin their apologetic by seeking to defend a bare, abstract, philosophical conception of theism.[17] This particular approach to apologetics is rooted in natural theology,[18] and seeks to begin with a defense of generic theism on the basis of man’s autonomous reason.[19] According to the apologetic methodology employed by Old Princeton, we can only demonstrate the significant probability or likelihood that the God of creation is the triune God of Christianity lest we fall into the trap of circular reasoning (emphasis added).[20] In other words, when seeking to ascertain the existence of God, Old Princetonians posited that man must first begin his investigation by appealing to the self-evident truths manifested by the common sense of mankind (such as the reliability of human sense perception).[21]

            When reflecting on these philosophical underpinnings of Old Princeton’s apologetic methodology, many historians have detected a deep-rooted influence of Scottish Common Sense Realism on the seminary’s faculty.[22] Paul Kjoss Helseth provides a helpful snapshot of the relationship between this nineteenth century philosophy and the academic culture of Old Princeton in his treatise, ‘Right Reason’ and the Princeton Mind.

            The theological implications of ‘supernatural rationalism’ and Scottish [Common Sense] Realism were clear. By encouraging Believers to affirm the reality of objective truth and the reliability of knowledge, these commitments not only supported a natural theology in which scientific investigation of the created order disclosed the existence and nature of the Creator, but they also encouraged scientific investigation to be regarded as a doxological enterprise that dealt in the hard currency of substantial, reliable, verifiable fact… [Nineteenth century Protestants] insisted that intuition or common sense provided certain unquestionable starting points from which good arguments could rise to rebut skepticism, defend the existence of God, and support the truthfulness of Scripture. While the widespread endorsement of this approach [to apologetics] is thought to be clear evidence that the Enlightenment’s conquest of antebellum America was complete, historians have long suspected that this conquest was perhaps nowhere as comprehensive as it was among the Reformed scholars at Princeton Theological Seminary.[23]  

            In summation, the foundational presupposition of Old Princeton’s apologetic methodology was that natural man has the necessary mental faculties and capability to employ “common sense reasoning” to accurately understand the nature of God and His relationship to the created order.[24] Ironically, despite championing the noetic effects of sin and the absolute dependence of man on God’s self-revelation to know anything, Old Princetonians assumed that natural man can progressively reason to an intellectual affirmation of the existence of a God and in doing so, become persuaded of the likelihood of that God being identified with the triune God of Christianity.[25] It is at this point where the faculty of Old Princeton, such as B.B. Warfield, would distinguish between man’s ability to possess a “rational faith” versus his ability to possess a “saving faith.”[26]

            Rationally speaking, fallen humanity has the ability to “remain conscious of his dependence on God and believe in God in an intellectual or speculative sense.”[27] For Warfield, despite the unregenerate sinner never delighting in God or placing his trust in God if left to himself, the unconverted individual still has the intellectual ability to affirm truths about God through the utilization of reason alone.[28] On the other hand, man will only come to the place of possessing a “saving faith” if God the Holy Spirit brings about his new birth, testifying to the truthfulness of what God has revealed about Himself in nature and in Scripture throughout the sinner’s conversion experience.[29] 

            For Old Princetonian apologists, discussions regarding the existence of God and the defense of Christianity can center upon alleged common ground between the Christian and the non-Christian. In this apologetic methodology, it is entirely acceptable to present religiously neutral arguments to demonstrate—from logic and historical evidence—that Christianity is the most rational faith out of the other alternatives. When critically examined from this perspective, it can be observed that the apologetic of Old Princeton fallaciously grants autonomous man with the freedom to employ fallen reasoning faculties to hopefully concede the probable existence of an eternal Creator.[30] The tragic consequences of such an approach to apologetics is that it inherently fails to demonstrate to the unbeliever, with utter certainty, that he stands guilty as a covenant breaking image bearer of God at every point in his human existence (Rom. 5:12-14).[31] In the Princetonian system of defending Christian theism, man ultimately becomes the final arbiter of truth and the Creator becomes subject to creaturely opinions about whether or not He has done enough to make His existence universally known.[32]

            Against the backdrop of Scottish Common Sense Realism, Old Princeton erected a scheme in which God’s special revelation does not function as the ultimate foundation for humanity’s intelligible experience in reality.[33] In doing so, man’s ability to think as an independent agent becomes elevated to the principium cognoscendi for discerning how he fits into the broader context of creation.[34] The inevitable consequences of this apologetic methodology leads to the undermining of the I-Thou relationship that man possesses at every moment of his creaturely existence, in covenantal relationship with the living God.[35] From a confessionally Reformed perspective, these convictions espoused by Old Princeton disclose an unbalanced understanding of the relationship between natural and special revelation. The influence of Scottish Common Sense Realism not only resulted in several Old Princetonians undermining the primacy of special revelation, but also resulted in an undermining of the function that natural revelation has in the pre/post-lapsarian world.[36] Ironically, Old Princeton’s zeal to emphasize the necessity of fallen sinners employing “right reason” to ascertain Christian theism through nature was not mirrored in its intentionality to demonstrate how the “extra-mental world” testifies to the existence and purposes of God.[37]

            The contents of Scripture and the Reformed confessions indicate that from the moment of creation, God embedded structures within nature that not only enabled humans to understand their relationship to the world in which they inhabit, but also revealed truth about God’s existence and requirements for His image bearers (Rom. 1:18-21).[38] Thus, the natural religious fellowship and communion bond that Adam enjoyed with God in the Garden of Eden was mediated through the natural revelation that was inherent to the prelapsarian world.[39] And even after man’s fall into sin, these same inherent structures within natural revelation mediate the wrath of God to man from within (Rom. 1:20-21).[40] In the final analysis, Old Princeton’s emphasis on “right reason” in apologetics is the necessary consequences of failing to consistently understand how natural and special revelation operate in the pre/post-lapsarian world.[41] Despite affirming the reality that God is absolutely independent of creation, Old Princetonians approached the defense of His existence as if it ultimatelydepended on fallen man’s ability to acknowledge it through reason alone.[42] The most significantly observable blemish in the apologetic tradition of Old Princeton was that their starting point in defending Christianity was not the primacy of the Bible’s revelation of the self-contained and self-existent Creator, but rather, the primacy of the creature’s usus instrumentalis to affirm Christian theism through natural revelation.[43] The logical consequences of Old Princeton’s apologetic places God on trial and autonomous man in the judgment seat, effectively undermining the Creator-creature distinction that the seminary was so vigilant to proclaim.[44] It would take Old Princeton plummeting into theological liberalism and the subsequent establishment of Westminster Theological Seminary before a distinctively Reformed approach to apologetics would be developed by Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987).[45]

[1]           James M. Garretson, Princeton and Preaching: Archibald Alexander and the Christian Ministry (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2005), 250. It is important to note that there is debate amongst historians as to the appropriate dating for each of these unique periods in history, and it is important to note that there is overlap between them. Both of these specific date ranges have been utilized in this series based on their expressed usage in Earle E. Cairns, Christianity Through the Centuries: A History of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1996).

[2]           Paul Kjoss Helseth, “Right Reason” and the Princeton Mind: An Unorthodox Proposal (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2010), 12-13.

[3]           David B. Calhoun, Princeton Seminary: Volume 2 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1996), 69-76.

[4]           Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008), 1:443.

[5]           For a consideration of the theology proper of Archibald Alexander see the following resource: James M. Garretson, Princeton and Preaching: Archibald Alexander and the Christian Ministry (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2005), 141-153.

[6]           For a treatment of the theology proper of Charles Hodge, see the following resource: Charles Hodge, “Theology Proper,” Theology Proper by Charles Hodge, accessed December 21, 2020, https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/theologyproper.html.

[7]           For a survey of the theology proper of B.B. Warfield, see the following resource: Fred G. Zaspel, “Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield on the Doctrine of the Trinity,” Southern Equip, September 15, 2017, accessed December 21, 2020, https://equip.sbts.edu/publications/journals/journal-of-theology/sbjt-212-summer-2017/benjamin-breckinridge-warfield-doctrine-trinity/.

[8]           This was especially developed by Warfield in the latter years of Old Princeton. See: Cornelius Van Til and K. Scott Oliphint, The Defense of the Faith (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2008), 306-312.

[9]           It is crucial to acknowledge that the fulfillment of the Great Commission mandate requires for every Christian to engage in the discipline of apologetics to some extent. Whereas evangelism entails the sharing of one’s faith with another person, apologetics provides the intellectual basis for believing the faith that is being professed. As soon as the Christian is asked what they believe—in reference to their faith—they are immediately launched into offering a reasoned defense of their beliefs. As such, the Great Commission itself demonstrates that evangelism and apologetics function as two sides of the same coin.

[10]         There may not be a more lucid critique of the inconsistencies between the doctrine of God and apologetic methodology of Old Princeton than what is provided by Greg Bahnsen in, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 1998), 47-48. Consider Bahnsen’s perspective on the relationship between the apologetic methodology and theology proper of Old Princeton: “Warfield (and the Old Princeton tradition) held that apologetics must lay the foundation upon which systematic theology can work… The inspiration of the Scriptures was not the foundational doctrine upon which the Christian scholar should proceed, but the last and crowning conviction to which he comes—based upon the demonstration of Scripture’s general trustworthiness by man’s right reason… We thus see two things about the philosophical (epistemological) perspective which Warfield [and Old Princetonians] encouraged the apologist to take: it should be (1) outside of a commitment to Scripture and (2) in agreement with right reason of the unbeliever—in a word, autonomous. This kind of apologetic (where Christ is not the final authority) would prepare for and be the authoritative foundation of systematic theology (where Christ is the final authority)… If Warfield [and the faculty of Old Princeton] had been consistent with this understanding (thankfully, he was not), he would have ended up with both bad theology, where man is the final authority [as to the nature and character of God], as well as bad apologetics, where the unbeliever’s fundamental approach is unobjectionable.”

[11]         While the totality of the second chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith depicts a Reformed theology proper, paragraph 2 provides a robust articulation of the doctrine of divine aseity: “God hath all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of himself; and is alone in and unto himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which he hath made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting his own glory in, by, unto, and upon them. He is the alone fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things; and hath most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them whatsoever himself pleaseth. In his sight all things are open and manifest, his knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature, so as nothing is to him contingent, or uncertain. He is most holy in all his counsels, in all his works, and in all his commands. To him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience he is pleased to require of them.”

[12]         James E. Dolezal, All That Is in God: Evangelical Theology and the Challenge of Classical Christian Theism (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2017), 11.

[13]         Travis Fentiman, ed., God, Creation, and Human Rebellion: Lecture Notes of Archibald Alexander from the Hand of Charles Hodge (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2019), 41.

[14]         Fentiman, ed., God, Creation, and Human Rebellion: Lecture Notes of Archibald Alexander from the Hand of Charles Hodge, 41.

[15]         Charles Hodge, Charles Hodge: Systematic Theology – Volume I – Christian Classics Ethereal Library, accessed December 21, 2020, https://ccel.org/ccel/hodge/theology1/theology1.iv.v.vi.html.

[16]         John D. Davis, Davis Dictionary of the Bible (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1954), 251-253.

[17]         For an extensive treatment of “philosophical theism,” see Richard Swinburne, “Philosophical Theism” in (ed.) D. Z. Phillips and Timothy Tessin, Philosophy of Religion in the 21st Century (New York, NY: Palgrave, 2001).

[18]         As observable from the handwritten notes taken by Charles Hodge, Archibald Alexander defined natural theology as “the knowledge of those truths concerning the being and attributes of God, the principles of human duty, and the expectation of a future state derived from reason alone” (emphasis added). Fentiman, ed., God, Creation, and Human Rebellion: Lecture Notes of Archibald Alexander from the Hand of Charles Hodge, 13. This aforementioned understanding of natural theology can be seen throughout the doctrinal literature that has been produced by the Old Princetonian faculty and undergirds their overarching approach to apologetics.

[19]         In Cornelius Van Til and William Edgar, An Introduction to Systematic Theology: Prolegomena and the Doctrines of Revelation, Scripture, and God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2007), autonomous reasoning is defined as “[man seeking] to set himself up as a judge over that which presents itself to him as revelation [from God]” (Pages 225-226). Throughout the duration of this series, the utilization of this concept of “autonomous reasoning” will be employed in light of the definition offered by Van Til.

[20]         Cornelius Van Til and K. Scott Oliphint, The Defense of the Faith, 332-344. One of the greatest charges against Presuppositional apologetics is that it is a system of defending the faith that exemplifies “circular reasoning.” Circular reasoning is generally regarded as a logical fallacy in which an individual begins their argumentation with the assumption that what they are arguing for is already true/valid. When critiques such as these are made towards Presuppositionalism, it is important to note that circular reasoning is not always fallacious reasoning. In fact, when engaging in argumentation for any true presuppositions about reality, circular reasoning becomes utterly unavoidable because it must use itself as part of its own proof. An example of unavoidable circular reasoning would be arguing for the proof of the laws of logic: Premise 1- If there were no laws of logic, we could not make an argument; Premise 2- We can make an argument; Premise 3- Therefore, there must be laws of logic. In the aforementioned syllogism, the laws of logic were assumed at the outset in order to verify and prove that the laws of logic do in fact exist. This is a simple example of how circular reasoning cannot be avoided when striving to prove the validity of basic presuppositions that enable humanity to have intelligible experience in reality. It is for these reasons that Van Til was unashamedly comfortable in affirming that his apologetic employed circular reasoning at every point. “To admit one’s own presuppositions and to point out the presuppositions of others is therefore to maintain that all reasoning is, in the nature of the case, circular reasoning. The starting point, the method, and the conclusion are always involved in one another” (The Defense of the Faith, Page 123). For more helpful insight into the philosophical viability of circular reasoning, see Jason Lisle, The Ultimate Proof of Creation: Resolving the Origins Debate (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2017), 157.

[21]         Paul Kjoss Helseth, “Right Reason” and the Princeton Mind: An Unorthodox Proposal, 10.

[22]         Mark A. Noll, The Princeton Theology: 1812-1921: Scripture, Science, and Theological Method from Archibald Alexander to Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, 34-35. Scottish Common Sense Realism originates largely from the philosophical musings of Thomas Reid (1710-1796). As noted by David B. Calhoun in Princeton Seminary: Volume 2, this philosophical construct “affirmed that the human mind is structured by God in such a way as to have common sense—such as reality of the self, the law of non-contradiction, reliability of sense perception, and basic cause-and-effect connections—and provide people with considerable knowledge about nature and human nature” (Page 413). This philosophical framework was the predominant one championed at Old Princeton during the nineteenth century and enthralled much of Protestant thinking during this era.

[23]         Paul Kjoss Helseth, “Right Reason” and the Princeton Mind: An Unorthodox Proposal, 11-12.

[24]         Ibid, 13.

[25]         Ibid, 50-72. The reference to the “noetic effects of sin” refers to the depravity of man’s intellect after the Fall (Rom. 1:18-28; 8:5-7; Col. 1:21; Eph. 2:3). In Defense of the Faith, Van Til depicts the noetic effects of sin in this fashion: “The intellect of fallen man may, as such, be keen enough. It can therefore formally understand the Christian position. It may be compared to a buzz-saw that is sharp and shining, ready to cut the boards that come to it. Let us say that a carpenter wishes to cut fifty boards for the purpose of laying the floor of a house. He has marked his boards. He has set his saw. He begins at one end of the mark on the board. But he does not know that his seven-year-old son has tampered with the saw and changed its set. The result is that every board he saws is cut slantwise and thus unusable because [it is] too short except at the point where the saw first made its contact with the wood. As long as the set of the saw is not changed, the result will always be the same. So also whenever the teachings of Christianity are presented to the natural man, they will be cut according to the set of sinful human personality. The keener the intellect the more consistently will the truths of Christianity be cut according to an exclusively immanentistic pattern. The result is that however much they may formally understand the truth of Christianity, men still worship ‘the dream and figment of their own heart.’ They have what Hodge calls ‘mere cognition,’ but no true knowledge of God” (Pages 97-98).

[26]         Ibid, 54-58.

[27]         Ibid, 60.

[28]         Ibid, 60.

[29]         Ibid, 62.

[30]         Cornelius Van Til and K. Scott Oliphint, The Defense of the Faith, 345-352.

[31]         Cornelius Van Til and William Edgar, Christian Apologetics (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2003), 62-63.

[32]         Cornelius Van Til and Edgar, Christian Apologetics, 123-128.

[33]         Cornelius Van Til and K. Scott Oliphint, The Defense of the Faith, 108-109.

[34]         Cornelius Van Til and K. Scott Oliphint, The Defense of the Faith, 348.

[35]         For an extensive treatment of the “I-Thou Relationship,” see Martin Buber and Ronald G. Smith, I And Thou (Mansfield Centre, CT: Martino Publishing, 2010).

[36]         As expounded above, the most notable faculty of Old Princeton that modeled this in their apologetic methodologies were Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, and Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield.

[37]         If Scottish Common Sense Realism is the prevailing philosophical system embraced by a theologian, then it will inevitably be affirmed that the “extra-mental world” is discovered and not created by the finite mind. If this is as far as one goes in describing the relationship between the human mind and the external world, then one will fail to account for a robustly Reformed understanding of the relationship between natural and special revelation. If the “extra-mental world” is not viewed as its own divinely instituted medium of revelation from the Creator to the creature, then it becomes exceedingly difficult to maintain a biblically balanced (and Reformed) understanding of natural and special revelation. For more insight on how Scottish Common Sense Realism delineates the relationship between the human mind and the “extra-mental world,” see Marina Folescu, “Thomas Reid: Philosophy of Mind,” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, accessed August 11, 2021, https://iep.utm.edu/reidmind/#SH6a.

[38]         Chapters 4-7 of the Westminster Confession of Faith provide a distinctly Reformed articulation of the intersection between man’s creation in the image of God, God’s covenantal relationship that He establishes with man in the Garden of Eden and the implications that man’s fall into sin has on the Creator-creature relationship.

[39]         In Foundations of Covenant Theology: A Biblical-Theological Study of Genesis 1-3 (Philadelphia, PA: Reformed Forum, 2021), Lane G. Tipton repeatedly explores how the natural religious fellowship that God enjoyed with Adam in the pre-lapsarian world was mediated through the realm of natural revelation. There are four direct citations from this resource that are appropriate to highlight at this point in the series:

“The natural response of image bearers prior to the fall was spontaneous, whole-souled worship of the glory of the triune God in the personal presence of the Spirit” (51).

“By forming man in the image of God, the Spirit sets man in a natural bond of religious fellowship with God. Just as the angels upon creation would have seen the glory of God in the highest heavens, so too the first thing Adam would have seen upon waking was the glorious Spirit. The instant he was created, Adam was in natural fellowship with God because of the presence of the Spirit. As the image of God man was made for God. Adam is God’s portion and God is Adam’s portion (see Deut. 32:9). As Geerhardus Vos observes, the image of God most basically consists in natural religious fellowship with God. What did God give Adam for such fellowship? The classic language that the Reformed use is free agency and moral excellency. Adam was made to be an ethical free agent in fellowship with God for the purpose of worship. Thus, man was not made first and foremost for the earth or for any created thing; rather, he was made for the worship and glory of God. God breathes life into him so that he might himself breathe out praise to God. It is a movement from God to Adam and from Adam back to God. He was created in such a way that the very breath he possessed existed so that he might confess the glory of the triune God (70-71).”

“Adam, being made in the image of God, was created in a natural bond of religious fellowship with God, consisting in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. As such, Adam, in his own natural constitution, was oriented toward God and placed in an environment—the garden and mountain of God—that was also oriented toward the same end. Adam was intended to be a mountain-ascending worshiper of the true and living God (74).”

“By virtue of creation, Adam owed God ‘natural obedience,’ that is, obedience on account of his having been created by God from the dust of the ground… Adam owed God everything according to their natural Creator-creature relationship. According to Kline, Adam by nature was a claimless creature of the dust so that after he had done all that he could and rendered his heart to God in full, free, and sincere obedience, he would have only done what was required of him (79-80).”

[40]         In his systematic exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith R.C. Sproul lucidly develops this biblical and theological principle. Although Sproul does not embrace a Van Tilian approach to apologetics, he is useful on this particular point in Truths We Confess: A Systematic Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2019), 6-10.

[41]         Old Princeton’s inconsistent understanding of natural and special revelation, and consequent application to the realm of apologetics, stands in stark contrast to what is observable within the thought of Cornelius Van Til. Two pertinent works that develop Van Til’s understanding of how God uses natural and special revelation interrelatedly to reveal Himself to humanity—in both a pre and post-lapsarian world—are Common Grace and the Gospel (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2015), 69, and The Infallible Word: A Symposium, by the members of the faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary, pp. 255–293 (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Guardian Publishing Corporation, 1946), 259.

[42]         Fentiman, ed., God, Creation, and Human Rebellion: Lecture Notes of Archibald Alexander from the Hand of Charles Hodge, 13.

[43]         Cornelius Van Til and William Edgar, An Introduction to Systematic Theology: Prolegomena and the Doctrines of Revelation, Scripture, and God, 71.

[44]         Charles Hodge, Charles Hodge: Systematic Theology – Volume I – Christian Classics Ethereal Library, accessed December 21, 2020, https://ccel.org/ccel/hodge/theology1/theology1.iv.v.vi.html.

[45]         David B. Calhoun, Princeton Seminary: Volume 2 (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1996), 389-398.

Follow Us In Social Media

Subscribe via Email

Sign up to get notified of new CBTS Blog posts.

Man of God phone

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This