Our Image Of Warfield Must Go -- By: Stanley W. Bamberg

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 34:2 (Jun 1991)
Article: Our Image Of Warfield Must Go
Author: Stanley W. Bamberg


Our Image Of Warfield Must Go

Stanley W. Bamberg*

When the contemporary evangelical thinks of Old Princeton theology, if ever, the image conjured up is often one of a sterile, unduly cerebral Reformed orthodoxy. Images of ivory-tower scholars defending forgotten and irrelevant Old School Presbyterian doctrines dominate our imagination. Their harsh assessments of much of nineteenth-century revivalism, our own theological forebears, we find disconcerting. We remember that B. B. Warfield, in many ways their greatest teacher, wrote many critical articles on the higher-life movement and perfectionism and sharply criticized many of the central teachings of the young pentecostal and faith-healing movements. Even though we repeat verbatim and rightly value Warfield’s views on the inspiration of Scripture, we find much of the rest of his teaching disquieting and largely ignore it.

This image of Old Princeton in general and Warfield in particular is hopelessly unbalanced. His unique contributions on a broad range of topics are forgotten by a generation that knew not Warfield. Yet precisely in these other areas we can learn much from his example. A reassessment is long overdue. In making such a reassessment, however, our concern should be to remain as faithful to our Lord and his Word in our generation as Warfield sought to be in his. Before we can make this reappraisal we must remind ourselves of Warfield’s life and contributions to the Church.

In a letter to his mother dated February 19, 1921, J. Gresham Machen described the funeral of Warfield as the end of a theological tradition: “It seemed to me that the old Princeton—a great institution it was—died when Dr. Warfield was carried out.”1 With the advantage of hindsight we note not only that Machen was more correct in his feelings than he knew but also that his observation was literally prophetic of what transpired in 1929 with the reorganization of Princeton Theological Seminary. A tradition had ended. The distinctive Princeton theology originating with Archibald Alexander (1772–1851) in 1812 when he founded the seminary, which continued in unbroken succession through only four professors—Alexander, Charles Hodge (1797–1878), A. A. Hodge (1823–1886) and Warfield (1851–1921)-spanning more than a century,2 ceased with the death of its greatest

* Stanley Barnberg is adjunct professor of religion at Auburn University in Alabama.

apostle. Warfield’s successor, Caspar Wistar Hodge, Jr. (the grandson of Charles Hodge), pledged to “teach the same theology they taught, and give myself wholeheartedly t...

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