The Old Princeton Apologetics: Common Sense or Reformed? -- By: Tim McConnel

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 46:4 (Dec 2003)
Article: The Old Princeton Apologetics: Common Sense or Reformed?
Author: Tim McConnel


The Old Princeton Apologetics: Common Sense or Reformed?

Tim McConnel

[Tim McConnel is assistant professor of theology at Dordt College, 498 4th Avenue NE, Sioux Center, IA 51250.]

At its founding, Princeton Theological Seminary was given the specific apologetical task of equipping its students to combat the deistic errors of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. This played a significant role in the development of its apologetics, as it tended to take over the argumentation of previous apologists who had attempted the same task, without regard to whether they were Reformed or not. Thus, Bishop Butler’s eighteenth-century work, The Analogy of Religion Natural and Revealed, became a standard reference work for apologetics classes, in spite of the fact that Butler had repudiated his strict Calvinistic Presbyterian upbringing to embrace a moderate Anglicanism.1

While apologetics was a significant concern, it was certainly not the sole focus of the major Princetonian theologians. Archibald Alexander, the founding professor of Princeton, taught both didactic and polemical theology. Charles Hodge began his academic career as an exegete of Scripture, and later moved to systematic theology, for which he is better known.2 His son Archibald Alexander Hodge replaced him in the chair of didactic and polemic theology, and he in turn was replaced by Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield. None of these noted professors served explicitly in the chair of apologetics, which was only created in the later part of the nineteenth century. However, Warfield, a prolific writer, frequently addressed apologetical themes in his writings. A later, lesser known Princetonian, William Brenton Greene, Jr., occupied the Stuart Professorship of Apologetics and Christian Ethics from

1892 until his death in 1928.3 He thus taught as a contemporary of Benjamin B. Warfield, during the last decades of “Old Princeton.” As the professor in apologetics of that era, Greene warrants careful consideration. In order to better understand his apologetics, attention must first be paid to what is meant by “Old Princeton,” and then to the background philosophy of Scottish Common Sense Realism, before turning to an exposition and evaluation of his apologetics. It will be shown that his apologetics betray an inner tension, even inconsistency, between a Calvinist Reformed approach and one engendered by Scottish philosophy.

I. “Old Princeton”

In order to understand the context of the apologetics of William Brenton G...

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