Warfield, Chafer, and the Reformed Tradition: A Question of Historical Perspective -- By: Gary L. W. Johnson

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 06:2 (Spring 1997)
Article: Warfield, Chafer, and the Reformed Tradition: A Question of Historical Perspective
Author: Gary L. W. Johnson


Warfield, Chafer, and the Reformed Tradition: A Question of Historical Perspective

Gary W. Johnson

The late Bernard Ramm, in his After Fundamentalism: The Future of Evangelical Theology, included an appendix that, in the words of Fred H. Klooster, “represents a rather ludicrous comparison of Lewis Sperry Chafer and Karl Barth.” 1 In terms of educational background and academic qualifications, Barth did indeed tower over Chafer. Ramm seemed to labor under the impression that Chafer still exerts some significant influence in evangelical circles today. He refers to Chafer’s Systematic Theology (originally in eight volumes, it has recently been revised by the faculty of Dallas Seminary in two volumes) as

a standard text in a number of evangelical and fundamentalist schools. It is heralded as the fullest text of systematic theology that we have now in print for evangelicals. It claims to be unabridged, premillennial, and dispensational. It is, then, a paradigm for evangelical and fundamentalist theology. 2

Ramm obviously felt that if evangelicals would take the time to do a little comparison, they would quickly see that Barth was a far more qualified guide to the study of theology than Chafer.

I submit (and with no disrespect to Chafer or his rightful place of honor in the history of the twentieth-century church) that Warfield has had a more pronounced influence on evangelicalism in this century than Chafer, and Ramm would have been better advised to do a comparison with Warfield and Barth, especially since Warfield’s educational background and academic qualifications are comparable with Barth’s. But this would have defeated Ramm’s original

intention, which was to present Barth in his best possible light. Comparing Warfield and Barth would not have convinced many evangelicals that Barth was superior to Warfield in learning and theological scholarship.

This article does not seek to imitate Ramm by resorting to a similar comparison between Warfield and Chafer. Like Barth, Warfield would stand head and shoulders over Chafer in that regard. Besides, Warfield would have found such a comparison extremely distasteful. Both men were Presbyterian. Both taught systematic theology, and in most critical areas of doctrine (especially in their understanding of Scripture) they were in hearty agreement. 3

Warfield and Chafer did have some serious disagreements. In 1918 Warfield reviewed Chafer’s popular book He That Is Spiritual in <...

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