Two Theologies Or One? Warfield and Vos on the Nature of Theology -- By: Richard Lints

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 54:2 (Fall 1992)
Article: Two Theologies Or One? Warfield and Vos on the Nature of Theology
Author: Richard Lints


Two Theologies Or One?
Warfield and Vos on the Nature of Theology*

Richard Lints

* I would like to thank George Marsden, Richard Gaffin, David Wells, and T. David Gordon for their comments on earlier drafts of this essay. I would also like to express appreciation to the editor of the journal, Moisés Silva, for his advice on an earlier version of the essay.

Evangelical theology has struggled with the issue of contextualization over the last two decades. What is the relationship between theology proper and culture? How do the foundations of theology relate to the foundations of knowledge generally? In many ways evangelicalism1 is several decades behind Protestant liberalism in raising this hermeneutical question of horizons. In that strain of evangelicalism arising from the fundamentalist movement, theology had always been considered culturally neutral. Always fearful of the historicist notion of theology, these evangelicals championed biblical authority by claiming there was only one horizon in theology—the text itself. However, it would be unfair to categorize this as the only (though it may have been the dominant) evangelical theological method.

Part of the reason for this lay in the ahistorical conception of theology which the fundamentalist movement trumpeted. It is the purpose of this study to uncover another viable evangelical conception of theology and of the relationship of the theological horizons. I have in mind reflecting upon the Princeton theologians B. B. Warfield and Geerhardus Vos from the turn of this century. Of specific concern is the conceptualization of the biblical horizon and its trajectory into modern culture. The particular entry into this discussion will be through their understanding of the theological task.

Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield and Geerhardus Vos were colleagues at Princeton Theological Seminary for well over twenty-five years.2 They were both entrusted with the teaching of theology at this bastion of Old School Reformed orthodoxy around the turn of this century. Both were ordained ministers in the northern branch of the Presbyterian Church.3 Each had spent considerable time studying in Europe during the period of rising biblical criticism and each embraced and articulated with great clarity and vigor a view of biblical inspiration as both plenary and verbal.4 The similarities, however, mask an apparently fundamental difference in theological method. Warfield offered a classic evangelical expression of theological method modeled upon the modern...

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