Apologetics at Westminster Seminary

by John Frame


Apologetics is sometimes defined as the “defense of the faith.” But the apologetics of Cornelius Van Til, longtime Professor of Apologetics at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, was more offensive than defensive. He saw apologetics as the means by which we can unmask the very presuppositions of non-Christian systems of thought, exposing them as in fact religions, religions based on arbitrary faith in man himself. Similarly, Van Til’s apologetics requires Christians as well to be profoundly aware of their presuppositions: that are to be governed by Scripture in every thought, word and deed.

Apologetics at Westminster, therefore, is more than “the defense of the faith.” It is also “Christian theory of knowledge.” For in apologetics, we learn what God’s word requires of us as we seek to know him, or indeed as we seek to know anything in his creation. We learn the primacy of Scripture for all human thought. We learn to use general revelation– God’s witness in the world and in ourselves as his image– to better apply his word to specific problems.

At Westminster, it is this basic approach to knowledge that underlies, not only our teaching in apologetics, but in every other field as well. All of our teaching staff seek in their respective disciplines to “bring every thought captive to Jesus Christ” (II Cor. 10:5).

This is why, in the Old and New Testament departments, we cannot allow the students to be satisfied with the mainstream of biblical scholarship. We see that such scholarship often rejects what God tells us in Scripture; indeed much of it operates on the assumption that supernatural events are impossible. At Westminster, we realize that if miracles are impossible, then the biblical God is also impossible. We do not anti-intellectualistically insist on interpreting Scripture exactly as has been done in our tradition; but we do not believe in a kind of “progress” that removes the very foundation for Christian faith, that God has acted in history, visibly and miraculously. We seek to be responsible Bible scholars: responsible to the data of linguistics and history, but especially responsible to the norms of Scripture itself.

In systematic theology, too, we seek to know Scripture in God’s way. Systematics tends to be topically ordered, rather than historically ordered as in biblical studies. But in both systematics and biblical studies, we recognize our obligation to presuppose the truth of God’s revelation at every point and to attack the opponents of that truth by exposing their false presuppositions.

Thus in practical theology, our students learn to practice, not the fashionable psychologies of the day, but the distinctively biblical methods of “nouthetic” counseling, developed by Jay Adams. Preaching is to be the proclamation of the word of God, not of men’s ideas; so our students learn to be meticulous in getting their sermons out of the scriptural texts.

Evangelism, Christian Education, Church Planting: all the “practical” disciplines rest upon the same Christian view of knowledge.

Church history here does not merely describe past events, but also seeks to evaluate them– by scriptural standards. Thus we can learn from the past, that our present and future ministries may be more authentically biblical.

Thus apologetics is found throughout our curriculum. In every course, students learn to unmask the enemies of Christianity and to evaluate their presuppositions by scriptural criteria. In every course, students learn to judge the spirits of our age by the criteria of the word of God. In every course, they learn content and methods which are as authentically scriptural as we can provide.

Pray for us, that we can carry out these intentions more consistently, that we may become more and more powerful as ambassadors for Christ to an unbelieving world.


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