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Owen Anderson’s reply to Paul Helseth’s Review

Owen Anderson

I am thankful to Paul for taking the time to read my two books and write his review. The main thread of his review had to do with his claim that I raised questions about the orthodoxy of Charles Hodge and Early Princeton thinkers. I doubt that even liberal theologians who disagree with Hodge could successfully make such a claim. I make no such claim. Instead, my books are asking the question: what caused an alteration at Princeton from its founding doctrine, and why wasn’t the theology of Princeton in the work of Charles Hodge lasting? What caused the change that we see today at both Princeton Seminary and Princeton University?

An example of two answers that I do not think are sufficient is the progressive answer and the pessimistic answer. The progressive answer says that Princeton Seminary and Princeton University have grown into more truth as they exchanged outdated opinions for what we see today. Perhaps they would argue this new understanding of truth is to be found in the theology of Karl Barth. The more conservative explanation tends to be a pessimistic answer saying that all human institutions must decline and decay and therefore nothing surprising happened in the changes we see at Princeton. A downward spiral, compromise with falsehood, and loss of vision in succeeding generations are the path of all man-made programs.

By way of contrast I suggest that challenges tend to reveal the places where our foundational presuppositions are not sufficient to give an account of the Christian claims about redemption. The particular claims of Christianity about the need for redemption through the atoning work of Christ presuppose that unbelief is inexcusable in the face of clear general revelation about the eternal power and divine nature of God. If we offer circular arguments that beg the question, or use fallacies like appealing to authority or testimony, and we are not taking thoughts captive, we are at least implying if not conceding that unbelief has an excuse.

My research about early Princeton and Charles Hodge is set in the context of asking why the original foundation of that institution did not last. Far from claiming that the answer is that they were not orthodox, or suggesting there is some new truth they must accept, I instead dig deeper into the Westminster Standards to ask if they were used to their fullest to respond to challenges. Specifically, the Confession begins by affirming that the light of nature and the works of creation and providence manifest the nature of God so that unbelief is without excuse. This is the basis for the redemptive claims of special revelation and the need for Christ. Christians should be eager and willing to show that the light of nature, reason, clearly reveals God and leaves no excuse. This foundational work is affirmed in the Confession, and is presupposed in the claims of Princeton about piety and the knowledge of God, but it was not firmly and explicitly set in place. Particularly, affirming the combined truths of WSC questions 1, 46, and 101 to say that the chief end of man is to know God in all that by which he makes himself known, in all the works of creation and providence.

My hope is to bring these foundational truths into greater focus and encourage the need for getting them into place for lasting work and fruit.

Owen Anderson is an assistant professor of philosophy at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, and an adjunct faculty member at Phoenix Seminary in Phoenix, Arizona. Ordained Servant Online, June 2016.

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Ordained Servant: June 2016

Exposing the Darkness

Also in this issue

Exposing the Darkness: The Biblical Theological Foundation, Part 2

Rejoinder to Owen Anderson

Divine Rule Maintained by Stephen J. Casselli

From Topic to Thesis by Michael Kibbe

Land of Sunlit Ice by Larry Woiwode

Of the Last Verses in the Book

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