Skip to main content

"Right Reason" and the Princeton Mind

Paul Kjoss Helseth, professor of Christian Thought at Northwestern College in St. Paul has just written an insightful, combative, and well researched work about the Old Princetonian theologians and the modern assumption about their theology. The modern thesis concerning these men (Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, B.B. Wafield, J. Gresham Machen) is that their theology is basically warmed over rationalism taken from the Scottish Common Sense philosophy movement of the 19th century. Helseth argues in ch. 1 that this interpretation denies the moral nature of the Princetonian thought and also fails to see their religious epistemology with respect to the soul's affective and rational components (5).


Helseth goes on to provide the moral context in which the Princeton theologians wrote about concerning the relationship between spiritual knowledge and speculative knowledge and also the the use of "right reason." "Right reason" for Archibald Alexander "is the work of the Spirit that not only brings the mind into a state in which it can perceive the Word of God.." (36). It is impossible to accuse Alexander and the Princeton theologians of mere radical rationality because of their view of the moral nature of saving faith.



My favorite part of the book deals with the aspect of J. Gresham Machen's writing focusing on the Christians' relationship to the modern culture. Helseth points out that Machen taught that believing scholars should pursue the assimilation of modern learning to Christian truth (111). Why? Because saving faith is based upon the rational appropriation of objective evidence overagainst the the religious experience of modern man (112). Secondly, Machen taught that the modern mind is hostile to "the gospel of Jesus" because their thinking is dominated by ideas that are both anti-supernatural and opposed to the faith (113). Instead, proper assimilation takes place when the gospel of Jesus Christ comes to bear upon every facet of society, every place man is called to work, worship, and gather. The beauty of this analysis of Helseth on Machen is that he is directly connected to the Amsterdam theology of Abraham Kuyper. Rather than be opposed to the Kuyperian spirit of having the gospel being transformative in every "sphere" of life, Machen brought the object of saving faith to bear upon every activity, including academic argument.



The great thing about this book is that it is so well researched that reading the footnotes provide a course in early Princeton theology. Helseth near the end of the book goes onto state how the post-conservative movement in theology has imbibed the same spirit towards our Princeton forebears. They make stinging remarks about the propositional rationality of the Princeton theologians without ever taking the time to read them well. Helseth reminds his readers that to make blanket remarks without taking the time to do proper research into primary source material is detrimental to their positions. Overall, this book was a breath of fresh air for someone who was somewhat familiar with Warfield, Hodge, Alexander, and Machen. This book has defintely given me a push to read more about them and their theology. Thanks to P & R for providing a review copy.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning

Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning by Timothy Snyder
Misperceptions, misconnections, and missed observations are just some of the issues that Timothy Snyder raises in his book, Black Earth, concerning the Holocaust.  Snyder, no stranger to the frontlines of scholarship on the Holocaust, with his previous book Bloodlands, that concerns the land from Hitler to Stalin, takes a look at the Holocaust from new sources and new avenues of thought.  How did some nation-states survive relatively unscathed from Nazi persecution while others, notably Jewish populations, succumb to a wave of killings?  Also, what was the role of the Soviet Union in the war and how did Stalin effect changes in the Final Solution?  These questions are only two of the many that Snyder answers in his detailed account of the Holocaust.
One of the best chapters was entitled The Auschwitz Paradox.  Generally when the public thinks about the Holocaust, we think of Auschwitz first or at the top of our mental m…

the great spiritual migration

The Great Spiritual Migration by Brian D McLaren

Brian McLaren and his own pithy way brings to the foreground and emphasis on a new kind of Christianity. The kind of faith that Brian envisions is a kind of migration not been set in the bedrock of beliefs that is unmoving but rather shifting with both culture and with faith. His new book the great spiritual migration is exactly that, a pointed work that encapsulates a vision towards the future where Christianity is changing and its peoples lives are changed as well.

Brian states in the introduction, "but we also know that for a lot of people Christianity is malfunctioning, seriously so, and it's not pretty. This kind of frustration with conventional Christianity is what McLaren gets gets to at the heart of this message is concerned with a number of different clusters unbelief. One, namely that Christianity has been stuck in a set of propositions or beliefs that has controlled churches in the faith, rather then a spirit of love t…

NKJV Study Bible by Thomas Nelson

NKJV Study Bible by Thomas Nelson Publishers
Growing up with the NIV, the NKJV was not a bible I was familiar with.  This new NKJV Study Bible takes all of the features of the Thomas Nelson Study Bible and makes them better.  Right out of the box I noticed that the Bible was considerably lighter than most study bibles I have read.  Further, the text font was much larger than most study editions, although I’m not quite sure of the size. The aquamarine color was a great touch and the Bible was finely put together, enduring the wear of many coming years of use.
Why is this Bible worth the purchase?  First, the study notes were great for extra handling of particular confusing and messy areas of Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments.  Yet, the study notes aren’t an obstruction to the reading of the biblical text.  Clearly, the editors have taken great care in making the text stand out and the notes illuminate certain themes and areas of Scripture.  Second, the NKJV takes into account all t…