theological disciplines

As I plod slowly through Warfield’s essay, “The Idea of Systematic Theology”, I come now to a section where he discusses the various ‘theological disciplines’.

He says there is a traditional categorization of theological disciplines around four heads, Exegetical, Historical, Systematic, and Practical. To these four he adds a fifth, the Apologetical. I’m going to take a few posts to talk about ideas suggested by this section of Warfield’s essay.

First of the five, Warfield lists Apologetical Theology. He says:

Apologetical Theology prepares the way for all theology by establishing its necessary presuppositions without which no theology is possible – the existence and essential nature of God, the religious nature of man which enables him to receive a revelation from God, the possibility of a revelation and its actual realization in the Scriptures. It thus places the Scriptures in our hands for investigation and study.1

What comes to mind from this definition?

Immediately, I think of Rm 1.19-20 and natural revelation. Warfield lists several ideas as the presuppositions of all theology. These, he says, are derived from Apologetic Theology. He doesn’t develop the source of Apologetic Theology, at least not so far in my reading. But aren’t these things, at least in basic form, self-evident from creation?

Rm 1. 20 says that these things may be known from the creation of the world: ‘his eternal power and Godhead’ and the idea that all men are inexcusable (i.e., accountable) before the God revealed in creation. Implied in these ideas must be something of the religious nature of man and the possibility of receiving revelation from God.

All that remains on Warfield’s list, perhaps, is that the Scriptures are in fact the realization of God’s revelation. Perhaps this isn’t self-evident from natural revelation, but rather is evident from a careful examination of the Scriptures themselves. They are found to be what they self-attest themselves to be: the very word of God.

I have read very little of Van Til, but I hear many speak highly of him and his presuppositionalism. Since he followed Warfield (by some years) at Princeton before moving with Machen to Westminster, I suspect that Van Til was highly influenced by Warfield.

Warfield says that Apologetic Theology supplies the ‘presuppositions’ upon which all other theology is based.

But, I ask, does it?

If I am right that Apologetic Theology is founded especially in natural revelation, then could it not be said that the presuppositions it produces for other branches of theology are in fact revelations, not presuppositions. In other words, do we really approach the Bible with presuppositions, or are we approaching it on the basis of that which is self-evident?

I may be completely talking out of my hat. I really know nothing about the presuppositionalist-evidentialist debate, other than to know that there appears to be a debate.

But I wonder if this debate is one that is more of ‘much ado about nothing’ when in fact the things we know for certain are only those things God has revealed to us.

More to come…



  1. Warfield, Works: Studies in Theology, p. 64 []


  1. It is helpful to read Van Til and his rejection of Warfield. See the Kuyper-Warfield section of Van Til’s bio here.

    • Thanks for the link. The article doesn’t seem like absolute rejection.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  2. No absolute rejection, I understand. I was trying to express it as quickly as possible. The three paragraphs do a good job of explaining it.

  3. You might want to check out John Muether’s Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman for an introduction to Van Til and presuppositionalism. I haven’t read this myself, but I’ve read some good reviews.

    • Thanks buddy. I found a bunch of material on van Til, downloaded it to my laptop, but now my laptop is acting funky…. hopefully I can be more educated on these things soon.

      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3