Friends You Should Meet (5) — Greg Bahnsen
It’s no secret that I love books. Here in my study I often feel like I’m surrounded by good friends. In this series of posts, I’d like to introduce you to some of my friends, both the old ones from centuries ago and the more recent ones. I’ll describe their strengths and, where necessary, their weaknesses. The aim is to help you find good friends for yourself — in other words, to find edifying reading that will give you a better understanding of the Christian faith, a greater grasp of the gospel, and a deeper love for Christ.
Discovering the writings of Cornelius Van Til was a turning point in my spiritual and theological development. However, as I mentioned earlier, Van Til was not a popularizer. Moreover, his writings on apologetics didn’t include a lot of biblical exegesis and explicit scriptural support. There were a number of students of Van Til who were better communicators. John Frame is certainly one of those. However, the best of Van Til’s students was without question Greg Bahnsen.
Dr. Greg Bahnsen was a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. I believe he was the first (the only?) student to do his M.Div. and M.Th. concurrently at that institution. He later went on to do doctoral studies at the University of Southern California. He was an ordained minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Bahnsen also founded the Southern California Center for Christian Studies (SCCCS, now defunct). He was the author of several books, numerous articles, and a frequent lecturer, speaker, and debater. He died suddenly in 1995 from complications following open heart surgery.
Why is Greg Bahnsen important? He was a gifted, charismatic communicator. He was the rare man with great intellect, quick on his feet, and passionate for truth. But most of all, Greg Bahnsen held the Word of God in the highest esteem and sought to consistently apply it to every area of life, including apologetics.
Where do I start? Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith is Bahnsen’s most accessible book on apologetics. It’s written at a level that I think most high school graduates should be able to manage it. One of the best features of this book is how it displays clearly the biblical basis of Reformed (presuppositional) apologetics. The next step up would be Bahnsen’s Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended. You can find my review of that one here. His magnum opus is without doubt Van Til’s Apologetic. VTA is a massive volume of anthologized writings of Van Til with commentary and footnotes from Greg Bahnsen. Everyone serious about apologetics needs to have this work. Finally, I should mention that a lot of Bahnsen’s articles are available for free on-line. You can find them here.
What to look out for? Bahnsen was at his best when writing and lecturing about apologetics. Unfortunately, when it came to ethics he was a theonomist. That means he believed that the Mosaic civil laws were binding upon contemporary magistrates. I’m not going to give a comprehensive critique of theonomy here, I’m just telling you that this is where he stood. Related to that, he was also postmillennial in his eschatology. Notwithstanding those points, Greg Bahnsen was a minister in good standing in the OPC.
I never actually got to meet Greg Bahnsen, though I wish I had. A few months before he died, we’d had a helpful e-mail conversation. He was very willing to help this university undergrad in far-off Alberta. Later I enrolled in the Master of Arts in apologetics program at SCCCS — unfortunately I didn’t finish it. Nevertheless, I count Bahnsen among my mentors and teachers when it comes to defending the faith. I remember the first time listening to his 1985 debate with Gordon Stein — I was blown away. That brought together everything I had learned from Van Til and him. To this day I still often use that debate when teaching apologetics. It’s a classic which you can find here. To this day, I don’t think there’s anybody who can rightfully be described as a successor of Greg Bahnsen. His shoes are BIG.