The Future of Reformed Apologetics

In a recent interview, Dr. Richard Gaffin Jr. remarked that, upon his retirement, Cornelius Van Til was not optimistic about the future of reformed apologetics. Gaffin opined that his discontentedness stemmed from what Van Til considered to be a lack of a true theological heir who would carry the mantel of a thoroughly reformed and covenantal apologetic methodology. In the decades following his retirement however, Drs. William Edgar and K. Scott Oliphint made significant strides and successfully carried that mantel. More than that, they progressed the thought of Van Til and made significant contributions of their own to a thorough-going Van Tillian defense of the faith.

       However, resting on the laurels of previous progress is not an option. The story of Westminster, indeed, it’s legacy, cannot be encapsulated merely by Machen’s stand against theological liberalism, or Van Til’s principled rejection of Barthianism, or Gaffin’s arguments against the New Perspective on Paul, no matter how important those controversial moments of time were. No, Westminster’s legacy is, has been, and should always remain, a persistent and self-conscious pursuit of an ever-more reformed and confessional theological system. We ought to always refine our theological systems to be more in sync with Scripture. And this includes apologetics.

       As the Christian moorings of society are eroding at a pace unprecedented in living memory, the importance of the task of apologetics is increasing apace. With such dire consequences, there ought to be an urgency with which we seek to defend the hope that we have in Jesus Christ. Indeed, we cannot simply defend faith in generic theism. We must not be concerned only with some defense of just any faith, but we must be concerned with a truly and self-consciously Reformed defense of the faith.

       What is needed is a self-consciously reformed, confessional, covenantal apologetic that is calibrated to meet the challenges of modern unbelief. By no means ought we to compromise the core apologetic method or attempt to meet our unbelieving interlocutors on some imagined “common ground.” Rather, we ought to contemplate the core beliefs and demands of current unbelieving society and examine their propositions with a view to showing their ultimate inability to demonstrate both internal self-consistency and coherence with the reality of God’s created order.

“What is needed is a self-consciously reformed, confessional, covenantal apologetic that is calibrated to meet the challenges of modern unbelief.”

       To this task, Van Til’s apologetic is uniquely suited. No other apologetic method is as biblically nor confessionally faithful. Likewise, no apologetic method is as effective in the face of unbelief as bringing to bare upon it the truth of God’s Word itself. Any apologetic system that attempts to compromise with unbelief or to find a common ground from whence the debate may be staged, will suffer in both faithfulness and effectiveness. Merely recycling the same 5 arguments from 800 years ago will not suffice. Insofar as these sub-reformed apologetic methods proliferate, the church will struggle to meet the challenge of unbelief.

       This is the end to which Westminster’s conference on apologetics is directed, namely the strengthening of the Church in the face of modern unbelief. It is concerned with the equipping of the people of God with the tools necessary to combat an increasingly more secular society from a confessional position built on the foundation of the Word of God. When asked about the purpose of the conference, Dr. K Scott Oliphint said “At a time when the Christian faith seems uniquely to be under attack, a focus on our defense of Christianity will be a great encouragement to us. A proper defense of Christianity will have its roots in Scripture, which alone has the power to change human hearts. As Van Til says, ‘Reformed apologetics wants first of all and above all to be biblical apologetics. Its aim is to interpret all of life in terms of basic truths derived from the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the infallible rule of faith and practice.’"

       To that end, Westminster is pleased to announce this special conference titled “Van Til and the Future of Reformed Apologetics” which is to be held February 28th and March 1st, 2023 on the campus of Westminster Theological Seminary. Presenters will include Dr. K. Scott Oliphint, Dr. James Anderson, Dr. Daniel Strange, Dr. Brian Mattson, and Dr. Christopher Watkin. The purpose of the conference will be to examine how the apologetic method of Cornelius Van Til can come to address the issues of advancing unbelief in a biblically consistent way. Interested parties can reserve their tickets at

Brandon McLean Smith received his MDiv from Westminster, and is currently Archival Editor of the Westminster Magazine.

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