This book draws some controversial conclusion that usurps the historiographical consensus that the "Old" Princetonian theologians were nothing less than Enlightenment rationalists. Instead, Paul Helseth establishes that they stood in the anthropological and epistemological mainstream of the Reformed tradition. The Princeton theologians conceived of "right reason" in an Augustinian, or moral, sense-not in Enlightenment, or rationalistic, senses. They saw the renewed mind as a servant to the Holy Spirit, rather than Scripture being a servant to the mind.
In this masterful examination of the Old Princetonians writings, Helseth turns the orthodox interpretation of their enlightenment rationalism on its head, showing what Alexander, Hodge, Warfield, and others actually believed regarding the power of reason.
Paul K. Helseth (MA, Wheaton Graduate School; PhD, Marquette University) is associate professor of Christian thought at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he has taught for nine years.
"I have followed Paul Helseth's development of this research for almost 15 years. His abilities and analysis remain, even if we quibble over a few matters, among the most impressive in this field. In Right Reason, he attempts, and I believe largely succeeds, to rehabilitate an important aspect of Reformed epistemology in America. Rather than repeating the often incorrect caricatures of some of the strongest Princeton leaders, Helseth has cut through the mist in order to clearly present their thinking on key epistemological matters. He does for these Princetonians what Richard Muller has done for Calvin's successors! We need this corrective; and I am deeply thankful for Dr. Helseth's research and fine work in this needed volume."
"From time to time a book comes along that reverses a widely shared paradigm. This wonderful study is such a volume. It presents a much needed corrective to the orthodox interpretation of the Old Princeton Theology, which is that Common Sense Realism and rationalism so shaped the approach of Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, B. B. Warfield, and their peers, that they often sounded more like Enlightenment thinkers than Calvinists. In his characteristically careful and thorough manner, without denying some appropriation of the prevailing philosophy by these giants, Helseth shows that they were theologians of the heart, in essential continuity with the Reformation approach. In the bargain we are given a sane look into the relation of Kuyper and Warfield, Machen and Van Til, and much more. The book is especially timely in that post-conservative evangelicals often claim that Old Princeton elevated ideas at the expense of piety. Helseth puts that view to rest, in a powerful plea for right doctrine alongside fervent piety. This is essential reading for all who care about that balance."
"Unlike so many who never take the necessary time and effort to grapple with the Old Princeton theologians and instead rely on hand me-down opinions, Paul Helseth has coupled a close reading of Old Princetonians with great sensitivity to their concerns and the context in which they wrote. Helseth demonstrates over and over again that much of what has been written about Old Princeton stands in need of major revision. Anyone wanting a reliable analysis of the Old Princetonians should be directed to Paul Helseths work."
At lasta book that gets the Princeton theology right! Helseths unorthodox proposal challenges the commonly held view that Alexander, Hodge, and Warfield compromised their Reformed theology by a commitment to Scottish Common Sense Philosophy that rationalized their theology and apologetics and stressed head over heart in Christian living. Helseths treatment is scholarly, patient, and careful. He has read the Princetonians widely and with great care to rescue their holistic epistemology from the charge that they were the purveyors of an essentially humanistic philosophy rather than the champions of Reformed orthodoxy. This book not only corrects an injustice to the Princetonians but also argues persuasively that contemporary evangelicals would be much better off if they did theology more like the theologians at Old Princeton Seminary.
"Challenging the prevailing academic views can be a lonely place. Paul Kjoss Helseth not only seems comfortable with the challenge, but adequate to the task. Armed with primary sources from major Old Princeton scholars, Helseth critically examines the prevailing notions of academic orthodoxy concerning the religious epistemology of Machen, Hodge and Warefield and finds them wanting. Helseth deftly handles the material and persuasively argues that the prevailing orthodox opinionthat Old Princeton theologians were unwittingly captive to the intellectual optimism of the Enlightenment by way of Scottish realismhas overlooked a central tenet of Princeton theology and in missing it, has misconstrued a significant element of the evangelical heritage. Helseth helps the reader see Princetons right reason in right context and in doing so, generously offers the wealth of such thinkers to their distant heirs. Placing the Princeton theologians squarely in the Augustinian tradition, Helseth then develops the insights of Princeton theology and its challenge of nineteenth century theological liberalism to challenge contemporary trends prevalent in postconservative theology. While everyone may not share his assessment of this particular trend, Helseth is conscientious enough in his critique that all disagreement must be equally as thoughtful. While standing outside of the academic mainstream can be a lonely place, I suspect that soon this voice calling in the wilderness will be received as a clarion call joined by many."
"Right Reason is both a stinging and stunning defense that the Princetonians shared in the theological and epistemological assumptions of the Reformers rather than accommodating their theology to the Enlightmnet Rationalism of Scottish Sense Realism of their day. The book is the most comprehensive work to demonstrate that the Princetonians were not Enlightenment rationalist which is so often alleged by post-conservatives. Consequently Helseth demonstrates the current debate between conservatives and post-conservatives over the role and purpose of doctrine is actually a debate about the very nature of Scripture. Helseth has given the church an incredible gift. Right Reason is an outstanding achievement marked by thoroughness and fair scholarship all in a readable, accessible presentation.Â
"Paul Helseth's detailed and careful arguments against the received view of Old Princeton's epistemology are convincing and possess the conceptual precision to break the stale impasse in evangelical hermeneutics and epistemology and to open up refreshing lines of research."
"Paul Helseth is to be commended for challenging a common but wrong-headed interpretation of the theologians of old Princeton Theological Seminary and attempting to set the record straight. His familiarity with the primary sources, his more accurate reading of Alexander, Hodge, Warfield, and Machen, and his superior scholarship enable him to dismantle the prevailing view and to demonstrate that these theologians were not the blind captives of Common Sense Realism that the orthodox view has portrayed them to be. Rather, Helseth shows from their own words that these Princetonians were faithful to a genuinely Reformed epistemology. In the process, he shows as well that the misguided prevailing view has been used in the service of a growing departure from a truly evangelical theology and the movement toward a neo-liberalism that is as dangerous as the old liberalism. This book offers a much-needed corrective to both current historical scholarship and current theological directions. I recommend it highly on both counts."
Grounded in painstaking and thorough engagement with the writings of Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, and B.B. Warfield, as well as todays debates about them, Paul Helseths Right Reason and the Princeton Mind issues an important challenge to the dominant way of reading the Old Princetoniansa reading that has deeply influenced many interpretations of contemporary evangelicalism. Emotions can run deep in debates about these interpretations, and this occasionally surfaces when Helseth responds to charged statement by some postconservatives. Nevertheless, it is to be hoped that scholars on all sides of these questions will give careful and sober attention to Helseths contention that the Princetoniansfar from being in hock to Enlightenment rationalismheld a view of right reason deeply indebted to classic lines of Augustinian and Reformed thought. Helseths argument in Right Reason and the Princeton Mind deserves a careful reading by all who are concerned about the important questions regarding the Princetonians and their place in understanding the past, present, and future of the evangelical Church.
"The question of how we should interpret Old Princeton epistemology and theological methodology is a watershed issue in the current battles between conservative and post-conservative evangelicals. Paul Helseth convincingly shows that, rather than accommodating wholeheartedly to Enlightenment rationalism and Scottish Common Sense philosophy, the Princetonians articulated their epistemology well within their Reformed tradition. The Old Princeton theologians believed that the soul is a unity of mind, will, and emotions; thus, apprehension of truth is not only a cognitive activity, but a moral one as well. This unorthodox interpretation of the Old Princeton theology flies in the face of the current consensus on Old Princeton and has serious implications for the legitimacy of many post-conservative evangelical commitments. Helseth has done his readers a great service with his careful research and insightful analysis of one of the most hotly contested issues in evangelicalism today."
"Right Reason and the Princeton Mind: An Unorthodox Proposal is a major accomplishment on many fronts. Historically Paul Helseth advances the four-decade reassessment of Old Princeton theology. Philosophically he demonstrates that Princeton advocates Alexander, Hodge, Warfield and Machen by rejecting speculation and emphasizing the moral aspects of right reason allies them more with the Reformers and Augustine than Enlightenment predecessors. Apologetically Helseth contends that evidentialism and presuppositionalism may have more in common than previously acknowledged. And his trenchant analysis of postconservative rejection of Princeton contributes substantially to contemporary evangelicalism. Right Reason is well worth the effort to follow Helseths intriguing themes, skillfully woven together."
"In his ÂRight ReasonÂ and the Princeton Mind: An Unorthodox Proposal, Paul Helseth accomplishes two principal objectives. First, he decisively refutes the charge that the Old Princetonians sacrifice core principles of the Reformed faith on the altar of Enlightenment rationalism. The Âright reasonÂ to which the Princetonians appeal, he establishes, does not consist in a capacity, possessed by believers and unbelievers alike, to appreciate the force of apologetic reasoning. It consists, rather, in an ability, conveyed by the Holy Spirit alone, to perceive biblical truth as it is: not merely true, but also heavenly, beautiful, and awe-inspiring. The Old Princetonians, explains Helseth, conceive of the human intellect not as a morally neutral faculty that operates independently of the will and heart, but as the ability of the whole human person to apprehend the truth. In the Princetonian view, therefore, a human being's will, his character, and his deepest desires all impinge on his intellect's activity so that a spiritually dead sinner could not conceivably grasp the gospel's truthfulness in a saving manner without the Holy Spirit's transforming power. Second, Helseth applies the fruit of his historical investigations to contemporary debates between conservative and postconservative evangelicals. Postconservatives, he observes, repudiate the notion of objectively true, divinely revealed doctrines partially out of a desire to avoid what they mistakenly regard as Princetonian rationalism. Drawing on his earlier historical findings, however, Helseth explains that the Princetonians' devotion to objectively true, divinely revealed doctrines does not spring from rationalism. It springs instead, Helseth argues, from their consciousness of human depravity and corresponding awareness that human beings cannot save themselves. The Princetonians uphold objectively true, divinely revealed doctrines, he explains, because they sense keenly humanity's need for a divine Savior; and they abhor liberalism, because it derives Christian belief from salvifically impotent human experience. By conceiving of Christian doctrine as an expression of the church's collective life, Helseth contends, postconservatives come perilously close to committing the liberals' error. Helseth urges postconservative and conservative evangelicals alike, therefore, to heed Old Princeton's critique of theological liberalism. In ÂRight ReasonÂ and the Princeton Mind, then, Helseth corrects widespread misconceptions about the Princetonians' thought and applies that thought to an incalculably important controversy of today. This thoroughly researched and insightfully argued work merits the attention of all thinking evangelicals."
"This book is overdue. The apologetic task as understood by the Old Princetonians is too often mischaracterized and too seldom investigated with thoroughness and care. Helseth has read the primary sources more thoroughly and more carefully and has provided a needed corrective. His Right Reason deserves a wide hearing and will serve well toward a more accurate understanding of the Princetonians' robust doctrine of man and sin and corresponding apologetic outlook. Heartily recommended."
"Helseth has engaged in a compelling and thorough reexamination of the theologically-rooted epistemology of the Old Princetonians, and then used the results to offer a winsome and penetrating critique of the so-called 'Post-Conservative Evangelical' movement. He demonstrates-convincingly-that the giants of Old Princeton were not-contra much scholarly consensus-simply behold to modern and Enlightenment thinking. Rather, the Old Princetonians were true Augustinians and stand in the line of the best of Reformed thinking-including their thinking on the nature of knowledge, whether of God or of the created order. Like Augustine, Hugh of St. Victor, Calvin and Pascal, the Old Princetonians repeatedly argue that knowledge in the truest sense is always related to-and dependent upon-the state of one's heart. Helseth shows that "right reason" is rooted in being rightly related to the risen Jesus. Helseth also demonstrates that at the end of the day, it may not be the post-conservatives who offer the most compelling way for evangelicals-young or old-to resist and counter the acids of modernity. He demonstrates, paradoxically, that one of the most promising roads one might travel in attempting to faithfully and properly follow Christ in our modern and so-called post-modern world may actually take one right through New Jersey."
"Old Princeton theology and epistemology is often caricatured as modernistic rationalism, with no room for the crucial elements of subjective experience. But in this careful study, Paul Helseth persuasively argues that the Princetonians saw the reception of truth as involving the whole soul, apprehended by the regenerate with right (or saving) reason and uniting both head and heart. Helseth not only overturns a historical misunderstanding, but also undermines a common narrative used to explain the development of North American evangelicalism. In addition, his work provides a practical and theological corrective for the life of the church and the academy today. I hope it will be widely read and appropriated."
Helseth argues that the Old Princeton thinkers, like Alexander, Hodge, Warfield, and Machen, were not rationalists (as many claim today) but had a nuanced epistemology including subjective and emotional factors. I think he and they are right, and that Helseth is also right in deriving this epistemology from Scripture and the Reformed theological tradition. ". As it turns out, the Old Princetonians are an attractive alternative to the confusions of modern liberalism and postfoundationalism.
In spite of the daunting title, RIGHT REASONÂ AND THE PRINCETON MIND: AN UNORTHODOX PROPOSAL, this book is a not-to be-missed discussion of the spirited modern debate within Evangelicalism with regard to the nature of truth and the place of doctrine. Helseth elegantly and convincingly argues for the biblical and Reformed nature of 19th and early 20th theological orthodoxy and shows how contemporary Âpost-conservativeÂ Evangelicalism, in misrepresenting as rationalism the great achievement of our Princeton fathers, inadvertently exposes itself as a contemporary version of the very liberalism that Hodge, Warfield and Machen brilliantly unmasked in their day.
"Not very long ago, evangelical Protestants in the United States regarded the theology of Old Princeton Seminary as a source of wisdom and inspiration because of its scholarly its rigor and theological depth. Today's evangelicals often view Old Princeton in a very different and antagonistic light, as wooden, rationalistic theologians who have little to teach those living in post-modern times. Paul Helseth believes this is an unwelcome development and defends the Princeton theologians, Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, Benjamin Warfield, and J. Gresham Machen, as thoughtful students of Scripture and defenders of orthodox Christianity whom evangelicals need to read and heed. This is a timely defense of Old Princeton and thoughtful challenge to the confusion that bedevils contemporary evangelical theology."
"Paul Helseths book is a notable example of intellectual reclamation and recovery. By careful research the author shines a critical new light on the oft-repeated claim that Princeton theology was deeply in debt to Enlightenment rationalism, and especially to the Common Sense philosophy of Thomas Reid. Helseth claims that its roots lie not in the Enlightenment, but in the Augustinian anthropology of the Puritans and of Reformed Orthodoxy. Thorough and persuasive, Helseth sensitively and knowledgably discusses the issues of faith and reason, particularly in relation to apologetics, and then assesses the strength of the critique of post conservative orthodoxy against the Princeton theology."
"I confess I have trouble containing my enthusiasm over the publication of Right Reason, but why should I try? In these pages, Paul Helseth has done a fantastic job defending the theology and theologians of old Princeton, and has done so in a way that demonstrates their continuing relevance in these days of post-orthodoxy."
"This book needed to be written in order to reinvigorate the evangelical view of the inspiration Scripture as held by Archibald Alexander, Charles Hodge, B.B. Warfield and of J. Gresham Machen. Written in that way it now needs to be read and recognized by those who claim to know and share this as the Princeton view. When this presentation is known, it will not be possible to dismiss the Princeton view as simply an outworking of Scottish Common Sense philosophy. It will be acknowledged as drawn from the Scriptures and intended as the Biblical view of Inspiration. Buy this book!"
"There are those in contemporary evangelicalism who see Old Princeton and what it represents as a relic of bygone era. Days gone and, thankfully to them, forgotten. I am mystified. More importantly, Professor Helseth is mystified, and in this book he shows rather deftly how the Princetonians woefully get misunderstood and misinterpreted and too readily and easily cast aside. Helseth further shows how--once the Princetonians are understood rightly, once this critical concept of right reason is understood correctly--the Princetonians are a healthy and worthy model for theologians today. Ignore what people say the Princetonians said and read this book to find out what they really said. Next to the writings of the Princetonians themeselves, the grand works of Hodge and Warfield and company, this is the best and the most important book on Old Princeton."
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