Remembering Edward John Carnell—Some Reflections of a Great Apologist

by Doug Geivett

On [April 25th], 1967, the church lost a great Christian philosopher and apologist named Edward John Carnell. He was almost 48 years old. Today marks the 48th anniversary of his death. He was a graduate of Wheaton College and of Westminster Theological Seminary. He later earned doctoral degrees in theology and philosophy, at Harvard Divinity School and Boston University, respectively.

E. J. Carnell (1919-1967)

E. J. Carnell, was an ordained Baptist minister and one-time president of Fuller Theological Seminary. He authored numerous books, including four major works in Christian apologetics. All of these are in my personal library, well-marked and much-appreciated. He was intellectually rigorous and pastorally sensitive, a rare combination among defenders of the faith.

His chief work in apologetics is the book An Introduction to Christian Apologetics. In the preface to the 4th edition (1952), Carnell asked, “If Christianity is not worth defending, what then is?”

Here are a few of my favorite quotations from that book.

On philosophy, logic, and experience:

Philosophy may not bake bread, but it has a strange power for making people do things. (32)

We cannot choose between logic and experience. Without logic our experience cannot be normative; without experience our logic cannot be relevant to the human situation. (39)

Coherence cannot stop with a segment of our experience; it must go on to embrace it all. (95)

Speaking of truth, he wrote:

The true is a quality of that judgment or proposition which, when followed out into the total witness of facts in our experience, does not disappoint our expectations. (45)

On faith he said,

Too often faith is used as an epistemological device to avoid the hard labor of straight thinking. (65)

I often ask students who are tempted to abandon their Christian faith, “But what will you believe instead?” Carnell made a similar point…

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Remembering Edward John Carnell—Some Reflections of a Great Apologist | Doug Geivett’s Blog