Reference Entry

Warfield, Benjamin Breckinridge

in American National Biography Online


Published online February 2000 | e-ISBN: 9780198606697

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Presbyterian theologian, was born at “Grasmere,” his family’s estate near Lexington, Kentucky, the son of William Warfield, a gentleman farmer, and Mary Cabell Breckinridge, whose relatives included Thomas Jefferson’s attorney general and John C. Breckinridge, who served as vice president of the United States under James Buchanan. His father served as a Union officer in the Civil War, and the family supported emancipation. Unlike some of his fellow theological conservatives, Warfield would always defend full rights for African Americans in church and society. After private tutoring emphasizing math and science, Warfield entered the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) in 1868, the same year that James McCosh, a Scottish philosopher and theologian, was inaugurated as president. McCosh, as the last great exponent in the United States of the Scottish philosophy of Common Sense and an early promoter of compatibility between Christian faith and evolution, left a deep impression on the young Warfield. In particular, McCosh taught Warfield to trust empirical procedures and to believe that intellectual tasks, like theology, could be pursued with scientific rigor. After graduating from college in 1871, Warfield surprised his family by announcing his intention to prepare for the ministry. At Princeton Theological Seminary, Warfield was won over to the vision of Charles Hodge, who, though well into his seventies, still imparted a powerful combination of personal piety and confessional Calvinism.

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