Greg Lyle Bahnsen
Appointed for the Defense of the Gospel: The Life and Ministry of Greg
Rev. Kenneth L.
Gentry, Jr., Th.D.
One of the key areas of Christian endeavor is also one of the most
pressing religious concerns before the church today: apologetics. The
Scriptures call us to “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always
being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an
account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence”¯(1
Pet. 3:15). And with the world set in rebellion against God, man
universally “suppresses the truth in unrighteousness”
(Rom. 1:18). So not only do we have an obligation to engage in
apologetics but we also have a difficult obligation—in that Scripture
forewarns that men will resist us from the very depths of their being.
Both of the Biblical statements mentioned in the previous paragraph have
a strong bearing upon apologetics. Peter directs us to an apologetic
that sanctifies the Lord; not just any apologetic method will do. Paul
informs us that man really knows the truth, which, because of his
unrighteousness, he vigorously suppresses. With these Scriptural
insights we are pressed to engage an apologetic that is uncompromising
in its commitment to Christ and that takes account of man’s inherent
knowledge of God as a point of contact. This calls us to the
transcendental method that engages apologetics at the presuppositional
level—the view explained and promoted by Dr. Cornelius Van Til and two
of his leading disciples, Rousas J. Rushdoony and Greg L. Bahnsen.
My Interest in Bahnsen’s Life and Ministry
I have been asked to write a brief article introducing the ministry of
Dr. Bahnsen, whose ministry was largely rooted in apologetics. I thank
God that, by His providence, I was able to study under Bahnsen at
Reformed Seminary from 1975 to 1977. The four theologians who have most
influenced my personal life, Biblical faith, and pastoral practice are
John Calvin, Cornelius Van Til, Rousas J. Rushdoony, and Greg L. Bahnsen.
They have shown me that Calvinism is “Christianity come into its own.”¯
And I praise God for their ministerial labors.
Paul tells us of the victory associated with Christ’s entry into heaven.
At that glorious event He poured out abundant and glorious gifts upon
men (Eph. 4:8ff.). One of those important gifts for the ongoing life
and ministry of the church is the gift of “teacher”¯(Eph.
4:11). I count Greg Bahnsen as one of the great gifts of God to the
church in our time.
In my circuitous route to Reformed theology and the Presbyterian
pastorate, I had come out of a dispensational church, through a
dispensational college (Tennessee Temple College) and seminary (Grace
Theological Seminary), to the growing conviction of the covenantal
nature of God’s dealings with man.
In 1976 I transferred from Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake,
Indiana, to Reformed Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi. As providence
would have it, I was there for most of Bahnsen’s tenure with that
institution. But those two years were of dramatic life-changing and
ministry-encouraging consequence because of Greg Bahnsen.
When I first enrolled in a Bahnsen class, I admit that I was not
pleased. Here was a professor who really made you work for your grades.
And some of his views were new and unusual to me: theonomic ethics and
postmillennial eschatology, in particular. But thank God for this
mind-expanding, ministry-altering experience! Initially I resisted
Bahnsen’s unusual positions. In fact, I set about to challenge those
positions among my fellow students. But anyone who has experienced
Bahnsen’s instruction, knows that he was so careful in his presentation,
so logical in his argumentation, so quick in his thinking, so Biblical
in his foundations, and so forceful in his conclusions that all hope of
credible resistance was futile. I eventually was swayed by his
presentations and adopted his positions. And I have never regretted
having done so.
Intellectually, he taught me to study and to think; pastorally, he
showed me the relevance of Scripture for all of life; personally, he
encouraged me to stand firm in my convictions and to trust in God
against all opposition. I will never cease to be amazed at the
incredible breadth of knowledge he possessed, at the ease with which he
could analyze and respond to questions and arguments, both
philosophically and scripturally. He is an example for anyone who would
promote God’s Word according to the Pauline directive in 2 Corinthians
Over the years it was my joy and privilege to have Greg stay in my home
on several occasions, to have him proclaim the Word of God in my
pastoral charges, to co-author a book with him, and to appear on the
same platform with him at several conferences. I continued to grow
because of his ministry even after my formal training under him in
seminary. I am thankful for the enormous influence he has had, and for
the large collection of tapes (over 1,800) that are and will continue to
be available and circulating among God’s people. My only disappointment
is that circumstances did not allow him time to produce more books,
though the few he did release are enormously important contributions to
I am thankful, though, that the Lord allowed him to finish his extremely
Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis. Greg knew the
enormity of his health difficulties in his final days, so he labored
diligently to finish the book before his heart surgery—just just in
case. The book focuses on key passages in Van Til’s writings which are
necessary for understanding presuppositionalism, arranges them topically
for easy, flowing reading, and provides clear and insightful commentary
on the issues involved. It is a must-read for understanding the
greatest Christian apologist of the 20th century, Dr. Cornelius Van Til—an
apologist who was not the clearest of writers.
Bahnsen’s Early Life and Training
Greg L. Bahnsen was born on September 17, 1948 in Auburn, Washington, to
Robert and Virginia Bahnsen. He was the eldest of two sons. As a young
child Bahnsen grew up in Pico Rivera, California, where he suffered
numerous medical complications. His most serious problem was a severe
blood platelet problem that nagged him for the rest of his life, causing
him to have difficulty stanching bleeding. His physical problems were
aggravated at the age of five by a water tank falling on his right hand,
causing a mild deformity. It was not until his medical exam, required
for enrolling in college, that he discovered he also had a heart
problem, which was to claim his life twenty years later after his third
valve implant surgery.
Despite his physical difficulties, he was blessed to be raised in a
Reformed home with loving Christian parents who saw the importance of
covenantally passing on their spiritual inheritance to their sons. He
regularly attended church, church camps, Youth for Christ, and other
Christian and church related activities, never straying from the Faith.
For his entire life he was either a member of or a minister in the
Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC).
Dr. Bahnsen was also gifted by God with a strong intellectual capacity,
which showed itself in superior grades all the way through high school.
Even as early as high school he was already reading and absorbing the
works of Cornelius Van Til. Later he graduated from Westmont College in
1970 with a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy, securing magna cum laude
honors and the John Bunyan Smith award for overall grade point average.
Before graduating Westmont College, Bahnsen married Cathie Wade in 1969
(they would eventually have three sons and an adopted Vietnamese
daughter; they were divorced in 1990 after she deserted him). While he
attended college he began writing for Rushdoony’s Chalcedon Foundation,
where he could employ his appreciation of Van Til. His covenantal
Calvinism was becoming more pointedly focused; his desire for applied
Calvinism was leading him to admire Rushdoony’s strong convictions in
the fields of apologetics, theology, and social ethics.
His Graduate Life and Later Ministry
In 1970 he enrolled in Westminster Theological Seminary (WTS) in
Philadelphia , the premiere Reformed seminary in the nation at that
time. There he studied under and became close friends with Dr. Van Til,
who greatly appreciated his apologetic prowess. He graduated from WTS
in May of 1973, securing two degrees simultaneously: a professional
ministerial degree (the Master of Divinity) and an academic degree (the
Master of Theology). Not only did he acquire these two degrees but he
did so in style, winning the William Benton Greene prize in apologetics
and a Richard Weaver Fellowship from the Intercollegiate Studies
Upon securing his graduate degrees in theology, he enrolled in graduate
studies in philosophy at the prestigious University of Southern
California (USC) in Los Angeles in 1973. Two years later (in 1975) he
was ordained as a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and moved
to Jackson, Mississippi, to accept the position of Associate Professor
of Apologetics and Ethics at Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS). He
would continue in his doctoral work at USC while teaching at RTS,
earning his Doctor of Philosophy degree in June of 1978. His
dissertation was in the field of epistemology and was titled: “A
Conditional Resolution of the Apparent Paradox of Self-Deception.”¯
In 1977 a reworked version of his master’s thesis from Westminster
Theological Seminary (“The Theonomic Responsibility of the Civil
Magistrate”) was published as the nearly 600-page
Theonomy in Christian Ethics.
Unfortunately, theonomic ethics caused a firestorm of controversy in
seminary and presbytery circles, resulting in his contract with RTS not
being renewed after the 1978-1979 academic year. The Bahnsens then
moved back to southern California in June of 1979 where Greg wrote
frequently for Gary North, planted an OPC church (January 1980), and
accepted a faculty position with the prestigious Newport Christian High
School in Newport Beach (September 1980).
In February of 1985 Bahnsen
debated the president of
Atheists United and the American Rationalist Federation (Dr. Gordon
Stein), demonstrating his remarkable apologetical and debating skills
before an audience of hundreds. The taped debate is one of the
best-selling tape sets available through
Covenant Media Foundation
(which distributes his materials) and has been a source of great
encouragement to untold numbers of Christians. He engaged in several
other public debates on apologetics and various social and political
issues (including theonomy, gun control, homosexuality, Roman
Catholicism, Islam and Judaism), and spoke at conferences across
America, in the British Isles and Russia during his distinguished
In 1990 Dr. Bahnsen worked with Michael Nelson to establish the Southern
California Center for Christian Studies. The Studies Center has as its
mission cultivating “intelligent commitment to the Christian faith,
seeking with skill, sincerity and love to: challenge unbelief in all its
forms and defend the claims of Christ, expound and explain the system of
precious truth found in the Scriptures, apply God’s word to the life of
believers as well as to their world, train God’s people for service to
the Lord, and to encourage Christian piety, outreach, compassion and
After Bahnsen’s death, the Board of the Studies Center established
Bahnsen Theological Seminary to provide distance education for those
seeking advanced theological degrees.
Bahnsen authored six books: Theonomy in Christian Ethics;
Homosexuality: A Biblical View;
By This Standard;
No Other Standard;
Always Ready: Directions for Defending the
Faith; and Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and
Analysis. He co-authored one with me (House Divided: The
Break-up of Dispensational Theology), contributed major articles to
seven other books, wrote hundreds of articles, and produced over 1,800
On December 5, 1995, he underwent his third open-surgery to replace his
aortic valve. Within twenty-four hours he developed serious
complications. After being comatose for several days he died on
December 11, 1995 at the age of forty-seven. Since his death his
ministry influence has actually grown, primarily due to his large
catalog of tapes and the influence of SCCCS and BTS. Certainly, though
he is dead, yet he speaketh.
[Note: Neither the SCCCS nor the
BTS exists. The Covenant Media Foundation is the main distributor
of his books and lectures in various formats.—A. F.]
For information about Dr. Gentry, visit