In 1985, the Great Debate on “Does God Exist” was held at the University of California-Irvine campus. Defending the atheist position was Dr. Gordon Stein. Defending the Christian/theist position was Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen.
It was historic. Like Ali-Frazier. “The Thrilla in Southern Californilla.” To say that Bahnsen cleaned Stein’s non-intelligently-designed clock is to put it mildly. He took Stein to school and put on a debate clinic for the audience.
You can watch (listen to) the entire debate here:
This was vintage Bahnsen. An intellectual-academic heavyweight delivering philosophical and apologetic knock-out punches in rapid-fire succession against any and all non-Christian, non-biblical worldviews and arguments against God, the Bible and the doctrines of the Bible.
He was a world champion/gold-medalist in the arena of Christian apologetics. Nobody could beat him. (Only complications from a heart-valve surgery in 1995 would finally end his brief and brilliant but turbulent career as a pastor and academic superstar.) Nobody could beat him on the debate stage. So his real enemies — fellow Reformed Christian ministers and academics — simply kicked him out of their confessionally-conflicted, ethically-challenged clubs
Bahnsen embraced Van Til’s apologetics. Unfortunately for his academic and ministerial career, he also embraced theonomy. And his peers in the denominational world — which was his “first love” (as a good friend of his eulogized on the 20th anniversary of his death) — made sure that he paid dearly for this unpardonable sin.
He was betrayed both by his church brethren–the Orthodox Presbyterian Church–and by his scholastic brethren–Reformed Seminary and Westminster Seminary. Joel McDurmon has compiled a collection of documents having to do with Bahnsen’s unfounded termination from Reformed Seminary. Gary North wrote a book (Westminster’s Confession) that was occasioned by Westminster’s fateful decision to abandon Van Til’s legacy by refusing to hire Dr. Van Til’s hand-picked replacement — Dr. Greg Bahnsen — to head up the apologetics department there, on the unofficial grounds that Bahnsen was now a theonomic powerhouse, a forceful proponent of what Dr. North called “a positive judicial alternative to natural law theory,” and Westminster’s president Edmund Clowney would have none of that, especially with so formidable an advocate as Bahnsen. So in the end nepotism won out over God’s law, and Clowney hired his uniquely underqualified (and non-Van Tillian) son to take over Van Til’s chair.
Bahnsen’s road through life was no primrose path. The champ took a beating. But he kept on defeating, apologetically speaking. He remained undefeated. He “fought the good fight,” and he kept the faith.
His legacy lives on through the Bahnsen Conferences, Covenant Media Foundation, and through his numerous books and articles. In early 2016, Kenneth Samples gave a brief vignette of Dr. Bahnsen in this talk that was recorded at Branch of Hope Church in Torrance California.