Why Francis Schaeffer Matters: Epistemology – Part 5

Dr. Schaeffer’s epistemology is integral to his approach to apologetics and may be described simply as follows.  First, one must understand that pagan thought endorses a belief in the uniformity of natural causes in a closed system.  Propositional and verbal revelation is nonsense in this scheme.  Christian epistemology stands in stark contrast to the non-Christian worldview.  The presupposition of Christianity begins with the God who is there.  God is the infinite-personal Being who has made man in His image.  God made man a verbalizer in the area of propositions in his horizontal communications with other men.  Thus God communicates to us on the basis of verbalizations and propositions by means of the written Word of God (He Is There And He Is Not Silent, 326-327).

Thus the Christian epistemological system brings three things together in a unified whole; the unified field of knowledge that modern man has given up on.  “The infinite personal God who made the universe; and man, whom he made to live in that universe; and the Bible, which He has given us to tell us about that universe” (He Is There And He Is Not Silent, 329).

Schaeffer goes one step further by noting that the presuppositions of Christianity is in line with every man’s experience.  “The fact is that if we are going to live in this world at all, we must live in it acting on a correlation of ourselves and the thing that is there, even if we have a philosophy that says there is no correlation . . . In other words, all men constantly and consistently act as though Christianity is true” (He Is There And He Is Not Silent, 330).

The reason for the shift in society leading to despair comes as a result of buying the lie of the uniformity of natural causes in a closed system.  The result delivers a deathblow to any possibility of epistemology.   Schaeffer adds, “Man’s attempted autonomy has robbed him of reality.  He has nothing to be sure of when his imagination soars beyond the stars, if there is nothing to guarantee a distinction between reality and fantasy.  But on the basis of the Christian epistemology, this confusion is ended, the alienation is healed.  This is the heart of the problem of knowing, and it is not solved until our knowledge fits under the apex of the infinite-personal, Triune God who is there and who is not silent” (He Is There And He Is Not Silent, 343-344).

Therefore, there are only two alternatives in the search for the source of knowledge according to Dr. Schaeffer.  Either a person attempts to find the answers to all his questions alone (autonomously) or he seeks truths from God and His revealed Word (the biblical world-view).

The former view mandates that a person begins with himself.  However, as Schaeffer notes, “Starting with himself, a person cannot establish an adequate explanation for the amazing possibility that he can observe the world around him and be assured that his observations have a correspondence with reality” (Whatever Happened To The Human Race, 365).  Herein lies the problem: Sinful man is forced to provide the answers to the ultimate metaphysical questions, but because they have limited experience they can know nothing with a high degree of certainty.  The end result is a hellish tension which leads down the road of meaninglessness and the relativity of morals:  “The truth is that everyone who rejects the biblical world-view must live in a state of tension between ideas about reality and reality itself” (Whatever Happened To The Human Race, 369).

The later view that derives truth from God’s Word is the only sure way to engage in epistemology.  Dr. Schaeffer gives three testimonies found in the Scripture.  First, the Bible gives us the explanation for the universe.  Second, the Bible explains the mannishness of man (which is described below) and third, the Bible is open to verification by historical study.  “From the Bible’s viewpoint, all truth finally rests upon the fact that the infinite-personal God exists in contrast to His not existing” (Whatever Happened To The Human Race, 393).

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2 thoughts on “Why Francis Schaeffer Matters: Epistemology – Part 5

  1. People don’t want to think this deep. The problem is that materialists have thought this deep, and the effects of these thoughts form the background of most everything in our culture. We really buy into them without thinking and live with the inconsistencies somehow, because we just don’t see them for what they are… Thanks for this.

  2. hey, i am a convert to christian faith as of two years ago from postmodern atheism (i was also a philosophy major until then), and i have a little bit of confusion about what the implications of Schaeffer’s ‘line of despair’ are. both my fellow philosophy major friend and myself have come to a postmodern ‘revelation’ that truth is ultimately unknowable, both ruining us for a time and forcing both of us into faith as a last-ditch effort to restore our sanity; but neither of us have seemed to find any objective epistemic foundations despite our desperate attempts (he is a kierkeggard follower, whereas i myself found myself fully agreeing with hegel both before AND after conversion to faith [though post-conversion i suppose i was a right-hegelian more than basically so]). my question is: does this line of despair which neither of us can possibly deny is existent (as having fallen below it has distorted almost every aspect of our lives) suggest that we are stuck there, or is there a way out? my friend says that we have hit a wall that cannot be surmounted, but i still maintain a slight bit of hope that if the wall can be climbed over, it could be climbed over with God (although i have had no success thus far). and what are the implications of THAT prospect even? are we doomed to hell, or is our salvation not fully dependent upon our being able to fully reason the way we originally were intended to?

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