WHY FRANCIS SCHAEFFER MATTERS: His Approach to Apologetics – PART 6

Francis Schaeffer’s holds a rather basic view concerning apologetics.  He explains there are two purposes of Christian apologetics.  “The first is defense.  The second is to communicate Christianity in a way that any given generation can understand” (The God Who Is There, 151).

Schaeffer begins his approach to apologetics by pointing out that every non-regenerate person enters the discussion with a set of presuppositions.  Some have taken the time to analyze their presuppositions.  Most have not.  But each non-regenerate person is caught in the horns of a dilemma because it is impossible to be consistent in logic or practice.  This holds true along the whole spectrum of people.  Every person whether a University student, housewife, businessman or disgruntled teenager is stuck and boxed in by the logic of his or her presuppositions.  Thus, Schaeffer writes, “You are facing a man in tension; and it is this tension which works on your behalf as you speak to him . . . A man may try to bury the tension and you may have to help him find it, but somewhere there is a point of inconsistency” (The God Who Is There, 133).  Schaeffer adds, “To have to choose between one consistency or the other is a real damnation for man.  The more logical a man who holds a non-Christian position is to his own presuppositions, the further he is from the real world; and the nearer he is to the real world, the more illogical he is to his presuppositions” (The God Who Is There, 133-134).

Therefore, the place to begin in the real  world with real people is to find out where the tension exists.  Once the point of tension is uncovered the apologist  must push the non-regenerate man toward the logical conclusion of his presuppositions.  Schaeffer warns, “Pushing him towards the logic of his presuppositions is going to cause him pain; therefore, I must not push any further than I need to” (The God Who Is There, 139).

Schaeffer calls this approach “taking the roof off” because every man has constructed a roof over his head to protect himself at the point of tension.  “At the point of tension the person is not in a place of consistency in his system, and the roof is built as a protection against the blows of the real world, both internal and external” (The God Who Is There, 140).

Taking the roof off involves showing man his need.  His need is addressed in the Scriptures which show his lostness and the answer found in the person of Jesus Christ.  Schaeffer admits that this process is extremely unpleasant “but we must allow the person to undergo this experience so that he may realize his system has no answer to the crucial questions of life.  He must come to know that his roof is a false protection from the storm of what is; and then we can talk to him about the storm of God’s judgment” (The God Who Is There, 141).

As soon as the person is ready to hear the gospel it is not necessary to push any further.  Schaeffer departs from the typical evangelistic approach at this point.  He writes, “We must never forget that the first part of the gospel is not ‘Accept Christ as Savior,’ but ‘God is there.’  Only then are we ready to hear God’s solution for man’s moral dilemma in the substitutionary work of Christ in history” (The God Who Is There, 144).

Schaeffer believes that there are two vital principles in communicating the gospel (Escape From Reason, 269).  First, there are certain unchangeable facts which are true.  Here again the idea of antithesis is prominent in Schaeffer’s thinking.  If a given proposition is true, it’s opposite is false.  Second, we need to know the thought patterns of the culture at large.  Unless we do this, the gospel will fall on deaf ears.

Schaeffer proceeds to discuss biblical faith which begins with the fact of God’s existence.  “True Christian faith rests on content . . . The true basis for faith is not the faith itself, but the work which Christ finished on the cross.  My believing is not the basis for being saved – the basis is the work of Christ . . . The call to Christian believing rests on God’s propositional promises” (The God Who Is There, 146).

Schaeffer militates against easy believism and goes to great lengths to promote a biblical paradigm for faith.  Here he stands in the historic tradition of the Reformers who taught that biblical faith is a combination of notitia (know the facts of the gospel), assensus (believing the facts of the gospel) and fiducia (trusting or banking one’s hope on Christ alone for salvation).  Schaeffer outlines his scheme for biblical faith and is worth quoting in it’s entirety to get the full flavor of his thinking.

1. Do you believe that God exists and that He is a personal God, and that Jesus Christ is God – remembering that we are not talking of the word or idea god, but of the infinite-personal God who is there?

2. Do you acknowledge that you are guilty in the presence of this God – remembering that we are not talking about guilt-feelings, but true moral guilt?

3. Do you believe that Jesus Christ died in space and time, in history, on the cross, and that when He died His substitutional work of bearing God’s punishment against sin was fully accomplished and complete?

4. On the basis of God’s promises in His written communication to us, the Bible, do you (or have you) cast yourself on this Christ as your personal Savior – not trusting in anything you yourself have ever done or ever will do? (The God Who Is There, 147).

To sum up Dr. Schaeffer’s approach to apologetics one must understand that he embraces Paul’s method of preaching to man without the Bible.  He suggests telling the sinner, “You’re under the wrath of God because you hold the truth in unrighteousness.”  (Death In The City, 266).  The reason:  Sinful man needs to come to grip with the fact that he is a law-breaker and will ultimately face the white-hot wrath of God apart from Christ.

The end result of man’s fascination with breaking God’s laws is a breakdown in morality which we shall examine in our next section on the church in the twentieth century.

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 begin 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).

WHY FRANCIS SCHAEFFER MATTERS: Consequences of Pitting Rationality Against Faith – Part 4

The decisive result of falling below the line of despair is a pitting of rationality against faith.  Schaeffer sees this as an enormous problem and details four consequences in his book, Escape From Reason.

First, when rationality contends against faith, one is not able to establish a system of morality.  It is simply impossible to have an “upstairs morality” that is unrelated to matters of everyday living.

Second, when rationality and faith are dichotomized, there is no adequate basis for law.  “The whole Reformation system of law was built on the fact that God had revealed something real down into the common things of life” (Escape From Reason, 261).  But when rationality and faith are pitted against one another, all hope for law is obliterated.

The third consequence is that this scheme throws away the answer to the problem of evil.  Christianity’s answer rests in the historic, space-time, real and complete Fall of man who rebelled and made a choice against God.  “Once the historic Christian answer is put away, all we can do is to leap upstairs and say that against all reason God is good” (Escape From Reason, 262).

Finally, when one accepts this unbiblical dichotomy he loses the opportunity to evangelize people at their real point of despair.  Schaeffer makes it clear that modern man longs for answers.  “He did not accept the line of despair and the dichotomy because he wanted to.  He accepted it because, on the basis of the natural development of his rationalistic presuppositions, he had to.  He may talk bravely at times, but in the end it is despair” (Escape From Reason, 262).  It is at this point that Schaeffer believes the Christian apologist has a golden opportunity to make an impact.  “Christianity has the opportunity, therefore, to say clearly that its answer has the very thing modern man has despaired of – the unity of thought.  It  provides a unified answer for the whole of life.  True, man has to renounce his rationalism; but then, on the basis of what can be discussed, he has the possibility of recovering his rationality” (Escape From Reason, 262).

Schaeffer challenges us, “Let us Christians remember, then, that if we fall into the trap  against which I have been warning, what we have done, among other things, is to put ourselves in the position where in reality we are only saying with evangelical words what the unbeliever is saying with his words.  In order to confront modern man effectively, we must not have this dichotomy.  You must have the Scriptures speaking truth both about God Himself and about the area where the Bible touches history and the cosmos” (Escape From Reason, 263).

The Tension of Being a Man

Before proceeding to Dr. Schaeffer’s basic approach to apologetics one must understand the concept he calls “mannishness” or the tension of being a man.  The idea is essentially that no man can live at ease in the area of despair.  His significance, ability to love and be loved, and his capacity for rationality distinguish him from machines and animals and give evidence to this fact: Man is made in the image of God.  Modern man has been forced to accept the false dichotomy between nature and grace and consequently takes a leap of faith to the upper story and embraces some form of mysticism, which gives an illusion of unity to the whole.  But as Schaeffer points out, “The very ‘mannishness’ of man refuses to live in the logic of the position  to which his humanism and rationalism have brought him.  To say that I am only a machine is one thing; to live consistently  as if this were true is quite another” (The God Who Is There, 68).  Schaeffer continues, “Every truly modern man is forced to accept some sort of leap in theory or practice, because the pressure of his own humanity demands it.  He can say what he will concerning what he himself is; but no matter what he says he is, he is still a man” (The God Who Is There, 69).

Thus, the foundation for Francis Schaeffer’s basic approach to apologetics is simply to recognize that man is an image-bearer.  Man even in his sin has personality, significance, and worth.  Therefore, the apologist should approach him in those terms.  The apologist must not only recognize that man is made in the image of God;  he must also love him in word and deed.  Finally, the apologist must speak to the man as a unit; he must reach the whole man (for faith truly does involve the whole man) and refuse to buy into the popularized Platonic idea that man’s soul is more important than the body.

WHY FRANCIS SCHAEFFER MATTERS: The Line of Despair – Part 3

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The loss of antithesis in American culture led to what Dr. Schaeffer coined the “line of despair” or giving up all hope of achieving a rational unified answer to knowledge and life.  Schaeffer outlines what he believes are the various steps below this line of despair.  He begins with the German philosopher, Georg William Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) who became the first man to open the door into the line of despair.  Hegel taught  what we really have is a thesis, and an opposite antithesis, with the answer of their relationship not a horizontal movement of cause and effect, but a synthesis, or dialectical thinking.  In the end result, Hegel’s philosophy produced a synthesis as opposed to antithesis which could be arrived at by reason.

Schaeffer believes that while Hegel opened the door to the line of despair the Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard was the first one to go below the line.    Kierkegaard concluded that one could not arrive at synthesis by reason alone.  Rather, one achieves everything of real importance by taking a “leap of faith.”  Schaeffer, therefore, maintains that Kierkegaard’s conclusions gradually led to the absolute separation of the rational and logical from faith.

What is this leap and what does it involve?  Schaeffer teaches that Kierkegaard’s leap put away the hope of any unity.  Schaeffer writes, “The leap is common to every sphere of modern man’s thought.  Man is forced to the despair of such a leap because he cannot live merely as a machine . . . If below the line man is dead, above the line, after the non-rational leap, man is left without categories.  There are no categories because categories are related to rationality and logic.  There is therefore no truth and no nontruth in antithesis, no right or wrong – you are adrift.” (Escape From Reason, 241, 256).

Schaeffer continues to chronicle the subsequent philosophers who followed Kierkegaard’s thought including the atheistic existentialism of Karl Jaspers, Jean Paul Sartre and Martin Heidegger.  These men reasoned below the line of despair and gave up hope of a rational answer to the questions of life.  The end result: they are left with only the anti-rational.

Schaeffer proceeds to explain what he considers the further steps under the line of despair.  The first as noted above began with philosophy.  The second step was art.  The third – music.  The fourth – culture, and the fifth step was the new theology which was opened by Karl Barth.  While most refer to this brand of theology as “liberal” or “neo-orthodox,” and rightly so, the issue at hand runs deeper than labels.  Indeed, liberal theology rejects the deity of Christ, the inerrancy of Scripture and the New Testament miracles.  The new theology knows nothing of man being created in the image of God.  But Schaeffer adds further clarity to the issue:  “All the new theology and mysticism is nothing more than a faith contrary to rationality, deprived of content and incapable of contentful communication.  You can bear ‘witness’ to it, but you cannot discuss it.  Rationality and faith are out of contact with each other” (The God Who Is There, 64).

Man, therefore, is left in a state of despair which “arises from the abandonment of the hope of a unified answer for knowledge and life.  Modern man continues to hang on to his rationalism and his autonomous revolt even though to do so he has had to abandon any rational hope of a unified answer” (Escape From Reason, 235-236).

The consequences and despair of modern man can be found in three areas.  The first is falling prey to nihilism or embracing a worldview that offers no hope.

The second is  found in the fact that he accepts a false dichotomy (what Schaeffer calls an “absolute dichotomy”) between nature and grace.  However, the modern scheme is presently a dichotomy between contentless faith (no rationality) and rationality (no meaning).  “All the new theology and mysticism is nothing more than a faith contrary to rationality, deprived of content and incapable of contentful communication.  Rationality and faith are out of contact with each other” (The God Who Is There, 64).

Third, since there is no integration point between rationality and faith man engages in acts of desperation in order to find meaning, namely, he accepts a mysticism which gives an illusion of unity to the whole.  Hence we understand why the influx of eastern religion such as Hinduism, i.e. the New Age Movement has gained such a popular foothold in America today.  If there is no hope of a unified field of knowledge one must cling to a mystical world-view that has no rational base but promises hope for the present and the future.

Schaeffer enhances his discussion by contrasting the Christian faith with modern man’s faith which has turned inward.  In Christianity the value of faith depends upon the object towards which the faith is directed.  So it looks outward to the God who is there, and to the Christ who in history died upon the cross once for all, finished the work of atonement, and on the third day rose again in space and in time.  This makes the Christian faith open to discussion and verification (The God Who Is There, 65).

WHY FRANCIS SCHAEFFER MATTERS: An Introduction – Part 1

Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer (1912-1984) may very well be one of the most important Christian thinkers of the twentieth century.  Schaeffer graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary and was heavily influenced by J. Gresham Machen, Cornelius Van Til, and the Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper.

In 1948, after a ten year pastorate in the United States, he moved his family to Switzerland to engage in missionary work.  In 1955, Dr. and Mrs. Schaeffer founded L’Abri in a small mountain village in Switzerland.  French for “shelter,” L’Abri became a refuge for people in need of spiritual help.  The Schaeffers were especially interested in people who sought answers to basic philosophical and metaphysical problems.  He writes, “To the best of my ability I gave the Bible’s answers.  But all the time I tried to listen and learn the thought forms of these people.  I think that my knowledge, whatever it is, is formed from two factors: 1) Forty years of hard study, and 2) Trying to listen to the twentieth century man as he talked” (Eternity, March 1973).  Schaeffer’s keen ability to listen carefully and engage the intellect of these people became a primary factor that contributed to his success.

Students came to L’Abri from varied backgrounds – philosophy, medicine, architecture, science and theology.  The Schaeffers ministered to college professors, students, pastors, engineers and lawyers to name a few.  The common thread among all L’Abri visitors was a thirst for truth.  These people sought answers to the basic questions of life:  Who am I?  Where am I going?  What is my purpose in life?  How does God fit in the scheme of things?

The stated purpose of L’Abri is “to show forth by demonstration, in our life and work, the existence of God” (L’Abri, 16).  L’Abri continues to operate and fulfill the vision of Francis Schaeffer even over twenty-five years after his death.  The ministry of L’Abri may also be found in Holland, Australia, England, Sweden, India, South Korea and Massachusetts.

Francis Schaeffer published his first book, The God Who Is There in 1968.  He subsequently wrote twenty-two books which have been translated into more than twenty-five different languages.  A common unifying theme runs throughout Schaeffer’s books, namely, “the Lordship of Christ in the totality of life”  (The Great Evangelical Disaster, 303).

In the days to come, my goal is to expose readers to Francis Schaeffer and pay particular attention to his views on apologetics and the nature of the church.

Veritas et Lux!

SHOULD YOU BELIEVE IN GOD? – K. Scott Oliphint

Pre-suppositional apologetics appears to be on the rise.  We can thank Francis Schaeffer shouldfor popularizing the presuppositional approach.  Of course Cornelius Van Til, John Frame, and Richard Pratt have played a huge part.  But I have been recently encouraged by K. Scott Oliphint as he wields a sharp presuppositional apologetic sword.   His work, Covenantal Apologetics is a fine introduction to the discipline.  His work, The Battle Belongs to the Lord demonstrates the power of Scripture for defending the faith.  But most recently, Oliphint presents Should You Believe in God?  a booklet written to equip people in the discipline of apologetics – with a presuppositional approach.

Should You Believe in God? is a a fictional dialogue between a Christian and a skeptic who actually embraces the notion of truth.  As such,  Oliphint begins this two-way dialogue by pouring the unshakable epistemological “cement.”  He admits his Christian presupposition up front and argues that this, indeed, is the only proper starting point: “Unless you submit yourself to the Lord Jesus Christ, and stand on his Word, you will never find a real place to stand, or a real place to rest, and your curious search will never end.”

Next, the Christian directs the skeptic to think through the implications of a world which is created, sovereignly controlled, and sustained by the living God.  The only difference between a sovereign God who ordains all things and a skeptic who believes that all things are “accidentally conditioned” is that the pagan view has “no reference point.”  Whereas the Christian view has an integration point that finds rest in God alone.

He proceeds to describe how the Christian faith holds to two kinds of necessity, namely – “the necessity that belongs to God alone,” and “the kind of necessity that is what it is because God created it that way” (such as the laws of logic).

He continues to demonstrate the futility of unbelief by assuming a position of neutrality.   This view holds that one can hold a position (philosophical, scientifically, or otherwise) that is “neutral” and excludes God from the discussion.  The point is that unbelievers begin autonomously – that is, they begin with themselves.  Oliphint explains, “To assume neutrality at the outset is to assume that God has not spoken clearly through the things he has made.”  They effectively and tragically cut themselves off from the very source of knowledge (found in Christ) when they make this fatal move.

Oliphint rightly argues that seekers of truth should begin with God instead of themselves as the proper starting point: “We ought to begin our searching, our research, our reasoning, and our demonstration with the fact of who he is and what he has done …Only by assuming, and affirming at the outset, the Christian God who has spoken can we escape this morass of meaninglessness and despair” (what Schaeffer referred to as the “line of despair.”)

The skeptic, in the final analysis, is urged to turn from unbelief and erroneous autonomous assumptions – which only lead to hopelessness and futility.  The skeptic is challenged to turn to his Creator and bank all his hope and future on the living God: “If you will forsake your idols of independence and place yourself in his hands, this much is certain – he will redeem you.”

Should You Believe in God? is a powerful little tool that should receive a wide readership.  It is a brilliant retooling of Van Till’s apologetic method put in a contemporary setting.  Highly recommended!