Though not widely known, this work is significant among Dr. Schaeffer’s writings as it sets out the general direction of his apologetic and evangelistic method. Essentially, he finds a middle path between evidentialism and presuppositionalism while at the same time refusing to be confined to either posture. Instead, his overwhelming emphasis is on the presentation of the gospel, utilizing whatever tools are at hand to expose each person’s sin and need of the salvation which is in Christ alone.
Schaeffer mentions “the articles” (plural) and that caused me to look back in some of the earlier issues of THE BIBLE TODAY. While our focus here begins with Buswell’s article in the May issue, the fuller scope begins with an earlier review by Buswell of Gordon H. Clark’s book, A CHRISTIAN PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION in the October 1947 issue. That review led in turn to three replies by Clark plus an article by Vernon Grounds titled “Does the Bible Sanction Apologetic?” All of these appeared prior to the exchange that I am now posting. Perhaps at some later date I’ll post the earlier exchange between Buswell, Clark and Grounds.
A Review Of A Review
Presuppositionalism, THE BIBLE TODAY, May, 1948
By the REV. FRANCIS A. SCHAEFFER.
[originally printed in The Bible Today, October, 1948, pages 7 – 9.]
Editor [i.e., Buswell] : Considerable interest in the question of Presuppositionalism and traditional Christian evidence in evangelism has been created by recent book reviews and articles in The Bible Today. We are delighted to present this article by the Rev. Francis Schaeffer, a former student and a friend and admirer of Dr. Van Til’s.
The material which has appeared in The Bible Today dealing with what Dr. Buswell calls “Presuppositionalism” has interested me greatly. I have before me these articles in The Bible Today, and on the other hand I remember vividly the good things I received from Dr. Van Til’s courses. It seems to me, as I understand it, that the problem is not unsolvable.
1. Both sides agree that the unregenerate man cannot be argued into heaven apart from the Sovereign Call of God. (The Bible Today, May 1948, page 242, “Certainly the Scriptural doctrine of the Sovereignty of God forbids the elimination of compulsion,…” Page 244 “The distinction between Presuppositionalism and the philosophy of traditional Christian evidence is not by any means that the one recognizes the power of the Holy Spirit more than the other. It is agreed that arguments, inductive and deductive, are never sufficient to work the work of regeneration.” “Nothing but the specific work of the Holy Spirit in conviction and regeneration can be regarded as the efficient cause of individual salvation.”
2. From the human viewpoint, neither side would say, I am sure, that it is possible for a man (remembering the fall) to simply reason from nature to a saving knowledge of nature’s God without an act of personal faith. Bare knowledge without faith cannot save. (Page 244, “one may be intellectually convinced that Christianity is true and yet may reject Jesus Christ.”)
3. Neither side, I am sure, would say that it is no use talking or preaching to the unsaved man. Both sides do. Neither would either side say that the Holy Spirit does not use Christian apologetics when it pleases him to do so. Both sides certainly use apologetics in dealing with the intellectual unbeliever.
4. As I remember Dr. Van Til’s practical approach, it was to show the non-Christian that his world view, en toto, and in all its parts, must logically lead back to full irrationalism and then to show him that the Christian system provides the universal which gives avowed* explanation of the universe. It is Christianity or nothing.
[*As per a correction issued in the November 1948 issue of The Bible Today, the words “avowed explanation” should have read “a valid explanation” ]
5. Dr. Buswell says in considering improvements on Thomas Aquinas’s arguments, page 241, that he, Dr. Buswell, would set forth certain logical conclusions to the unsaved man, based on these arguments, and then show him that “Among many hypotheses of eternal existence, the God of the Bible is the most reasonable, the most probable eternal Being.”
6. Both sides say, in their own field, “See where your position leads, now see where Christianity leads. In the light of this comparison, Christianity is the right one.” I am convinced that neither side would say that Christianity could be wrong, except “for the sake of the argument.” (Page 244, “The Philosophy of the Christian evidences, which I am advocating does not differ from Presuppositionalism in that I am ever willing to admit or assume anything whatsoever contrary to Christian theism, except in the well-known logical form of an admission “for the sake of the argument’.”)
7. Therefore, it seems to me, that the problem is reduced to what apologetics is valid, and especially whether there is any room for inductive evidences being used with a common starting point. Dr. Buswell says this himself on page 244, “The distinction between the two schools is that the one denies, and the other recognizes, that the Holy Spirit uses inductive evidence and arguments from probability as instruments in the practice of evangelization and conviction, these arguments being transitive to the minds of unbelievers.”
8. My suggested answer to this problem is as follows:
A. The unsaved man is seldom consistent.
B. If the unsaved man was consistent he would be an atheist in religion, and irrationalist in philosophy (including a complete uncertainty concerning “natural laws”), and completely a-moral in the widest sense.
C. However, most unsaved men are not atheists, irrationalists, or completely a-moral. Inconsistently, most unsaved men do have a part of the world-view which logically can only belong to Bible-believing Christianity.
I personally believe this very inconsistency is a result of common grace. The sun shines on the just and on the unjust, and illogically the unsaved man accepts some of the world as it really is, just as the Christian Scientists own good restaurants and have funeral directors.
D. Therefore, the average unsaved man has two parts to his world-view.
(1.) In as far as he is logical in his unbelief his “system” is hopeless and has no contact with the Christian system. This would include, if completely logical, a complete cynicism (or skepticism) to the natural world so that he could not be sure that the atoms which constitute the chair he sits on will not suddenly arrange themselves into a table, or even that the atoms may not disappear entirely. If logical he would have no contact with reality and I believe suicide would be the only logical answer. It would be completely “other” to the true world, which God has made.
(2) Some men have come to the above state, but very few. The rest have much in their thinking which only logically belongs in the Christian system. There are all degrees of this intellectual “cheating.” The modernistic Christian is the greatest cheater. The cynic, who is just short of suicide but continues to bring more lfie into this world by his, to him, a-moral actions when logically he should be erasing all life possible from this, again to him, hopeless world, cheats the least.
E. Notice that those who cheat the least have least of that which belongs logically only to the Bible-believing Christian, those who cheat the most have the most.
F. Thus, illogically men have in their accepted world-views, various amounts of that which is ours. But, illogical though it may be, it is there and we can appeal to it.
G. The Lord uses this degree of illogical reality the unsaved man has in his false world. The Lord shows some men their bankruptcy as they use a microscope, some as they fall in love, and some as they fear to die. When the bankruptcy is perceived then Christ may be seen as the answer. No man can accept Christ as Saviour until his need at some level is apparent to him. Certainly in this the Holy Spirit has used the illogical in the unsaved man’s world-view.
It is not apart from the Holy Spirit, nor could it be possible without the predestination of the Sovereign God. Many look at the beauty of the moon at night and do not want eradication, fall in love and do not want it to end in blackness, or fear to die, without by these things being brought to Christ, but God can and does use these illogical things in unsaved men to bring some of them to salvation.
As a matter of fact, no one who has ever been saved has failed to have such an experience. Christ told the woman at the well of her sin before she was ready to hear of Him as Messiah. But if she had been completely logical in her unsaved condition she would not have cared about her sin. There can be no doubt that, first, she was of the elect, and second, the Holy Spirit used this which was illogical in her. Election includes the means as well as the end.
H. Now if God does so use, certainly we may also in our preaching and apologetics, pray that the Holy Spirit will use them. To the extent that the individual is illogical we have a point of contact. Therefore, to a certain type we preach of sin and point out to him that by his sin he has been brought down to the gutter. To some we give Dr. Machen’s book, The Virgin Birth. To some we appeal to fulfilled prophecy. To some we use the classical arguments. To some we use the philosophical approach. We show them the alternatives, whether it is the man in the gutter or the philosophically minded unbeliever. We use what point of contact we can get. If they fleee form the nearer contacts into the distant we pursue them there. In either case it is christ or death. It is Christ or Diana, Christ or Modernism, Christ or irrationality, Christ or suicide. So it goes. The last step back to which we press them is into the blackness of irrationality, and if they are already there we ask them why they haven’t committed suicide.
As a matter of fact we could preach or testify to no one without touching some point of common contact which is there because of his illogical double position. If the unsaved man were completely logical, and so had no point of common contact, we could not reach him for he owuld have taken his life and so be out of our reach.
I. In conclusion then, I do not think the problem is impossible. The answer rests in the fact that the unsaved man is not logical and therefore I can agree to both the statements that (1) the un-Christian system* and the Christian system “have absolutely no common ground whatever on any level, for, when the world view is seen as a whole, it necessarily evinces metaphysics, a metaphysics which governs every level of meaning.” (Page 247, The Bible Today, May, 1948, quoting Dr. Carnell); and also (2) that there is a point of contact with the unsaved man.
Incidentally, I think it is worthwhile also to call attention to the fact that after we are converted we do not hold the whole Christian world view consistently either. Many people are Christians with very little fo a full Christian world view. I remember Dr. Machen saying “no one knows how littel a man has to know to be saved.” I agree, and we should never forget either that none of us will be completely consistent until we are fully glorified.
To the unsaved man that which is present which is Christian is inconsistent, and to the saved man that which is present which is un-Christian in thinking or life is inconsistent too.
*Note that Mr. Schaeffer here uses the word “system” as implying a consistent organization of thought, whereas sometimes a “system of philosophy” even as a “system”, itself contains inconsistencies. Ed.
1. Buswell, J. Oliver, Jr., “The Arguments from Nature to God: Presuppositionalism and Thomas Aquinas—A Book Review with Excursions,” The Bible Today 41.8 (May 1948): 235-248.
2. Schaeffer, Francis A., “A Review of a Review,” The Bible Today 42.1 (October 1948): 7-9.
3. Buswell, J. Oliver, Jr., “The Fountainhead of Presuppositionalism,” The Bible Today 42.2 (November 1948): 41-64.
4. Buswell, J. Oliver, Jr., “Warfield vs. Presuppositionalism,” The Bible Today 42.6 (March 1949): 182-192.
5. Van Til, Cornelius, “Presuppositionalism,” The Bible Today 42.7 (April 1949): 218-228.
6. Anonymous, “Presuppositionalism,” The Bible Today 42.8 (May 1949): 261.
7. Van Til, Cornelius, “Presuppositionalism Concluded,” The Bible Today 42.9 (June-September 1949): 278-290.