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Posts Tagged ‘Apologetics’

F.A. Schaeffer : “A Review of a Review” (1948)

In Francis A. Schaeffer, J. Oliver Buswell on 02/07/2011 at 09:04

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
[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” ]
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Buswell Reviews Carnell’s Apologetics

In J. Oliver Buswell on 01/07/2011 at 13:06

Next up will be a related series of posts covering Dr. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr.’s further comments on presuppositionalism, with two replies by Dr. Cornelius Van Til and even a word from Francis A. Schaeffer.  The previous exchange between Buswell and Van Til occurred in 1937. This next series of volleys appeared just over a decade later. And of course apologetics at this level isn’t necessarily of interest to everyone, so we’ll intersperse some other articles along the way.

Buswell left Wheaton College in 1940 to become president of the National Bible Institute in New York City. The house organ of the Institute was a publication titled THE BIBLE TODAY, and beginning in May of 1948, an interesting series of articles on apologetics appeared on the pages of this little journal. Buswell himself led the charge with a review of the recent book on apologetics by E.J. Carnell.  Then Francis A. Schaeffer offered his input with “A Review of a Review,” in which he lays out where he stands as over against both Buswell and Van Til. In the next issue of the journal, Buswell reviews Van Til’s latest book, COMMON GRACE, after which all seems quiet for a while. Then in March 1949, Buswell stirs the pot again with “Warfield vs. Presuppositionalism,” a review of the P&R edition of Warfield’s INSPIRATION AND AUTHORITY OF THE BIBLE. Then Van Til offers a lengthy reply in the April issue of THE BIBLE TODAY.  An anonymous reader throws in some humorous poetry in the May issue, and Van Til finishes his reply in the June issue. At that—and ever the gentleman—Buswell gives Van Til the last word and that is the end of the series. 

For your convenience, here is a list of those articles for citation purposes, with links to be embedded as the articles post:

Series Articles :
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. Young, G. Douglas, “Dr. Young’s Letter”, The Bible Today 42.2 (November 1948): 65.
5. Buswell, J. Oliver, Jr., “Warfield vs. Presuppositionalism,” The Bible Today 42.6 (March 1949): 182-192.
6. Van Til, Cornelius, “Presuppositionalism,” The Bible Today 42.7 (April 1949): 218-228.
7. Anonymous, “Presuppositionalism,” The Bible Today 42.8 (May 1949): 261.
8. Van Til, Cornelius, “Presuppositionalism Concluded,” The Bible Today 42.9 (June-September 1949): 278-290.

Of historical interest, too, is Buswell’s early statement in this article that it was Dr. Allan A. MacRae who coined the term “presuppositionism”.  For the moment, and without further input or correction, I’ll assume that “presuppositionism” quickly became the more fluid term “presuppositionalism” (as evidenced even within this article by Buswell), and that credit does effectively go to MacRae for coining the term.  

The Arguments From Nature To God

Presuppositionalism and Thomas Aquinas
A Book Review with Excursions by

An Introduction to Christian Apologetics
By Professor Edward John Carnell.

GOOD intensive workmanship over a surprisingly extensive field, true loyalty to the Bible, and that clarity of expression which will make the book popular and readable, characterize this prize volume; written by a brilliant, devout young man only twenty-eight years of age.

For a clear understanding of presuppositionism, as advocated in our day by a significant group of earnest Bible-believing scholars, Professor Carnell’s Apologetics is doubtless the best work thus far produced. The term “presuppositionism” was given me by my good friend Dr. Allan A. MacRae in a casual conversation some months ago. I caught up the word immediately as an accurate designation for a significant school of thought.

What Is Presuppositionism?

Professor Carnell illustrates the opposite of presuppositionism in the following words:

If a coin is lost on a plot of grass, obviously one can start here, or there without jeopardizing his chances of finally finding the piece of money, providing, of course, that he has enough time to cover the entire area before he turns away. (p. 123) Read the rest of this entry »

The Heart of Buswell’s Critique

In J. Oliver Buswell, Jr. on 30/06/2011 at 13:34

Reproduced here is the substance of Dr. Buswell’s critique of Van Til’s work on the Christian Apologetics. I posted yesterday the first two letters between Buswell and Van Til, and a portion of the third letter to which Buswell attaches the details of his critique of CVT’s work on Christian Apologetics.
In this review, Buswell is working with a pre-publication copy and the references cited below are
[frustratinglykeyed to that edition. Dr. Van Til’s book was published two years later(1939) under the auspices of the Reformed Episcopal Theological Seminary of Philadelphia. The published work has 113 pages, where the pre-publication copy had at least 146 pages. Thus it is at least possible that Van Til took some of Buswell’s critiques into account in editing for the final published edition.

Perhaps someone with access to either the pre-publication copy (1937) or the first edition (1939) of CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS will supply us with a copy of same or possibly take up the project of supplying the specific quotes that would make better sense of Buswell’s comments. 

[I’ve added some explanatory notes to the text below, shown in square brackets. Also, Latin phrases have been rendered in italics to facilitate reading. Otherwise the text is an accurate reproduction of the original document, retaining Buswell’s spelling, etc.]

[Update (Overly scholarly bibliographic note) : I’ve received via Interlibrary Loan a copy of the 1939 publication. It is interesting to see that the printing process employed for the 1939 edition was mimeography or stencil duplication (some will remember the old blue ink on paper look).  Also, on the obverse side of the title page, there is this Publisher’s Note: “In order to produce this book at the least possible cost, no proof reading beyond careful typing has been done. Mistakes of which neither the author nor printer are cognizant may have crept in.” The last page of this softcover edition notes that it was “Revised and Printed, January 1939.”]

19 3 7

Professor Cornelius Van Til
Westminster Theological Seminary
1528 Pine Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

My dear Professor Van Til

I must apologize for imposing upon you this lengthy set of notes and remarks. I should not blame you one bit if you simply consigned them to the waste basket.

I have dictated on the dictaphone and corrected all the notes up to page twenty.

I have to leave this afternoon for a Bible conference in Elkhart and shall not have a minute’s time next week. I am therefore sending the notes on to you without having read my secretary’s write-up of the material from page twenty on.

Very cordially yours

(Signed) J. Oliver Buswell, Jr.

It is very presumptuous on my part to write you in such detail in regard to your valuable work on Apologetics I have learned much from reading it and have profited thereby, I feel that your insistence upon the doctrine of creation and the doctrine of the trinity and your strong emphasis Upon the absolute self-existence and independence of God, constitute a very necessary and valuable emphasis in our modern world.

The following consists chiefly of a listing and brief discussion of points that troubled me as I read.

Page 2, lines 2 and 6 from the bottom of the page. You seem to use the phrases “full information” and “full interpretation” as synonymous. As I said in my former letter, I have been troubled all the way through your work by your usage of the word “interpretation.” In this context on page 2 of course you do not mean that one would gain either a full interpretation or full information about a snake from the Bible, but I understand that you mean that one would never find out that a snake has a relationship to God as a creature, without looking into the Bible, In this of course I agree. No one has ever reasoned from any fact directly up to God, James Orr makes this very emphatic in “The Christian View of God and the World.” Logically and metaphysically of course there is a direct path of inference from any fact in the universe to God and to the correct view of that fact as a created fact, but historically no one has ever followed that path, independent of revelation.

Page 4, line 17 to 15 from the bottom of the page. If we defend the fortress of Christian theism, we have the world to ourselves logically, but not actually. It then remains for us to persuade and instruct men as God has commanded us and by such logical means as he has put at our disposal. Read the rest of this entry »

Buswell – Van Til Exchange (1937)

In J. Oliver Buswell on 29/06/2011 at 19:19
This is interesting. In 1937, Cornelius Van Til sent a pre-publication copy of his work on Christian Apologetics to J. Oliver Buswell with a request for his review. The book was later published in 1939 by the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Episcopal Church. At 113 pages in length, the published version was slightly shorter than the version supplied to Buswell.
Dr. Buswell read the book and wrote an initial reply. Van Til then responded to that letter, and finally, Buswell replied with the substance of his critique of Van Til’s work. What is still unclear all these years later is how it was that the three letters were then gathered together, transcribed and reproduced. It is at least that the correspondence was distributed to a wider audience, since the same compilation,
on 8.5″ x 14″ paper, is found in several different collections here at the PCA Historical Center.
The first two letters are reproduced below, followed by the first portion of the third. To do justice to the real substance of Buswell’s critique, as it appears attached to the third and final letter, really demands inclusion of the referenced portions of Van Til’s book. That will take some work, but perhaps by the end of the summer. Or if someone wants a summer project . . .
[There was a later Buswell-Van Til exchange in 1948, and I will plan to post that in the near future.]


January thirty

Professor Cornelius Van Til
Westminster Theological Seminary
1528 Pine Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
My dear Professor Van Til

I have read all but twenty pages of your Apologetics. I could not quite finish the book before reaching home last night, but shall probably read the last twenty pages tomorrow. I think I understood your position in reading the first part of the work, but your reaction toward various historical schools of thought clarifies the whole question in my mind. I shall write up my notes which I made as I went along and send them to you sometime next week if possible, but in the meantime may I ask for just a word to clarify certain general matters?

(1) By what logic can you include the ad hominem destructive argument with an unbeliever without including the direct constructive argument? If your oft-repeated statement is true in regard to the futility of the type of apologetics represented by Dr. Wilson, then knowledge and reason fall to pieces instantly when we begin to talk with an unbeliever. We cannot argue destructively any more than we can constructively. It takes the theistic assumption to prove to an unsaved man that his system is inconsistent or to prove anything for that matter.

(2) In excluding the underlying assumptions of Orr, Hodge, and Wilson, do you also exclude the underlying assumptions of Machen’s two books “The Origin of Paul’s Religion” and “The Virgin Birth”? Would you not have to say that it would be futile to present the arguments of those two books to an unbeliever? I know that Dr. Machen in the last years of his life was deeply affected by and frequently referred to what he learned from men younger than himself on the Westminster faculty. But would you not have to consider it illogical to present those two books, independent of Dr. Machen’s more recent opinions, to an unbelieving student in the University of Chicago?

(3) The third question is one which I have mentioned before, namely, do not your many admissions of the light of intelligence by common grace in lost humanity give plenty of ground for the apologetic method which you exclude?

(4) Several of your terms I wish might be more specifically defined. Your use of the word “interpretation” is not familiar to me and is not one which I have found in any other writer. I think I know what you mean, but I feel that the usage would be misleading to a student. You seem to include explanation, definition, decree, providence, and creation, at times all in this one word interpretation.

Sometimes the fundamental idea of interpretation, viz. explanation, seems to be absent from your use of the word.

Other terms which I wish might be more specifically defined are time, temporal, eternity, and eternal.

Your entire system, viewed constructively, is so excellent, your emphasis upon the doctrine of the trinity and the doctrine of creation is so wholesome, and the barrier by which you exclude the methods of Orr, Hodge, and Wilson, seems to me so flimsy and so non-essential to your own philosophy, that I am led to pursue the argument if you care to do so.

I do not mean to set myself up as a critic but only as an interested friend. I have learned much from reading your works. My criticism really centers about only one negative emphasis in your teaching. I shall write up my notes on details as soon as possible.

Yours in Christian fellowship


(Signed) J, Oliver Buswell, Jr.

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