A Review Of A Review
Presuppositionalism, THE BIBLE TODAY, May, 1948
By the REV. FRANCIS A. SCHAEFFER.
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. Ed.
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 unsolable.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
[The reproduction of this article by the Rev. Francis A. Schaeffer
has been provided through the courtesy of the PCA Historical Center,
12330 Conway Road, St. Louis, MO 63141.]