The Francis Schaeffer Collection - The L. Rush Bush Center for Faith & Culture The Schaeffer Legacy Project - An Interview With Dr. David Calhoun of Covenant Theological Seminary True Spirituality Class Francis Schaeffer at International Congress of World Evangelism, Lausanne, Switzerland, July 1974 Whatever Happened To The Human Race? - Playlist The Mark of A Christian Class - Playlist The Question of Apologetics A Christian Manifesto - Playlist

Saturday, March 23, 2013


You are probably presupposing a review of Presupposing? Well, not so fast! This one requires a little information on the back story.

One of the ongoing discussions in regard to Schaeffer is the subject of Schaeffer's apologetic. Schaeffer himself formally stated that he did not believe there was one apologetic that met the needs of all people (See Appendix A to The God Who Is There). Yet he did state in The God Who Is There, after describing his approach of "taking the roof off" (which arguably depicts a presuppossitional approach) this remark:

"This, I am convinced, is the true order for our apologetics in the second half of the twentieth century for people living under the line of despair."

This entire discussion might seem rather unimportant when one considers the fruit that has came of Schaeffer's apologetic in the lives of real people. Yet there constantly seems to be a problem classifying Schaeffer, and some scholars in fact take ethical exception with him. So it therefore becomes important to continue the discussion and attempts to properly understand Schaeffer. However, I am thinking it might not be solved once and for all here today!

Not Vantilian?

Now, some people may know that Schaeffer studied his first two years of seminary at Westminister Theological Seminary under Cornelius Van Til and others, so they may quickly peg Schaeffer as a Presuppositionalist. Some who are more "purist" in the Van Til camp may object to Schaeffer being considered a VanTilian Presuppositionalist at all.  Still others may know that Van Til wrote critical letters to his former student after Schaeffer's Wheaton Lectures in 1965, and later after his books were released as well. Some further may or may not be aware that Van Til also wrote an unpublished work that critiques Schaeffer's apologetic, which he taught students at Westminister. Some may even further note that Schaeffer was both friends with J. Oliver Buswell and Cornelius Van Til, and that he was sympathetic to both. These will note Schaeffer's paper written into a debate between the two aforementioned scholars, called A Review of a Review as possible compromise. So in the least, the categorizing of Schaeffer as a Van Tilian Presuppositionalist would seem to be in question. Yet, for some, the differences between Schaeffer's method is not enough for him to be disqualified from a form of modified Presuppositionalism. For those of this opinion, innovation does not necessarily imply revisionism.

Not Presuppositional?

Now, seemingly outside the Van Til/Schaeffer discussion, there are also erroneous criticisms that accuse Schaeffer of being a Rationalist, having a system that was too mechanical, or claim that he opposed the experiential. To most of these sort of arguments we have to understand that the charges suggest significance, but really seem to "reflect a superficial and inadequate reading" of Schaeffer, to quote Bryan Follis (Truth with Love, pg. 84, ). Yet on the other hand, there are those who's analysis represent more credible, scholarly, and persuasive arguments on Schaeffer's apologetic. In these observations Schaeffer has been labeled a Verificationist, of the Empirical Apologetic Tradition, embracing a Rational Coherence approach, or a Cumulative Case method, or finally of just being an Integrationist. Moreover, all of these terms are not without crossover as well. So one thing that everyone will probably readily admit when we think about all of this, is that classifying Schaeffer has become something of an academic sport in apologetics. So while these different takes on Schaeffer are important in discussion, some substantially more than others, there is another view that might hold some significant weight as it both relates to the legitimacy of these claims of Schaeffer being "something other" than Presuppositional (or Presuppositional plus something else) and the claims that Schaeffer is not truly Presuppositional at all.

What if?

The view I am speaking of is one from the book by David Leigh called Presupposing: How to Defend the Faith - The Methods of Francis A. Schaeffer & Cornelius Van Til. For those who are not aware, David Leigh is a journalist who interviewed Dr. Schaeffer in the early 1980s and had the opportunity to ask him key questions about his apologetics in a separate Q&A time with Schaeffer as well. David Leigh has embarked on an investigation of Schaeffer and Van Til's apologetics that took him to Westminster Theological Seminary and into the archives on an exploration in the papers of Cornelius Van Til. His investigation not only touched the correspondence between the two men, but also the curriculum Van Til taught during Schaeffer's time at Westminister. The result of this journey was motivated it seems by a key question which has not been asked yet, at least not publicly to my knowledge. That question seems to me is, "What if Schaeffer was in fact following the apologetic teachings of Van Til of 1929-30 and it was Van Til's views that had changed or drifted by 1965 and not Schaeffer?"

If you are intrigued at all by this question then this book is worth the read. The two things I noticed as I picked up the book, is first, that it is very well written and is organized in it's approach. I rather enjoyed how concise and chronological the subject matter was presented. Yet also, one gets a sense of the deeply profound respect David Leigh has for these men. He is careful and gracious to both and is not apt to shoot off unfounded accusations or launch off into polemics. He opens by sharing about his personal conversion experience and the impact of such apologetics on his own life and others. Yet thereafter, quickly moves step-by-step into explaining the views of the two men proceeding back and forth, comparing and contrasting, carefully drawing conclusions from what has been stated and building toward the end conclusion throughout.

Although, I think you can guess from what I have already said what David Leigh's view might be, you will need to read for yourself to get the exact answer. I don't want to steal anymore thunder here. Yet, my personal opinion is that Presupposing is a valuable book, that is worthy of being included in the discussion on Schaeffer's apologetic. Even if one does not agree with David Leigh's conclusion, I believe the honest reader will at least consider the evidence he presents and note the potential, if not confirmed, validity of David Leigh's analysis. Yet more than this, if one examines what he has written, Presupposing shows that he has done more academic study, and apparently has done more justice, than some of the others who have written before him on Schaeffer's apologetic. One has to wonder why this exact analysis on Van Til's curriculum has not been done before in book form, as it is long overdue. So it is with much hope for greater discussion that I recommend Presupposing.

Further Reading

For those who want to compare and contrast the differing views. I recommend reading the following along with Presupposing. If I had my wish, I would get David Leigh, William Edgar, Brian Follis and Gordon Lewis and a few of his friends in Denver, like Doug Groothuis, in a room and see if they might hammer this one out (wishful thinking maybe), but until that wish comes true, you'll have to read for yourself.

Two Christian Warriors: Cornelius Van Til andFrancis A. Schaeffer Compared by William Edgar

Truth with Love, by Bryan Follis.

Schaeffer's Apologetic Method by Gordon Lewis, which is available in the book Reflections on Francis Schaeffer edited by Ronald R Ruegsegger.