Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Schaeffer on Van Til

Thanks to a link in the comments section of my previous post, we can see what Schaeffer thought about Van Til’s thought even if it be ever so brief.

Remember Van Til’s main complaint against Schaeffer is that Schaeffer ended up not challenging the presupposition of modern man, namely his own autonomy. That by asking the unbeliever to see his own manishness and his system’s incompatibility with the world that Schaeffer had by default accepted the autonomy of man. Van Til then believes that with the starting presupposition of man’s autonomy one could never get to the God of the Bible.

The review written by Francis Schaeffer attempts to reconcile the view of Dr. Van Til with that of Dr. Bushnell, who apparently held to a Classical Apologetic method. Basically that method of Thomas Aquinas of logical arguments, but with a few improvements as is admitted in the review.

One note should be made about the summary of agreements between the two provided by Schaeffer. Point number four, I believe to be wrong.

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.

This maybe a misunderstanding of Van Til’s apologetic approach because this is exactly what Van Til critiques Schaeffer for doing. Van Til is against the idea of giving man the ability to chose with his own presuppostions. He is against the idea that the unsaved man can look at Christian system and see that it explains the universe and that his own system does not. Now it may be that Schaeffer is emphasizing the ‘practical’ part of the sentence as if to say that this is the only way Van Til’s system can be implemented. Which would make the practical line up with Schaeffer and fall out of line with the theoretical approach argued by Van Til. Using logic or an understanding of the world around him for Van Til gives credence to the ultimacy of man, and is to be rejected. His theoretical starting point is given in Christian Apologetics :

The point of contact for the gospel, then, must be sought within the natural man. Deep down in his mind every man knows that he is the creature of God and a covenant breaker. But every man acts if he were not so. (Christian Apologetics pg. 57)

Thus, I think that Schaeffer in this review assumes an agreement that does not exist. In fact it is an agreement that Van Til would say gives away the farm. Perhaps it is this misunderstanding that allows Schaeffer to think he can reconcile the two methods of apologetics.

For fairness sake, I think Van Til is a little too hard on Schaeffer’s theory as well. It bares remembering that Schaeffer thought of himself primarily as an evangelist, not an apologist. Schaeffer often taught that modern man cannot give a right diagnosis of himself. In fact, "Christianity has a diagnosis and then a solid foundation for an answer. (The God Who is There pg. 46)" Van Til did admit this, but stresses the methodology of Schaeffer as contradictory to this. Van Til even perhaps ignores these foundational statements of the book before launching into critiquing it. Rather than seeing this statement about Christianity in back of the methodology he assumes the methodology contradicts this early statement.

Both men seem to have some misunderstandings of each other, but real differences exist. And they are important. The next post will examine the differences I see and we shall work our way into examining the concluding statement of Schaeffer in the review linked above.

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.

This intriguing point deserves a closer look.


Wayne Sparkman said...


Thanks for picking up on this topic.
One correction: Where you have "Bushnell" is should be "Buswell"
(J. Oliver Buswell, Jr.). Buswell would have been one of Schaeffer's teachers at Faith Theological Seminary, circa 1938-1940.

Buswell wrote a fairly lengthy interaction with Van Til at the time, which was circulated in mimeographed form and which included at least one letter of reply by CVT. Contact me at wsparkman AT pcanet DOT org and I will get a copy out in the mail for you.

-Wayne Sparkman
Director, PCA Historical Center
St. Louis, MO

Wayne Sparkman said...

I should have thought to add, if others would care to have a copy of that Buswell/CVT/Buswell correspondence, please send a check made payable to the PCA Historical Center in the amount of $5.00 to cover the cost of copying and postage.

PCA Historical Center
12330 Conway Road
St. Louis, MO 63141

Lee: your copy is free, in thanks for this current set of posts, though I will need a mailing address for you.