Posted On May 10, 2018

Why Francis Schaeffer Matters: His Approach to Apologetics – Part 6

by | May 10, 2018 | Francis Schaeffer, Featured

Christian Apologetics: Two Purposes

Francis Schaeffer’s holds a rather basic view concerning apologetics. He explains there are two purposes of Christian apologetics. “The first is defense. The second is to communicate Christianity in a way that any given generation can understand” (The God Who Is There, 151).

Schaeffer begins his approach to apologetics by pointing out that every non-regenerate person enters the discussion with a set of presuppositions.  Some have taken the time to analyze their presuppositions. Most have not. But each non-regenerate person is caught in the horns of a dilemma because it is impossible to be consistent in logic or practice. This holds true along the whole spectrum of people. Every person whether a University student, housewife, businessman or disgruntled teenager is stuck and boxed in by the logic of his or her presuppositions. Thus, Schaeffer writes, “You are facing a man in tension, and it is this tension which works on your behalf as you speak to him . . . A man may try to bury the tension, and you may have to help him find it, but somewhere there is a point of inconsistency” (The God Who Is There, 133). Schaeffer adds, “To have to choose between one consistency or the other is a real damnation for man. The more logical a man who holds a non-Christian position is to his own presuppositions, the further he is from the real world; and the nearer he is to the real world, the more illogical he is to his presuppositions” (The God Who Is There, 133-134).

Therefore, the place to begin in the real world with real people is to find out where the tension exists. Once the point of tension is uncovered the apologist must push the non-regenerate man toward the logical conclusion of his presuppositions. Schaeffer warns, “Pushing him towards the logic of his presuppositions is going to cause him pain; therefore, I must not push any further than I need to” (The God Who Is There, 139).

Schaeffer calls this approach “taking the roof off” because every man has constructed a roof over his head to protect himself at the point of tension. “At the point of tension the person is not in a place of consistency in his system, and the roof is built as a protection against the blows of the real world, both internal and external” (The God Who Is There, 140).

Taking the roof off involves showing man his need. His need is addressed in the Scriptures which show his lostness and the answer found in the person of Jesus Christ.  Schaeffer admits that this process is extremely unpleasant, “but we must allow the person to undergo this experience so that he may realize his system has no answer to the crucial questions of life. He must come to know that his roof is a false protection from the storm of what is; and then we can talk to him about the storm of God’s judgment” (The God Who Is There, 141).

As soon as the person is ready to hear the gospel, it is not necessary to push any further. Schaeffer departs from the typical evangelistic approach at this point.  He writes, “We must never forget that the first part of the gospel is not ‘Accept Christ as Savior,’ but ‘God is there.’ Only then are we ready to hear God’s solution for man’s moral dilemma in the substitutionary work of Christ in history” (The God Who Is There, 144).

Christian Apologetics: Two Principles

Schaeffer believes that there are two vital principles in communicating the gospel (Escape From Reason, 269). First, there are certain unchangeable facts which are true. Here again, the idea of antithesis is prominent in Schaeffer’s thinking. If a given proposition is true, it’s opposite is false. Second, we need to know the thought patterns of the culture at large. Unless we do this, the gospel will fall on deaf ears.

Schaeffer proceeds to discuss biblical faith which begins with the fact of God’s existence.  “True Christian faith rests on content . . . The true basis for faith is not the faith itself, but the work which Christ finished on the cross.  My believing is not the basis for being saved – the basis is the work of Christ . . . The call to Christian believing rests on God’s propositional promises” (The God Who Is There, 146).

Schaeffer militates against easy believism and goes to great lengths to promote a biblical paradigm for faith. Here he stands in the historic tradition of the Reformers who taught that biblical faith is a combination of notitia (know the facts of the gospel), assensus (believing the facts of the gospel) and fiducia (trusting or banking one’s hope on Christ alone for salvation). Schaeffer outlines his scheme for biblical faith and is worth quoting in its entirety to get the full flavor of his thinking:

  1. Do you believe that God exists and that He is a personal God, and that Jesus Christ is God – remembering that we are not talking of the word or idea god, but of the infinite-personal God who is there?
  2. Do you acknowledge that you are guilty in the presence of this God – remembering that we are not talking about guilt-feelings, but true moral guilt?
  3. Do you believe that Jesus Christ died in space and time, in history, on the cross, and that when He died His substitutional work of bearing God’s punishment against sin was fully accomplished and complete?
  4. On the basis of God’s promises in His written communication to us, the Bible, do you (or have you) cast yourself on this Christ as your personal Savior – not trusting in anything you yourself have ever done or ever will do? (The God Who Is There, 147).

To sum up Dr. Schaeffer’s approach to apologetics one must understand that he embraces Paul’s method of preaching to man without the Bible.  He suggests telling the sinner, “You’re under the wrath of God because you hold the truth in unrighteousness.” (Death In The City, 266). The reason: Sinful man needs to come to grip with the fact that he is a law-breaker and will ultimately face the white-hot wrath of God apart from Christ.

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