Appendix D

FRANCIS SCHAEFFER AND THE PRESBYTERIAN CONFLICT

 

Because Francis Schaeffer became an intellectual spokesman for American fundamentalism, conservative evangelicalism, and a handful of Calvinists with the publication of his book, The God Who Is There (1968), it is necessary to review his role in the divisions of 1936 and 1937. This experience shaped his subsequent career.

In June of 1936, Schaeffer had completed his first year of seminary at Westminster. He joined the exodus with Machen. One year later, Schaeffer departed from the newly formed Presbyterian Church of America. He followed Carl McIntire. He completed his third year of seminary at McIntire's newly created Faith Seminary.(1) He was ordained in the Bible Presbyterian Church in 1938.(2) He participated in that Church's 1938 revision of the Chapter XXXIII of the Westminster Confession of Faith to make it an explicitly premillennial document.(3) The Bible Presbyterians also revised the Confession in that year to return to the 1903 revision with respect to infants who die: ". . . with regard to the salvation of those dying in infancy we do not regard our Confession as teaching or implying that any who die in infancy are lost."(4) The Presbyterian Church of America had adopted the Confession's original statement the year before.

He was a dedicated ecclesiastical separatist and fundamentalist in 1937. In 1942, he wrote the following in a paper presented to the Bible Presbyterian Synod: "Let no one of us forget that our Separatist position is not an arbitrary thing; it is doctrinal. If one should ask for a single word that would show our stand against the evils of this day, the word would be Separatist; and it should be for we are Separatists." He went on to reaffirm his commitment to the premillennialism of the Bible Presbyterian Church: "We can say with pride that we are the first Reformed group to say formally by our creed that we believe in the premillennial Second Coming of our Lord."(5) He made his commitment clear: "We believe this doctrine with all of our heart."(6)

McIntire's Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions sent Schaeffer to Switzerland in 1947.(7) McIntire's name is absent from Mrs. Schaeffer's various accounts of their lives, but he was a dominant force in Schaeffer's early career. Because of Schaeffer's break with McIntire in 1956, when he stayed with the Evangelical Presbyterians rather than McIntire's Bible Presbyterians, he was not subsequently regarded as a fundamentalist in McIntire's mold, but he never abandoned his premillennialism. No one who would not sign a premillennial statement of faith could become a staff member at L'Abri.(8) He also never abandoned his separatism. In the early 1970's, when the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and Schaeffer's Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod, were seriously discussing the possibility of reuniting, it was Schaeffer's vocal opposition against this reunion, more than anyone else's, that killed the plan.(9) The Orthodox Presbyterians voted for the merger in 1975, but the RPCES voted against it. Schaeffer had helped split the Church in 1937, and he never retreated from this decision. His decision stuck.


Christianity and Civilization

His premillennialism undergirded all of his apologetic work. This is why his film series and his book, How Should We Then Live?, never attempted to answer his crucial question. The book and film were devoted to the chronicling of the surrender of Christendom as a civilization and the rise of humanism as the result. He ended with a warning: there are only two choices available to man today: the Bible or an "imposed order."(10) In his tenth film, he made this even clearer: the imposed order will be run by a humanist elite.

He called for a return to the Bible, not as a utilitarian solution to cultural problems, but as a moral requirement. "It means the acceptance of Christ as Savior and Lord, and it means living under God's revelation."(11) But as a consistent premillennialist, he had never accepted the theocratic ideal of Christendom for the era prior to the millennium. The best that Christians can legitimately hope for, he said, is minority status. "Such Christians do not need to be a majority in order for this influence on society to occur."(12)

This made no sense, given his eschatology. His book and his film series surveyed the systematic growth of religious self-consciousness on the part of non-Christians in the West: their dedication to removing every trace of Christian influence. The series began with a section on the persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire. There is no doubt as to what he privately thought must come: something far worse for the Church, namely, the Great Tribulation.(13) But he was not willing to admit forthrightly to his film audience and to his readers that this was the underlying eschatological presupposition of his life's work. This was why his work was not a call to explicitly Christian social action but a survey of what the Church has given up; not an explicitly biblical blueprint for social and cultural reconstruction but a cataloguing of Christendom's surrender and hand-wringing disguised as an intellectual's cultural critique; not a call for the progressive establishment of God's kingdom on earth in history but a program of religious common-ground anti-abortion politics--yet somehow in the name of a non-utilitarian Christianity.

Apologetics and Civilization

Schaeffer took Van Til's apologetic method, which Van Til had taught him at Westminster, and the philosophy of Gordon Clark, which was a common-ground rationalistic system, and reworked them into a partially presuppositional, partially Clarkian-logical hybrid. Never did he footnote Van Til in any of his books.(14) For that matter, neither did he footnote Clark. When asked in 1968, "Where did your husband get all this?" Mrs. Schaeffer offered a long, rambling disquisition about his discussions with "existentialists, logical positivists, Hindus, Buddhists, liberal Protestants, liberal Roman Catholics, Reformed Jews and atheistic Jews, Muslims, members of occult cults, and people of a wide variety of religions and philosophies, as well as atheists of a variety of types." This went on for two pages.(15)

The hybrid nature of his apologetic method made it difficult for him to come to grips with the idea of the common ground between believer and unbeliever. Van Til argued that the common ground or point of contact is the image of God in man. Covenant-breaking man knows that he is a covenant-breaker. Clark argued that it was common logic: the principle of non-contradiction. Schaeffer was more Clarkian than Vantillian. This made him more susceptible to the idea that Christians might have a positive influence on non-Christians even though Christians must remain as minority participants. Somehow, Christians can argue their way into the dialog. Van Til, as an amillennialist, had no illusions in this regard. He expected increasing persecution for the Church as each side becomes increasingly consistent with its presuppositions. This is certainly more consistent with Schaeffer's premillennial belief that the Great Tribulation lies ahead of us, and the Church will go through it. Historic premillennialists generally share this eschatological belief with amillennialists.

Calvinism and Civilization

In his five-volume Complete Works, published in 1982, there is no discussion of his Calvinism; he kept this a secret from his fundamentalist audiences. Schaeffer's followers were systematically misled throughout his public, published career regarding what he really believed. I think it is safe to say that it was not an oversight on Schaeffer's part that he neglected to reprint his 1976 pamphlet defending infant baptism in his Complete Works. This pamphlet had been published by an obscure local publisher long after Schaeffer had become the nation's best-selling evangelical philosopher-critic.(16)

Among Protestants, Calvinist Presbyterians have historically been more committed to the goal of building a Christian civilization than other Protestants have been. That Schaeffer was a Presbyterian is not surprising. That he refused to discuss his Calvinism in his writings is more surprising. He wrote as if he believed that common-ground logic would not only persuade non-Christians to stop being so evil, it would even persuade Arminians. With respect to developing a believable critique of evil, this strategy may have been be correct: covenant-breaking men recognize covenant-breaking when they see it (Rom. 2:14-15). With respect to gaining support for a positive reconstruction of an evil society, this assumption was not correct: covenant-breaking men rebel against the truth and adopt evil alternatives (Rom. 1:18-22). They rebel against the truth. This is why Schaeffer's suggestion that Christians can have a positive social influence as time goes on, despite their perpetual minority status, makes no sense biblically.

Calvinism is a consistent, comprehensive world view. This is what a positive program of social reconstruction requires. Schaeffer never attempted to develop such a positive Christian alternative. He may have known that "you can't beat something with nothing," but his eschatology persuaded him that Christians cannot legitimately expect to beat paganism.

 

Succession: C. Everett Koop

The only nationally visible result of Schaeffer's social philosophy was the public career of his co-author (Whatever Happened to the Human Race?), C. Everett Koop, who was appointed in 1981 by President Reagan to serve as the Surgeon General of the United States. Koop in 1987 used his high office to recommend a program of compulsory sex education in the schools, beginning as early as kindergarten(17) and for public school instruction on how to use condoms.(18) Under questioning, Dr. Koop admitted that as Surgeon General, he would have to recommend abortion as one way of dealing with the unborn children of mothers with AIDS.(19) By the spring of 1987, Koop was self-consciously in retreat from his earlier Christian position. With respect to the abortion issue, he commented: "I've written all that I have to write on that issue. There are other, bigger things that I should turn my attention to as surgeon general: Where this country is and where it's going in health care."(20) He had openly adopted ethical neutrality as his social theology. In an interview with the politically liberal Washington Post, he announced: "I am the surgeon general of the heterosexuals and the homosexuals, of the young and the old, of the moral and the immoral, the married and the unmarried. I don't have the luxury of deciding which side I want to be on."(21) He neglected the obvious: he had the luxury of resigning his office in protest. To do so, however, he would have had to abandon the national sex-education program which he had personally recommended.

Then, in the fall of 1987, without much media attention, he admitted that condoms really are not much protection for homosexual contacts.(22) But in 1988, the government sent a copy of a popularized version of his 1986 report on AIDS to every household in the United States: Understanding AIDS: A Message from the Surgeon General. Half of page 4 is devoted to the condom solution: ". . . the use of condoms is recommended to help reduce the spread of AIDS." Under "risky behavior," the report lists "Unprotected sex (without a condom) with an infected person." "Safe behavior" is described as: "Not having sex. Sex with one mutually faithful, uninfected partner. Not shooting drugs" (p. 3). Notice the reference to "partner" rather than "spouse."

In his 1991 autobiography, he bewailed the fact that his 1986 report had been criticized by the religious right. He felt, he said, "a profound sense of betrayal by those on the religious right who took me to task."(23) His sense of betrayal was reciprocated by the religious conservatives whose organized support alone had allowed Reagan's appointment of Koop to get through the hostile U.S. Senate in 1981. His sense of betrayal immediately pushed him closer to the political left. "First, I needed to capitalize on my new alliance with the moderates and liberals to continue to get the message on AIDS to each American citizen."(24) This alliance was never broken during his term as Surgeon General. It is understandable why, prior to the 1998 Presidential election, Democrats Jesse Jackson, Al Gore, and George Dukakis all offered to keep him if they won; Republican candidate George Bush did not.(25)

Bush, the victor in 1988, did not appoint Koop to the office he wanted, Secretary of Health and Human Services (welfare). This disappointed Koop because he had wanted to create a program for universal health insurance coverage that would "at last provide health insurance to the 37 million Americans who live in that fearful world of the uninsured."(26) Bush's Democrat successor presented such a compulsory plan in 1993. Koop publicly supported it. President Clinton, he told the press, has "accomplished more in health reform in the past few months than all four of his living predecessors put together."(27) This compulsory health insurance plan was not passed by Congress, despite the fact that the President's party controlled both houses, nor was any substitute program passed. The President had promised to make support for his compulsory health insurance plan the key issue in the 1994 Congressional elections, but after its defeat in early 1994, he neglected to do so in the campaign that fall. The Democrats went on to lose both houses of Congress, their biggest defeat in four decades.


Conclusion

In 1984, the year before he died, Schaeffer had cried out against what he called The Great Evangelical Disaster.(28) Yet he had baptized the intellectual foundations of this disaster. He was a Calvinist who never wrote about his Calvinism; a Presbyterian who concealed his essay on infant baptism from his non-Presbyterian readers; a post-tribulation premillennialist who believed that prior to the Second Coming of Christ to establish an earthly millennium, the Church would inevitably go through the Great Tribulation; an historian who lamented the decline of Christendom, but who explicitly rejected the inherently theocratic ideal of Christendom; and a promoter of a non-utilitarian Christianity who nevertheless suggested that the non-Christian world might someday listen to minority-status Christians, making them an influence for good, despite the fact that such minority influence could come only to the extent that Christianity becomes utilitarian for covenant-breakers. It is no wonder that his son Franky, who produced his father's movies, has left Protestantism to join the Eastern Orthodox Church, and has renounced all Christian social activism. Theological schizophrenia is difficult to live with.(29)

In The Great Evangelical Disaster, Schaeffer warned against what he called the spirit of accommodation with the world. He pointed to the history of evangelical academia, where bright students went off to the finest universities and were captured by the secularism of the classroom, to return to the evangelical colleges "where what they present in their classes has very little that is distinctively Christian."(30) He called this academic infiltration, as indeed it is. But what did he offer in its place? A critique of humanism, no matter how skillful, is not sufficient; there must be a Christian alternative. You can't beat something with nothing. But Schaeffer never suggested a methodology by which such an alternative might be developed.

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Footnotes:

1. This school went bankrupt in 1995, leaving a debt of over $1 million. It had invested in a Ponzi scheme known as New Era Philanthopy, a name similar to the Presbyterian liberals' fund-raising organization, 1919 to 1923: the New Era Movement. It may be that New Era Philanthropy's post-bankruptcy settlememt will allow Faith Seminary to reopen.

2. See photo in A Brief History of the Bible Presbyterian Church And Its Agencies (no publisher no date, but probably published in 1968), p. 63.

3. The Constitution of the Bible Presbyterian Church (Collingswood, New Jersey: Independent Board for Presbyterian Home Missions, 1959), p. 41. The fact that the Bible Presbyterian Church's Constitution was published by the Independent Board of Presbyterian Home Missions testifies to the continuing commitment of the Church to independency.

4. Ibid., p. 45.

5. Cited in George P. Hutchinson, The History Behind the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (Cherry Hill, New Jersey: Mack, 1974), p. 254.

6. Ibid., p. 255.

7. Edith Schaeffer, The Tapestry: The Life and Times of Francis and Edith Schaeffer (Waco, Texas: Word, 1981), p. 246.

8. I applied in 1970; I was sent a copy of this statement of faith. I could not sign it.

9. This is the opinion of Charles Dennison, historian of the OPC, and George Hutchinson, author of the history of the RPCES. Personal telephone conversations: March 14, 1995.

10. Francis A. Schaeffer, How Then Should We Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture (Westchester, Illinois: Crossway, 1976), p. 252.

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid.

13. He was not a dispensationalist, i.e., a believer in the pre-Tribulation rapture of the Church. In historic premillennialism, the Church is said to go through the Great Tribulation just prior to the Second Coming.

14. Van Til wrote a critical paper on Schaeffer's apologetic method in the late 1960's. It is scheduled to be republished on the CD-ROM version of his collected works.

15. Edith Schaeffer, L'Abri (London: Norfolk), pp. 226-27.

16. Francis Schaeffer, Baptism (Wilmington, Delaware: Trimark Publishers, 1976).

17. Washington Post (March 24, 1987), "Health Focus."

18. I wrote at the time, "Koop has become a kind of bureaucratic condom himself: Preaching a prophylactic solution to a world facing a religious crisis. He has betrayed his trust." Gary North, "Koop's Condom Argument Has a Hole in It," A.L.L. About Issues (May-June 1987), p. 48; published by the American Life League.

19. "Koop suggests abortion as option for AIDS carriers," Washington Times (March 25, 1987).

20. "The Still-Crusading Koop Keeps the Moralizing Quiet," Insight (March 16, 1987). This is published by the conservative Washington Times.

21. Washington Post (March 24, 1987), "Health Focus." This is what he had said publicly from the beginning: ibid. (Oct. 2, 1981).

22. "Koop Warns on Risk of AIDS in Condom Use," Los Angeles Times (Sept. 22, 1987).

23. C. Everett Koop, Koop: The Memoirs of America's Family Doctor (New York: Random House, 1991), p. 216.

24. Ibid., p. 217.

25. Ibid., p. 308.

26. Ibid., p. 312.

27. Alan Clymer, "First Lady Rebuts Health Plan Critic," New York Times (Sept. 21, 1993), p. A18.

28. Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Books.

29. For a detailed critique of Schaeffer's theological schizophrenia, see Gary North, Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), ch. 4. See also David Chilton and Gary North, "Apologetics and Strategy," Christianity and Civilization, 4 (1983), pp. 116-31: "Francis Schaeffer's A Christian Manifesto."

30. Francis Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster (Westchester, Illinois: Crossway, 1984), p. 119.

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