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Francis Schaeffer’s Real Reality

Francis Schaeffer was sometimes known as a “presuppositionalist,” but the more strict presuppositionalists always denied that he fit the bill. While not sharing the same value estimation of this verdict, and depending on how one defines the terms, I have to say that I agree with them. As important as Schaeffer viewed worldviews and religious first principles, he was, at the end of the day, most concerned with objective reality and reality of the sort knowable to all mankind. He was, thus, a realist. This quote from The God Who is There makes Schaeffer’s commitment to realism over and against all subjectivism, even conservative theological subjectivism, quite explicit:

True spirituality cannot be abstracted from truth at one end nor from the whole man and the whole culture at the other. If there is a true spirituality, it must encompass all. The Bible insists that truth is one—and it is almost the sole surviving system in our generation that does.

To avoid confusion let us notice what this emphasis on the unity of truth does not involve. First of all, from the biblical viewpoint, truth is not ultimately related to orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is important and I am known as a man who is a convinced orthodox theologian. But truth is not ultimately related to orthodoxy. Secondly, truth is not related finally to the Creeds either. I, also, believe we must defend the historic Christian Creeds but, we must realize that, while the Creeds are important, truth is not finally related to them. Truth is related to something back of both orthodoxy and the Creeds.

Thirdly, truth is not ultimately related even to the Scriptures. Let me explain. Though I firmly believe what the Early Church and the Reformers taught concerning the nature of the Scriptures, and though I would emphasize that what they have to say concerning the Scriptures is crucially important, yet again, truth is finally related to something behind Scriptures. The Scriptures are important, not because they are printed in a certain way nor bound in a certain kind of leather, nor because they have helped many people. This is not the basic reason for the Scriptures being overwhelming important. The Bible, the historic Creeds, and orthodoxy are important because God is there, and, finally, that is the only reason they have their importance.

The force of this was brought home to me several years ago when a young Swiss-German architect was reporting at one of our Farel House seminars in Switzerland on Max Planck’s last essays. He pointed out that Planck, speaking in terms of his discipline, which was physics and not religion, said that modern man has had to move the screen back several times in our generation, and the question he posed was: what will be the final screen? Planck was saying  that we do not know what the final screen will be in the material structure of the universe. This idea of a final screen started to bore away in my mind as a Christian, and as one speaking into the twentieth-century world. What is the final screen of truth?

The answer can only be the existence of God and who He is. Therefore Christian truth is that which is in relationship to what exists and ultimately to the God who exists. And true spirituality consists of being in the correct relationship to the God who is there, first in the once-for-all act of justification, secondly by being in that correct relationship as a continuing moment by moment reality. This is the biblical emphasis on true spirituality. It is a continuing moment by moment proper relationship to the God who exists.

(Francis Schaeffer, The God Who is There 5.2)

By Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the associate pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, British Columbia. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Institute.