“Names and Issues” by Francis SchaefferHome > Pastor's Blog > “Names and Issues” by Francis Schaeffer
January 30, 2012 marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Francis A. Schaeffer (1912-1984), the first man to be ordained into the then newly formed Bible Presbyterian Church. Providentially I was following Dr. Schaeffer’s work before I became Presbyterian in doctrine and/or Bible Presbyterian in affiliation. Although he left the BPC in the mid 1950’s, towards the end of his life he became more pronounced and dogmatic in some of his views, especially in his book The Great Evangelical Disaster. Some even accused him of having returned to his Bible Presbyterian roots ;-).
I was involved in some correspondence with Dr. Schaeffer just before he went to be with the Lord. He sent me a copy of the following article entitled “Names and Issues” with permission to reprint it. It was an address given to the Evangelical Press Association Convention on May 11, 1983. It was his view that his message was falling on deaf ears. Although that was almost 30 years ago, I believe the message is still very necessary and relevant. I pray that you will read and understand.
Names and Issues
A speech given at the
Evangelical Press Association Convention
May 11, 1983 in Minneapolis
by Francis A. Schaeffer
Author’s Note: This is a speech – not fully edited
© Francis A. Schaeffer All Rights Reserved
Names are a funny thing, and especially in the connotations they are given, to enhance or to destroy.
In the 1920’s the Liberals who were taking over a number of the seminaries, and many of the major denominations, and many of the Christian publications, put out what they called, “The Auburn Affirmation”. This effectively undercut the position of historic Christianity.
In response, the Bible-believing Christians, under the leadership of such scholars as J. Gresham Machen and Robert Dick Wilson issued what they called, “The Fundamentals of the Faith”. Dr. Machen and the other men never thought of making this an “ism”. They considered these things an expression of the historic Christian faith and position. It was the fundamentals of the faith doctrine which was true to the Bible, Truth, they were interested in and committed to. Dr. Machen, whom I knew as a student, simply called himself a “Bible-believing Christian”. This same thing was true of the publications which were also committed in that day to doctrine and teaching true to the Bible. One can think of the old Sunday School Times under Howard and Trumbull.
Soon, however, the word “Fundamentalist” was in use. As used at first it had nothing problematic with its use, in either definition or in connotation — though I personally preferred Machen’s term: “Bible-believing Christian” because that was what the discussion was all about.
As time passed, however, the term “Fundamentalist” took on, for many people, a connotation which had no necessary relationship to its original meaning. It began to connote a form of pietism which shut Christian interest up to only a very limited view of spirituality, and thus in which all other things were suspect. It also, at times, became overly harsh and lacking in love, while properly saying that the Liberal doctrine which was false to the Bible had to be met with confrontation.
Therefore, a new name was entered, “Evangelical”. This was picked up largely from the British scene. In Britain in those years it largely meant what Machen and the others had stood for in this country — namely, Bible-believing Christianity as opposed to the inroads of various forms and degrees of Liberal theology. It was often used in the United States to have the connotation of being Bible-believing without shutting one’s self off from the interests of life and in trying to bring Christianity into effective contact with the current needs of society, government and culture. It had a connotation of leading people to Christ as Saviour, but then trying to be the salt and light in the culture.
It was in this general period that my lectures and books began to be of some influence from the 1950’s onward. My lectures and early books stressed the Lordship of Christ over all of life in the areas of culture, art, philosophy and so on — while also strongly stressing the need to be Bible-believing with loving but true confrontation against not only false theology but also against the destructive results of the false worldview about us.
While not over emphasizing their importance, for many of that period and especially in the radical 60’s, these books did help to open a new door to a Christianity which was viable in an age of collapsing values and when all the older cultural norms were being turned on their heads by an ethos dominated by the concept that the final reality was material or energy which had existed forever in some form and which had its present form by chance. The young people of the 60’s sensed that this position left all standards in relativistic flux, and life as meaningless, and they began to think and live in this framework. In this setting happily, a certain number did find L’Abri’s presentation of Christianity — as touching all of thought and life, along with a life of prayer, to demonstrate Christianity’s viability and became Bible-believing, consecrated Christians.
But note: This rested upon two things: 1.) Being truly Bible-believing, and 2.) Facing the results of the surrounding wrong worldview that was current with loving, but definite confrontation. By the grace of God this emphasis had some influence in many countries and in many disciplines.
Now, however, we find this matter of names, with their connotations, entering again. Gradually, though there was no need for it from the original use of the word, an appreciable section known as “Evangelical” began a drift toward accommodation. Note: there was no need for this from the original use of the word, nor largely from the stance of the men and women who originally had begun to use the word.
It was a kind of mirror situation of what had occurred previously with the word “Fundamentalism”. Thus, the changing, destructive surrounding culture tended to stand increasingly unchallenged. On one side there were those with a mistaken pietism which saw any such challenge as unspiritual — that the Christian’s job was only to lead people to Christ, and then to know something of a personalized spirituality. On the other side there was a tendency to talk about a wider, richer Christianity, but to accommodate at each crucial point. Thus, the two positions ended up with similar results. It rather reminds me of the young people whom we worked with at Berkeley and other universities, including certain Christian colleges, and those who came to us in large numbers with packs on their backs at L’Abri in the 1960’s.
They were rebels. They knew they were for they wore the rebel’s mark — the worn-out blue jeans. But they did not seem to notice that the blue jeans had become the mark of accommodation; that indeed, everyone was in blue jeans. This does seem to me to be a close parallel to what we see in much of the connotation which grew out of the new meaning of the word “Evangelical”.
Complicating the matter is our own tendency to lack balance. Each issue demands balance under the leadership of the Holy Spirit while carefully living within the circle of that which is taught in Scripture. Each issue must be met with holiness and love simultaneously. And to he really Bible-believing and true to our living Christ, each issue demands a balance which says “no” to two errors. Or to say it another way: The Devil never gives us the luxury of fighting on just one front.
In order to show forth the love and holiness of God, Who does exist, and Who does call upon His people in every generation to be faithful to Him and to stand against accommodation with the world’s values of that day, and to present the Good News to the generation in such a way that the message has viability, we must try in a balanced way not to fall into the “blue jean” mistake of thinking that we are courageous and “with it” when we really are fitting into what is the accepted thought form of the age about us.
We have not done well here and I do not think the publishers have been particularly helpful in these things. All too often, it seems to me, the “being with it” simply has been a dealing with the current popular topics, but really not being in a balanced, but clear, confrontation with them.
The spirit of our age is syncretism because with the prevailing world view that the final reality is a silent universe which gives no value judgements, therefore truth as final truth does not exist and thus there can be various differences of personal opinions but not the confrontation of truth versus error, as not only the Christians, but also the classical philosophers and thinkers of the past believed to be the case. Thus syncretism rules and we are surrounded by the spirit of accommodation.
The matter of human life is a good case in point. When Dr. Koop, Franky, and I began to work on the project Whatever Happened to the Human Race?, the battle was being lost simply by it being called a Roman Catholic issue because so few non-Catholics were doing anything about it. The mistaken pietists thought battles in the area of government were unspiritual, the other stream had acquired the habit of accommodation and it would have meant “rocking the boat” badly to come out with forthrightness on this issue.
“I personally am against abortion, but. . .”, became the mediating phrase not only of Christians in government but also of many in the pulpit and in publications as well. Happily more are committed now, but still the damage has been done. If voices had been clearly raised in confrontation when abortion and the general lowering of the view of human life began to be openly advocated, the widely accepted flood of these concepts in all probability could not have prevailed and the Roe vs Wade ruling by the Supreme Court might easily not have been made. And if the heat had been kept on by the publications, the Christians who are in Congress would not have found it so convenient to say they were personally against abortion, but then, for example, vote against limitations on government funding of abortions.
It is ironic that so many who were opposed to Christianity being shut up to a removed and isolated spirituality by a poor position now have by a process of accommodation ended up just as silently on the issues which go against the current commonly accepted thought forms. It is so easy to be radical in wearing blue jeans when it fits into a general wearing of blue jeans.
Truth really does bring forth confrontation, loving confrontation, but confrontation — whether it is in regard to those who take a lower view of the Scriptures than both the original users of the terms “Fundamentalist” and “Evangelical” took, or in regard to holding a lower view of human life. This lowering of the view of human life may begin with talking about extreme cases in regard to abortion but it flows on to infanticide and on to all of human life being open to arbitrary, sociological judgements of what human life is worthy to be lived, including your human life when you become a burden to society. Last year’s Broadway play Good was most perceptive in showing the development of a Nazi, beginning with his acceptance of euthanasia.
One Christian leader tied the issues of Scripture and abortion together: “I see the emergence of a new sort of fundamentalist legalism. That was the case in the thrust concerning ‘false evangelicals’ in the inerrancy issue and is also the case on the part of some who are now saying that the evangelical cause is betrayed by any who allow exceptions of any sort in government funding of abortions.”
What is involved here is not the health of the mother. I know of no Protestant who does not take into account the health of the mother.
And, of course, the term “fundamentalist legalism” must be examined. If what is meant is the loveless thing some of us have known in the past, we, of course, reject it totally. And if “fundamentalist legalism” means the down-playing of the Humanities (including not just the classics but the interest in the whole scope of human creativity by both Christians and non-Christians) as a reflection of Man being made in the image of the great Creator, then all my books, from the earliest ones, oppose that.
But when we come to the central things of doctrine, (including the Bible’s emphasis that it is without mistake not only when it touches religious things, but also when it gives information concerning history and the cosmos), and in such a matter of human life, then if we understand Truth, we understand it does bring forth confrontation and not just a “with it” interest in the issues which are in vogue at the moment but then an accommodation to the answers being generated by the non-Christian world view about us.
This accommodation has been costly, largely in losing in the last forty years most of the Christian ethos we have had in our culture.
It is comfortable to accommodate that which is in vogue about us as that which flows from the now generally accepted thought forms based on the concept of final reality being material or energy, shaped into it’s present form by chance — therefore, truth as truth becomes absorbed by syncretism and relativism. It is not surprising that the film Gandhi received all of the Oscars. This fits into the religious syncretism of our day, and also into its romantic failing to understand the political realities of a fallen world. One can be thankful for Richard Grenier’s review, “The Gandhi Nobody Knows” in Commentary magazine and now published as a book by Thomas Nelson publishers. One could have wished the Christian press had uniformly shown the same comprehension. And the accommodation comes so easily in failing to see and courageously confront the change of ethos from what has been, to what today is so monolithic about us.
One magazine came out with the conclusion that the concern about the results of the secular humanism about us is only a bogieman. Rightly defined, secular humanism is no bogieman; it is a vicious enemy. Here again balance is important by means of careful definition, as I do in A Christian Manifesto. The word “Humanism” is not to be confused with the word “Humanitarianism” nor the word “Humanities”. But “Humanism”, as man being the measure of all things, because the final reality is material or energy which has existed forever and has its present form only by chance and therefore there is no one but man to then set purely relative values and a purely relativistic base for law and government, is no bogieman. It stands totally against all that original “Fundamentalists” and the original meaning of “Evangelicals” stood for, and it guarantees destruction to the individual in the life to come and in the present life as well.
We do well to remember what the end purpose of those leading the Man-centered crusade is. On a Phil Donahue show concerning voluntary school prayer, one of the Vice-Presidents of the Civil Liberties Union who was opposing voluntary school prayer was asked what he thought of the prayer that has existed in Congress since the beginning, the use of the word “God” in the opening of the Supreme Court sessions, etc. He answered, “I do not think it is appropriate.”
The issue is not voluntary school prayer or the right of the free exercise of forum for religion using school property or any of these things. The goal of these people is to shut out religion, specifically Christianity, from the flow of life. It is instructive that before his death Judge Leon Jaworski, of the Watergate trials, was concerned enough to involve himself in the Lubbock, Texas, case for freedom of forum in the use of public school property. What is involved is religious freedom of speech, this is the issue.
It is intriguing that a Roman Catholic historian like Professor James Hitchock, Professor of History at St Louis University, sees this so clearly that in his book, What is Secular Humanism? he uses the sub-title, “How The West Was Lost”, while our own press so often whistles in the dark rather than facing the realities.
And it is curious that Norman Lear’s group and The Performing Arts Committee for Civil Liberties, and the thinkers on the other side all the way back to the Huxleys understood the profundity of the battle, and many of us still go on and live and write as though it was a cream puff battle, as long as our own boat is not rocked.
And it is curious that there is such a generally accepted accommodation (or confusion) by some who are “Evangelical” in fitting in with a current Christian Century article which says anyone trying to bring Christian principles into play in government is against the position of the separation of Church and State. We can understand The Christian Century doing that — although that is in itself curious when they have been in the forefront of trying to bring to bear their own principles upon government for so many years. But it is more curious that some “Evangelicals” who should know better fit into this.
Here again, of course, there must be balance. Not all the Founding Fathers were Christian, and not all who were Christian were always totally consistent in their political thinking. And, of course, we must not confuse our pariotism with our Christianity. I said that clearly enough in A Christian Manifesto for all to know that I strongly stress this. Incidentally, when I was a pastor in this country I opposed the placing of the country’s flag in the church — that is hardly Constantinianism. And, as I spelled out in A Christian Manifesto, we must stress that we are opposed to a Theocracy in word or in fact. What we want is freedom of speech for all religion, in which Christianity can present what is truth in the free market place of ideas — something we do not possess today in the public schools and in much of the media.
The battle to regain freedom of speech in schools and government, to bring Christian values into contact with government, is not in any way related to an opposition to the separation of State and Church.
It is sheer lack of comprehension to then accommodate by not seeing that one can say all this strongly and then not to forget that there was much Christian knowledge in the early days of our country and that this produced something in total confrontation with what the “Man as the measure of all things” concept produced in the French and Russian revolutions — or what is being produced all about us in our day when that which was the cause of the failure of the French and Russian Revolutions is now the increasing base for our education, culture, and law. Because this is now so much the base of our own day it is producing the chaos and destruction we see all about us, including the family, in the views of sex, including divorce without boundaries (and this includes this view’s infiltration into the Evangelical Church). And this being the case, there must be consistent confrontation with the base which produces these things and many more like them. The confrontation is not incidental but is imperative because we love the God who does exist and because we love our neighbour as our self.
And the accommodation to the acceptable in our culture touches other matters. To love my neighbour as myself means I must stand against tyranny — from whatever side it might come. This includes the tyranny that exists in the Soviet block, and the natural expansionist and thus extended tyranny of that system. That system is totally based on the same view of final reality which under the name “Humanism” (rightly defined) is producing the destruction of our own country and culture.
This, of course, again needs balance: Our country was never perfect. In a fallen world nothing and nobody is perfect — including you and I and including John Calvin who knowing this as a Bible-believer, would not allow himself to be the authoritarian ruler of either the Church or the State in Geneva.
Our country was never perfect, and now it certainly is less perfect. It has been years since I have prayed for justice on our country — I pray only for mercy. With all the light we have had and the results of Biblical influence, for us to have walked on what we had, and that walking includes the Christians not confronting the destruction which has occurred — we deserve God’s judgement. However, that does not cause us not to see that the Soviet position is even further down the road, and loving our neighbour as we should means, on one hand, doing all we can to help those persecuted by that system now (and especially not minimizing the persecution of our Christian brothers and sisters in the Soviet block); and, on the other hand, not assisting the spread of the oppression to other countries. We assist in the spread of oppression to other countries when we fail to remember that we live in a fallen world and then support the contemporary vogue of an utopian position of practical unilateral disarmament which, in a fallen world, and in the light of even recent history, guarantees war (including nuclear war) and the expansion of oppression.
It seems obtuse not to understand this when all of the leaders of the European governments, from the Conservatives to the Socialists (including Willy Brandt) see the only hope of Europe having peace, or not being under blackmail, is to keep a balance of defense. If we accept accommodation at this point, how can we say we love our neighbour as ourselves?
Accommodation, accommodation, how the mind-set of accommodation grows and expands!
Now coming back to names and issues: I used to shift away uncomfortably when I was called a “Fundamentalist”, because of the connotation which had become attached to it. But now it seems that as soon as one stands in confrontation with that which is un-Biblical (instead of accommodation) that this confrontation is given the automatic label of “Fundamentalist”. That is the way Kenneth Woodward used it in Newsweek concerning me. That is, as a put down. And when Bible-believing Christians get taken in by the connotation of words it is much sadder.
Incidentally, for those of you of the Christian press who think we are in a gentleman’s discussion party, you should know that Ken Woodward had a two hour dinner with Franky at the New York Princeton Club just the day before the deadline of that article, and at that time he had never read any of my books. It was also Woodward who personally wrote the later Periscope piece.
Let us also think of the term “The New Right”. It, too, has become a term with a negative connotation, but when one examines this, it, too, is usually not defined and seems often also to mean that one is ready to stand against the slide in our day rather than going along with an accommodation.
I repeat, there must be balance. The country was never fully Christian but it was different from that produced by the world-view of the French and Russian Revolutions, and it was (up to the lifetimes of some of us here) vastly different, with its influence of a Christian consensus or ethos, than it is today.
Certainly what I have stressed many times is correct: Merely being conservative is no better that being non-conservative per se, and that Conservative Humanism is no better than Liberal Humanism. What is wrong is wrong, no matter what tag is placed upon it. But with the term “The New Right” as it is often used today, and too often by Christians, it seems to mean that on all these issues we have spoken of, there is a willingness to have confrontation, (even balanced and loving confrontation) rather than the automatic mentality of accommodation. And, if this is so, then we must not shy away merely because of the weapon of the connotations placed on terms which can have the possibility of meaning something quite different when analyzed. A sensible person must conclude that all such terms can mean different things as used in different ways, and then go on hoping the wrong connotations will not be used by those who as Christian brothers and sisters should know better than to use them without proper definitions rather than with thoughtless connotation. This is the case whether we do, or do not care to use any of these terms in regard to ourselves. We are to reject what is wrong regardless of tags, and not fearing proper confrontation regardless of the tags then applied.
If the Christians in this country (and the Christian publishers) had been in Poland two weeks ago instead of in the United States, would they have been on the side of confrontation or on the side of accommodation? Would they have marched in great personal danger in the Constitution Day protests and two days earlier in the May Day demonstrations, or would they have been in the ranks of acceptable accommodation? The government was great in using terms with adverse connotations as weapons — hooligans, extremists!
I cannot be sure where many Christians in this country would have marched in the light of the extent of the accommodation in our country when there are no bullets, no water cannons, no tear gas, and most rarely, any prison sentences.
It does seem to me that the Christian publishers have a very special responsibility not to just go along with the Blue Jean syndrome of not noticing that their attempts to be “with it” so often take the same forms as those who deny the existence, or deny the holiness of the living God.
Accommodation leads to accommodation, which leads to accommodation.
Copyright by Francis A. Schaeffer, 1983, “Names and Issues”. A speech given in Minneapolis on May 11, 1983 at the Awards Banquet of The Evangelical Press Association. Permission granted to reprint. Formatted and electronically published by Rev. John T. Dyck, Edmonton Bible Presbyterian Church.