Apologetics Books Christian Worldview Doubt Epistemology Evangelism Faith Francis Schaeffer Philosophy Timothy D Padgett

Honest Answers to Honest Questions: Francis Schaeffer and the Dogma of Doubt

Honest Answers to Honest Questions: Francis Schaeffer and the Dogma of Doubt

Christians will doubt, and skeptics will query. That is an inevitable a part of the church’s relationship to the world. There might be occasions when the power of the trustworthy within the face of crises shall be too fragile for them even to fake to have certainty, and there shall be moments when the challenges of unbelievers to the core doctrines of our faith will unnerve even probably the most religious. Our demeanor at such occasions is almost as essential as our solutions to the inquiries themselves.

Now, we will veer to at least one aspect by ignoring the individual earlier than us, treating them as if they’re nothing greater than the item of our pontification, making the query merely the chance for us to talk and for others to pay attention. We will veer to the opposite by making the individual the middle, appearing as if the one factor that issues is that the questioner feels snug asking the query, making any reply to the question secondary at greatest.

Traditionally, conservatives have erred on the aspect of obedience, asking “Who’re we to query the reality?” This has the advantage of taking the reality significantly and remembering that actuality just isn’t decided by democratic consensus. Liberals and progressives, then again, have historically gone off target by leaning an excessive amount of on openness, asking “Who’re we to say what’s true?” This has the benefit of taking the questioner significantly and admitting that humanity’s perceptions can and do err.

Certainly one of my theological and private heroes is Francis Schaeffer, considerably as a result of he threaded this needle so nicely. There are plenty of issues to admire about him: his work encouraging the humanities, his position in shifting problems with human dignity to the forefront of the evangelical conscience, the best way he made it respectable for erstwhile Fundamentalists to make use of their minds, the best way he popularized problems with worldview and inspired Christians to think about that their concepts did have penalties.

Nonetheless, this stuff don’t type the core for my admiration of the person. Sure, these have been, and are, vitally necessary and influential for English-speaking evangelicalism and past, even for many who are nonetheless unaware of his affect upon them. In some ways these virtues have been merely the outflow of his pastoral fashion. Fashion is just too weak a phrase. It wasn’t an affectation however a precept which performed out in the best way he spoke to individuals.

You see, what drew individuals to him wasn’t simply his theological or philosophical formulations and even his robust sense of morality. As a result of he believed that not solely have been there solutions but in addition that we might know these solutions, he might face the questions of skeptics and doubters with each grace to them and confidence within the fact. He had a ardour for giving trustworthy solutions to trustworthy questions.

In his day, and ours, there have been those that opposed one or one other finish of this little phrase. There have been the individuals, broadly talking conservatives, who challenged the thought of asking questions, as a result of doing so supposedly demonstrated a scarcity of religion. Then, there have been these individuals, broadly talking liberals, who opposed the prospect of offering solutions, as a result of to do that presumed that we have now any solutions to provide.

Schaeffer’s ministry was a lived-out refutation of every of those errors. As an alternative of merely telling his interlocutors to “shut up in consider” or letting them drift within the ignorance of “it doesn’t matter what you consider,” he labored with individuals to reply their questions concerning the fact claims of Christianity. By his nice confidence within the actuality of biblical revelation, Schaeffer spent his life convincing skeptics and church burnouts that the Phrase of God had one thing to say about all of their lives. He didn’t mock them for his or her doubts or deride them for his or her uncertainties, however, with confidence that God had not been silent, he labored to elucidate how their questions have been answered within the fact of Christianity.

As anybody who is aware of his story can inform you, he didn’t come to this certainty by a direct route. Rising up in a non-believing residence, Schaeffer didn’t come to religion till his late teenagers. Then, after spending a number of years as a pastor in America and Europe, he almost misplaced the religion he’d been preaching to others. Failing to see a actuality within the religion of his fellow Christians and his personal coronary heart, he, in impact, went again to his agnosticism, analyzing his doubts and all of the presuppositions which had led him to religion within the first place.

Thankfully for all of us who’ve benefited from his work, he discovered that his questions did have solutions, that his doubts about Christianity weren’t as robust as the explanations for believing it was true. It’s not that his newly renewed religion was devoid of questions, nevertheless it was reinvigorated by a renewed appreciation for its propositions. Within the Bible, God had offered His picture bearers with solutions to life’s questions that, although they weren’t exhaustive, they have been adequate. He spent the subsequent few many years listening to questions, listening to individuals categorical their doubts with out shaming them for having them within the first place.

Fortunately, owing considerably to Schaeffer’s instance, there at the moment are a number of ministries, resembling his personal L’Abri, the Colson Middle, and Summit Ministries, particularly oriented in the direction of serving to individuals work via their questions and doubts. His have an effect on on the work of Chuck Colson and Nancy Pearcy is profound.

But, we nonetheless face most of the similar issues at present. There are nonetheless these Christians who really feel as if doctrines of the Religion are merely to be rammed down others throats with little or no room for questions. Such strategies might have the advantage of simplicity as they recognize the sometimes-uncomfortable nature of fact, however they don’t do so much for humanity’s private nature and the uncertainties that plague our restricted vantage level.

What drives this angle is a mistaken perspective. As an alternative of being about God and His universe, it turns into about us, notably the one answering the questions. Instead of being about studying the reality, it turns into a chance to show one’s personal value as a defender of the religion. It typically finally ends up as an opportunity to point out off information, to reveal prowess with wit and knowledge, or, worse but, to beat down the opposite. This different individual is not a fellow human being with fears and considerations, however an enemy or a conquest.

This will create inside the one with “all of the solutions” an awesome sense of satisfaction and perhaps even the sensation of privilege of being one of many few “within the know,” however it does little to advance God’s kingdom on the planet or our personal hearts. How many people have turned away from an educational topic as a result of our historical past, math, poetry, or what-have-you instructor taught it so poorly that we can’t conceive ever appreciating it ourselves. Would-be apologists of the religion might consolation themselves, saying “It’s not my fault the individual was so delicate,” however we should nonetheless face the truth that you’ve got put an impediment in the best way of a misplaced soul, one which will have obstructed you have been you in his place.

Whereas theologically conservative Christians are recognized to fail their individuals on this means, their extra progressive counterparts are likely to make the other error. They’re able to embrace the questions and doubts as significantly as they deserve, however they achieve this by making the questions the endgame and seeing ambiguity as admirable in itself. Simply as a lot as the opposite flaw makes it about us and never God’s fact, this does the identical, besides that the individual asking the query turns into central.

The place the hazard for conservatives is to be obnoxious of their presentation of the reality, making the listener tired of listening to what they need to say, the quagmire for the progressives is to focus a lot on the felt-needs of the doubter that they’re left with nothing left to say. This isn’t simply quirk of the motion, a lot much less is it hypocrisy. As an alternative it’s a perform of progressive epistemology.

They will have nice confidence in human talents to know the workings of worldly affairs, however as soon as we cross the edge to “higher story” problems with God and supreme which means, doubt reigns supreme. A part of this can be a affordable want to let individuals ask their questions with out disgrace or worry, however a part of this can be a extra principled skepticism about whether or not any of us can know the solutions to these questions.

Seeing the differing views inside Christendom, they chorus from standing too firmly on any specific doctrine, elevating, in impact, pure human doubt to the extent of inviolable dogma of the religion. Humility is an admirable trait, however that is taking it too far. Our view of the cosmos has modified over the centuries, with these in a single period completely assured that theirs is true and all predecessors have been flawed, however this doesn’t imply that there isn’t any fact nor that it can’t be recognized. The rationale we deserted Ptolemy for Copernicus wasn’t petty bias however as a result of we have been capable of study that the one higher comported to the precise universe than the opposite.

There isn’t any higher advantage in refraining from perception on account of life’s uncertainty than there’s blindly believing every little thing we’re informed, neither is it by some means morally enlightened to refuse an inexpensive reply out of a fascination for the query. Questions usually are not the top of the matter however the means by which we search the reality, and asking innately assumes that the reality could be recognized. In His Phrase, God has spoken greater than the reality of fables topic to our fallible interpretations however “true fact” which we will know.

This has sensible results. With out an emphasis on the truth and knowability of divine fact, the church turns into simply one other social membership whose concepts haven’t any higher significance than fan-fiction and whose moral stands of no extra enduring worth than these of a political celebration.

If the core of the mission shifts from proclaiming the evangel of God to the church and watching world to making a group the place uncertainty is a cardinal advantage and doubt is prized as an finish in itself, it turns into much less and fewer necessary that any specific factor be stated. If the main target of our religion is centered on the sincerity of our questions greater than truthfulness of God’s solutions, the church will inevitably alter its calls to match the preferences and mood of the world.

Progressive theologians have rightly famous the significance of loving others properly and approaching seekers’ and believers’ questions and doubts with grace and love, however they fail these similar souls by making their considerations and fears the middle of their religion. It’s critical that we converse the reality in love, however a love that ignores the reality is not any love in any respect. We all know issues about God as a result of He has informed us who He’s and what he expects of us. No, this data won’t ever be exhaustive in accordance with our wishes, however it is going to be enough to our wants.

The good power of Francis Schaeffer, and the rationale his instance continues many years after his demise, lay on this name to provide trustworthy solutions to trustworthy questions. It wasn’t his information or intelligence, although such undoubtedly aided him drastically. Nor was it his appeal or private traits, although these have been invaluable. What made him such an awesome apologist was that his abiding compassion for individuals was met in equal measure by his agency conviction of the reality. He beloved the individuals who got here to him and knew that he might assist them discover peace as a result of God had spoken in a method that we might perceive.

The facility to speak the Christian Worldview doesn’t stream from it being our message, which we will bash over others’ heads, or from the authenticity others’ questions, which we should affirm it doesn’t matter what, however from the truth that the Creator of the universe is there, and He has not been silent.


Timothy D. Padgett, PhD, is the Managing Editor of BreakPoint and the writer of Swords and Plowshares: American Evangelicals on Warfare, 1937-1973

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