Two Christian Warriors: Cornelius Van Til and Francis A. Schaeffer Compared -- By: William Edgar

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 57:1 (Spring 1995)
Article: Two Christian Warriors: Cornelius Van Til and Francis A. Schaeffer Compared
Author: William Edgar

Two Christian Warriors:
Cornelius Van Til and Francis A. Schaeffer Compared

William Edgar

Cornelius Van Til died in 1987, three years after Francis A. Schaeffer. It is still too early to assess the legacies of these two very different figures in twentieth-century apologetics. Van Til spent most of his professional life teaching at Westminster Seminary. Schaeffer was a pastor, then an evangelist in a community setting.1 Van Til wrote extensively, tackling subjects related mostly to philosophy and theology. Schaeffer was a speaker first, and a writer only secondarily (although his readership was actually wider than Van Til’s, owing no doubt to his immense popularity in evangelical circles). Though they both had a Reformed background, Van Til affirmed his commitment to the system taught in the Reformed creeds throughout his polemics. Schaeffer did so only tangentially. What can be learned by comparing these two so different people?

A great deal, I believe. First, the two thinkers are not always clearly understood, either by their critics or their allies. Comparing them helps clarify both their positions. In the process, apologetic method is understood more clearly. Not only can basic issues in apologetic methodology be clarified: there are questions of style, and even tone, as well as matters of content in apologetics. Accordingly, Van Til and Schaeffer differed in mode, or manner, as well as in substance. Recognizing this dimension should tell us much about their significance, while in no way ignoring the substantive issues.

Second, Van Til took issue with Schaeffer on a number of basic apologetical questions. Cornelius Van Til was known for his polemics not only with unbelievers, but with other Christian apologists with whom he differed. Not everyone appreciated his willingness to attack fellow evangelicals, especially when they appeared to agree with much of his approach. But in his mind, he was carrying out the proper work of a Reformed controversialist. Schaeffer did not escape his critical pen, and much of the present article will be based on Van Til’s critique. Yet, at l’Abri, the community he

founded, Francis Schaeffer engaged in discussions with people from all walks of life using an apologetic method which he believed to be very close to Van Til’s own. Was he mistaken? What should we make of Van Til’s critique? Was it justified? Was it fair? Was it useful and edifying? Did Schaeffer respond appropriately?

At one level, the task appears simple. Not only have both men written extensively, but at one point a polemic developed between them. Though Van Til did most of the writing in this disp...

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