Friday, June 14, 2002

Francis Schaeffer and The Unity of the Bible

Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984) was Presbyterian minister and one of the titans of 20th century reformed theology. In 1975, he wrote a remarkable little book called No Final Conflict. Unfortunately it is out of print-- I was able to find a copy on Amazon’s “out-of-print” network

Schaeffer attacks existential theology, which holds that the Bible is infallible only in spiritual matters, not when it comes to history or science. It is a position in some favor, as you might expect, with believing scientists. What is surprising is that it also has among its proponents non-scientist theologians who also characterize themselves as evangelicals.

Schaeffer bitterly opposes this view:

"Evangelism is not consistently evangelical unless there is a line drawn between those who take a full view of scripture and those who do not." (p. 13)

Of interest to this writer, Schaeffer says that we must accept as infallible the creation and pre-Abrahamic history of the first 11 chapters of Genesis.

I am delighted to agree with Francis Schaeffer. In my own, less cogent style I put it this way in one of my earliest blogs:

  • When science and the Bible disagree, the Bible is always right.

  • When science and Christians disagree, sometimes science is right.

The Unity of Genesis

Schaeffer argues that Genesis teaches theological truth throughout and one cannot simply discard the first 11 chapters as irrelevant prehistory and science (cosmology). He argues for the unity of Genesis on both a theological and literary basis. He notes, quite rightly, that the writers of the New Testament (including the words of Jesus) show that they took the creation account and the historic existence of Adam and Eve as fact. See, for example, Matthew 19:4-5, Luke 3:38, Romans 5:12 (there are many others).

Schaeffer’s point, if I may restate it, is this: due to this massive NT referencing (as historic fact) of the early chapters of Genesis, the credibility of the entire Bible (including the purely “religious” parts) rests on the fact that Adam and Eve were actual historic people without human parents. He gives this warning:

”…those who are taught a weakened view [of Genesis] by their professors almost always carry it further into the whole Bible and are left really shaken as far as any real basis for their Christianity is concerned.”(p. 15)

As for science, Schaeffer noted:

”There is no reason, therefore, to consider science free from the propositions set forth in the Scripture.” (p. 22)

As to whether the Bible is a scientific textbook, he says that it is not because science is not the central theme of the Bible. However, Schaeffer adds, that does not mean we cannot learn some science from the Bible. He likens it to angelology: the Bible leaves us with a lot of unanswered questions concerning angels; nevertheless we do learn quite a bit about them.

The Bible does not give us exhaustive truth, specifically, about the things of the cosmos, and therefore, science has a real function. Also, science, as a study of general revelation, has shown us things that have caused us to understand the Bible better.(p. 24)

Schaeffer on the Earth: is it Old or is it Young?

Given all this you might expect that Schaeffer would state emphatically that we must affirm the literal six (24 hour) days view of creation. You would be wrong. (This must be really annoying to those PCA Presbyteries that seek to require such an affirmation from pastoral candidates, as it must be hard to explain why Schaeffer would not be qualified to be a pastor.)

Schaeffer lists seven “freedoms” we have in the area of Cosmology. By freedoms, he means that in his opinion one could hold one of these views and affirm the truth of the entire Bible in a self consistent manner. These are not mutually exclusive models of creation: some are broad, some narrow. They all relate to creation. Some of these views are undoubtedly wrong but, according to Schaeffer, none can be ruled out apart from dogma.

Here they are, greatly summarized, and without comment. (In Schaeffer’s book he does comment on each view.)

  1. The universe was created recently, but with the appearance of being old. God had a purpose, which he has not revealed, to create a universe that appears to be billions of years old.

  2. There is a possibility of a gap between verses one and two, or two and three in Genesis 1. Schaeffer make some interesting comments about this in terms of Satan’s fall and C. S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra.

  3. The days in Genesis are “long” days.

  4. The flood affected the geological data.

  5. A different (based on the Hebrew) interpretation of the word kind in Genesis 1, e.g. Gen 1:11. He says that this word is not necessarily synonymous with the modern word species.

  6. There may have been animal death before the fall, but it was not from being hunted by other animals or in a struggle. It was like a dog dying quietly at a fireplace or a leaf falling from a tree.

  7. Only the word bara must mean an absolute new beginning. This word is used for creation three times: The creation of the universe out of nothing, the creation of conscious life, and the creation of man. The creation of other things, as when God said “Let there be light”, use more general words that might imply a sequence.

As far as the old/young earth question goes, when discussing item 3 above, Schaeffer writes:

”If anyone wonders what my own position is, I am really not sure whether the days in Genesis 1 should be taken as twenty four hours or periods. It seems to me that from a study of the Bible itself one could hold either position.” (p. 30)


To his list of freedoms he adds two absolutes: At a minimum, at the three uses of the word bara as described earlier there was a discontinuity between what was before and what followed. Second, the fact that Adam was historic and Eve was made from Adam.

It makes me happy that…

I find myself in total, absolute, agreement with Schaeffer. Not that he is infallible, or that my concurrence carries any weight. It is simply that it is nice to be in agreement (for a change).

Y'all have a glorious weekend.

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