are Schaeffer and Van Til irrelevant?


To even pose such a question makes me shudder. Which is perhaps a good sign that thinking through such things is  a healthy exercise for me. I have NO doubt in my mind that the loving, dialogical, reformed apologetic method of VT and SCH (what they have in common at least) is deeply necessary in the postmodern milieu. I suppose I could post my entire MA thesis, ‘A reformed-apologetical response to postmodern youth ministry,’ but suffice a few points to do the trick. Although I have yet to read the entire article in Christianity Today, and do not want to pass any judgment on the author or intentions at this time, there is no doubt that the God-centered-ness of ALL OF LIFE, including apologetics, still carries great impact for thinking in the current historical context.

3 Reasons that VT and SCH are necessary for thinking Christians in the Postmodern turn:

1, VT and SCH engage in taking the roof off, that is, backing up the question, calling the unbeliever to the carpet on their first principals. Since Pomo is essentially a critique of Modernism, and since critiques are well suited to evade criticisms themselves, this method is quite effective. If one is being irrational, relativistic, or ultimately subjective, they must be shown the logical conclusions of their worldview.

2, Is there anything ceratin under the sun? We know there is nothing new? This seems to be the question that Pomo is boldy asking its decaying older brother, modernism. Can anything be actually  known by anyone with any sort of actually certainty that transcends the subject in the moment. Both VT and SCH provide the glorious answer of Christ, and not just the Christ of evidence or reason, but the transcendental first principal necessary and justified as the very precondition for intelligibility. That is a powerful message to a generation of people longing to know.

3, Finally, as we’ve seen, they don’t care what you know till they know that you care. That is one of my favorite elements of the VTillian SCHerian legacy, listening, drawing out, and responding in love. When one is cornered by an unbeliever in the use of evidence, or a disagreement arises on how reason/logic ‘should’ work, the reformed apologetic takes a step back and turns the tables on the questioner…but how do you know? Thus, rather than battle out reason or evidence from an autonomous starting point, VT/SCH ask what justification one might have for presuming on that starting point in the first place. This is  done through dialog, q & a, and puts the believer in a place of loving confidence as he/she proceeds with good questions.

I suppose I cannot speak for others, but this method has been HUGE in my life. When I was in my darkest moments of deepest doubt, it was not more evidence i needed but some intellectual humility. I wanted my Pomo cake with some modern frosting, I wanted the rational/irrational dialectic to have no bearing on my life, I wanted to indite God. However,  thanks to some wscal buddies and a few life debates, I quickly learned that I couldn’t have it both ways. If I’m not the poster child for generation Y, who is? To think, what I really needed all along a dutch love slap.


One response to “are Schaeffer and Van Til irrelevant?

  1. christopherlake

    Greg, Schaeffer’s and Van Til’s thought will never be irrelevant to the church– it CAN never be irrelevant– because it begins and ends with the word of God, and at all points in between (at least, as far as I know), it is SUBMISSIVE to the word of God. The problem with Schaeffer and Van Til is not that they are irrelevant, but that thay are largely unread and unknown to most of the American church (other than Schaeffer’s late-in-life influence on the “Christian right”– and I think that many of his “political activist” champions missed important parts of his overall message).

    The sad fact is, most people don’t read books that are very challenging to plough through– I struggle with this myself at times. Schaeffer and Van Til will only be read by people who have the patience and the time to ponder and wrestle with their thinking. This doesn’t mean that these men are irrelevant, but it does mean that they will strongly impact a relatively small number of Christians, in relation to the larger Body– but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Derrida and Foucalt have only been read by a small number of people, but they have had a huge impact on Western thinking and culture, as their ideas have “trickled out” into, and become popularized in, the larger society. Perhaps we can hope for the same with the thought of Schaeffer and Van Til, in relation to the church and its mission in the world.

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