What I learned by interviewing creationists and evolutionists for five years

(josh abraham) #23

Apparently even George Marsden hadn’t heard about Schaeffer’s views of Brown v. Board of Education. Barry Hankins doesn’t include it either. I only got lucky to find the “Change in the Concept of Law” lecture at Soundword.com. Schaeffer invited minorities to L’Abri. But he was ultimately going to look like a defender of states’ rights in the civil rights era, and his position—how else should I say this–would have given comfort to segregationists. Civil rights and school prayer were related to Schaeffer because both demonstrated the Supreme Court was seizing power that the Reformation had given only into the hands of the people/legislatures. The school prayer ruling became the foundation of the Court’s rulings on creationism in Louisiana.

(josh abraham) #24

Yes, I think Frank Schaeffer is Eastern Orthodox, but I believe someone in the know told me once he has drifted away from Christianity altogether.

(Phil) #25

He identifies as progressive Christian but in reading his blog it is hard to tell what that means.


That fits with my experiences with creationists over the years. I don’t know of a single creationist organization that is not also pushing a social agenda. Even the Discovery Institute, perhaps the one creationist organization trying to look as scientific as possible, is knee deep in the “Culture Wars”. Their Wedge Document manifesto even states that the purpose of Intelligent Design is “nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies”. A peek at their website “Evolution News and Views” demonstrates the same thing. They want their view of the Bible to be the authority in society, and they see that authority being eroded by science (even though it isn’t).

(Jay Johnson) #27

Interesting. Ray Bohlin of Probe was Discovery’s point man in the recent Texas textbook battles. Publicly, he equivocates on the age of the earth and such, but he routinely does apologetics presentations to churches in Dallas that are straight out of the YEC playbook.

I lived in Dallas 25 years and worked with several former Probe writers/speakers at Beckett Publications. One of them, Jeff Amano, had co-written a book with Geisler about reincarnation back when everyone was convinced that the “New Age” religion of Shirley Maclaine would be the worldwide religion of Antichrist. Marsden does a good job of highlighting dispensationalism’s role in the fundamentalist/modernist controversy of the early 20th century. This tangled web carried over into the Culture War, with Hal Lindsey’s “Late Great Planet Earth” and its end-times sequels exploding in popularity about the same time as Schaeffer’s seminal works. (In addition to LaHaye and other connections that you detail.) @TedDavis series on Understanding Creationism also covers some of the connections between creationism and the Culture War.

On Schaeffer himself, I recently ran across a letter that Karl Barth wrote to him and Oliver Buswell. Schaeffer and Buswell had interviewed Barth and then written scathing attacks on his theology, then they wrote to him requesting another opportunity to meet. Barth’s (partial) reply:

I see the things you think of me are approximately of the same kind as those I found in the book of [Cornelius] Van Til on the subject. And I see: you and your friends have chosen to cultivate a type of theology, who consists in a kind of criminology; you are living from the repudiation and discrimination of every and every fellow-creature, whose conception is not-entirely (numerically!) identical with your own views and statements. You are “walking on the solid rock of truth[sic].” We others, poor sinners, are not. I am not. My case has been found out to be hopeless. The jury has spoken, the verdict is proclaimed, the accused has been hanged by the neck till he was dead this very morning.

Well, well! Have it your own way: it is your affair, and in doing, speaking, writing as you do, you may shoulder your own responsibilities. You may repudiate my life-work “as a whole”. You may call me names (such as: cheat[…], vague, non-historic, not interested in truth [sic] and so on and on!) You may continue to do your “detective” work in America, in the Netherlands, in Finland and everywhere and decry me as the most dangerous heretic. Why not? Perhaps the Lord has told you to do so.

But why and to what purpose do you wish further conversation? The heretic has been burnt and buried for good. Why on earth will you waste your time (and his time!) with more talk between you and him? …

Rejoice, dear Mr. Schaeffer (and you calling yourselves “fundamentalists” all over the world!) Rejoice and go on to believe in your “logics” (as in the fourth article of your creed!) and in yourselves as the only true “bible-believing” people! Shout so loudly as you can! But, pray, allow me, to let you alone. “Conversations” are possible between open-minded people […]. Your paper and the review of your friend Buswell reveals the fact of your decision to close your window shutters. I do not know how to deal with a man who comes to see and to speak to me in the quality of a detective-inspector or with the behaviour of a missionary who goes to convert a heathen. No, thanks!

Your sincerely[sic]

Excuse my bad English. I am not accustomed to write in your language.

Barth expressed similar sentiments in a letter to Dr. Bromiley of Fuller Seminary turning down a request from Christianity Today to respond to questions from Clark, Klooster, and van Til:

The second presupposition of a fruitful discussion between them and me would have to be that we are able to talk on a common plane. But these people have already had their so-called orthodoxy for a long time. They are closed to anything else, they will cling to it at all costs, and they can adopt toward me only the role of prosecuting attorneys, trying to establish whether what I represent agrees or disagrees with their orthodoxy, in which I for my part have no interest! None of their questions leaves me with the impression that they want to seek with me the truth that is greater than us all. They take the stance of those who happily possess it already and who hope to enhance their happiness by succeeding in proving to themselves and the world that I do not share this happiness.

I think most of us here can sympathize with Barth’s frustrations!

(Andrew M. Wolfe) #28

That letter is positively delightful.

(J Richard Middleton) #29

Don’t you think that Kuyper’s notion of the antithesis (the radical disjunction between good and evil) was modified somewhat by his notion of common grace?

The version of Kuyper I got at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto (when I studied there) focused not on the antithesis between groups (two types of people), but on the antithesis running through each human heart and life, which was tied to common grace (that all people are made in God’s image, and Christians don’t have a monopoly on righteousness). Clearly, this was one particular reception of Kuyper (Schaeffer represented another), but the folks I learned Kuyper from emphasized that he wanted to embrace modernity and contextualize Christianity for a new generation and that he explicitly rejected the idea of looking back to a supposed golden age (as Schaeffer clearly did).

Also, perhaps a minor point, but as far as I understand it, Schaeffer didn’t learn Kuyper directly, but via Hans Rookmaaker, the art historian professor at the Free University. One of Rookmaaker’s past students was at ICS when I was and told the story of a visit between Schaeffer and Rookmaaker, in which Rookmaaker explained his (largely negative) view of the history of art embedded in the decline of western culture (evident in his book Modern Art and the Death of a Culture). Then, based on this discussion, Shaeffer wrote his own books on the decline of western culture.

In contrast to this, Cal Seerveld (the Canadian equivalent to Rookmaaker) who was teaching at the ICS (with whom the aforementioned student was studying in Toronto), gave a lecture called “Modern Art and the Birth of a Christian Culture” in which he was very appreciative about modern art (some of which was done by Christians).

So there are at least two different “takes” on Kuyper.

(Jay Johnson) #30

You guys pay attention. My head is about to be served on a platter! haha. Actually, thanks for dropping in. I’m interested in learning a few things from an actual expert, because I have totally backed into Kuyper from an odd direction – the culture war and Schaeffer – and that only recently, so I have some large blind spots in relation to him, such as his views of common grace. Enlighten me!

I definitely see how there could be different takes on Kuyper, but this confuses me. The first of his lectures on Calvinism declared war on modernism, but he wanted to embrace it? I’m not sure how the two of those are compatible. I definitely understand his desire to contextualize Christianity for a new generation, but, again, wasn’t that just an aspect of his call for a “Christian system” of thought to do battle with the “modernist system” of thought?

I’m coming at Kuyper from a different angle, which is his influence on our current situation when he told his audience at Princeton: “Two life systems (ME: worldviews) are wrestling with one another, in mortal combat. Modernism is bound to build a world of its own from the data of the natural man, and to construct man himself from the data of nature; while, on the other hand, all those who reverently bend the knee to Christ and worship Him as the Son of the living God, and God himself, are bent upon saving the ‘Christian Heritage.’ This is the struggle in Europe, this is the struggle in America …”

As far as I can tell (correct me if I’m wrong!), Kuyper’s ideas instigated the first “culture war” of fundamentalism vs. modernism, which he identified as a struggle to save the “Christian heritage” of Europe and America. Kuyper took aim at the French Revolution, evolution, and German pantheism (i.e., liberal theology). But in America, according to George Marsden, this took the form of a two-pronged attack. First, the “fundamentals” of Christianity’s supernatural origins (Jesus’ virgin birth, miracles, resurrection) had to be defended, of course, but the battle primarily revolved around the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, especially in regard to natural history and science. Second, there was the battle against secularism, in which most Christians "instinctively looked back to the recent evangelical heyday and proclaimed that the best way to fight secularism was to bring back the Bible-based civilization that they pictured in their grandparent’s time,” as Marsden put it. W.J. Bryan’s campaigns against evolution and strong drink are conspicuous examples, as well as super-patriotism, anti-communism, and anti-Catholicism, which actually was anti-immigrant sentiment, since the major immigrant groups of 1900s-20s were Irish, Italian, and Central European Catholics. (Of course, these were U.S. reactions, not really Kuyper’s fault.) What were the results of this first culture war? It was a disaster. Within one generation (1890-1930), the “extraordinary influence of evangelicalism in the public sphere of American culture collapsed,” as Marsden characterized it.

Now, we are in another culture war. What are the battlegrounds? The same as before – inerrancy of the Bible, evolution, and liberal theology on the religious side, and on the nationalistic front, super-patriotism, anti-foreigner, and anti-immigrant sentiments. And what are the results of Culture War II? Church attendance has been sliding since the ’70s, and the Millennial generation is abandoning the faith twice as fast as their parents, the Baby-boomers. Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

To make matters worse, both Kuyper and Schaeffer sought to save our “Christian heritage” through political power, which is not the way of Jesus, and through demonstrating that Christianity, as a philosophy, was superior in every way to its mortal enemy – modernism. Yet, modernism was already in eclipse in the 1960s when Schaeffer published his own critiques. He just failed to notice it. Let’s be honest. Modernism did not fall before the blows of Kuyper or Schaeffer or their followers; modernism succumbed to subsequent developments in philosophy, which had nothing to do with the “Christian worldview.” On every level, the strategy of culture war has failed.

To paraphrase Schaeffer, What should we then think? Is Christianity now in a life-and-death struggle with Postmodernism? Some seem to think so. And after that? Will it be ultra-postmodernism we must fear, or will it be a resurgent neo-modernism that proves itself the final, true enemy? The goalpost will never stop moving, and culture war is never-ending, in that case.


I heard N.T. Wright say, and I haven’t seen it print, “postmodernism preaches the Fall to modernism; it’s Christianity’s job to preach redemption to postmodernism.”

We tend to preach modernism to postmodernism.


Also, modernism is preoccupied with propositional truth. Schaeffer is a prime example of modernism in this regard–one of my biggest issues with him is that he basically “reduces” Christianity to a series of propositional truths.

From my perspective, Christianity, although applicable to every culture and worldview (not that it reflects every worldview, but that it has something directly to say to every worldview), is not “locked into” or correctly instantiated in a single culture expression. If it were, we would be wearing tzitzits on our robes.

(As an aside, this is one direct contrast between Christianity and Islam, which does tend to be expressed with monolithic cultural expression–one reason that there are so many people dressed like Middle Easterners in Indonesia, the country with more Muslims than any other, even though Indonesia is situated in the Pacific Ocean). The first apostles were not preaching a “modern gospel” to their contemporaries.

So Jesus the Messiah is directly applicable to postmodern culture, in spite of modern apologists’ attempts to wrench the conversation into a modern arena. Postmoderns just won’t play that game. So how do we communicate “truth” to a culture that disavows the very notion of objection truth? Any truth is subjective–“your truth” vs. “my truth.” This is why modern apologists insist on having the “modern conversation.”

I think one solution is to introduce Jesus as a Person who is the Truth. I might not be able to convince you of a certain set of propositions or facts or assertions…but I can introduce you to a Person.

(Robin) #33

I tried the Soundword site but access to the Schaeffer broadcast of 1962 was not immediately obvious. Schaeffer passed away in about 1981 or 1982, I believe, so whatever statement he made re the case in Arkansas would have been one of his last.

The study of the history of science would be interesting. As for the title of your piece here, what exactly DID you learn by interviewing evolutionists and creationists? By mentioning a speech from 1962 and something from 1981, are you equating the concept of teaching evolution with school desegregation? or saying that people who advocated for the latter also advocated for the former? Scopes to Reagan…

The title of your dissertation — which I presume you are advertising or promoting – does sound intriguing, though political ??? So what DID you learn???

(Robin) #34

Thanks fmiddel…I take it that you have a more YEC perspective?>??

(Robin) #35


(Robin) #36

Good to hear your story. I have had a similar journey without necessarily having met these people “in person” — though that would be interesting. I have read the writings of a range of individuals, including some you named…You cannot agree with everyone all the time…


I think I’m “supposed to”…? Depending on who you ask…

But no, like many here I’ve moved from that through the alternatives (Day-Age, etc.), to an EC position.

(Roger A. Sawtelle) #38

My friends,

The problem with YEC is that it believes that the Bible is the Word of God, when Jesus Christ is the Word of God. John1:1. It is theological and Biblical pure and simple. Any other explanation is mistaken.

It is a testimonial to the power of indoctrination that it is able to conceal the basis of its power. We need to help pe4ople who claim to believe the Bible understand that it says that Jesus Christ is God’s Word (Logos.)


For some reason that I can’t figure out, that always ends being a tough conversation. I’ve had it more than a few times…

(josh abraham) #40

What I chiefly learned is that Presbyterians from Machen to Schaeffer were like Baptists in one regard when one reaches the 1970s—they abhorred the expansion of the federal government, which in the 1960s promoted two things white evangelicals of the South fought. Desegregation and the re-introduction of evolution into science textbooks post-Sputnik. Civil rights eventually Falwell addressed with apology. But fundamentalists of the South have never backed down on human evolution to this day.

(josh abraham) #41

Here is the access to the “Change in the Concept of Law” lecture




(Roger A. Sawtelle) #42

They are married to the idea that God dictated to Moses the book of Genesis and therefore it has to be the Absolute Truth or God’s Word.
As a result they see reality and Truth as simplistic and one dimensional.