Os Guiness on Schaeffer- 25 Years After

Justin has the interview.

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  1. So what kind of things was Shaeffer wrong about in history, philosophy and anything else that I should look out for if I read his material?

    The whole story of the man and his family seems so tragic.

    • His history of philosophy/theology is not very accurate. There’s a
      great lot in Thomas’ theology with which Protestants should take
      issue, but his account of Aquinas borders on slander. That said, FS did a lot of good. I read a bunch of his stuff in college in c. 80 and it was very helpful.

  2. Dear Mr.Clark

    I read your comment on Schaeffer in regards to “his account of
    Aquinas borders on slander”. Would you be kind to provide the
    book or resource for your comment. Sincerely, Julian.

  3. For what it’s worth, Os Guiness makes it abundantly clear that deep scholarship was not Schaeffer’s forte.

  4. Dear Mr. Clark

    I understood from your website your position as a professional.
    However ,as a dedicated Berean and ex-student of Os Guiness by
    which helped me to set my foundation, you gave me your
    position without answering my question. You know that as a
    scholar, one needs to quote his resources when making a critic
    that has a potential to influence or direct others foundations.
    Indeed it is a serious responsibility and your opinion is valuable.
    However, without quoting the direct source of the author’s
    statement, it becomes just that ‘opinions’. Your judgment as a
    professor needs to be backed up by facts which you failed to
    provide. Would you please reconsider and look through your notes
    on the matter. Looking foward to your response, Julian.

    • Julian,

      I don’t understand your question.

      I’ve read Schaefer and his account of Thomas, which follows Van Til’s — indeed which simply amplifies and simplifies Van Til’s, is appalling. I have the same criticism of CVT. One would never get the impression from CVT that Thomas intended to teach the Christian faith.

      Read any account by Schaefer of the history of philosophy and theology one you will see that Thomas is a villain–indeed, THE villain–of the piece.

      The history of theology and philosophy is much more complicated than Schaefer lets on.

      I don’t mean to suggest, nor have I said, that I don’t appreciate FS and his followers, but FS was a fundamentalist and he never quite shed his fundamentalism, even though he dressed it in funky 19th-century rural Swiss knee-length britches. I read much of Schaefer as a university student (having neither the money nor the courage to go to L’Abri) and found him encouraging during a time that was, in other respects, disheartening to my faith. I’m grateful for that.

    • And Julian–I’m not a historical scholar/teacher, but my impression from Shaeffer and his views of Aquinas (based on readings and tapes Schaeffer did) is the same as Dr. Clark’s; Schaeffer I think was too much of a generalist and wrongfully pilloried Aquinas as ressponsible for the slide into modernism. Dr. Guiness (of whom you say you were a student) would agree with this, I think; Os makes it quite clear in his recent interviews that Schaeffer was not a historical scholar of any sort–and did very little in depth reading of historical or even philosophical works.

  5. Dear Professor Clark

    I understand as a historical informant that you are, and a well
    educated critic and evaluator of Church History and Historical
    Theology at Westminister Seminary, that you are well equipped
    to navigated your expertise. Forgive me if I did not make it clear
    my question. Simply, my inquire was – FS authored many books,
    specifically which one/ones would you recomend for a proper acessment
    by those desiring to came to terms with the issue of his inaccuracy
    or historical insufficiency. As you described, credit is due to the
    merits of Schaeffer’s ‘trail blazing’. However, from Schaeffer himself,
    one might be obliged to discern accuracy from relentness in the
    pursuit of truth. Hoping that, this makes my request a bit more insightful
    as well as informative. Sincerely, Julian

  6. Julian,

    It’s been a long time since I read Schaefer. You might look at one of his later works, e.g. How Should We Then Live , pp.48-56. That treatment is is little more nuanced than some of his earlier accounts of Thomas. The basic outlines of the story are present in his older works too. I don’t think one has to look too hard in Schaefer to find it. On p. 55 Schaefer alleges that Thomas paved the way for “humanism,” by which he didn’t mean what scholars of the Renaissance meant, but rather he seemed to mean “proto-Enlightenment.” Now, there’s truth there. Aspects of Renaissance thought anticipated the Enlightenment, but those voices were probably not the dominant voices on the Renaissance. To draw a straight line from Thomas to the Enlightenment, via Aristotle, is just far too simplistic. Thomas did downplay the noetic (intellectual) effects of the fall. By Protestant lights, he (and most other medieval theologians) were wrong about nature and grace. Schaefer is basically correct there but Thomas also regarded the Bible as the inspired, infallible Word of God. He also believed in depravity and in grace and even in double predestination! One would never get that from Schafer’s account. Further, the Protestant theologians themselves, even Calvin, frequently made use of Aristotle in a way that I guess Schaefer would not approve.

    I don’t mean to give the impression that I have great sympathy for Thomas, but I do think we have to recognize that Thomas was doing Christian theology. He made mistakes, some of them quite serious, but he was not the sort of rationalist that CVT and Schaefer would have us think.

    It’s very important to distinguish, as neither Schaefer nor CVT did clearly enough, between pre-modern and modern theologians. Thomas was not a modern man. He didn’t begin with human autonomy. Indeed, he was an opponent of it. Some of his 14th century critics were the sort of Pelagianizing writers that Schaefer could perhaps have used as foils more accurately than Thomas himself.

    Here’s chart I use (cribbed from Tom Oden) and that I explain in the book Recovering the Reformed Confession (link above and to the left):


  7. Professor Clark

    Much appreciation is given to your reply. Recently I have been made aware
    of Frank’s remarks of the Schaeffers positions. Since FS is no longer with us,
    he cannot refute his prodigal son’s remarks. As Edith wisely commented, “it
    would only hurt”.
    My perspective differs, by the fact that I’m a researcher by trade and an apologist
    by heart only. Udo, Debbie, Susan, Ranald and Presca (which I did not meet),
    would be better suited to rebutle Frank’s comments. Perhaps Schaeffer’s daughters
    have and I’m not aware of it. And to add, at the very early 70’s, many pastors,
    missionaries and Yale and Harvard students, were privy to Schaeffers admonitions.
    Some of Schaeffers position has to do with his inability to accept the”mystical
    [esoterical] side of ‘christianity’ that interlaced Aquinas and others. Perhaps schism
    was over the christians who used and still do, metaphorical approach to biblical
    exagesis which was in many ways abhorrent to him.
    You have done your home-work and I’ll do mine to verify Schaeffers context
    in which those remarks were made. However I do believe that unlike Franky’s
    thoughts, someday he will come around (in his own style) to fully grasp his
    fahter’s teachings without tagging the price that most kids do when they have
    to live in the shadow of a welknown parental figure.
    Frank will find out that most truly humanistic scholars are unforgiving in their
    bent, and once they are done using Frank for a prop, they will chew him and spit
    him out. I hope I will yet be able to see the spark that once enhanced his countenance
    and enthusiasm. Sincerly, Julian

    • Just to be clear, my criticisms have little to do with Frank Schaefer’s struggles with his parents and his fundamentalist upbringing. I’ve not read his two biographical books. The reviews I’ve seen of his most recent bio suggest, however, that it’s useful for understanding the nature of contemporary evangelicalism.

      Second, we should distinguish clearly between Renaissance humanism and “secular humanism” (and unhappy term since the adjective “secular” shouldn’t be used as a pejorative) as it’s come to be known in recent years. The difference is the assertion of autonomy. Humanism, like other intellectual movements, was corrupted by the Enlightenment. Most of the great Renaissance scholars (e.g. Erasmus) were devout Christians. It’s true that not all of them were, but many of them were and many of the leading theologians of the Reformation, including Calvin, Melanchthon, Bucer, and Oecolampadius just to name a few, were Renaissance figures.

      I discuss the Reformation relations to the Renaissance in my book on Caspar Olevianus (there’s a link above and to the left). There’s a great lot of very good contemporary scholarship on the Renaissance.

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