The Watershed of the Evangelical World

Francis A. Schaeffer in 1974 told the International Congress on World Evangelism in Switzerland and in 1976 told a Convention in Washington D.C. that, “Holding to a strong view of Scripture or not holding to it is the watershed of the evangelical world.” He pointed out that the view one holds at this paint determines whether the course he is taking is one of faithfulness to the Lord and His gospel or one of joining the prevailing liberating apostasy from Him. Because the developments in our churches increasingly show that Schaeffer was right in that observation, THE OUTLOOK is reprinting his by now famous “Watershed” speech.

There are two reasons in our day for holding a strong, uncompromising view of Scripture. First, and foremost, this is the only way to be faithful to what the Bible teaches about itself and what Christ teaches about Scripture. This should be reason enough in itself. But today there is a second reason why we should hold a strong uncompromising view of Scripture. There are hard days ahead of us—for ourselves and for our spiritual and our physical children. And without a strong view of Scripture as a foundation, we will not be ready for the hard days to come.

Christianity is no longer providing the consensus for our society. And Christianity is no longer providing the consensus upon which our law is based. We are in a time when humanism is coming to its natural conclusions in morals, in values, and in law. All that society has today are relative values based upon statistical averages.

The Reformation with its emphasis upon the Bible, in all that it teaches, as being the revelation of God, provided a freedom in society and yet a form in society as well. Thus, there were freedoms in the reformation countries (such as the world had never known before) without those freedoms leading to chaos—because both laws and morals had a consensus surrounding them resting upon what the Bible taught. That situation is now finished, and we cannot understand society today for ourselves, our spiritual and physical children, un less we understand in reality what has happened. In retrospect we can see that ever since the late 1930′s in the United States, the Christian consensus has been a minority view and no longer provides a consensus for society in morals or law. We who are Bible-believing Christians no longer represent the status quo of our society.

The primary emphasis of biblical Christianity is the teaching that an individual can come openly to the holy God upon the basis of the finished work of Christ and that alone. Nothing needs to be added to Christ’s finished work and nothing can be added to Christ’s finished work. But at the same time where Christianity provides the consensus, as it did in the reformation countries (and did in the United States up to a relatively few years ago), Christianity also brings with it many secondary blessings. One of these has been titanic freedoms, yet without those freedoms leading to chaos, because the Bible’s absolutes provide a consensus within which freedom can operate. But once the Christian consensus has been removed, as it has been today, then the very freedoms which have come out of the Reformation become a destructive force leading to chaos in society. This is the explanation of the destructive sixties. By the sixties, our society had moved to the conclusion which resulted from giving up the Christian consensus.

In the 1970’s most of the young and the old alike have only two poor values—personal peace and affluence. Personal peace, as I am using it here, is not peace in one’s heart. It is rather to live undisturbed by the troubles of others across the city or across the world. Personal peace is to live my own life form—middle class or hippie it docs not matter—undisturbed, regardless of the cost to my own children and to my own grandchildren. Affluence is an always expanding area of things, things, things, and more things. Success is having always more possessions. And these two poor values now dominate both the young and the old in our culture.

It wasn’t true in the sixties. The youngsters really hoped for something better and they saw clearly that society was held in the grip of personal peace and affluence, but their solutions were wrong. They have now gone in a great circle and have given up hope. They are caught in the grip of apathy. And most of them now also have only the poor values of personal peace and affluence. This is the situation of our society today both at home and abroad. And there are signs that some form of authoritarian elite will fill the void and force on society a form based on arbitrary absolutes. In such a setting, we who are Bible-believing Christians, or our children, faee hard days ahead. Soft days for evangelical Christians are past and only a strong view of Scripture is sufficient to withstand the pressure of an all pervasive culture built upon relativism and relativistic thinking. We must remember that it was a strong view of the absolutes which the infinitepersonal God had given in the Old Testament, the revelation in Christ, and the then growing New Testament, which enabled the early church to withstand the pressure of the Roman Empire.

But evangelicalism today, although growing in numbers as far as the name is concerned, throughout the world and the United States, is not unitedly standing for a strong vicw of Scripture. It is for this reason that I spoke concerning the matter at the International Congress on World Evangelization held in Lausanne, Switzerland in July 1974. Here is a portion of that address:

We must say if evangelicals are to be evangelicals, we must not compromise our view of Scripture. There is no use of evangelicalism seeming to get larger and larger, if at the same time appreciable parts of evangelicalism are getting soft at that which is the central core, namely the Scriptures.

We must say with sadness that in some places, seminaries, institutions and individuals who are known as evangelicals no longer hold to a full view of Scripture. This issue is clear. Is the Bible true truth and infallible wherever it speaks, including where it touches history and the cosmos, or is it only in some sense revelational where it touches religious subjects? That is the issue.

The heart of neoorthodox existential theology is that the Bible gives us a quarry out of which to have religious experience, but that the Bible contains mistakes where it touches that which is verifiable—namely history and science. But un· happily we must say that in some circles this concept now has come into some of that which is called evangelicalism. In short, in these circles, the neo-orthodox existential theology is being taught under the name of evangelicalism.

The issue is whether the Bible gives propositional truth (that is, truth which may be stated in propositions) where it touches history and the cosmos, and this all the way back to pre-Abrahamic history, all the way back to the first eleven chapters of Genesis, or whether instead of that it is only meaningful where it touches that which is considered religious. T. H. Huxley, the biologist, the friend of Darwin, the grandfather of Aldous and Julian Huxley, wrote in 1890 that he visualized the day not far hence in which faith would be separated from all fact, and especially all pre-Abrahamic history, and that faith would then go on triumphant forever. This is an amazing quote for 1890, before the birth of existential philosophy or existential theology. He indeed foresaw something clearly. I am sure that he anu his friends considered this some kind of a joke, because they would have understood well that if faith is separated from fact and specifically preAbrahamic space-time history, it is only another form of what we today call a trip.

But unhappily, it is not only the avowedly neoorthodox existential theologians who now hold that which T. H. Huxley foresaw, but some who call themselves evangelicals as well. This may come from the theological side in saying that not all the Bible is revelational, or it may come from the scientific side in saying that the Dible teaches little or nothing when it speaks of the cosmos.

Martin Luther said: “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at the moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages there the loyalty of the soldier is proved and to be steady on all the battle front besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”

In our day that point is the question of Scripture. Holding to a strong view of Scripture or not holding to it is the watershed of the evangelical world.

The first direction in which we must face is to say most lovingly but clearly: Evangelicalism is not consistently evangelical unless there is a line drawn between those who take a full view of Scripture and those who do not.

The existential methodology has infiltrated that which is called evangelicalism. The existential methodology dominates philosophy, art, music, and general culture such as the novel, poetry and the cinema. It is also the current dominate form of liberal theology. What is this? This position is that in the area of reason, the Bible has many mistakes in it. In the area of history and where the Bible touches the cosmos that is, those places where the Bible touches that which is of interest to science—the Bible has many mistakes. But nevertheless, we can hope for some sort of religious experience in a sort of upper story in spite of the fact that the Bible contains mistakes. That is the present dominant form of liberal theology.

But unhappily this form of theology is now functioning in many places under the name of evangelicalism. It began a few years ago like this in certain evangelical circles: Where the Bible touches history and the cosmos there are mistakes. But, nevertheless, it was stressed, we can still continue to hold on to the meaning system, the value system and the religious things which the Bible teaches. Here are two quotations from men widely separated geographically across the world to show what I mean by the acceptance of the fact that in the area where the reason operates the Bible contains mistakes. These are men in evangelical circles.

But there are some today who regard the Bible’s plenary and verbal inspiration as insuring its inerrancy not only in its declared intention to recount and interpret God‘s mighty redemptive acts, but also in any and in all of its incidental statements or aspects of statements that have to do with such non-revelational matters as geology, meteorology, cosmology, botany, astronomy, geography, etc.

In other words the Bible is divided into halves. To someone like myself this is all very familiar—in the writings of Jean Paul Sartre, of Albert Camus, of Martin Heidegger, of Karl Jaspers and in the case of thousands of modern people who have accepted the existential methodology. This quotation is saying the same thing they would say, but specifically relating this existential methodology to the the Bible.

Another quote. This is a translation from another language and a country far off from the United States.

More problematic in my estimation is the fundamentalist extension of the principle of noncontradictory Scripture to include the historic, geographic, statistical and other biblical statements, which do not touch in every case on the questions of salvation and which belong to the human element of Scripture.

Both of these statements do the same thing. They make a dichotomy. They make a division. They say that there are mistakes in the Bible, but nevertheless we are to keep hold of the religious things. This is the way the existential methodology has come into evangelical circles.

Now look with me at what the Lausanne Covenant says about Scripture.

We affirm the divine inspiration, truthfulness and authority of both Old and New Testament Scriptures in their entirety as the only written Word of God, without error in all that it affirms, and the only infallible rule of faith and practice.

I ought to say that the little phrase “without error in all that it affirms” was not a part of my own contribution to the Lausanne Congress. I didn‘t know that phrase was going to be included in the Covenant until I saw it in its final printed form. But let me speak about why historically it is a proper statement, if the words are dealt with fairly. We are not saying the Bible is without error in the things it does not affirm. And one of the clearest examples, of course, is where the Bible says, “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God.” The Bible does not teach there is no God. The Bible does not affirm that. Furthermore, we are not saying the Bible is without error in all the projections which people bave made on the basis of the Bible. So that statement, as it appeared in the Lausanne Covenant, is a perfectly proper statement in itself. However, as soon as I saw it in its printed form I knew it was going to be abused. In August 1975, Dr. Billy Graham wrote me as follows: “I was thinking of writing a brief booklet on ‘In all that it affirms’ which I took to mean the entire Bible. Unfortunately, this statement is being made a loophole by many.”

Unhappily, this statement, “in all that it affirms,” has indeed been made a loophole by many. How has it been made a loophole? It has been made a loophole through the existential methodology which would say that the Bible affirms the value system and certain religious things set forth in the Bible. But on the basis of the existential methodology these men say in the back of their minds, even as they sign the Covenant: “But the Bible does not affirm without error that which it teaches in the area of history and the cosmos.”

Because of the widely accepted existential methodology in certain parts of the evangelical community the old words infallibility, inerrancy and without error are meaningless today unless some phrase is added such as: the Bible is without error not only when it speaks of values, the meaning system and religious things, but it is also without error wen it speaks of history and the cosmos. If some such phrase is not added, these words today are meaningless. “Infallibility” is used today by men who do not apply it to the whole of Scripture, but only to the meaning system, to the value system and certain religious things, leaving out any place where the Bible speaks of history and the things which would interest science.

Those weakening the Bible in the area of history and where it touches the cosmos do so by saying these things in the Bible are culturally oriented. That is, in places where the Bible speaks of history and the cosmos it only shows forth views held by the culture in the day in which that portion of the Bible was written. For example, when Genesis and Paul affirm, as they clearly do, that Eve came from Adam, this is said to be only borrowed from the general cultural views of the day in which these books were written. Thus not just the first eleven chapters of Genesis, but the New Testament is seen to be relative instead of absolute.

But let us realize that one cannot begin such a process without going still further. These things have gone further among some who still call themselves evangelicals. They have been still trying to hold on to the value system, the meaning system and the religious things given in the Bible, but for them the Bible is only culturally oriented where it speaks of history and the cosmos. Now in the last couple of years an extension has come to this. Now, certain moral absolutes in the area of personal relationships given in the Bible are also said to be culturally oriented. I will give you two examples. There could be others.

First, easy divorce and remarriage. What the Bible clearly teaches about the limitations placed upon divorce and remarriage is now put by some evangelicals in the area of cultural orientation. They say these were just the ideas of that moment when the New Testament was written. What the Bible teaches on these matters is to them only one more culturally oriented thing and that is all. There are members, elders and ministers in churches known as evangelical who no longer feel bound by what the Scripture affirms concerning this matter. They say that what the Bible teaches in this area is culturally oriented and is not to be taken as an absolute.

The same is true in the area of the clear biblical teaching regarding order in the home and the church. The moral commands in regard to this order are now also considered culturally oriented by some speakers and writers under the name of evangelical.

In other words, in the last five or six years the situation has moved from hanging on to the value system, the meaning system and the religious things while saying that what the Bible affinns in regard to history and the cosmos is culturally oriented to the further step of still trying to hold on to the value system, the meaning system and religious things, but now lumping these moral commands along with the things of history and the cosmos as culturally oriented. There is no end to this. The Bible is made to say only that which echos the surrounding culture at our moment of history. The Bible is bent to the culture instead of the Bible judging our society and culture.

Once men and women begin to go down the path of the existential methodology under the name of evangelicalism, the Bible is no longer the Word of God without error -each part may be eaten away step by step. When men and women come to this place, what then has the Bible become? It has become what the Liberal Theologians said it was back in the days of the twenties and the thirties. Do you remember Howard and Trumbull of the old Sunday School Times? They were men of God weeping their hearts out in issue after issue of the Sunday School Times, pointing out that the Bible was constantly being devalued. We are back in the days of Howard and Trumbell, as well as scholars like J. Gresham Machen who pointed out that the foundation upon which Christianity rests was being destroyed. What is that foundation? It is that the infinite-personal God who exists has not been silent, but has spoken propositional truth in all that the Bible teaches—including what it teaches concerning history, concerning the cosmos and in moral absolutes as well as what it teaches concerning religious subjects.

What is the use of evangelicalism seeming to get larger and larger if significant numbers of those under the name of evangelical no longer hold to that which makes evangelicalism evangelical? If this continues, we are not faithful to what the Bible claims for itself and we are not faithful to what Jesus Christ claims for the Scriptures. But also—let us never forget if this continues we and our children will not be ready for the difficult days ahead.

Furthermore, if we acquiesce we will no longer be the redeeming salt for our culture—a culture which is committed to the concept that both morals and laws are only a matter of cultural orientation, of statistical averages. That is the hallmark—the mark of our age. And if we are marked with the same mark, how can we be the redeeming salt to this broken, fragmented generation in which we live?

I would like to state again the last line which dealt with the Scripture in my Lausanne speech: “The first direction in which we must face is to say most lovingly but clearly: Evangelicalism is not consistently evangelical unless there is a line drawn between those who take a full view of Scripture and those who do not.” A line must be drawn if evangelicals in this country and other countries throughout the world are to be ready for the strenuous days ahead. Those, who under God’s hand have the leadership of evangelicalism, must have the courage to draw a line, and do it publicly between those who take a full view of Scripture and those who have accepted the existential methodology. If we dont, we have cut the ground from under the feet of our children and we have destroyed any hope of being redeemed salt to the surrounding relativistic culture.

You cannot wait for others to draw the line. You must draw the line. Will it be with tears? I hope it will be with tenrs. I remember as a young man in the 1930’s when harshness and unlove reigned, but harshness and unlove do not need to reign when the line is drawn. It can be with tears and it call be with love. But unless those who have the responsibility of leadership are willing to draw the line, they cut the ground from under the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We who bear the name evangelical need to be unitedly those who have the same view of Scripture as William Cowper had when he wrote the hymn, The Spirit Breathes Upon the Word. In contrast to any concept of the Bible being borrowed through cultural orientation, the 2nd verse of that hymn reads:

A glory gilds the sacred page, Majestic, like the sun: It gives a light to every age; It gives, but borrows none.