Honest Answers to Honest Questions

by Francis Schaeffer

This is the second of four posts in a series titled Two Contents, Two Realities.  These posts are slightly edited excerpts of a paper delivered by Dr. Francis Schaeffer  as part of the 1974 International Congress on World Evangelization in Lausanne, Switzerland.


The second content is that Christianity is truth, and we must give honest answers to honest questions. Christianity is truth, truth that God has told us; and if it is truth, it can answer questions.

There is no dichotomy in the Bible between the intellectual and cultural on the one hand and the spiritual on the other. But often there has been a strong Platonic emphasis in evangelicalism, a strong tendency to divide man into two parts -his spiritual nature and everything else. We must take that conception like a piece of baked clay, break it in our hands, and throw it away. We must consciously reject the Platonic element which has been added to Christianity. God made the whole man; the whole man is redeemed in Christ. And after we are Christians, the Lordship of Christ covers the whole man. That includes his so-called spiritual things and his intellectual, creative and cultural things; it includes his law, his sociology, and psychology; it includes every single part and portion of a man and his being.

The Bible does not suggest that there is something distinct in man which is spiritual and that the rest of man is unrelated to the commands and norms of God. There is nothing in the Bible which would say, “Never mind the intellectual, never mind the cultural. We will follow the Bible in the spiritual realm, but we will take the intellectual and the creative and put them aside. They are not important.”

If Christianity is truth as the Bible claims, it must touch every aspect of life. If I draw a pie and that pie comprises the whole of life, Christianity will touch every slice. In every sphere of our lives, Christ will be our Lord and the Bible will be our norm. We will stand under the Scripture. It is not that the “spiritual” is under Scripture while the intellectual and creative are free from it.

Consider the ministry of Paul. Paul went to the Jews, and what happened as he talked to them? They asked Paul questions, and he answered. He went to the non-Jews, the Gentiles, and they asked him questions, and he answered. He went into the marketplace, and there his ministry was a ministry of discussion, of giving honest answers to honest questions. He went to Mars Hill, and he gave honest answers to honest questions. There are three places in the Bible where Paul was speaking to the man without the Bible (that is, to the Gentiles) without the man with the Bible (the Jew) being present. The first was at Lystra, and his discussion there was cut short. Then we find him on Mars Hill where they asked questions, and Paul answered; this too was cut short. But one place, happily, where he was not cut short is in the first two chapters of the book of Romans. And there we find carried out exactly the same kind of “argumentation” that he began at Lystra and on Mars Hill.

Many Christians think that 1 Corinthians speaks against the use of the intellect. But it does not. What 1 Corinthians speaks against is a man’s pretending to be autonomous, drawing from his own wisdom and his own knowledge without recourse to the revelation of the Word of God. It is a humanistic, rationalistic intellectualism–a wisdom that is generated from man himself as opposed to the teaching of the Scripture–that we must stand against with all our hearts. Paul was against the early gnosticism, which said a man could be saved on the basis of such knowledge. Paul did answer questions. He answered questions wherever they arose.

Consider the ministry of our Lord Jesus Himself. What was His ministry like? He was constantly answering questions. Of course they were different kinds of questions from those which arose in the Greek and Roman world, and therefore His discussion was different. But as far as His practice was concerned, He was a man who answered questions, this Jesus Christ, this Son of God, this second person of the Trinity, our Savior and our Lord. But some one will say, “Didn’t He say that to be saved you have to be as a little child?” Of course He did. But did you ever see a little child who didn’t ask questions? People who use this argument must never have listened to a little child or been one! My four children gave me a harder time with their endless flow of questions than university people ever have. Jesus did not mean that coming as a little child simply meant making an upper-story leap. What Jesus was talking about is that the little child, when he has an adequate answer, accepts the answer. He has the simplicity of not having a built-in grid whereby, regardless of the validity of the answer, he rejects it. And that is what rationalistic man, humanistic man, does.

Christianity demands that we have enough compassion to learn the questions of our generation. The trouble with too many of us is that we want to be able to answer these questions instantly, as though we could take a funnel, put it in one ear and pour in the facts, and then go out and regurgitate them and win all the discussions. It cannot be. Answering questions is hard work. Can you answer all the questions? No, but you must try. Begin to listen with compassion. Ask what this man’s questions really are and try to answer. And if you don’t know the answer, try to go someplace or read and study to find the answer.

Not everybody is called to answer the questions of the intellectual, but when you go down to the shipyard worker you have a similar task. My second pastorate was with shipyard workers, and I tell you they have the same questions as the university man. They just do not articulate them the same way.

Answers are not salvation. Salvation is bowing and accepting God as Creator and Christ as Savior. I must bow twice to become a Christian. I must bow and acknowledge that I am not autonomous; I am a creature created by the Creator. And I must bow and acknowledge that I am a guilty sinner who needs the finished work of Christ for my salvation. And there must be the work of the Holy Spirit.

Nonetheless, what I am talking about is our responsibility to have enough compassion to pray and do the hard work which is necessary to answer the honest questions. Of course, we are not to study only cultural and intellectual issues. We ought to study them and the Bible and in both ask for the help of the Holy Spirit.

It is not true that every intellectual question is a moral dodge. There are honest intellectual questions, and somebody must be able to answer them. Maybe not everybody in your church or your young people’s society can answer them, but the church should be training men and women who can. Our theological seminaries should be committed to this too. It is part of what Christian education ought to be all about.

The Bible puts a tremendous emphasis on content with which the mind can deal. In 1 John we are told what we should do if a spirit or a prophet knocks on our door tonight. If a prophet or spirit knocks on your door, how do you know whether or not he is from God? I have a great respect for the occult, especially after the things we have seen and fought and wrestled against in L’Abri. If a spirit comes, how do you judge him? Or if a prophet comes, how do you judge him? John says, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but test the spirits whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world. By this know ye the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God” (1 John 4:1-2).

Now that is a very profound answer; it has two halves. First, it means Jesus had an eternal preexistence as the second person of the Trinity, and then it means He came in the flesh. When a prophet or a spirit comes to you, the test of whether he should be accepted or rejected is not the experience that the spirit or prophet gives you. Nor is it the strength of the emotion which the spirit or the prophet gives you. Nor is it any special outward manifestations that the spirit or the prophet may give you. The basis of accepting the spirit or prophet – and the basis of Christian fellowship – is Christian doctrine. There is  no other final test. Satan can counterfeit and he will.

I am not speaking against emotion in itself. Of course there should be emotion. I am saying that you cannot trust your emotions or the strength of your emotions or the boost your emotions give you when you stand in the presence of the spirit or the prophet. This does not prove for one moment whether he is from God or the Devil, or whether your emotions are simply from within yourself. And the same is true with Christian fellowship. These are to be tested, says the Word of God, at the point at which the mind can work, and that is on the basis of Christian doctrine.

So there are two contents, the content of a clear doctrinal position and the content of honest answers to honest questions. Next I want to talk about two realities.

One thought on “Honest Answers to Honest Questions

  1. Thanks for this series. Good stuff. Is there a place online to read the whole address?

    I was wondering what you thought were the questions our generation is asking. By that I mean beyond the questions every generation asks about eternity, salvation and the nature of God & man. What questions should we be learning that are unique to our generation?

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