Francis-Schaeffer

In part three of The God Who is There, Schaeffer addresses how historic Christianity differs from the new theology. Here, Schaeffer discusses three basic differences: the personality of man, the communication of God to man and the dilemma that man finds himself in is moral failure. Below I will simply provide some quotes from Schaeffer on these issues.

The Personality of Man:

“The biblical Christian answer takes us back to the very beginning of everything and states that personality is intrinsic in what is; not in the pantheistic sense of the universe being the extension of God (or what is), but that a God who is personal on the high order of Trinity created all else.” (p. 93)

In response to the position of Sir Julian Huxley that God is dead but live as if He were alive because it is better for mankind, Schaeffer states: “These thinkers are saying in effect that man can only function as man for an extended period of time if he acts on the assumption that a lie (that the personal God of Christianity is there) is true. You cannot find any deeper despair than this for a sensitive person. this is not an optimistic, happy, reasonable or brilliant answer. It is darkness and death.” (p. 95)

On the centrality of personality to the Christian worldview: We tend to give the impression that we will hold on to the outward forms whatever happens, even if God is really not there. But the opposite ought to be true of us, so that people can see that we demand truth of what is there and that we are not dealing merely with platitudes. In other words, it should be understood that we take this question of truth and personality so seriously that if God were not there, we would be among the first to have the courage to step out of the queue.” (p. 96)

The Communication of God to Man:

” Why should God not communicate propositionally to the man, the verbalizing being, whom He made in such a way that we communicate propositionally to each other? Therefore, in the biblical position there is the possibility of verifiable facts involved: a personal God communicating in verbalized form propositionally to man – not only concerning those things man would call in our generation :religious truths,” but also down into the areas of history and science.” (p. 99-100)

“It is plain, therefore, that from the viewpoint of the Scriptures themselves there is a unity over the whole field of knowledge. God has spoken, in a linguistic propositional form, truth concerning Himself and truth concerning man, history and the universe. Here is an adequate basis for the unity of knowledge…..The unity is there because God has spoken truth into all areas of our knowledge….To say that God communicates truly does not mean that God communicates exhaustively……though the infinite God has said true things concerning the whole of what He has made, our knowledge is not thereby meant to be static. Created in His image, we are rational and, as such, we are able to, and intended to, explore and discover further truth concerning creation.” (p. 100)

The Dilemma of Man a Moral Failure:

In answering the new theologies answer to the dilemma of man in the world: “The new theology has no answer to the dilemma either. Its followers are caught equally in Camus’ problem and Baudelaire’s proposition. All that is reasonable in their position, based on observing the world as it is, says God is the devil. Nevertheless, because they do not want to live with this conclusion, by an act of blind faith they say God is good. This, they say, is what the ‘scandal of the cross” is – to believe that God is good against all the evidence open to reason. But this is emphatically not the ‘scandal of the cross.” The true scandal is that however faithfully and clearly one preaches the gospel, at a certain point the world, because of its rebellion, will turn from it. Men turn away in order not to bow before the God who is there. This is the “scandal of the cross.” (p. 111)

“God can know about things that are not actualized. For example, He knew all about Eve, but she was not actualized until He made her. The same thing can be true in the area of morals. When man sins, he brings forth what is contrary to the moral law of the universe and as a result he is morally and legally guilty. Because man is guilty before the Lawgiver of the universe, doing what is contrary to His character, his sin is significant and he is morally significant in a significant history. Man has true moral guilt.” (p. 115)

As we have seen from last week, in The God Who is There, Schaeffer has been discussing the line of despair. This is the point at which man has given up “hope of achieving a rational unified answer to knowledge and life.” (p. 23) This began in philosophy and worked its way through until it finally reached theology. Thus man turned to what is called existentialism in the search for meaning. Modern existentialism began with Kierkegaard but it was Karl Barth who open its door into theology. This new theology, as Schaeffer describes it, ” has given us hope of finding a unified field of knowledge. Hence, in contrast to biblical and Reformation theology, it is antitheology.” (p. 54)

In the second section, The Relationship of the New Theology to the Intellectual Climate, Schaeffer gives two examples of how the line of despair has impacted theology, thus creating the “new theology”. First, in regards to liberal German theology Schaeffer observes:

The old liberal theologians in Germany began by accepting the presuppositions of the uniformity of natural causes as a closed system. Thus they rejected everything miraculous and supernatural, including the supernatural in the life of Jesus Christ. Having done that, they still hoped to find an historical Jesus in a rational, objective, scholarly way by separating the supernatural aspect of Jesus’ life from the “true history.” (p. 52)

Those who have kept up with the historical Jesus Seminar can see where this came from and that it has not changed it its underlying assumptions.

Second, Schaeffer makes a telling observation in how the new theology uses words as they tried to apply the use of symbol from the field of science. Within the scientific field symbol has a well-defined meaning in order to bring further precision to the discussion and ones understanding. Schaeffer notes:

But the new theology uses the concept of symbol in exactly the opposite way. The only thing the theological and scientific uses have in common is the word symbol. To the new theology, the usefulness of a symbol is in direct proportion to its obscurity. There is connotation, as in the word god, but there is no definition. The secret of the strength of neo-orthodoxy is that these religious symbols with a connotation of personality given an illusion of meaning, and as a consequence it appears to be more optimistic than secular existentialism. One could not find a clearer examples of this than Tillich’s phrase “God behind God.”

At first acquaintance this concept gives the feeling of spirituality. “I do not ask for answers, I just believe.” This sounds spiritual, and it deceives many fine people. These are often young men and women who are content only to repeat the phrases of the intellectual or spiritual status quo. They have become rightly dissatisfied with a dull, dusty, introverted orthodoxy given only to pounding out the well-known cliches. The new theology sounds spiritual and vibrant, and they are trapped. But the price they pay for what seems to be spiritual high, for to operate in the upper story using undefined religious terms is to fail to know and function on the level of the whole man. The answer is not to ask these people to return to the poorness of the status quo, but to a living orthodoxy which is concerned with the whole man, including the rational and intellectual, in his relationship to God. (p. 60-61)

I think what Schaeffer has said here still has relevance for today. I am a thirty something and I can attest to the pull there is today towards abandoning historic Christian orthodoxy for avante garde theology. It is new for the sake of being new and not old. There are those within theological academia who are pushing for theological expressions that are edgy. Everyone has to say something new and everyone wants to be the next theological maverick. Orthodoxy has been given a black eye by this kind of theological thinking.

I am reminded of two passages from the New Testament that we would be wise to head:

I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3)

Follow the pattern of sound words that you have heard form me, in faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit that dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. (2 Tim. 1:13-14)

Complete Works of Francis SchaefferI have been wanting to read through The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer, 5 Volumes and I have put it off long enough. As I am doing with my reading through the church fathers, I am going to have a weekly (hopefully) posting titled Saturdays with Schaeffer in which I will either post a long excerpt, several short ones, summarize a point he makes in the weeks reading or even do a book review once I finish one of the books in the volume I am in. I am doing this for two reasons. First, I have been challenged to read the complete works of at least one great Christian author and so I have choose Francis Schaeffer. Second, I chose Schaeffer because I enjoy apologetics and Schaeffer was one of the greatest apologists Christianity has ever produced.

The first volume is titled A Christian Worldview of Philosophy and Culture which contains the following books:

  1. The God Who is There
  2. Escape From Reason
  3. He is There and He is not Silent
  4. Back to Freedom and Dignity

In the first section of The God Who is There Schaeffer discusses what he calls “the line of despair” which is to say people have “given up all hope of achieving a rational unified answer to knowledge and life.” (p. 23) The shift in thinking started in philosophy and eventually reached its way into theology. Before the shift that brought about “the line of despair” man thought rational even though they had no foundation upon which to do so. Schaeffer explans:

Above the line, people were rationalistic optimists. They believed they could begin with themselves a draw a circle which would encompass all thoughts of life, and life itself, without having to depart from the logic of antithesis. They thought that on their own, rationalistically, finite people could find a unity within the total diversity – an adequate explanation for the whole of reality. (p. 10)

At some point in Europe around 1890 and in America around 1935, this all changed within the field of philosophy. Schaeffer explains again:

But at a certain point this attempt to spin out a unified optimistic humanism came to an end. The philosophers came to the conclusion that they were not going to find a unified rationalistic circle that would contain all thought, and in which they could live. It was as though the rationalist suddenly realized that he was trapped in a large room with no doors and no windows, nothing but complete darkness. (p. 10)

Since man could no longer start with oneself to find a unifying answer to all of life they looked without. The “line of despair” marks the point at which man sought an existential experience which seeks for an experience outside of oneself (existential). This experience was incommunicable and yet gives meaning to life. In response to this, Schaeffer shows us how the incarnation of Christ is an answer to those seeking an existential experience to bring meaning to all of life:

“Yes, I have had a final experience, but it can be verbalized, and it is of  a nature than can be rationally discussed.” Then I talk of my personal relationship  with the personal God who is there. I try to make them understand that this relationship is based on God’s written, propositional communication to men, and on the finished work of Jesus Christ in space-time history. They reply that this is impossible, that I am trying to do something that cannot be done. (p. 18)

It is amazing to see that though God has revealed himself to man in the person of Christ, man still rejects Him, instead seeking something else which will only lead him further from God. This reminds me of one of my favorite passages of Scripture, John 1:1-18:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The lightshines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (ESV)