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ISBN/ASIN : 0830819479
Manufacturer : InterVarsity Press|
Release data : September, 1998
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A defense of historic Christianity from a philosophical perspective
This is an outstanding presentation of a philosophical defense of historic, orthodox Christianity. Dr. Schaeffer makes his points concisely and plainly in only 176 pages for what is not an easy topic to approach. This will be a book I intend to read again and again. Although this was written in 1968, it has important relevance today. The main point of the book is that Western philosophy has drifted away from logic and reason and brought along with it art, music, and even theology. Schaeffer does a good job of showing that this drift has eroded our understanding of a real and personal God that exists. Highly recommended!
Sweeping the Dust
Written to assert the absolute truth of biblical Christianity over and against modern philosophies, The God Who is There purports a Scriptural approach to confronting a pervading lack of certainties in society. In this book, Francis Schaeffer attempts to exalt the gospel as the only means by which men may be delivered from the futility of relativity. He goes on to detail the route taken by critical thought throughout the past approximately 150 years and shows the move from base Christians presuppositions to a man-centered philosophy devoid of objective truth.
Schaeffer opens by identifying the present chasm that exists between generations. This chasm stems from the way men and women view the concept of truth and it has a fundamental on their lives. He separates philosophical history into roughly two time periods divided by what he calls the "line of despair." This line he dates arbitrarily to around the year 1890 in Europe, and 1935 in America. The line of despair is a visual picture of the point in time when base Christian presuppositions were replaced by a general lack of absolutes. The loss of absolutes necessarily leads to the loss of antithesis, which is the concept that if one thing is true it's opposite is by logical necessity false. With the loss of antithesis we lose objective morality, and there are no clear lines to distinguish right from wrong. This shift in the concept of truth was not an immediate event; on the contrary it was a gradual slide that made its way through the various disciplines until finally reaching the church.
The movement towards the line of despair began with philosophy, specifically men like the German philosopher Hegel and the Dane, Kierkegaard. Hegel proposed a synthesis method of truth in contrast to cause and effect. This proposal effectually "removed the straight line of previous thought, and in its place he has substituted a triangle" (34). Kierkegaard was the father of modern existentialist thinking who concluded that reason alone is not sufficient for arriving at synthesis. Instead he purported that you achieve everything of real importance by a "leap of faith." This leap separated reason and faith and it opened the door for all modern existential thought, both secular and theological. Others soon followed in the floodgates that were first opened by these philosophers, and certainly irreparable damages have been done in their wake.
As Plato declared, the general culture should be lead by the philosophers, and so they were and still are, falling head long into an eternally dangerous thought pattern. Art, music, literature, cinema, sexuality, media, nothing was safe from the downward slope into despair. Schaeffer labors to describe how each discipline falls victim to erroneous relative thinking as the concept of truth is vastly misunderstood.
Schaeffer describes in detail the permeation of relative thought in the modern era under the line of despair in the different disciplines, but he does not hesitate to move quickly into theology where he spends the better part of the book. The "New Theology" as he calls it finds its origins in the same man as secular existentialism, Kierkegaard and his leap of faith (71). The new theology is built around the idea that you cannot and need not find the really real, you must simply accept things on faith. Those in the new theology maintain the divided view of truth enjoyed by the secular philosophers.
Another dilemma one runs into when encountering the new theology is semantic mysticism. With not absolute base from which to define terms or symbols, such as the cross, much of common religious language is left in ambiguity. Schaeffer writes, "To the new theology, the usefulness of a symbol is in direct proportion to its obscurity" (79). The use of these symbols give modern theology the appearance of communication, but indeed there is no transmission of ideas taking place. They may teach, preach, or live in the name of Jesus Christ without submitting to the historical incarnate God of the Bible. On this subject Schaeffer notes, "The phrase Jesus Christ has been separated from history and used as a contentless banner which can be carried in any direction for sociological purposes" (110).
Ultimately Schaeffer concludes that those who pursue this religious and secular existentialism will ultimately fail to live it out. As a worldview it cannot be pursued to its end. The only solution to the problem of new theology, this separation of faith and rationality, would be a move back to the methodology of antithesis (106). This would solve man's dilemma, not on metaphysical grounds, but on the moral plane where the problem truly lies. Man was created with a need for moral absolutes that are based on the character of God. Abandoning this concept the new theology has reduced sin and man to less than the biblical concept (134).
Emphasizing again the need for communication, he stresses communicating the very truth of God's word, the gospel, to those who are caught in the illogical system of relativity. First he prefaces this instruction by qualifying our communication as both personal and loving. Now, taking a man's point of tension in view, Christians must not pull him from it, but instead push his worldview to its logical end in hopes of exposing their minds to the fallacies that lie within.
Finally, Schaeffer looks at the importance of truth and its effects on believer and unbeliever alike. For the believer, knowledge of the truth must be the basis for his faith. There is no "leap of faith" in biblical Christianity. On the other hand, the unbeliever will recognize the truth only so far as believer portrays it in his life. Schaeffer remarks, "The final apologetic, along with the rational, logical defense and presentation, is what the world sees in the individual Christian and in our corporate relationships together" (185). As Christians, our task is "to deal with the dust, but not to burn the house down," and we can only deal with the dust insomuch as we fix our eyes on the Way, the Truth, and the Life (195).
A logical matter one might raise when presented with Schaeffer's claim of a "line of despair" would be to question the universality of the loss of absolutes. Was the shift away from antithetical thought in a national culture immediate or gradual? He identifies the triggers of this movement, beginning first with philosophy. And he also explains his use of approximate dates as arbitrary, but claims them as useful in making his point. His best answer comes at the end of the first chapter. Schaeffer writes, "It would be false to say that there is a totally uniform culture. This is not so. And yet... we find that there tends to be a drift towards a monolithic and uniform whole" (31, 32). He recognizes that such a change is not immediate, nor is it triggered in a nation as a whole. Yet he asserts, "Through a study of archeology it is possible to show how a certain idea developed in one place and then over a period of several hundred years spread over wide areas" (32). Schaeffer rightly claims that technological development has had a tendency to shrink the world in terms of culture, and therefore it is now easier to have a monolithic culture spread rapidly and influence greater sections of the world. Instead of taking several hundred years for a cultural climate to change, even at this books publishing in 1968 people were much more mobile than they had been in the recent past.
On page 110 Schaeffer writes, "people in our culture in general are already in process of being accustomed to accept nondefined, contentless religious words and symbols, without any rational or historical control. Such words and symbols can be filled with the content of the moment." Here he notes semantic mysticism as a contributing factor to the reductionism that has taken place in gospel preaching in the recent past. In a culture such as this, men may present their message using such terms as "the cross" without ever expositing the biblical meaning of the cross, or uncovering the necessity of it. Instead of the message of hope, men may easily use the Scriptures out of context to present their self-help message. Some have even grossly profited by using such contentless terms, making their fortune "according to the will of God" as they appeal for men to fund their personal ministries. Many coarse immoralities can be attributed to a lack of understood content for such weighty words as those which are given by God in Scripture. Only wrath will result from a deficiency in reverence and awe at the holy God and his means of communication.
With logical thought patterns and sound reasoning, Francis Schaeffer succeeds in presenting an encouraging treatise for believers as they face the onslaught of culture. His appeal is rightly doused in love for both God and man, and his gospel is built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ alone. Schaeffer's understanding of biblical Christianity is the only thing that gives sufficiency to his proposal. As the foundation and resting point, Scripture provides him with more than just the power to claim the things that he does, it gives him the very words with which to do so. As he himself claims, if Christianity be true, "I nevertheless must have the courage to speak. If there is a thesis, there is an antithesis" (161).
Must read for evangelicals.
I'd already read How Should We Then Live by Schaeffer when I picked up this book. I'd also read secular critiques on Western Culture such as Ideas Have Consequences by Richard Weaver and I'll Take My Stand byt the agrarian poets. I found this book to delve a little deeper into pure philosophy. I find it amusing that critics of this book dismiss it due to lack of details and intellectual accuracy regarding such figures as Kierkegaard and Hegel. I'm not well versed enough in either of them to claim that Schaeffer has not misrepresented either of them. But what is so laughable is that this is a book of less than 250 pages meant for the average reader. How much can one say about Kierkegaard and Hegel in such a book? Furthermore, the works of these men are often found to be thoroughly inscrutable even by their peers and contemporary scholars who constantly dispute each other's readings. History is rife with philosophers misunderstanding other philosophers (Heideggar claimed to have been misread by Sartre, etc.) In this light I can forgive Schaeffer for what might be a misreprentation of Hegel, but then again, might not have.
Second, for those put off by Schaeffer's solution to the problem, well I think they should respond to Schaeffer's very obvious Socratic request and offer a better one. Schaeffer was clearly prepared for and welcomed that debate. All he requires is the intellectual honesty to arrive at the conclusion represented by the 'line of despair'. This is THE conclusion of modern thought. For those who are firmly atheistic, just get that far and admit that human thought since the time of The Enlightenment has arrived at this unavoidable conclusion. Once there, one must choose his own path. Schaeffer's primary point is that not choosing is not a choice for the intellectually honest. He presents his option, it is up to us to accept or reject it.
And while I disagree with those who don't see this book as presenting a viable choice for young people truly looking for answers, I might agree that that is not where its real strength lies. Its real strength may very well lie in its appeal to evangelicals to think. The evangelical movement in the US has tended to be profoundly anti-intellectual. This is understandable since they feel that Biblical truth has been under constant attack by the University and elite media for years. They responded by cocooning themselves purely in faith, unwittingly embracing Kierkegaard's unrational "leap to faith". This retreat from scholarhsip and intellectualism has left the evangelical movement unsure of its own rational and intellectual basis of belief which they often don't even know exists. Schaeffer shows them that it does exist and is at least as viable as any alternative in secular thought. Faith in evangelical Christianity is indeed foundational but 'sola fide' neither rejects or obviates understanding. The Scriptures encourage and demand teaching and discipleship. Without understanding its rational and intellectual basis the evangelical movement will find itself wayward, incohesive, indefensible and ultimately ineffective in a world that needs its enfluence.
I give this book four stars instead of five because Schaeffer seems to have had a hard time organizing all of this material in a cohesive package. I think everything he intended to convey is there, but it takes about half the book before the structure of it is apparent.