One of the most influential Christian thinkers of the latter 20th century is Francis Schaeffer. His works I’ve found to be thought provoking, uncomfortably challenging, and deeply personal. The wisdom with which he writes on ultimate issues and cultural contexts is refreshing.
So for the next few months I’ll be posting summaries of his writings that I trust will strengthen, challenge and transform the way you think and live.
In his first book The God Who is There, Schaeffer starts with the issue of absolute truth. He argues that absolute truth is grounded in the “God Who is There.” Thus to deny His existence has resulted in a despair that has decimated the West for the last 120 years or so. This despair is visible in the areas of philosophy, art, music, general culture, and even in theology.
Shaeffer says that this line of despair arises when absolute truth is jettisoned. According to him, this truth is grounded in God, and when he is denied, there’s an “upper and lower story” that unfolds. First, there’s the Upper Story or Above the Line where faith that is not open to verification resides and this “faith” gives meaning to ones life. Second, there’s the Lower Story or Below the Line where rationality resides. Here the world of facts exists where reason and knowledge are attained through science by man’s ability to reason. Thus, man as the measure of all things, is reduced to being a chance machine without purpose or meaning in life. This view of knowledge and human nature results in despair.
Shaeffer notes that the Christian Worldview radically differs from the mechanistic worldview that brings despair. For it answers man’s deepest longings and needs consistently with how his “mannishness” expresses itself. This is not a world of wishful thinking, but one of reality for God exists! This means that mankind is not here by chance, but by design for they bear the image of God.
Shaeffer goes on to explain, that because of man’s alienation from God, self, others, and nature, humanity has true guilt. God’s solution to man’s plight is Christ Jesus who rescues from God’s wrath. This work of Christ purchased our redemption in real space, time history and is not a a myth, but a reality. Depending on man’s response to Christ Jesus, either joy or despair is increasingly deepened in the human experience.
Therefore, the Christian’s approach in life when relating to others must be one of understanding the human plight and compassionately championing absolute truth which is grounded in God. There must be the awareness that to “take the roof off” or demonstrate the irrationality and contradictions lived by a modern person is very painful. And yet, the believer is to compassionately allow the existential impossibility of living out the modern person’s worldview be felt.
Shaeffer moreover holds that true biblical Evangelism must start in Genesis 1-3 which is the basis for understanding the Gospel of Christ. For it is here that the Bible says, “In the beginning God…”. That is, we must start with God to understand all of reality for He, not humanity, is the measure of all things. From here, the believer must then be prepared to clarify what true-truth is; what real guilt is; that Christ must be truly treasured and that disciples must be truly made.
Shaeffer, thus encourages believers to be in word and prayer, to be in community with outsiders and insiders—God’s people. And to remember the indispensability of being in a community where the Bible is being faithfully taught as objective truth rather than some twisted theology foreign to the text of scripture.