Summary of “Escape From Reason” FRANCIS SCHAEFFER

IMG_20170722_102913Escape from Reason  is the second book of the first volume “A Christian View of Philosophy and Culture,” by Francis Schaeffer.  In this volume, Schaeffer goes into more detail in how man, by denying Absolute Truth, and becoming the measure of all things, has been swallowed up into the “river of despair” seen in its philosophy, music, art, general culture and the new theology.

Schaeffer argues that the Christian view of man not only gives man meaning, but it also has a rational justification which is grounded in being created in the image of God.

Hence, the need remains for believers to diligently understand the present “Thought-forms” in order to preach Christ effectively.  For, to “Escape from Reason” is the most tragic madness—for it (in many ways) keeps us on the road that leads to destruction.

Summary of “The God Who is There” FRANCIS SCHAEFFER

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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.     

Summary of CHAPTER 2: FROM TOOLS TO TECHNOCRACY (Pgs.21-39) 

 

Before we proceed in this chapter summary, defining three terms will aid our understanding of this book’s subject.  First, there’s Technology which has to do with knowledge that is practically applied through scientific and mathematical principles.  It is a means of accomplishing a task using technical methods, or knowledge.[1]  Second, there’s Technocracy which concerns individuals who through their knowledge and power manage a society—sometimes coercing it with its wishes.[2]  Lastly, there’s Technopoly which according to Neal Postman is a state of culture and mind where technology is deified; the culture finds its satisfaction in technology and takes its orders from it.[3]

In this chapter Postman begins by pointing out how throughout time scholars have tended to encapsulate eras by taxonomies (I.e., categories, nomenclatures, etc.), such as the Stone Age, the Iron Age, and the Steel Age, or the Industrial Revolution or Post-industrial Revolution.  Again, some have written of Oral Cultures, Typographic Cultures, and Electronic Cultures.  In the 1960’s one wrote of the Age of Gutenberg compared to the Age of Electronic Communication.  These categories are coined in order to capture the character of an age or a culture.

As a means to clarify where we’ve been and where we’re at, Postman classifies cultures into three types: tool-using cultures, technocracies, and technopolies.  Each type of culture can be found somewhere on the planet.  He notes that until the 17th century all cultures were tool-making cultures.

These tools were created to first solve problems of the physical life (e.g., the use of water power, windmills, etc.) and second to serve the symbolic world of (e.g., art, politics, religion, etc.).  These were created and governed by beliefs that gave said tools the boundaries for their use.  For example, in military technology the use of the Samurai sword and the crossbow were controlled by spiritual views and social customs (Pg.23-24).  Depending on the situation, the samurai warrior was to either use his katana (long sword) or his wakizashi (short sword) and the knight was prohibited or allowed to use the crossbow.

Postman continues explaining that not only do worldviews govern the use of tool making cultures, but also how new tools forever irreversibly change cultures.  Among the examples used, three I note are: the rifle which replaced the bow and practically eradicated a culture; the mechanical clock which changed our view of time and thus how industry is conducted; and the telescope which changed our view of the heavens and put Christian theology into question (Pgs.26-34).

Postman further notes that Francis Bacon understood how the printing press changed literature, how gun powder changed warfare, and how the magnet changed navigating the seas (Pgs.36-37).  At the end of the day, for Bacon there was a direct link between: invention and progress.  This is noteworthy because that same sentiment rules 21st century Western civilization.  Sometimes it’s a friend, and sometimes it’s a foe.  Consumer beware.  

[1] Langenscheidt’s Pocket Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, © 1997 Merriam-Webster, Incorporated

[2] Ibid.

[3] Neil Postman, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, Pg. 71, © 1992 by Neil Postman, a Borzoi Book, Published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.  

Reflections From ECCLESIASTES 11-12: A WORD TO THE YOUNG AND OLD ALIKE

 

“Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things.” (11:5)

The context of this passage is somewhat unclear to me.  The Preacher begins with the command to “cast your bread upon the water…” (v.1) and “sow seed” (v.6) as perhaps an allusion to the cycle of sowing and reaping which is realized ultimately through God’s activity as the sovereign over all creation.  This is the wonder of life which is designed not accidental, it’s purposeful not meaningless because God is there.  This activity is as much marvelous as it is mysterious, like the formation of a child in the womb or the course of the wind.

It seems that somehow the Preacher commands us to walk in wisdom by trusting in God’s power to multiply our efforts even if we don’t understand all the details.  He continues:

Rejoice, young man, during your childhood, and let your heart be pleasant during the days of young manhood. And follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes. Yet know that God will bring you to judgment for all these things. 10 So, remove grief and anger from your heart and put away pain from your body, because childhood and the prime of life are fleeting.

 In America, there seems to be little rejoicing in today’s youth.  Instead there’s much anger, confusion and despair in a culture given over to self-indulgence, leisure and entertainment.  A life lived for others is increasingly not the norm, the pied pipers of sex, drugs and rock n roll have not helped but rather aided this cauldron of foolishness and we are not the better for it.  Included here are professing followers of Jesus who neither know his book nor his pleasure.

The point the preacher is making is that your Creator is going to personally judge your fleeting life so what are you living for?  The same applies to adults and the old who often refuse to think again in light of eternity.  Throughout this book the Preacher has emphasized the futility of life…if God does not exist.  He concludes chapter 12 of Ecclesiastes with sobering words:

In addition to being a wise man, the Preacher also taught the people knowledge; and he pondered, searched out and arranged many proverbs. 10 The Preacher sought to find delightful words and to write words of truth correctly.  11 The words of wise men are like goads, and masters of these collections are like well-driven nails; they are given by one Shepherd. 12 But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body.  13 The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. 14 For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.

In the midst of his nihilism, the Preacher comes to the conclusion that God really does exist, therefore the way we live really matters for every act whether hidden or not will be judged by Him.

The way we live does truly matter, the motives of our hearts are actually laid bare before the Creator and all is therefore not vain for God as the author of all life and existence gives these meaning.

The words of this book come from Solomon, noted for being the wisest man to have lived apart from Jesus of Nazareth.  Life without God is meaningless, but because God is there, it is absolutely meaningful even though we don’t understand many things in it.

For the believer in Christ Jesus, this is a wake-up call to follow the Master even when life becomes difficult and pain starts drowning out the truth of God’s revelation in scripture.

For the nonbeliever, this too is an alarm to bend the knee to Christ who will judge the living and the dead.  Understand that the love, comfort, justice and peace you deeply long for can only be found in the Righteous One who perfectly executes justice and mercy and that…righteously!

So LORD, help your people live in light of your existence.  Tenderize our hearts to your promptings, open our minds to your thoughts, empower our lives with your strength, so that we may live this short life apportioned to us with passion, ardor and increasing resolve for the kingdom of God and your righteousness, so that it may truly be said of us when our time is done here on earth that we were people who loved God and neighbor.

(SDG)

Reflections From ECCLESIASTES 10: A WORD TO NOT BACK DOWN

A wise man’s heart directs him toward the right, but the foolish man’s heart directs him toward the left.Even when the fool walks along the road, his sense is lacking and he demonstrates to everyone that he is a fool. If the ruler’s temper rises against you, do not abandon your position, because composure allays great offenses.”  (Vv.2-4)

 To be a fool is not difficult, but to be wise that is another reality altogether.  When I considered verse 4 at first glance immediately I thought of the subject’s intellectual view which the ruler at first impulse vehemently rejects.  Here, the Preacher encourages the subject to stay his ground, to not back down from his ideational position.

Here, the characteristic of courage before a sovereign (these are King Solomon’s words) can affect the outcome of a subjects request in his favor.  Perhaps that is an aspect of what this text is teaching.  Again, another angle here may be the battle field for to panic in the midst of lethal peril assures defeat, but where cooler heads prevail (generally) victory is within grasp.  Assuredly many other angles can be applied here that I have missed perhaps even misinterpreted the text.

Nevertheless, as a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, I note the following: First, for the Christian who loves Jesus, the Truth must be prized above the approval of men even a raging king.  Here, courage is necessary for the power a ruler has to wield us harm is real, not an illusion for you might meet your death.

Second, courage under fire is not easy, but is nevertheless the high road to victory under opposition from powerful people, not the converse.  Third, whether an actual battlefield or a metaphorical one of ideas is raging, don’t back down even though you be outnumbered.  Fourth, persuasion does not come from a slothful soul but from the diligent who is trained in righteousness for the watching world to consider and does affect both enemies and allies.

LORD, give us courage under fire when it comes to living out the truth of what it means to be in this world but not of it as your ambassadors.  Whether we be outnumbered and are dwarfed by our enemies resources, grant us boldness before those who mock, blaspheme and hate your name.

(SDG)

Summary of CHAPTER 1: THE JUDGEMENT OF THAMUS (Pgs.3-20)     

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In this chapter of Technopoly, Postman hitchhikes on Plato’s Phaedrus a story about king Thamus of Upper Egypt who before the god Theuth, the inventor of many good things (e.g., number, calculation, geometry, astronomy, and writing), beseeches the king to make these inventions available to Egyptians.  One such invention was writing.  Theuth understands this as a great tool to improve the memory and to acquire wisdom.   Thamus’ response is insightful:

“…the discoverer of an art is not the best judge of the good or harm which will accrue to those who practice it…you who are the father of writing, have out of fondness  for your offspring attributed to it the opposite of its real function.  Those who acquire it will cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful; they will rely on writing to bring things to their remembrance by external signs instead of by their internal resources.  What you have discovered is a receipt for recollection, not for memory.  And as for wisdom, your pupils will have the reputation for it without the reality: they will receive a quantity of information without proper instruction, and in consequence be thought knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.  And because they are filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom they will be a burden to society.” (Pgs.3-4)

Postman hits on a vein of profound truth we in our age are confronted with.  It’s the view that information equals knowledge and that knowledge equals wisdom (which is the proper application of knowledge).

While Thamus understands the deficiencies to memory writing would and have proven to bring, he makes two mistakes.  First, he mistakenly thinks that writing would only be a burden to society.  Second, he fails to see the many benefits writing provides.  His failure is one of depth perception for every technology is both a burden and a blessing to society.

From this Postman argues that technologies have both strengths and weaknesses, that new technologies provide one thing and undo another (e.g., the horse and buggy vs. the automobile), that every culture is confronted with new technologies and need to wisely consider their pros and cons.  Moreover, he affirms that when a new technology comes out it will play out the purpose for which it was created and our task is to understand its design, as we embrace it with eyes wide open.  Among the many technologies Postman considers, three of interest are: the computer, the printing press, and the television.

Our computers have brought about great benefits in our abilities to communicate, educate, and conduct commerce.  They have increased the power of large scale organizations to conduct its purposes such as the military, the banks, the airlines, and also the IRS.  A massive negative, in my view, that the computer has brought to the masses is the proliferation of greater institutional control.   For example, our spending habits are digitized through the swipe of our credit cards, through this action companies are empowered to solicit their unwanted product through marketing agencies via junk mail.  As our privacy increasingly vanishes we are reduced to a mere number.

The printing press was created by a devout German Catholic, Johannes Gutenberg, and through it spawned a revolution in the production of books which fostered the rapid development in the sciences, arts and religion through the transmission of texts.  This technology was also instrumental to subvert Roman Catholicism by the Protestant Reformers such as Martin Luther.  I don’t suspect Gutenberg was for the Reformers agenda.

The television which has brought about a wonderful way to divert ourselves from the grind of daily life through movies, documentaries and sporting events, has also had a subversive effect on the printed page.  The printed page emphasizes logic (proper thought), sequence, discipline and more, but the television nonsense, passivity, slothfulness, and more.  Postman’s key thought for this chapter I quote:

“New technologies alter the structure of our interests: the things we think about.  They alter the character of our symbols: the things we think with. And they alter the nature of community: the arena in which thoughts develop…something has happened in America that is strange and dangerous, and there is only a dull and stupid awareness of what it is—in part because it has no name.  I call it Technopoly.”

Reflections From ECCLESIASTES 9: THE PREACHERS DOWNWARD MUSINGS AGAIN

 

 

“For I have taken all this to my heart and explain it that righteous men, wise men, and their deeds are in the hand of God. Man does not know whether it will be love or hatred; anything awaits him.  It is the same for all. There is one fate for the righteous and for the wicked; for the good, for the clean and for the unclean; for the man who offers a sacrifice and for the one who does not sacrifice. As the good man is, so is the sinner; as the swearer is, so is the one who is afraid to swear. This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that there is one fate for all men. Furthermore, the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives. Afterwards they go to the dead.  (vv1-3)

The depths of despair and meaninglessness of life is once again emphasized by the preacher’s view that all human beings die.  It seems that in his view thus far, he doesn’t think there’s an afterlife but extinction.  Whether one is a blasphemer or a bastion of righteousness death equalizes them both and its certainty makes our deeds worthless, insignificant, useless and futile.    

Whether one is devoted to God or to self in the end it doesn’t matter.  This view is dark and utterly horrific to my soul, for it leaves me only to meander pitifully in this existence until I finally am no more.  What despair! what hopelessness, what a tragedy if in fact the preacher is correct.  Now if God does not exist then he is “dead on!”  There is no ultimate meaning in life.

LORD, help me live today as if it were my last one.  Make me a vessel of honor, season my lips with salt and keep my eyes fixed on you LORD so that I may boldly and graciously capitalize on given opportunities.

(SDG)

Reflections From ECCLESIASTES 8: WISDOM LIGHTS THE FACE 

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“Who is like the wise man and who knows the interpretation of a matter? A man’s wisdom illumines him and causes his stern face to beam.” (v.1)

The wise man is not a common sight these days.  I can attest to my utter shame that I tend to lack much wisdom and it sickens me.  As a result my countenance isn’t radiant, but rather gloomy.  This text supports the notion that happiness is a direct result of wisdom (i.e., the proper application of knowledge to a given situation that is aligned with the design and purpose of God).

Our culture sadly prizes glamour, fame, and stuff not wisdom.  It’s too bad since all of us are daily faced with pressing decisions that often are not easy to unravel.  Paul in his 2nd letter to Timothy reminds the young pastor that the Scriptures (graphe=the inscripturated word of God) “makes one wise unto salvation”.  Note this comes from Scripture, the Word, who according to John 1:1 is the incarnate Son, the 2nd person of the triune God.

The Psalmist somewhere declares that, “In your (God’s) light we see light”.  This I take to infer that the “obvious” is hidden from us when we walk in darkness.  Sin, according to Scripture, has a blinding and darkening effect on our soul’s ability to reason and apprehend the true, beautiful and good.  Could it be that this wisdom which illumines the heart is reflected in the face of one who is wise?

The proverbs say that, “the fear of the LORD is wisdom” and that this wisdom is given by the LORD.  Perhaps the longing for autonomy—which is impossible for finite creatures—actually darkens our pursuit of worthy things.  Clearly from this text in 8:1 a heart filled with wisdom illumines the face, displays the joy on the face of its possessor.  The pursuit of happiness that is so dear to everyone I know breathing misses out on that reality truly when the Word of God is neglected and ignored.  Lord have mercy on me!

(SDG)

Reflections From ECCLESIASTES 7: IT’S BETTER TO MOURN THAN IT IS TO REJOICE? 

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There’s nothing new under the sun which includes our bent to avoid the issue of death.  Whenever I talked to my father about death he almost always side-stepped the conversation by changing the topic to one that was more “happy”.  The Preacher’s instruction here is hard to swallow for a society that worships wealth, health, entertainment and the absence of pain.  Death simply decimates those aspirations and reminds us that our appointment with it is looming:

A good name is better than a good ointment,
And the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth.
It is better to go to a house of mourning
Than to go to a house of feasting,
Because that is the end of every man,
And the living takes it to heart.
(Vv.1-2)

The house of mourning says the Preacher is “better than” or “preferable to” the “party” because it lurches us into questioning the meaning of life and forces us to confront our inevitable death.  A funeral, not a feast wakes us up to the ultimate issue of life after death which the naturalist denies (ala atheism), or the monist attributes as illusory (ala Buddhism or Hinduism), but Christian theism explains so well in the Gospel accounts and in Paul’s letter to the Romans.

LORD, help us and teach us to live our lives in light of our appointed death today in word and deed.  May we hold on to things loosely in light of eternity as we serve our fellow man for your NAME’S sake, and may we be vigilant.

(SDG)