Schaeffer critiques modern philosophy

The God Who Is There - Francis August Schaeffer, James W. Sire

Okay, the edition of this book that I read was published in 1990 which means that Schaeffer must have changed and updated it since its original publication. However, I suspect that despite a few additions to bring it up to date much of what he has written here is very much the same as the original publication. After reading a couple of pages of this book I suddenly came to understand that Schaeffer's writing, and fundamentalist stance, was nothing necessarily new to him, however I guess we have a different aspect of fundamentalism with Schaeffer here than we do with modern day Christianity. What Schaeffer is concerned about here is not so much the church and its modern fundamentalist teachings but rather with where philosophy has headed and how our rejection of the sovereign God has sent us into a pit of despair.



Schaeffer speaks about a philosophical line of despair in that our though pattern has moved away from an era of faith and hope and crossed into a realm of meaninglessness and despair, and in this he suggests that it started when we began to move away from our Christian heritage. Schaeffer dates this shift as beginning around the early to mid 19th century which arouse in Germany and then moved out across Europe. However, this is something with which I disagree because the philosophy of humanism did not begin in Germany, but much further a feild. However without going too far back, the roots of modern humanism can be found in England during the 17th century with writers like Locke, Hume, and Hobbes. This thought form then crossed the Atlantic to the United States and during the revolution, where French auxiliaries assisted in the fight against British, it crossed back over the Atlantic to France (though English thought had already been influencing French and German culture). Then, with the outbreak of the revolution and the subsequent Napoleonic Wars, these ideas were spread across Europe where they in turn settled in Germany.



Schaeffer's belief is that this new thought form has had quite a bad influence on our cultural direction, an idea with which I disagree. In one sense he speaks about how these thought patterns came about at certain points in history and if people had openly explored this ideas before them they would have either been laughed at, or executed a heretics. However does not Paul say 'at just the right time, Christ died for our sins'? Is it then not the case that Christ's appearance on Earth came about at a time of God's choosing for the message to have the greatest impact. If that is the case, then could this also be the case with the modern philosophers?



Schaeffer argues that these philosophies that have changed society, which is true, however I would suggest that technology has changed our society, and these philosophies have simply moved in step with our technological development. Is it not the case that the rise of modern art in all of its forms arose in lock step with the development of photography. The change in the style of music, particularly the movement to electronic music at the turn of the 20th century came about with the development of technology to allow us to do that. Further, the dehumanisation of our identity has also come about with the dehumanisation of the labour force, first with the development of the assembly line where the skilled artisans were replaced with unskilled workers doing a single job all day. The next step comes along with the development of robotics which replaces the human with a machine. Is it not also interesting that the rise of our post-modern society has come about with the development of the internet, which comes to the point where our physical identity has become less important and our online identity (or avatar) have become more important. The online world in fact has given us the ability to create multiple identities to the point that people can no longer determine who we really are.



As for the philosophers that he attacks, I can understand Schaeffer's reluctance to accept the dialectic of Hegel with the synthesis while maintaining his own thesis and anti-thesis, but unfortunately that is not how progress works, and in a way I believe that God even uses the dialectic in his plans. If God and humanity (in its current form) are opposites, is it not the case that God becomes a synthesis of himself and humanity in the form of Christ? Is it not also the case that heaven and hell are opposites, and that what the fall did was to create a synthesis of this, that being Earth, the one in which we live? Society also functions on a dialectic view as opposing factors form to create a compromise where both sides are content (if not happy).



Now, he also speaks about Kierkegaard's leap of faith. This is the idea that one cannot arrive at a certain point through reason and logic alone and there comes a point where we must make a leap of faith to arrive at that conclusion. As far as I am concerned (and maybe this is my post-modern mindset working here, something that Schaeffer would baulk at) every conclusion that we arrive at involves a leap of faith. Those who say that God does not exist do not arrive at that point through some logical argument, but rather comes to a point where logic can go no further, and thus must leap to their conclusion. The idea comes up within evolution with the idea of the missing link. We have evidence that demonstrates development up to a point, and then a gap, and then development from another point to humanity. That gap is the chasm that evolutionists leap across to get to reach their conclusion. However, Christianity also has that gap of logic because you cannot conclusively prove the existence of God, therefore we must rely upon circumstantial evidence (the empty tomb, the testimony of people long dead through the writings that are two thousand years old) to come to the conclusion of God's existence and of his character, and from there must make a leap of faith to conclude that the god of the Bible exists.



Now, there is also this idea of the final experience that he talks about, though this is a term that he borrows from a philosopher (I cannot remember the name off hand). It is basically an experience that we have that gives direction and purpose to our lives. Now, I would rather describe this as an epiphany, and we all, at least in the post-industrial Western World, go around trying to discover this purpose. Some of us try to arrive at it through drugs, others of us arrive at it through religious mysticism (which I put Christianity into that category) while others simply try to arrive at it through pure hard work. The point is that while there is nothing wrong with seeking a purpose, one must remember that in other cultures the idea of purpose is non-existent. The subsistence farmer does not spend his time thinking about his purpose in life, he knows where and who he is, and if he sees something that needs to be done, he goes and does it. However, this is a reflection of our modern society and the fact that, unlike the subsistence farmer, we have choice, and because he have choice we desire to know which choice is the correct choice (despite the fact that God can still use you despite what choice you make).



Now I want to look at Sartre's idea of authenticating oneself. Schaeffer scoffs at this, claiming that it is ridiculous and uses the analogy of a lady trying to cross the street. You have a choice, you can either help her, ignore her, or mug her. Now, despite what actions you do each action results in you authenticating yourself. Schaeffer thinks that this is ridiculous because you cannot authenticate yourself through three different actions (though he only mentions two, helping the lady or mugging the lady). However, I would disagree because what I think it means is that your action defines your character, and that single action can have enormous consequences. If you help the lady you define (or authenticate) yourself as being a good Samaritan. If you ignore her, then while neither good or bad, it can identify you as a Levite or a Priest (yes, I am using the parable of the Good Samaritan because I feel that this parable most clearly illustrates this idea) and if you mug the old lady, you authenticate yourself as being a thief and a ruffian. There, while I have not read Sartre, or understand what he actually meant by authenticating yourself, based on what Schaeffer was saying, this is my understanding, and thus see nothing wrong with Sartre's ideas.



Schaeffer does write a bit about language and one of this things that he points out is that as with science, language tends to be precise, and the more precise science becomes, the more precise the language becomes. However, when we come to religion, language tends to become very vague, with one word, such as god, having multiple definitions, depending on to whom you speak. For instance, god can mean a vague entity that sits back and watches the universe from afar, one of a collection of gods, or basically everything, as in pan-theism. However, when I write God (capitalised) then I know that I am talking of the god of the Bible, and I suspect (or hope, because of the capitalisation) that I am speaking of the same. However, even by capitalising God, one can still be referring to the deist god. As for Schaeffer's pan-everythingism, I find that a bit silly because I do not think, at least in our time, that people will confuse theism with the personal god of the Bible. In fact, using the term pan-everythingism, one is using what I believe is called a tautology.



However, in our modern, existentialist world, Schaeffer is right to point out the problem of language. Language has been a problem since the languages were confused back at the Tower of Babel. This has become moreso in our modern, English speaking world, were the English language can change depending on the era we are in or the person to whom we are speaking. Once again this is a result of industrialisation, which brought about a greater movement of people. Previously people would live in their tribes, and, as can be seen in places such as Papua New Guinea, where tribes still live separate existences, the language simply changes from tribe to tribe. In these cultures, there was not much movement, or interaction, therefore little ability for language to change. However as we begin to travel, our language groupings begin to change and evolve much faster to the point where within a single city there will be many different dialects, depending on with who you are speaking.



Schaeffer also discusses the search for meaning, or the universal. This is clear in the scientific disciplines, such as the search for the universal constant. There is no evidence that it actually exists, but the idea is to find a formula, or a constant, that applies across the universe on which we can base all of our theories Unfortunately, stepping outside of the fact that God loves us and sent his son to die for our sins, no such universal constant can be found in the Bible so scientists, even though they are Christian, must look outside of the Bible. However, there is a belief that such a constant will provide the solution for everything, which is pinning our hope on a shadowy belief because the idea of the universal constant only has a scientific application, not a social application, which means that it cannot solve the problems that we as a society face, such as greed, and guilt.



Now, there is the idea of art as being a means for the universe to speak to us, and this in a way comes out of the search for the universal constant. Where as science cannot solve the problem of greed, people turn to art to try to create a means for the universe to speak. I personally do not find a problem with that because if the artist paints, and while the artist may have an interpretation of the painting, there is no guarantee that everybody who looks at the painting will have the same interpretation. As such, art, whether it be visual, musical, or literature, speaks to everybody differently, meaning that there cannot really be a constant in that world, but also because through art we can garner a better understanding of ourselves and the universe in which we live.



He also speaks about the idea of the dead god. Now, when Nietzsche said that 'God is dead' Christians immediately respond with cries of 'heresy'. However there are a couple of interpretations, one being that God is not listening to us, or that God does not exist. Now, if the phrase 'God is dead' means what it says, it does not necessarily mean that God never existed. In fact it has a suggestion that God, at one stage, used to exist. However, it is not necessarily meaning that God is not listening to us, but may actually refer to the fact that we are no longer listening to God, as if to us God is dead. This can be very true of many Christians today who claim that they are listening to God, but in reality are listening only to their own hearts and beliefs, and pushing God into the background as somebody to rubber stamp their decisions.



There is also the idea that humanity is depersonalising themselves, that is turning themselves either into a machine, or into a mindless animal. However Schaeffer suggests that these people live in a dichotomy because in their labs and public life, they act as if they are machines (or animals) but in their homes, behave as humans. To be honest with you, the idea of man as an animal does injustice to animals because there are many creatures in the animal kingdom that behave in a very human manner (such as dogs). Also, the idea of describing humanity as a machine has changed as well, because no longer, when we describe somebody as a machine, we are not describing them as somebody without a soul or emotion, but a high performer in whatever professional or hobby they practice (and also suggests that their productivity is incredible, almost like a machine).



I do agree with the idea of people putting their hope in a lie because I have seen this happen so often. One person that I knew pretty drew his entire life up as a web of lies to the point that as soon as he opened his mouth the automatic assumption would be that he was lying. I believe that there is a difference between what I call relative truth, and an outright lie. Lies are basically untruths, where as a relative truth is a truth that can exist despite opposite views. For instances, if I were to say that I spent a week in Manila that would be a lie because I have never been to Manilla, however if I say that Hong Kong is an awesome place to visit with lots of shopping opportunities and a thriving culture, while another says that one should avoid Hong Kong like the plague because it is dirty and crowded, both of us would be telling a truth (Hong Kong is dirty and crowded, but it also has lots of shopping opportunities and a great culture). Here we are raising the emphasis on one point, based on our opinion, and lowing the other. However, the conclusions are the opposite (Hong Kong is great verses Hong Kong is a dump).



I don't agree with Schaeffer's outline of what he calls the scandal of the cross because I don't think he is correct on either point that he makes. He claims that modern Christianity suggests that the scandal of the cross is that despite the horror of the world in which we live, God is good, but that despite God being good, humanity rebels. However, as far as I am concerned, the scandal of the cross is that God sacrificed his only son, an innocent man, to take the punishment of humanity, who deserved no mercy. That, my friend, is what I believe the scandal of the cross to be. It is not the premise, but the action. It is not based on our rebellion, but on God's mercy.


Please don't take this commentary as me completely undermining Schaeffer's theology, that is not my intention here, but while I do agree with him on points, particularly since we simply cannot dive into evangelism the same now as we may have been able to previously (and since previously evangelism involved going out to non-Christian cultures because pretty much everybody in the European world considered themselves Christian, even though they may not have behaved like Christians) we need to approach it differently (though there has never been a point in history where we could have evangelised people using a text book). I do support his idea of evangelism, and the fact that he would openly debate with others rather than simply taking the moral high ground and condemning people. Schaeffer had the ability of being able to meet people where they were at, and not to be afraid to ask them the tough questions, but also was able to ask questions that were pertinent to the people. Most of all, Schaeffer was an environmentalist and understood our need to care for and to look after the environment.


However I now raise the issue of his legacy, and that is the fundamentalist sects that have arisen in the United States. What Schaeffer desire to move back across the line of despair has resulted in almost a complete rejection of science and philosophy that does not come directly from the bible. Many of these sects (some of them quite mainstream) have dedicated reading lists, and also specific translations of the bible that must be used – anything else is a corruption. However, what is most concerning does not necessarily come out of this book, but comes out of the book entitled 'A Christian Manifesto', particularly were he writes about how as Christians, if a law is enacted that we oppose (such as abortion, which was his main concern), then we should engage in civil disobedience. This has resulted in abortion clinics being bombed, doctors who perform abortions being murdered, and homosexuals being brutally bashed and left for dead. While these acts may not be directly linked with Schaeffer's writings, we can trace the origins of these groups back to the radical religious revival of the right back in the early 1980s, a group of which Francis Schaeffer was a member.