Saturday, January 27, 2007

A Challange To "Christian Materialism"

I found this to be an excellent essay in which Schaeffer challanges Christians to not merely treat our Christianity as a bunch of mental assents to doctrines about God, but a life of communion with the God of the doctrines. He compares it to observing/participating in the universe from the vantage point of two chairs, the Materialist chair or the Christian chair.

The Universe And Two Chairs
By Francis A. Schaeffer

In the course of this book we have focused attention on the way God looks at the culture of our day, and at both the men with the Bible and the men without the Bible who have turned away. In this final chapter we will examine the way God looks at those who have the Bible and have responded by believing in the God who is there and are relying on the finished work of Christ in space-time history for the removal of their guilt before a holy God.

As we have seen, Paul says in Romans 1:17 that the just shall live by faith. That is, they shall not only be initially justified by faith, but they shall live existentially by reliance on God and faith in Him. We turn now to see what living by faith means in our twentieth-century world.

First let us note that we who live in the second half of the twentieth century live in an increasingly complicated universe – much more complicated for us than for men just a few years ago. Our telescopes see further and we speak of light years running up into great numbers; the very magnitude of these numbers confuses us. On the other hand, our physicists deal with smaller and smaller particles, and as mass retreats into energy and energy into formulae, reality seems to slip through our fingers. As we look at those light years, we shrink away. And as we look at the tiny particles, we grow like Alice in Wonderland. But our size here does not really help us because we tend to become uncomfortable as we see material reality reduced to sets of mathematical formulae and energy particles dashing about at furious speed. Yet we must understand, if we are going to live as Christians, that while these things indeed are complicated and confusing, nevertheless from the biblical viewpoint the universe is simple.

Let me illustrate this. Imagine a room, the curtains pulled and the doors locked. Let us suppose that this room is the only universe that God has made. Now that would be possible. God could have made such a universe. So let us say that the only universe that exists is this room with the doors locked and the curtains pulled. There is nothing outside at all, absolutely nothing. We are in a universe that can be seen with one look around the room.

Now let us go further. Suppose we have two chairs in this room and that sitting on these two chairs are two men, the only two men in the universe. As we consider them, we find that they differ. One is a totally consistent materialist. As far as he is concerned, the universe is made up of nothing but mass, energy and motion; that is all there is to it. On the other chair sits a Christian who lives in the light of the teaching of the Bible as the propositional revelation of God. And these two sit facing each other in a universe in which they sit alone. After they have looked at each other for a while, the materialist says, "Now, I’m going to explore our universe." And the Christian replies, "That’s fine." So the materialist begins to analyse the universe, and it takes him a long time. He goes through all the scientific processes that we now use to examine our own universe. He uses the sciences of chemistry, biology, physics, etc.. He goes back to the periodic table, and behind the periodic table into the atom and examines it. He examines everything from the paint on the wall to the more basic particles. All this takes him a long time.

Finally as an older man, he comes to the Bible-believing Christian and brings him a big set of books, and he says, "Now here’s a set of books, they’re nicely bound, and they give in great detail a description of our universe." So the Christian takes a number of months, even years, to study these books with care. Finally the Christian turns to the materialist and says, "Well, this is a tremendous work. You have really told me a great deal about my universe that I wouldn’t otherwise have known. However, my friend, this is all very fine, but it’s drastically incomplete."

And you can imagine this man, who has spent his lifetime pouring out his heart to do his measuring and his weighing, suddenly taken aback. He turns and says to the Christian, "Well, now, I’m shocked that you tell me it’s not all here. What have I missed?" And then the Christian responds something like this: "I have a book here, the Bible, and it tells me things that you do not know. It tells me the origin of the universe. Your scientific investigation by its very nature cannot do that. And it also says nothing about where you and I as men came from. You have examined us because we, like the paint on the wall, are phenomena in the universe. You’ve studied something of our psychology and even given me several volumes on it, but you have not told me how we came to be here. In short, you don’t know the origin of either the universe or us."

"Furthermore," the Christian continues, "I know from this book that there is more to the universe than you have described. There is an unseen portion as well as a seen portion. And there is a cause-and-effect relationship between them. They are not mutually exclusive, but are parts of one reality. It’s as if you had taken an orange, sliced it in half, and only concerned yourself with one of the halves. To understand reality in our universe properly, you have to consider both halves – both the seen and the unseen."

In this sense "supernatural" is not a good word to describe the unseen portion. We must understand that the unseen portion of the universe is just as natural and as real as is the seen portion. Furthermore, the seen and the unseen are not totally separated. When we do certain things, it makes a difference in the unseen world and things in the unseen world make a difference in the seen world. The Christian would say to the materialist, "Your volume on the philosophy of history just does not hang together. The reason is that you are only looking at half of what’s there: you are only looking at half of history; you do not take into account the unseen portion. Consequently, your philosophy of history will never be sound." He is right: nobody has ever produced a satisfactory philosophy of history beginning with the materialistic viewpoint. There is too much in the seen world that does not make sense when taken as if it were all there is. One cannot produce a philosophy of history based on only half of history.

Now what happens next? These two men look at each other rather askance because their two primary views of the universe are set one against the other. The materialist replies: "You’re crazy. You’re talking about things you can’t see." And the consistent Christian responds, "Well, you may say I am crazy because I’m talking about things I cannot see, but you are completely unbalanced. You only know half of your own universe."
Let us notice something extremely important: these two views can never be brought into synthesis. One man is not a little right and the other a little right and a synthesis better than both. These are two mutually exclusive views – one is right and one is wrong. If you say less than this, then you reduce Christianity to a psychological crutch, a glorified aspirin. That does not mean that the Christian cannot glean much detail from the materialist’s observation. But as far as the comprehensive view of the universe is concerned, there can be no synthesis. Either this man is right and that man is wrong, or that man is right and this man is wrong. It is a total antithesis.

Pursue their situation further. Suppose that on the wall of their room there is a large clock. All of a sudden it stops. And these two men turn around and say, "What a pity! The clock has stopped." The materialist says, "That will never do, and because there are only you and I in this universe, one of us must clamber up the wall and start the clock. There’s nobody else to do it." The Christian replies, "Now wait a moment. Yes, it’s possible for one of us to climb up and start the clock, but there is another possibility. I may talk to the one who made this universe (one who is not in the universe in the sense of it merely being an extension of his essence) and he can start the clock."

Here is a tremendous difference in attitude. You can imagine the materialist’s reaction. "Now I know you’re crazy. You’re talking about someone we can’t see starting a material clock." Anyone who has been doing modern twentieth-century thinking will realize the relevance of this. And I also think we may here see why so many Christians have no reality. They are not certain that it is possible for the God who made the universe to start the clock when a Christian talks to Him.

Let me give you an illustration from experience. Once I was flying at night over the North Atlantic. It was in 1947, and I was coming back from my first visit to Europe. Our plane, one of those old DC4’s with two engines on each wing, was within two or three minutes of the middle of the Atlantic. Suddenly two engines on one wing stopped. I had already flown a lot, and so I could feel the engines going wrong. I remember thinking, if I’m going to go down into the ocean, I’d better get my coat. When I did, I said to the hostess, "There’s something wrong with the engines." She was a bit snappy and said, "You people always think there’s something wrong with the engines." So I shrugged my shoulders, but I took my coat. I had no sooner sat down, than the lights came on and a very agitated co-pilot came out. "We’re in trouble," he said. "Hurry and put on your life jackets."

So down we went, and we fell and fell, until in the middle of the night with no moon we could actually see the water breaking under us in the darkness. And as we were coming down, I prayed. Interestingly enough, a radio message had gone out, an SOS that was picked up and broadcast immediately all over the United States in a flash news announcement: "There is a plane falling in the middle of the Atlantic." My wife heard about this and at once she gathered our three little girls together and they knelt down and began to pray. They were praying in St Louis, Missouri, and I was praying on the plane. And we were going down and down.

Then, while we could see the waves breaking beneath us and everybody was ready for the crash, suddenly the two motors started, and we went on into Gander. When we got down I found the pilot and asked what happened. "Well," he said, "it’s a strange thing, something we can’t explain. Only rarely do two motors stop on one wing, but you can make an absolute rule that when they do, they don’t start again. We don’t understand it." So I turned to him and I said, "I can explain it." He looked at me: "How?" And I said, "My Father in heaven started it because I was praying." That man had the strangest look on his face and he turned away. I’m sure he was the man sitting in the materialist’s chair.

But here is the point: there is no distinction between the clock starting and those motors starting. Is it or is it not possible for the God who made the mechanistic portion of the universe to start the clock or start the motors? Is it or isn’t it? The materialist must say no; the Bible-believing Christian, at least in theory, says yes.
We are not dealing with God as though He were a machine. He is personal, and as we pray He does not respond mechanically, but as the Personal-Infinite God. The point is that He is there and He can, and does, act into the universe He has made.

Now then, let us get away from our small universe and suddenly throw wide the curtains, open the doors, push out the walls, the ceiling, and the floor, and have the universe as it is in its full size, as it has been created by God. Instead of two men, there are many men in the universe, but still represented by these two. What we must see is that no matter how deeply we get into the particles of matter or how much we learn by our telescopes and radio telescopes about the vastness of the created universe, in reality the universe is no more complicated than the room we have been talking about. It is only larger. Looking at the bigger universe, we either see it as the materialist sees it or as the Christian sees it: We see it with the one set of presuppositions or the other.

However, what one must realize is that seeing the world as a Christian does not mean just saying, "I am a Christian. I believe in the supernatural world," and then stopping. It is possible to be saved through faith in Christ and then spend much of our lives in the materialist’s chair. We can say we believe in a supernatural world, and yet live as though there were no supernatural in the universe at all. It is not enough merely to say, "I believe in a supernatural world." We must ask, "Which chair am I sitting in at this given existential moment?" We must live in the present: "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof " – "Give us this day our daily bread." What counts is the chair I am sitting in at any one existential moment.

Christianity is not just a mental assent that certain doctrines are true. This is only the beginning. This would be rather like a starving man sitting in front of great heaps of food and saying, "I believe the food exists; I believe it is real," and yet never eating it. It is not enough merely to say, "I am a Christian", and then in practice to live as if present contact with the supernatural were something far off and strange. Many Christians I know seem to act as though they come in contact with the supernatural just twice – once when they are justified and become a Christian and once when they die. The rest of the time they act as though they were sitting in the materialist’s chair.

The difference between a Christian who is being supernatural in practice and one who says he is a Christian but lives like a materialist can be illustrated by the difference between a storage battery and a light plug. Some Christians seem to think that when they are born again, they become a self-contained unit like a storage battery. From that time on they have to go on their own pep and their own power until they die. But this is wrong. After we are justified, once for all through faith in Christ, we are to live in supernatural communion with the Lord every moment; we are to be like lights plugged into an electric socket.

The Bible makes it plain that our joy and spiritual power depend on a continuing relation to God. If we do not love the Lord as we should, the plug gets pulled out and the spiritual power and the spiritual joy stop. Recall Paul’s statement in the benediction, ‘The communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.’ In French the word is ‘communication’. The reality of the communication of the Holy Spirit who lives within us and who is the agent of the whole Trinity is to be a continuing reality in the Christian’s life.

Let us be more specific. The Bible says that Christ rose physically from the dead, that if you had been there that day you would have seen Christ stand up and walk away in a space-time, observable situation of true history. The materialist says, "No, I don’t believe it. Christ is not raised from the dead." That is unbelief. The new theology is also unbelief because it says either that Jesus was not raised from the dead in history or that maybe He was and maybe He wasn’t because who knows what’s going to happen in this world in which you can’t be sure of anything. The historic resurrection of Christ doesn’t really matter, says the new theology; what matters is that the church got a big push from thinking He was raised in history. They see the importance of the resurrection as psychological, even though they say they leave open the door to actual resurrection since we live in a universe that we cannot be very sure of. The old liberalism, the new liberalism and materialism are basically the same. To all of them finally the same word applies: unbelief.

But now, here we are Bible-believing Christians. We stand and say, "No, I’m not going to accept that. I’m going to speak out against the materialist, and I’m going to speak out against the old and the new liberalism. Christ was raised from the dead, and He did ascend with the same body the disciples saw and touched. Between His resurrection and His ascension He appeared and disappeared many times. He went back and forth between the seen and the unseen world often in those forty days. And then, finally, He took an official departure at the Mount of Olives." But the Bible says that if Christ is raised from the dead we are supposed to act upon it in our moment-by-moment lives. Its importance is not just in past history.

So the Bible-believing Christian says, "Well, I believe it!" The materialist says, "I don’t believe it!" and he sits in unbelief. But what shall we say about the man who says, "I believe it. I believe it", but then does not act upon this in faith in his daily life? I have made up a word for it. I call it unfaith.

1 comment:

natamllc said...


not many have Schaeffer's gift from God.

a brilliant man. Edith is as well a brilliant woman.

Starting from yourself, think backwards, you have two, a mommy and daddy.

Each of them have two, 2 mommies, 2 daddies.

They each have a mommy and daddy.

And so on to Adam and Eve.

You cannot think backwards like that!

But now, start with God, Our Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost and think about the Bible's version of the growth of material.

Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel, Seth, and so on and on and on and on.

At some point you will still be lost in connecting the dots from them to your mommy and daddy and Lisa's, those four and no more, and their four and no more and there four and no more and so on.

At some point you will go nuts and insane or you will FIND PEACE WITH THE CREATOR, who Sent His Only Begotten Son to become the greatest SINNER and the greatest SUFFERER that we are not dealt with according to our iniquities!

Oh, the Grace and Wisdom of God!