Monday, March 19, 2007

Francis Schaeffer's Legacy

The following is an article a very good friend of mine e-mailed to me talking about the legacy of Francis Schaeffer. I thought it was excellent and wonderfully expresses how my attitudes have been changing in regards to non-Christians and the "enemies" of the gospel. I will comment at the end.

Learning to Cry for the Culture
Let's remember Francis Schaeffer's most crucial legacy--tears.
John Fischer

This article appeared in Christianity Today Online. The link is here.

"He was a small man—barely five feet in his knickers, knee socks, and ballooning white shirts. For two weeks, first as a freshman and then again as a senior, I sat in my assigned seat at Wheaton College's chapel and heard him cry. He was the evangelical conscience at the end of the 20th century, weeping over a world that most of his peers dismissed as not worth saving, except to rescue a few souls in the doomed planet's waning hours. While Hal Lindsey was disseminating an exit strategy in The Late Great Planet Earth, Francis Schaeffer was trying to understand and care for people still trapped on the planet in The God Who Is There.

Francis Schaeffer was hard to listen to. His voice grated. It was a high-pitched scream that, when mixed with his eastern Pennsylvania accent, sounded something like Elmer Fudd on speed. As freshmen, unfamiliar with the thought and works of modern man, we thought it was funny. As seniors, it wasn't funny any more. After we had studied Kant, Hegel, Sartre, and Camus, the voice sounded more like an existential shriek. If Edvard Munch's The Scream had a voice, it would have sounded like Francis Schaeffer. Schaeffer, who died in 1984, understood the existential cry of humanity trapped in a prison of its own making. He was the closest thing to a "man of sorrows" I have seen.

I grew up with a Christianity that was predisposed against sorrow. To be sad was to deny your faith or your salvation. Jesus had made us happy, and we had an obligation to always show that happiness. Then Francis Schaeffer came along. He could not allow himself to be happy when most of the world was desperately lost and he knew why. He was the first Christian I found who could embrace faith and the despair of a lost humanity at the same time. Though he had been found, he still knew what it was to be lost.

How different from the perception of conservative Christians held by so many people today! Today, the Religious Right is caricatured in society as a theocratic movement with no concern for the poor and downtrodden. Of course, such an ugly stereotype, presented as fact in a spate of pre-election books ranging from American Theocracy to Thy Kingdom Come, overlooks crisis pregnancy centers, humanitarian work, and generous giving to causes sacred and secular by members of the Christian Right.

Schaeffer's Way

However, like most stereotypes, this one of politically engaged conservative Christians contains a painful element of truth. Too often we confuse our agendas with God's agenda and demonize our opponents in a desperate attempt to score political points. What's ironic is that many of today's culture warriors look to Schaeffer as the man who fired the first shot.

Yes, in two of Schaeffer's later works, How Should We Then Live? (1976) and A Christian Manifesto (1981), he took a strong stand against abortion and euthanasia and even called for serious measures, including political intervention, to stop what he saw as impending cultural suicide. But to conclude that this invocation to war was Schaeffer's crowning achievement is to truncate the man and his work.

Though his last words may have resounded like a battle cry to the next generation of Christians locked in a culture war, everything leading up to them said something else. Schaeffer's work is ultimately not a call to arms, but a call to care. Those who have taken up arms and claimed him as their champion have gotten only part of his message.

Schaeffer never meant for Christians to take a combative stance in society without first experiencing empathy for the human predicament that brought us to this place. Those who go back only as far as A Christian Manifesto—without also understanding Escape from Reason (1968), The God Who Is There (1968), and Death in the City (1970)—are doing Schaeffer's life and work a great disservice. The later Schaeffer cannot be divorced from the former.

Weeping over the World

Schaeffer was the first Christian leader who taught me to weep over the world instead of judging it. Schaeffer modeled a caring and thoughtful engagement with the history of philosophy and its influence through movies, novels, plays, music, and art. Schaeffer was teaching at Wheaton College about the existential dilemma expressed in Michelangelo Antonioni's 1966 film, Blowup, when movies were still forbidden to students. He didn't bat an eye. He ignored our legalism and went on teaching, because he had been personally gripped by the desperation of such cultural statements.

Death in the City is the book of Lamentations in the Old Testament applied to America. It is all about weeping over the death of a culture. Schaeffer saw the most brilliant thinkers and artists of his day as trapped under what he called a line of despair—in a lower-story hopelessness without any access to upper-story revelation. Schaeffer taught his followers not to sneer at or dismiss the dissonance in modern art. He showed how these artists were merely expressing the outcome of the presuppositions of the modern era that did away with God and put all conclusions on a strictly human, rational level. Instead of shaking our heads at a depressing, dark, abstract work of art, the true Christian reaction should be to weep for the lost person who created it. Schaeffer was a rare Christian leader who advocated understanding and empathizing with non-Christians instead of taking issue with them.

Francis Schaeffer was not afraid to ask why, and he did not rest until he had an answer. Why are our most brilliant thinkers in despair? Why is our art so dark? Why have abortion and euthanasia become so easy on the conscience of a generation? What process of thinking has led to this ultimate denial of the value of human life? Though some may disagree with his answers, no one can gainsay the passion with which he sought them.

The normal human reaction is to hate what we don't understand. This is the stuff of prejudice and the cause of hate crimes and escalating social evil. It is much more Christ-like to identify with those we don't understand—to discover why people do what they do, because we care about them, even if they are our ideological enemies.

Jesus asked us to love our enemies. Part of loving is learning to understand. Too few Christians today seek to understand why their enemies think in ways that we find abhorrent. Too many of us are too busy bashing feminists, secular humanists, gay activists, and political liberals to consider why they believe what they do. It's difficult to sympathize with people we see as threats to our children and our neighborhoods. It's hard to weep over those whom we have declared enemies.

Perhaps a good beginning would be to more fully grasp the depravity of our own souls and the depth to which God's grace had to go to reach us. I doubt we can cry over the world if we've never cried over ourselves.

To be sure, Francis Schaeffer's influence has declined in recent years, as postmodernism has supplanted the modernity he dissected for so long. Schaeffer is not without his critics, even among Christians. But perhaps, in the end, his greatest influence on the church will not be his words as much as his tears. The same things that made Francis Schaeffer cry in his day should make us cry in ours. "


I just want to make a few remarks about what was presented here. Firstly, I think this is very challenging to the culture war mentality that permeates so much of evangelicalism's interactions with groups like homosexual activists, feminists, environmentalists, and pro-choicers. Sadly I think too often these people are demonized and treated with contempt from evangelicals. This simply is NOT the Biblical response. At worst these groups (which are made up of individual people who are made in the image of God) are enemies of the gospel. That said we need to come to scripture and it's mandate on how we are to interact with our enemies.

Personal attacks and slander are not part of the Biblical picture of how we interact with enemies of the cross. I can too easily bring to mind comments Christians have made about politicians that are simply nothing other than malicious slander and character assassination. Now to be clear I, and Schaeffer to be sure, am not advocating a soft stance on truth and its proclamation. I am advocating truth with compassion.

Take for example the homosexual parades that occur in every major city several times a year. To be sure there will be Christian groups at the parade holding signs condemning these people for their lifestyle and shouting back and forth. I think this simply is ineffective and frankly degrading. I think in holding signs and shouting slogans at homosexuals we are at best presenting half of an best. I say this because these are people made in God's image and as such they should be treated with dignity. I would encourage Christians instead of holding signs and shouting slogans that we talk with people as individuals, answer their questions and explain why we think the way we do. Thus we present the truth but we also present the compassion of Christ for the lost.

And yes, as the article repeatedly mentioned this involves weeping. We will weep because the homosexual is a person made in the image of God who has worth and dignity, yet terribly lost.

My second comment about what was presented is a bit of a disagreement with some statements made in the article. I think Schaeffer's ideas are more just as relevant for today as they were when he penned his books. I honestly think that Schaeffer was not merely responding to the problems of modernism but also prophetically responding to modernism's end, post-modernity. I find it very interesting that the things the Emergent church movement (a Church movement in response to Post-Modernity) is saying needs to change in evangelicalism are the same things Schaeffer said needed to change. Some of these include an emphasis on community, and an authenticity in our witness. The main difference between Schaeffer's challenges to evangelicalism and the Emergent's is that Schaeffer had a strong stance for orthodoxy, whereas the Emergent's by and large are casting orthodoxy aside.

So I disagree with the last paragraph which seems to imply that Post-Modernity replacing Modernity has made Schaeffer's ideas somewhat passe. I think he is more relevant today because he saw ahead and was addressing post-modernity (though he didn't call it that) before any other Christian thinker was. Other than that I think this is an excellent article.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Jesus Tomb and a Proper Response as Christians (By Greg Koukl)

I thought that this article did an excellent job of describing how we as Christian's should respond to challanges to the Christian worldview. We should seek to understand the challange an give a reasonable answer having understood what was being said rather than giving an out of hand dismissal.
Wailing at the Tomb?

Christians Should Face the Facts in The Discovery Documentary

By Gregory Koukl

The documentary “The Lost Tomb of Jesus” hadn’t even aired yet and many Christians were already in a panic. Just the suggestion that someone found Jesus’ bones in a limestone box had believers by the droves shaking their fists or sticking their heads in the sand in a don’t-confuse-me-with-the-facts posture.

Apparently, many Christians don’t even need to see the evidence to pass judgment. When one Evangelical web site polled its visitors with the question, “Do you believe the ‘Tomb of Jesus' documentary, which denies the resurrection of Christ?” 97% said no. This was three days before the documentary even aired. Blind faith is so convenient, isn’t it? You never have to actually confront your critics.

Then there’s the bullies. One media watchdog demanded Discovery “cancel this slanderous ‘documentary.’” Another prominent Evangelical organization composed this letter for their constituents to hammer Discovery with:

"I resent the Discovery Channel's attempt to demean and belittle Christianity by saying it is based on a lie. It is hard for me to believe that The Discovery Channel would dare do such a 'documentary' on any other religion.

"It may turn out that you have done Christianity a favor by awakening millions of Christians to your anti-Christian bias and bigotry. Perhaps they will no longer stay silent."

This kind of bullying is profoundly embarrassing to me, a follower of Christ, and should be discomfiting to every thoughtful Christian. It is not only a dismal retreat from a legitimate challenge that must be answered; it’s obscurantist.

Look, if the Bible says it and you believe it, that might settle it for you, but it doesn’t settle it for millions who might be interested in your ideas and are waiting to hear a thoughtful response to what appears on the surface to be a fair challenge.

There are good reasons to doubt the conclusions of this documentary, but no one will ever know them if Christians pull up the drawbridge and bellow from the parapet. Having seen the documentary, here are some problems that quickly come to mind:

Scholars have known about these tombs for over 25 years. There’s a reason they haven’t taken these names seriously. Only three have any direct biblical significance: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. And that cluster of names is statistically unremarkable. In fact, it would be odd if a family with those three names was not found in a tomb together, given their common use (there are at least four ossuaries discovered inscribed “Jesus, son of Joseph,” and one in four women were named Mary, so it’s even money that one of these tombs would have that combination). And connection of Jesus to any of the other names? Wild speculation. So what you have here is a creative guessing game.

The entire argument is based on the statistical significance of the names in a cluster. If Jesus was married, and if Jesus was married to a woman named Mariamne, and if Mariamne was also a nickname for Mary Magdalene, and if Jesus had a brother named Matthew, and if Jesus had a son named Judas, and if the now-famous James ossuary belonged to James the brother of Jesus, then you’d have all the members of Jesus’ family together in one tomb. But that’s a lot of “ifs.

Even though this is called the “Jesus Family Tomb,” there is no hard evidence that any of these so-called “family members” is even related. The only DNA testing that’s been done—between Jesus and Mariamne—came up negative. Let me repeat that: The DNA test came up negative. That is fact. The rest is speculation.
The documentary claims, “Jesus and Mary were married, as the DNA evidence suggests.” This is nonsense. Think about it. How can DNA evidence suggest someone is married? DNA can’t “suggest” anything about legal relationships, only biological ones. In this case, the DNA evidence showed Jesus and Mary were not related by a mother, not that they were husband and wife. The truth is, she could have been married to any one of the males in the tomb, or to none of them for that matter. The DNA “suggests” nothing.

The researchers claim they’re just trying to connect the dots? Fair enough. But why connect the dots the way they did? I’ll tell you why. Because it tells their story. There are many other legitimate ways to connect those same dots—some much more probable than the way the documentary connects them, but won’t give the story they’re promoting. But, of course, that wouldn’t create breaking news, would it?

Jesus’ family was a poor family from Nazareth, not a middle- to upper-class family from Jerusalem. So this tomb is the wrong kind of tomb located in the wrong city.

The documentary claims Jesus spoke in codes. This is false. Jesus spoke in parables, like many of the teachers of His day, not in codes that needed to be deciphered. They say Mary Magdalene was Jesus’ most trusted apostle. But you have to wait 400 years before this evidence pops up in any alleged historical record. They said that Jesus’ family members were executed because He was a pretender to throne of Israel. This is pure fiction. Notice what this accomplishes, though. All of these little exaggerations and inaccuracies make an unlikely tale sound more plausible when, on its own unembellished merits, it is not.

What we have here are two different characterizations of what happened to the body of Jesus of Nazareth 2,000 years ago. One is based on artifacts—the ossuaries—and one is based on documents—the historical records of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter and Paul. Now granted, these kinds of things are not entirely exact science, but all things being equal, which do you think gives us more precise information, bone boxes or written records? The written records, obviously.

The claim of Jesus’ resurrection, was part of the earliest, most primitive testimony regarding Jesus. And it was made by those very same people that the documentary suggests knew Jesus’ bones were actually secretly buried in Jerusalem. Why would so many of them die for this lie when they knew it was a lie? It doesn’t add up. But that’s what you must believe if you take seriously the conclusions of this documentary.
If Christianity stands or falls on the historical fact of Jesus’ resurrection, as the Apostle Paul said, then Christ’s followers have no liberty to retreat behind blind faith or hide behind an angry scowl.

No, if you’re a Christian you shouldn’t run, whine, scream, or have a religious tantrum. Instead, you should be thanking the Discovery Channel for giving you the chance to step up to the plate and knock this soft ball out of the park.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Thoughts on Having a Biblical Attitude Towards Environmentalism

Oh no it's Al Gore!
The issue of how we as Christian's should act in regard to the environment has been popping up to me more and more lately. Perhaps this is due to the popularity of Al Gore's movie "An Inconvenient Truth" which has earned him a Nobel prize. My main question I want to pose is: "As Christians what should be our attitude toward environmental issues?"

Reactionary Hostility?

What I have seen in most of my fellow Christians upon hearing of environmental issues is a reaction of scorn followed by a complete dismissal of the issues altogether. A person will bring up an issue like saving the Redwoods or Global Warming only to be dismissed by evangelicals. Why is this?

Well I think the most foundational explanation for this dismissal is the association of environmental attitudes with a radical Liberalism, the same guys who support killing babies as a medical procedure which we are against. So when a man like Al Gore (a representation of Liberalism) says there is a problem we need to address called global warming our reaction (because he has a D next to his name when it appears on Fox News) is to have an attitude that if leftists support environmental causes we should not. This is simply guilt by association.

I actually called into a Christian talk show recently addressing environmental issues, by that I mean they were trying to explain that global warming isn't happening an Al Gore doesn't know what he's is talking about. What prompted me to call in was one of the guests comments that taking care of the environment was NOT a moral issue, so I called in saying:
"That taking care of the environment IS a moral issue because as Christians our view should be that we as men are stewards over a world which God has made. And we shouldn't just write these issues off just because people on the left have taken them under their wing."

The response was a standard guilt by association from the guests who basically said that when you start getting into the environmental movement you have people who think that we evolved and are no better than the trees they are trying to save etc. He of course right, there are people who really think that in the environmental movement. BUT that does not change the fact that they are addressing a real issue even though their worldview is skewed.

I have personally spent some time with tree sitters in Northern California bringing food to them and emptying their toilets. Now these were people who were not Christians and were almost all New Agers, and honestly most of them were astonished that Christians actually gave a rip about the planet. A little background into this tree sit is a story of corruption and bribery between the Lumber company and the CA Dept of Forestry (who are supposed to regulate tree cutting when really they just take bribes from the lumber companies) allowing Just a wacked out leftist? Or does this person have something legitimate to say?clear cutting of old growth Redwood trees. Clear cutting as a practice causes massive runoff resulting in a buildup of sediment in rivers and streams where salmon go to breed. This buildup of sediment basically does not allow them to spawn, this is why the fishing industry in Northern California is practically non-existant. The timber havest plan was a scenario that was dirty from top to bottom and these young people who were sitting in the trees were doing something that was noble although they may have been very wrong headed in it.

That is a brief synopsis of an environmental scenario: corruption, bribery, bad environmental practices, and the eco-system gets trashed while people get rich. What bothers me is that as evangelicals we are so quick to dismiss these issues as leftist and radical, frankly because they are the only ones who have bothered to seriously address them. Again, most of the people are New Age or have some screwball evolution based philosophy of human and animal dignity. These views are wrong, however it is simply guilt by association to say THEREFORE we as Christians will not get involved with environmental issues.

What is the Biblical Perspective On These Matters?

What has really surprises me when I look to the Bible on environmental issues is really how much it in fact has to say. This is why I called in to the radio show and said that this IS a moral issue because God in His word has called us to care about these matters. In addition to the guilt by association reply I also got a response saying God has given us dominion to subdue the earth, it is here for us to do what we want to with basically. Well, I would say dominion yes, but the guest (and I think many evangelicals) leaves out responsibility. The dominion the Bible speaks of is not God giving an autonomous do what you want to this world I gave you to man. The dominion is one of man being set above all the rest of creation (being made in God's image) and given stewardship, I say stewardship because God still owns the world He made, He has chosen to give it into the hands of stewards (men).

"The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with me. " (Lev 25:24)

This is in the context of laws on the year of Jubilee and giving the land a sabbath rest. The sabbath rest for the land was to be taken every seven years, basically if you were a farmer you would not plant in the land every seventh year. You were not to overwork the soil that is the purpose of giving the land a sabbath rest, we do a similar thing today called crop rotation, it is simply what is best for the soil.

"but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the LORD. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard." (Lev 25:4)

Other laws regulate the use of animals for the sake of the animal population, which of course would effect the food supply for the people. This is a principle of insuring that there would be food for future generations of people:

"If you come across a bird's nest in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs and the mother sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young. You shall let the mother go, but the young you may take for yourself, that it may go well with you, and that you may live long." (Deut 22:6-7)

Biblically it is sin (greediness) that causes the environmental problems, when the people are disobedient the land will stop producing. One of the direct results of a disobedient and self seeking people will be a land that can no longer provide.

"Covenants are broken; cities are despised; there is no regard for man. The land mourns and languishes; Lebanon is confounded and withers away; Sharon is like a desert, and Bashan and Carmel shake off their leaves." (Isa 33:8-9)

God's promised blessing upon the land is directly related to a people's obedience to Him.

"If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land;" (Isa 1:19)

"And the LORD will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your livestock and in the fruit of your ground, within the land that the LORD swore to your fathers to give you." (Deut 28:11)


To wrap up these are just some brief thoughts on this issue. All I am advocating is for us to think Biblically not in the Liberal vs. Conservative boxes that we are so accustomed to engaging issues in. It really is disappointing to me that many evangelicals care more about their "right" to own semi automatic weapons ("conservative" issue) than we do about the corruption and bribery in big business practices and its effect on the environment in which we live.

I am not saying that global warming is in fact true and the world is going to end if we don't do something, I don't know all the science into the greenhouse theory. But what I do know is that we should seriously think about the impact our actions have on the world around us.

Lastly, I am not saying we should think environmental because the poor squirrels have feelings and they are people too. What I am saying is that as Christians we know who made the world, we know whose glory is being attested to in the sunsets, the ocean waves, the eagle's flight and in the Redwoods grandeur. So I would say that being environmentally conscious IS a moral issue not because of the poor dolphins, and not primarily because of the children's future. I think this is a moral issue because we are stewards in a world which God has made for His glory. We know that it is God who made these things for His glory, how can we be complacent to the destruction of that which testifies to the glory of the God we love?

The trees of the LORD are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted. In them the birds build their nests; the stork has her home in the fir trees. The high mountains are for the wild goats; the rocks are a refuge for the rock badgers. He made the moon to mark the seasons; the sun knows its time for setting.
You make darkness, and it is night, when all the beasts of the forest creep about.
The young lions roar for their prey, seeking their food from God.
When the sun rises, they steal away and lie down in their dens.
Man goes out to his work and to his labor until the evening.

O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great.
There go the ships, and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.

When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground. who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke! I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being. May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the LORD.

(Psalm 104)