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.


natamllc said...

You are to be commended for your work hereon Bobby.

Your analysis is well balanced, thanks!

I have one observation about the nature of sin.

It too is like facets of a diamond.

Without Light shining on a diamond, it's just a piece of carbon crystal.

Without Spiritual Light shining on a sinner, we would not know our sin.

As there is fire and color coming back at you at the speed of Light from a Diamond well cut and polished, so it is that without LIGHT coming back at you, you would not know you are a sinner.

When one looks at a particular color from the Light multiple flashes coming back at you from the facet of the Diamond we say things positive about it like ooooh, aaaaah, wooooow.

We need to have that same discipline when the LIGHT comes back to us from our own kind, Adam's race and the color is aaah, let's say, ADULTERER, HOMOSEXUAL, ROBBER, MURDERER, LIAR, THIEF, etc. etc..


Isaiah says what I am attempting to say better:

Isa 1:16 Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;
Isa 1:17 Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.
Isa 1:18 Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

Isa 62:1 For Zion's sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth.
Isa 62:2 And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory: and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD shall name.
Isa 62:3 Thou shalt also be a crown of glory in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of thy God.
Isa 62:4 Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzibah, and thy land Beulah: for the LORD delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married.

Bob said...

Hey Michael, good to hear from you, you wrote:

"Without Light shining on a diamond, it's just a piece of carbon crystal.

Without Spiritual Light shining on a sinner, we would not know our sin."

It is so true, we when we are looking at lost sinners are really looking at what is in us. We know our own sin through seeing it in others.

I think that is crucial in our interaction with the lost, a simple realization that we are in the same situation as they, the difference is that we have come to Christ, the solution to the problem.

Bo Salisbury said...

Well done... we have similar interests. I think Francis Schaeffer is more relevant now than ever, because he considered himself a pastor and evangelist before anything else. His apologetic and academic endeavors flowed from his first love -- communicating true truth to everyday people and he was very effective. That's because his message, the gospel, and his approach, pastoral, is timeless. Yes, many embrace relativism and have a post-modern mindset, but they are thinking thoughts that cannot be lived in the real world. A real flesh and blood human, showing patient concern, conceding that God rules a broken world in which there exists real, palpable evil alongside genuine love, mercy and justice, laying out the good news that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, rose the third day and ascended to heaven before witnesses... well, I can't think of a more ideal scenario. I'm glad I was introduced to Francis Schaeffer and Os Guinness and Jerram Barrs a long time ago.

Good job...