Saturday, December 13, 2008

Revisiting Schaeffer's "Final Apologetic"

In Francis Scaheffer's work "The Mark of the Christian" the timeless balance of truth and love, doctrinal integrity and interpersonal authenticity is struck. All too often we fall prey to one extreme or another in our evangelism, apologetics, preaching and relationships with one another. We tend to emphasize one of Scripture's mandates at the expense of another.

Followers of Christ who highly esteem the Word and the propositional truths contained in the Bible often can be guilty of bludgeoning others with those truths. Any disagreement is met with harsh outbursts where the person of the objector is attacked and villified. When it is between believers and non-believers, as far as I can tell this is no more evident than within the supposed "Culture War".

Believer to Unbeliever Lack of Love

In the made up "Culture War" moral miscreants and unbelievers are "the enemy" who must be destroyed. This is evidenced by a recent "outrage" of a homosexual nativity scene with 2 Marys and 2 Josephs played by live people (they must be working in shifts). At any rate the group has claimed it is not their intention to offend Christian but they just want an alternative because they "feel left out" of Christmas.

Is this blasphemous?
Yes.

Indecent?
Yes.

Tasteless?
Indeed.

Meant to offend Christians?
Probably.

But how do we react as Christians? Do we go on the radio and rant about these people and their degeneracy? Go stand across the street from their Nativity scene with signs reminding them that indeed homosexuality is immoral and hell is real? Well that's what is expected, and frankly that's probably what these people want; a bunch of angry offended Christians foaming at the mouth. This is ugliness and is often all the world sees of Christians.

So how should we react? By practically loving them. It can be as simple as bringing them hot coffee and warm cookies and gently saying "I completely disagree with what you are doing but I want you to know I love you." If they have any sense and they see you aren't there to pick a fight (which is probably what they want) they just might feel a little thing we call guilt in response to your returning good for evil.

I believe we are called to do just that, we are not called to protest, lobby, yell and scream we are called to love our neighbor and seek to save the lost. Schaeffer wrote of this stating:

"All men are our neighbors, and we are to love them as ourselves. We are to do this on the basis of creation, even if they are not redeemed, for all men have value because they are made in the image of God. Therefore, they are to be loved even at great cost."

Believer to Believer Compromise of Love

In the believer to believer conflicts and disagreements much ugliness and lack of love can also be displayed. Church splits often reflect this ugliness where the actual matter of the division gets lost in personal malicious attacks.

I know for myself the above is my own tendency, I love the truths of God inestimably and I hate to see them trampled down as a common thing. Bunyan's depition of "Mr. Valiant for truth" is one of my own heart. So, when I see or hear the center attacked I get angry at the person. My first thoughts in doctinal controversies generally are not how can I in trying to win this person intellectually to a "more perfect" (Acts 18:26) understanding of God show them that I love them unconditionally? My thoughts are generally thoughts of how to zing the moron. This is sin, and a theology of glory.

On the opposite end of the spectrum we have the tendency to compromise truth and doctrine for relationships. This is poignently seen in the incessant cries for "Unity!" in the church. These cries are valid Biblically (Eph 4:1-10) and are not to be dismissed out of hand. However, often the cry for "Unity!" is synonymous with a cry of "Compromise!". This has been the bane of liberal theologians exhortations for Church unity, it is a unity that is simply skin deep.

Again, as I have said my personal tendency is toward truth at the expense of brotherly kindness, so my sense of the the unity=compromise is rather acute. More than acute my theological spidey sense more often than not manifests in outright synicism at any cry for "Unity!" Because, like the dwarves in the C.S. Lewis' "Last Battle" I simply do not want to be taken in.

Living Christ's Commands

This is why I have found Francis Schaeffer's life and contribution to be of immense value. Schaeffer not only talked about the balance between truth and interpersonal relationships he lived it. His exhortation though simple enough is so easy to neglect. We are not to destroy the image of God in the person in our proclamation and defense of the truth, nor are we on the other hand to compromise the truth in order to have relationship with persons.

This is a simple message. However, in order to really live this balance I believe we absolutely must be intentional in seeking this balance. Schaeffer's own life manifested this balance as he opened his home at L'Abri to travelers and seekers, loved them in very practical manner all the while speaking the truth of Christ to them. This is "Speaking the truth in love" (Eph 4).

I honestly think that this is the most important aspect of "Schaeffer's apologetic" as without the diligent practice of loving the whole person our apologetic efforts are being undercut by our lack of love for the individual. This is in part why I have backed off a bit from the internet debate culture, so much of debate on blogs is simply bickering in an extremely insulting manner. Individuals are far more rude over the medium of the internet than in person, myself included.

It really goes back to the call to love our neighbor as ourselves which Schaeffer has emphasized.
While it is true that people may believe and say things that are ridiculous as well as blasphemous, yet for the sake of the image of God in the person they are to be reprooved and corrected while we do not seek to destroy them as persons through insult and a desire for ill will. We must honestly be checking our own hearts as often we will find ourselves desiring people to fail because of some disagreement we may have with them.

Don't be quick to think "I don't do that!" if we search our hearts we will undoubtedly see this dark smudge. All the more lamentable is that we more often than not harbor such ill will toward our fellow Christian with whom we may disagree doctrinally. We may actually feel a degree of glad smugness upon hearing of their failure. This is ugly, for in holding this attitude we have destroyed our brother in our hearts under the banner of "Truth".

In his book "The Mark of the Christian" Schaeffer argues strongly based upon John 13:33-35 that world will know that Christ is risen and is Lord by the changed lives of Christians manifesting itself in love. Schaeffer shows that unless we are truly loving each other WITHIN our differences the world has no reason to believe the Christian message is any different than all the other messages. It is this Mark of the Christian that distinguishes Christianity as authentic truth, for we can disagree even strongly yet love and fellowship with equal strength within our disagreements. Schaeffer writes:

"Before a watching world, an observable love in the midst of difference will show a difference between Christian's differences and other men's differences. The world may not understand what the Christians are disagreeing about, but they will very quickly understand the difference of our differences in an open and observable love on a practical level.

That is different. Can you see why Jesus said this was the thing that would arrest the attention of the world? You cannot expect the world to understand doctrinal differences, espescially in our day when the existence of truth and absolutes are considered unthinkable even as concepts."

Everyone will disagree and argue, the difference is that Christians are called to love within their disagreements and this is what will authenticate the message to the watching world. That is what our Lord Jesus Christ said. This love toward one another as fellow Christians is what will give a distinction to our message, and what Christ said validates that we ourselves are Christians.

I close on that note by quoting Schaeffer on the final apologetic:

"Yet, unless true Christians show observable love to each other, Christ says the world can not be expected to listen, even when we give proper answers. Let us be careful, indeed, to spend a lifetime studying to give honest answers. So it is well to spend time learning to answer the questions of those who are about us. But we must never forget that the final apologetic which Jesus gives is the observable love of true Christians for true Christians."

6 comments:

TruthMatters said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
natamllc said...

Bobby,

with irony I post the reason I encourage you to keep posting in those blogs! This message, very relevant and equipping, edifying, must be brought into that mix by such as have your gift, where people forget our purpose is to represent that Our King, Our Savior, Our Lord, Our Friend, a man such as we are, died and rose again without compromise.

He hit head on the illegal establishment of the Scribes and Pharisees. He did not back down. Now, He is Love, as, God is Love, and did not wince at taking a scrouge of a whip and overturn tables cleansing the Temple and making it clear by those acts the value of serving the Holy God correctly, not corruptly.

He did not hesitate to turn the water into wine and thus establish His Authority over the supposed Talmudic "god" authority where the rabbinical priesthood were setting up a ceremonial cleansing of water not found in the Torah.

He did not shrink back every time He was challenged. By Love practiced, He brought forth the Guiding Light of Truth.

He, with a practice of being Love come in the flesh, loved unconditionally, even His enemies and I dare say, He knew Judas well and all who mistreated Him.

So, I encourage you to keep bringing this point of view into the mix. It just might be what others are waiting for and for whatever reason are not able to bring into the mix as well as you have in this article!

bless you and Lisa and the growing family!

Bob said...

Thanks, Michael. I certainly felt the Spirit of God on this material, and have been greatly convicted myself over my lack of love for others and really missing the "final apologetic".

Basically, I see in scripture an outline of a life to be lived and my willfull comprimise of what I know to be right and sought after. But I think that's the best spot to be, rather than some guy in a tower throwing nuggets of wisdom out of a window to the unenlightened below.

Derek said...

Right on word Bob!

Charlie J. Ray said...

This article is the biggest bunch of bull I have ever seen in my life. Love is not the measure of truth. Truth stands or falls on its own. That is not to say that we should not love but that is NOT what will convince the world that the Gospel is true. Love shows the world that we are obedient to Jesus' command to love. It is nothing more or less. I might add that no one can believe in Jesus unless they are first regenerated by the Holy Spirit.

Those who place all the emphasis on sloppy agape wind up as liberals. God wouldn't really burn your behind in hell, would He?

Bob said...

"Truth stands or falls on its own. That is not to say that we should not love but that is NOT what will convince the world that the Gospel is true.

Well you are mistaken not knowing the scirptures or at best inconsitantly applying them for Christ Himself said the exact apposite of what you are saying when He said:

"By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35)

Love is the mark of the true Christian, it is this mark that will distinguish us from the world, love for one another.

Furthermore as you said truth stands alone, implying that it doesn't really matter how it is presented, this is simply wrong, as we are called not only to speak the truth but to speak it in love (Eph 4) our speech is to be gracious to all when we answer them:

"Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person."

You wrote a rather startling statement here:

"Love shows the world that we are obedient to Jesus' command to love. It is nothing more or less."

Nothing? Just some rule to follow? That's a pretty shallow view of imitating Christ. It is love that is the ground for our assurance in 1 John 4:8,20.

I of course agree that no one believes apart from regeneration but it is certainly hyper-Calvinism to say therefore it doesn't matter we can be jerks to people because saving em is God's work.

Those put an emphasis on agape in their evangelism, you are right it may be sloppy, will be called as our Lord, "A friend of sinners".