I love all things 1960′s culture. Many of the cultural and philosophical changes that occurred during 1960′s still affect Western society today. So, I’m not really sure why I haven’t read more of Francis Schaeffer’s writings until now. His discussion of 1960′s culture, and the surrounding decades, expertly offers theological and cultural commentary. And he does so with a heart tuned towards loving–not just callously understanding–his fellow man. The God Who is There is a good book. Having finished it, I now want to re-read, and re-think about many of Schaeffer’s arguments. Though this book was written in 1968, it still demands consideration in 2011. I’m particularly interested in Schaeffer’s thoughts as they relate to postmodernity (or the seeds of postmodernity), and how his arguments for God remain relevant, or conversely, now seem irrelevant, to the cultural milieu of 2011. Lots to think about I know! But I enjoy it! And I desperately want to understand the average postmodern person in 2011.
“The problem which confronts us as we approach modern man today is not how we are to change Christian teaching in order to make it more palatable, for to do that would mean throwing away any chance of giving the real answer to man in despair; rather, it is the problem of how to communicate the gospel so that it is understood.”
- Francis Schaeffer, The God Who is There, 163.
“These paintings, these poems, and these demonstrations which we have been talking about are the expression of men who are struggling with their appalling lostness. Dare we laugh at such things? Dare we feel superior when we view their tortured expressions in their art? Christians should stop laughing and take such men seriously. Then we shall have the right to speak again to our generation. These men are dying while they live; yet where is our compassion for them? There is nothing more ugly than Christian orthodoxy without understanding or without compassion.”
- Francis Schaeffer, The God Who is There, page 54.
A Christian Manifesto by Francis A. Schaeffer
I was born in 1980; the product of a Southern Baptist upbringing. Although – and I feel it’s necessary to make this disclaimer – it was a good Southern Baptist upbringing. A bad Southern Baptist upbringing would be one where I was taught to do it the “Baptist Way” just because it’s the right way. That was not my experience! The type of upbringing I received was one that encouraged me to not-be a Southern Baptist per se, but rather to be a person who thinks carefully about the Bible, tests the teachings of others against the Bible’s revelation of itself, a person who treasures God above all, and who lets my actions and words speak in everyday life. That was what I was taught, and I’m grateful.
I’m relating all of this because this book has helped me to more fully put some of my own worldview pieces together, and to better understand the worldview of the previous generation. I feel I now have a better handle on the religious-political thought of the 1980′s. I was born in 1980, raised around the ideas of the “Moral Majority,” and a product of much of this type of thinking. I’ve watched my opinions about how the church should engage culture and government change quite a bit during my short life, and I’ve wondered how so many Christians of the previous generation got so screwed up. This book helped me to understand those differences a little better.
Schaeffer’s basic premise is that America and its government were founded on a Judeo-Christian Worldview. He says “The Reformation in Northern Europe not only brought forth a clear preaching of the gospel, but also brought forth distinctive governmental and social results” (134, emphasis mine). He further claims that humanism is now the prevailing worldview represented by the American government, the media, and American schools. In Schaeffer’s opinion this worldview “would never have given the form and freedom in government we have had in Northern Europe (including the United States)” (43). In other words, according to Schaeffer, the United States, the Constitution, and the freedom we enjoy are all products of the Bible. They would never have come into existence apart from the founding fathers embracing it as their own worldview. From this central premise Schaeffer goes on to recount the destruction that humanist thought has wrought upon Western thinking, and he outlines a plan for proper resistance to the humanist takeover of America and abroad.
From my perspective this book appears a lot more militant than I expected it to be. Schaeffer advocates picketing, civil disobedience, and other means of resisting secular society that honestly have a black eye in the thinking of many turn-of-the-century twenty-somethings. Many young Christians are sick of political maneuvering, the Moral Majority, Republicanism being equated with Christianity, and other methods that this book advocates. They seem like flawed methods that were doomed to failure.
That being said, I don’t want to sell Schaeffer short. I’m not sure he would have agreed with all the political action that Christians have taken in the last 30 years. I think it’s also safe to say that society has changed quite a bit in 30 years too. Many in American culture have morphed from a modern, concrete understanding of truth towards a postmodern, less-concrete, “your opinion is just as valid as mine,” understanding of truth. This change, whether helpful or not, has led to different approaches by Christians who are seeking to engage culture and government in meaningful ways.
People of my generation are more likely (I think) to engage culture through meaningful art and meaningful relationships. Rather than try to change law to make sure it endorses a Christian worldview, Christian twenty-somethings are more apt to try and change individual people. This change in approach is due in part to a shifting towards post-modernity, but it may also be due to a feeling that the battle for the government seems hopeless and misguided to begin with.
I’ve heard it argued most of my life that America was founded on a Christian worldview, but I’ve never heard it argued effectively by anyone until I read this book. My generation’s shift in epistemological understandings has led me in the past to say that “the claim that America was founded on a Judeo-Christian understanding is short-sided,” but Schaeffer has made me consider otherwise. The Constitution does seem to have been founded almost primarily on a Christian-esque understanding of the world, the law, and human rights. Having conceded that truth, I can understand why Schaeffer and others have so ardently sought to fight against the total secularization of government through political means. It makes sense once I’ve conceded Schaeffer’s premise.
A New, Old Approach
However, I’m not sure that those same methods still make sense. In light of America’s current political-social-religious landscape, fighting to return American law to a Judeo-Christian interpretation through political means seems hopeless. I understand that it’s justifiable, but I’m just not sure it’s a worthwhile cause. To be honest, maybe I do think it’s worthwhile, but I think we’ve been going about it the wrong way. Somewhere along the line a lot of Christians quit thinking about the totality of the political spectrum and began just voting along party lines. More than ever the Republican party simply does not represent Christian thought. Christians must approach politics agreeing and disagreeing with aspects of both of the main two parties. And we also must admit that the political front is only one aspect of living for Jesus. What little I understand of Schaeffer makes me think that this actually was his approach. Unfortunately many in the previous generation seem to have advocated only a political approach. They reduced Christian political activism to voting Republican, and they ignored other ways that Christians can engage culturally. Our approach should be political, but not just Republican, and our approach should go beyond politics, and be relational and artistic as well.
This approach: “The Lordship of Christ over every area of life,” is what Schaeffer advocated. Somewhere along the way many within pop-Christianity got confused. They forgot the arts and the importance of personal relationships, and they relegated our fight completely to politics. Hopefully we can re-learn the art of embracing the Gospel in every area of life. If we can’t, then the pendulum will swing too far the other way and Christians in 30 years will be wondering, “What the heck were the turn-of-the-century Christians thinking!” I for one hope that we’re learning to be balanced.
This is a good book. Some of the forms of civil disobedience Schaeffer advocates seem a little over the top to me, but maybe Schaeffer is just taking the Bible more seriously than I am. In the end this book gave me a lot to chew on, and it encouraged me to think about the ways in which I am embodying the Christian life politically.