Review below written in 2012, when I was 17
Reading Francis Schaeffer is like falling out of a fishing boat into the ocean. Both the depth and vastness is overwhelming. It takes but a few pages before you begin floundering and coughing up sea water.
And Mr. Schaeffer’s subject matter, philosophy, is like studying the cellular structure of the vast, deep, sea’s water molecules. It is the ocean itself–culture–that he is studying, but with a stronger magnification glass than most people trouble themselves to pull out. Most are satisfied with the view from the boat and their sweeping observations of the ocean’s surface but with the extra magnification comes a stronger, more comprehensive, more precise, understanding of the whole ocean.
“The God Who is There” is about the dialectical system, which simply put, is relativism.
Prior to the “line of despair” men thought in terms of antithesis–that there is an absolute right and wrong, that certain things are always wrong, that A equals A and than A is not non-A. Even Aristotle believed in antithesis. Non-Christians held Christian pre-suppositions and never questioned them…until Hegel proposed the theory of synthesis (the dialectical method) where two opposing viewpoints are resolved by a synthesis, that synthesis becomes the new thesis which has its own antithesis and is resolved by synthesis and so on. In other words, relativism. This was then picked up by Kierkegaard, the father of modern thought. The optimistic humanists of the Renaissance believed that they could obtain a universal meaning starting from man. Kierkegaard realized this to be impossible and he opened the door to the line of despair–a point in time when men gave up hope of finding a rational explanation for the universe. The only way to find meaning is through a blind leap of faith.
“It was as though the rationalist suddenly realized that he was trapped in a large round room with no doors and no windows, nothing but complete darkness. From the middle of the room he would feel his way to the walls and begin to look for an exit. He would go round the circumference, and then the terrifying truth would dawn on him that there was no exit, no exit at all!” pg. 31
This led to a dichotomy of faith and reason which Schaeffer calls, respectively, the upper and lower “stories”. Kierkegaard’s thinking set the gears in motion for both secular and religious existentialism, progressing in five steps: philosophy, art, music, general culture, then finally, theology. The “wave of despair” if you will, started in Germany and ravaged it’s way across Europe in 1890 and on to America by 1935. Artists like Picasso tried to find universal meaning through their art.
“[They believe] There is no certainty that a god is there, but the poet, musician, or art as art is the prophet where there is no certainty about anything.” pg. 94
Though Picasso began in the tradition of classical artists, as his thinking developed his paintings changed. There came a point when you could no longer tell whether the women he painted were blonds or brunettes…or women at all…or even human.
“He…tried to build a system out from himself, but his system [came] to the place where there is not room in the universe for man.” pg. 51
The particulars were lost in the quest for the universal. In music we saw the introduction of chaos, heavy noise and lack of unity in composition. In literature we see situational ethics but I’ll come back to that later.
However much men try, men cannot live as machines, so they thrust different things into the upper story of the non-rational. For some it’s self-authentication, others seek a “final experience”–an experience that, by nature, is non-communicable but is man’s desperate attempt to find meaning in what he believes to be an irrational universe. For many, hallucinogenic drugs give this “experience”. Homosexuality is not an isolated issue but a symptom of the change from antithesis to synthesis. Marxism, socialism, relativism, existentialism, mysticism and many other “isms” all come from Kierkegaard’s philosophy where the individual is lost and all values are relative; men must create their own meaning.
“The real enemy is not the form it takes but the dialectical methodology itself.” pg. 65
But surely Bible-Believing Christians would be safe from such an error? Schaeffer says:
“It is like suffocating in a particularly bad London fog. And just as fog cannot be kept out by walls or doors, so this consensus comes in around us, until the room we live in is no longer unpolluted, and yet we hardly realize what has happened.” pg. 25
“The mass of people may not enter an art museum, may never read a serious book. If you were to explain the drift of modern thought to them, they might not be able to understand it; but this does not mean that they are not influenced by the things they see and hear…” pg. 61
“We cannot assume that because we are Christians in the full Biblical sense, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, automatically we shall be free from the influence of what surrounds us.” pg. 172
This is why it is imperative for Christians to practice discernment and to know the times.
“If we let go of our sense of antithesis, we will have nothing left to say.” pg. 67
“…not only should we have genuine compassion for lost among whom we live, but also concern for our God. We are his people, and if we get caught up in the other methodology, we have really blasphemed, discredited and dishonored him–for the greatest antithesis of all is that God exists as opposed to his not existing; he is the God who is there.” pg. 68
Christianity is not rationalistic but it is rational. Biblical faith is not blind. “There is no leap in the dark, for it is possible to ‘know the truth.’ ” pg. 174
While, “[the] new system is not open to verification; it must simply be believed.” pg. 75
Christianity is open to verification and debate. Christians are not told to believe in opposition to all the evidence–they are told to believe that what God says about Himself is true while both Creation and the Word of God bear testimony to the existence and works of God. This is historic, Biblical Christianity. But with the dichotomy of faith and reason–“The downstairs has no relationship with meaning; the upstairs no relationship to reason.” pg. 76&77
We now have “faith in faith” not faith in God. “Modern man cannot talk about the object of his faith, only about the faith itself. So he can discuss the existence of his faith and its ‘size’ as it exists against all reason, but that is all. Modern man’s faith turns inward.” pg. 84
Sound anything like the charismatic movement? The “new theology” uses connotation words and symbols to create an appearance of meaning amidst non-meaning. By using loaded words such as “Jesus”, “faith”, “love” and “God” modern man can create a mirage of meaning, devoid of any actual content. “Just love Jesus…” sounds “spiritual” but means nothing unless you know WHO Jesus is and WHAT love is. Connotation words are a smoke screen to hide existentialism.
Which leads me to the issue of Situational Ethics. Schaeffer did not specifically refer to Situational Ethics, but he addressed the root error. As I was reading, the topic immediately came to mind so I did some more research on it. Situational Ethics is a “Christian” theory of ethics developed by an episcopal priest named Joseph Fletcher. He taught that all “laws” are subjective–they are a means to an end and sometimes other means must be used. For example: it’s “wrong” to murder but what if that “murder” is the only way to prevent the death of thousands of others, as in the case of the assassination of a dictator? What if, in order to save her nation, a woman spy must seduce and fornicate with one of the enemy? What if–and here’s one that hits closer to home–what if the life of an unborn child threatens the life of its mother? Fletcher holds to no law but Love; according to him, the question should not be “what is right?”, but “what is most loving?”. That sounds great until you ask, “what is love?” “love for whom?”.
“Though modern man tries to hang everything on the word love, love can quickly degenerate into something very much less because he really does not understand it. He has no adequate universal for love.” pg. 124
The Bible tells us what love is. Our New Testament reading from 2 John, yesterday, says “this is love: that we walk according to his commandments.” This is why discernment is a non-negotiable–if we do not actively “test the spirits” we WILL be led astray by the one who appears as an angel of light. It is no surprise that Joseph Fletcher–former priest–professed atheism at the end of his life.
“We are distracted by a flourish of endless words, and lo, personality has appeared out of the hat! This is the water rising above its source. No one in all the history of humanistic, rationalistic thought has found a solution. As a result, either the thinker must say man is dead, because personality is a mirage; or else he must hang his reason on a hook outside the door and cross the threshold into the leap of faith which is the new level of despair.” pg. 115
Man has made his universe and he can’t live in it.
“…if man has been kicked up by chance out of what is only impersonal, then those things that make him man–hope of purpose and significance, love, motions of morality and rationality, beauty and verbal communication–are ultimately unfulfillable and are thus meaningless…The green moss on the rock is higher than he, for it can be fulfilled in the universe that exists.” pg. 116
“The optimistic jump is a necessity because man is still created in the image of God, whatever he may say about himself, and as such he cannot go on living in meaninglessness.” pg. 80
“Every truly modern man is forced to accept some sort of leap in theory or practice, because the pressure of his own humanity demands it. He can say what he will concerning what he himself is; but no matter what he says he is, he still is man.” pg. 88
No man lives consistently with his non-Christian pre-suppositions. His very “mannishness”-as Schaeffer says–prohibits it. The more consistent a man is with his beliefs the further he is from the real world. Schaeffer talks about lovers on the bank of the Seine in Paris who “fall in love and yet cry because they do not believe love exists.” Somewhere along the line between the real world and the logical conclusion of his presuppositions, man will find a place where he is comfortable and build a “roof” over his head to shelter him from reality.
“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 a Christian orthodoxy without understanding or without compassion.” pg. 54
Painful as it will be, it is our duty to remove that roof.
“We confront men with reality; we remove their protection and their escapes; we allow the avalanches to fall. If they do not become Christians, then indeed they are in a worse state than before we spoke to them.” pg. 160
but this is true love. If we surrender antithesis we can no longer call sin, sin. What then is the difference between death and life? Light and darkness? “…for the greatest antithesis of all is that God exists as opposed to his not existing; he is the God who is there.”