I feel almost immediately apologetic venerating a dead white man. The truth is though, that people like Francis Schaeffer position themselves outside all of the categorys of current political correctness. Schaeffer belonged to us, he belongs to me, but he also belonged to history, especially the history of the Christian church in the 20th Century as it not always so successfully attempted to navigate the waters of cynicism, secular humanism and relativism. Besides being able to be almost consistently on point, he also was able to ground his thought not only in the best of what theology had to say, but also philosophy, art and culture.
Recently, I have been rereading many of Schaeffer’s works, and have been struck as I was also decades ago with how clearly he could read the currents of culture, where they are taking us and what they are doing to us. How clearly he was able to articulate what is at stake for Christians, what hills a Christian should be willing to die on, and how fundamentally different it is to believe in the One who “is there” and who “is not silent”.
Relativism is so embedded in the psyche of our culture, so rampant in the church and so cozy with certain aspects of our thoughts, our hopes and our fears as members of a sinful people that it takes real, sustained vigilance to even remind ourselves that this is so.
The truth is that the current ability of the Christian Church to even survive as culturally relevant is mostly because we were are still in a sense shielded by the shelters of comfort and protection erected by our fathers in the faith: their robust thinking, their undying devotion to the truth in it’s un-watered down form, their willingness to risk the acid critique of the world to hold truly to a thoroughly Biblical faith. We are only about a generation away from those temporary shelters also being dismantled if there are not others to stand in their stead.
Many beleivers find someone like Schaeffer hard to understand or appreciate. Once you truly grasp on to the thrust of his argument, it all becomes very simple.
You first have to accept the fact that history is significant, that my life was not built upon a blank slate of ideas, of hopes and fears, of assumptions, or ways of processing things, and that history can be traced.
That history has a certain direction to it, the ideas of men has a definite direction to them as they are influenced by the demands of their particular time given the previous ideas that they inherited. In short, Schaeffer sees the shift of man’s thought moving from truth as antithetical (based upon a legacy of believe in absolute truth) to dialectical (with Hegel as the “hinge-point”). The crisis of unbelief in the one true God, which always has had an individual dimension, increasingly took on communal impact as the progress of men’s thoughts in the west drifted away from the absolutes of Christian theism.
We see Schaeffer’s insight played out in an unfolding debacle of cultural decay, declining religion and growth of new forms of anti-religion progressing at an astonishing pace in our daily news and in the trends that guide and shape our world.
Many forms of collectivism are still advancing on the world stage, natural outgrowths of a dialectival imperative. In the political realm supra-nationalism is still on the rise although it has had some noticeable setbacks, notably in our Presidential outcome and in Brexit. In popular culture, Facebook and other software platforms are ever-increasingly the cultural gathering places. Not surprising, Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, announced his intention to have Facebook provide a “replacement” for the church. There are certainly some altruistic benefits to be derived from all of these different quests as modern man tries to creatively solve the problems of modern man. There is a difference though between responding to the needs of the times and drinking the dialectical “koolaid”.
The benefits don’t negate the much broader concern that our culture is regressing from social patterns predicated on “true” truth to structures where cultural concensus becomes more and more the end-game. Law, governmental policy, social ethics and just culture in general are undergoing a dramatic transformation and much on it is based on an unfounded and unrealistic view of human ability and negligence of Divine revelation.
The church has not escaped this onslaught and in many sectors capitulated to a dialectical framework. Others have by their syncretism let the Yin and Yang of dialect in the barn door and in so doing the yeast is already in the loaf. We in the church need to be rigorous in tracing down the history of the ideas that drive our reflection and work through to our policy. That is the legacy Francis Schaeffer left for us. The hour is getting late.