Dr. Schaeffer in Atlanta

Rev. Thomas Vanden Heuvel serves on the board of the National Presbyterian and Reformed Fellowship and is pastor of the Central Avenue Christian Reformed Church of Holland Michigan. Mrs. Laurie Vanden Heuvel is a graduate of Calvin College. Their report on Dr. Schaeffer’s lectures in Atlanta will appear in two installments.

In 1968, a book entitled The God Who Is There appeared on the world scene which catapulted its author, Dr. Francis Schaeffer, into instant fame. New books by the same author have appeared in rapid succession since that time until now when the name Dr. Schaeffer, elicits immediate recognition in mas; secular and Christian academic communities around the world. Dr. B. P. Dotsenko, one of the Soviet Union’s top nuclear scientists, said in an interview for Christianity Today (Jan. 5/73 issue) that the two Christian philosophic writers who influenced him most in becoming a Christian were C. S. Lewis, and Francis Schaeffer.

Balancing out the intellectually demanding character of her husband’s works arc Mrs. (Edith) Schaeffer’s recent books: L’Abri, an engaging history of God’s leading in the lives and work of the Schaeffers in Switzerland these past eighteen years, and Hidden Art, an arresting challenge to discover and capture the hidden beauty to be found everywhere in God’s universe. Later this year another book will appear co-authored by Dr. and Mrs. Schaeffer.

To what can we attribute the success of Dr. Schaeffer in commanding not only the attention but also the respect of the “now” generation of intellectuals, both Christians and non-Christians (a truly unique accomplishment); the kind of ability to attract, for example, 2200 to a chapel service at the decadent Princeton Seminary—a crowd credited with being Princeton’s largest in decades!

Dr. Schaeffer himself answered this question in a recent lecture when he laid down the three things essential for anyone who desires to be an effective witness for Christ in our day:

1. Such a person must hold a correct position.

a. theologically on the doctrines of Scripture, and b. ecclesiastically as far as the church is concerned. Anyone who has read all of Dr. Schaeffer’s books, knows how succinctly he has demonstrated the clarity of his position in both of these areas (the Word and the Church).

2. Such a person must be willing and able to give honest answers to honest questions in our day. We must not be content in our day to tell seeking souls that they must believe so and so because we have always believed. so and so. We must rather be willing to take the questions seriously and to expend time and energy to search the Scriptures and present honest, Biblical answers.

3. Such a person must demonstrate for all to see that God’s Word and God’s presence are a reality in his own personal life because:

a. Correct positions on theology and ecclesiology are absolutely essential, but not enough.

b. Honest answers to honest questions are absolutely essential, but not enough. God’s presence must be an observable reality in the life of the Christian!

Because Dr. Schaeffer is himself an ardent Calvinist, a product of Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia and a strong promoter of the Reformed faith, it was the desire of the National Presbyterian and Reformed Fellowship (NPRF) to invite him to give three lectures at a two-day conference in Atlanta, Georgia. And because NPRF is an organization with conservative representatives of nine denominations, men who are dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the Reformed faith, Dr. Schaeffer took a special interest in NPRF and accepted this invitation while rejecting others.

It was our distinct privilege to spend these days with Dr. Schaeffer (Feb. 15–16/73) in Atlanta, Georgia. It is our purpose here to share with you some of the insights we received. This is a difficult and delicate task for two reasons:

1.  It is impossible to relate every word or even every concept Dr. Schaeffer set forth; and yet to omit any is to do a certain amount of injustice to a man who has so carefully crytallized his thoughts over the years and so competently communicated them.

2. It is impossible to translate into words the power and passion with which Dr. Schaeffer spoke.

But with God’s help, we will attempt to sketch the message God brought through this worthy servant of His on those days.

Synopsis – In the first of his trilogy of lectures, Dr. Schaeffer gave a brilliant analysis of “Where We Are” in today’s world. As he has done in detail in his two books, The God Who Is There and He Is There and Is Not Silent, he did in capsule form in this lecture demonstrate a scrupulous analysis of secular philosophy from Rousseau to the present day and the impact such philosophy has had on science, cinema, music, art, literature, and the new theology. In the second lecture, Dr. Schaeffer told us “What is Needed” in today’s world. And in the final lecture of the trilogy he pointed to the “Necessary Power” needed in today’s world.

It requires a good deal of effort and concentration to grasp the development and application of Dr. Schaeffer’s thought; but, if you have the determination to come along and endure the rigorous mental gymnastics, the reward of an enlarged vision and a revitalized dedication to the Christian task in today’s world will be yours.

LECTURE I – Where We Are -Dr. Schaeffer began his first lecture by positing that all men have a set of presuppositions (things they take for granted, assume), and all men operate on these presuppositions even though they seldom, if ever, stop to analyze their presuppositions. It must also be observed that most people catch their presuppositions much like a child catches a cold. But most people catch a wrong view either from their families or from the culture which surrounds them. The Christian, on the other hand, must choose his presuppositions from that which he knows to be a reliable body of truth.

The revolution in which our country currently finds itself began really at Berkeley Campus in 1964 with the hippie movement and a wide use of drugs, and a free speech movement. In order to understand what caused Berkeley in 1964, we must understand that these two movements did not come from nowhere. They had roots: one root is science; the other root is philosophy.

We will look at science first. Modem science was born with men like Copernicus, Galileo and Bacon. These men all held a basic world view in common:

1. That the universe was made by a reasonable God.

2. Therefore man could find out about the universe on the basis of reason.

This was their epistemological base. And from that base came certain presuppositions. One of these presuppositions can be described as the “uniformity of natural causes in an open system.” In common language this means that if there were a machine force to the universe which could be examined, nevertheless everything would not be part of that cosmic machine. Two are outside that cosmic machine: God, who has made it, and man who was the image of God. And furthermore, not only could God act on this cosmic machine, but man who was outside the cosmic machine could act on it too.

Now we must look at the second root, philosophy.

1. Plato maintained that “without an absolute particulars have no meaning.” What is a particular? A particular is every individual thing: light fixture, spectacles, molecule, individual man, individual woman.

2. Jean Paul Sartre – who had no solution for his problem, nevertheless said: “Unless the finite point has an infinite reference point, the finite point has no meaning.”

These two basic principles (“absolutes” and “infinite reference point”) were said to affect the areas of:

1. Morals – That unless there was something that could be said to make a thing right or wrong, the whole thing became relative.

2. Metaphysics – That there was no meaning to the “particular” called “man” unless there was an “infinite reference point” or an “absolute” to which to relate him.

3. Epistemology – That unless one has an absolute to which to relate things, one comes to the point where he is sure that he is not sure what he knows, or that there is any correlation between that which he thinks he knows, and that which is really there. Modem man has now come to this place.

But the older philosophers, no matter what school they belonged to, held three things in common:

1. They were rationalists. That is, they rejected any concept of knowledge outside of themselves, and expressly they rejected any concept of knowledge from God.

2. They believed in the validity of reason, that is the ability to determine that certain things are true and certain things are not true; certain things are right and certain things are wrong. In other words, they could think in terms of antithesis.

3. They believed further that rationalism (point 1) plus the validity of reason (point 2) would equal a unified field of knowledge; that is, they could make a certain kind of scheme which would explain all the facts for all of life.

Now, in order to understand what happened at Berkeley in 1964, we must understand that there has now been a SHIFT on the side of both science and philosophy.

First we will consider that shift on the part of science. The old scientific presupposition maintained a “uniformity of natural causes in an open system,” (God and man are outside of the cosmic machine and both can act upon the cosmic machine). The new scientific presupposition maintains a “uniformity of natural causes in a closed system,” which insists that God and man are part of the cosmic machine. And what this really means is that there is no God and no man. Man is only a part of the cosmic machine, and no more important a part than for example the electrons that cause a microphone to work. This view has found its expression in B. F. Skinner’s book Beyond Freedom and Dignity in which Skinner posits that man has no freedom and, therefore, no dignity. (Dr. Schaeffer has written a rebuttal to B. F. Skinner in his new booklet, Back to Freedom and Dignity.) We must realize. therefore. that for several generations now, the schools and the media have been teaching the young that man is only a machine, chemically and psychologically determined.

Having observed the shift on the side of science, we now consider the shift on the side of philosophy. Keeping in mind that older philosophers for centuries maintained that “rationalism plus the validity of reason would produce an explanation for all the facts of all of life,” we now see a shift in philosophic thinking coming to expression in four main men: Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, and Kierkegaard.

1. Rousseau – maintained that man was an autonomous cosmic machine and therefore had autonomous freedom. (Man was thus a law unto himself.) Hippies are an obvious and natural result of this philosophy—a kicking against mores and taboos which boiled over at Berkeley in 1964.

2. Kant – spoke of the two worlds; the world of observable facts, and the world of meaning and values. Both of these he tried to generate from himself.

3. Hegel – changed the world by his teaching of synthesis. There is no right, there is no wrong; there is no true. there is no false. Everything is relative. And this is the philosophy that has taken over on both sides of the Iron Curtain. In Communist countries, Hegelian thought manifests itself in a dialectical materialism. But in the Western world too, Hegel has been king a long time. There is here no right, no wrong; nothing is true, nothing is false.

4. Kierkegaard – finished that whole thing. He maintained that reason only leads to profound pessimism and despair. Therefore. Kierkegaard devalued reason and maintained that if we are to have any optimism in this life at all , it can come only from the area of non-reason.

So, in summary, we must understand that the older philosophers believed that reason plus rationalism would lead them to a unified field of knowledge. Now, after struggling for almost two thousand years, modem philosophers gave up reason., and settled for non-reason. If we do not understand this, we do not understand the generation to which we preach! This is not a generation of reason! They have looked for answers in the area of non-reason. This Dr. Schaeffer calls the Downstairs and the Upstairs. The Downstairs has reduced man to some form of determinism, behaviorism, cosmic machinism, or reductionism.

What is reductionism? Reductionism reduces everything to its smallest part so that man equals only energy particles, molecules—nothing more! We have been teaching this in our universities for a long time now. The modem young person is totally caught in a monstrous dichotomy. As he sees it, wherever there is reason. there is despair. He can find optimism (answers) only in the area of non-reason (and this is difficult for us with a Christian background to understand). The area of non-reason to which young people look for their answers Dr. Schaeffer calls the Upstairs.

The men who first began to look for Upper Story (Upstairs) answers were the existentialists: Hcidegger, Jaspers to name a couple. Karl Jaspers could find no meaning to life so he hoped to find huge. pleasurable experiences which might give him the hope of finding meaning to life. Many people use drugs to give them the pleasurable experiences of life.

We find existentialism in the new theology. In Karl Barth, for example, we find existential experience apart from facts. Hans Kung believed in a resurrection, but a TV camera could not have recorded it, he says. This is separation of experience from fact. And, believe it or not. an existentialist can use a confession or a creed -but he means something entirely different by it. Our task with young people is also fantastic. They think of Jesus as an existential “trip,” an “experience” divorced from reality. Children have been taught along these lines for three or four generations already: man is an animal. a machine; there is no ultimate meaning to life, no fixed morals. And in 1964 at Berkeley. the young people carried this philosophy out into the street and everybody was shocked. Why should they be shocked when a generation carries out into the street what they have been taught in the classroom, in art, TV, books, etc.?

Professors at Berkeley cheered the young people on. But later, at Columbia University. the students tore up professors’ notes and theses. and then the professors did not cheer. But why not cheer? The same philosophy that drove the students to do what they did at Berkeley drove them to do what they did at Columbia. Only the recipients were different. Philosophic cinema is having a powerful influence today also. Think of the movie “Blow Up” advertised as “murder without guilt; love without meaning.” Society is so sick because it has no values! It functions on the basis of an “impersonal beginning plus time, plus chance.” Modern man is in a very hard place!

But we evangelicals show such a lack of compassion. We are so smug in our own corner. We arc so smug in our Reformed faith, having the truth. Where are our tears for those who are caught up in this present day situation? It’s a time to weep! We face a generation that is completely lost. We need the kind of Reformation of 1644 which said Rex lex! Law is king! God’s law sets men free from chaos. But the world is on the other side. All the media have taught them differently. The shift in philosophy and science from meaning to non-meaning has formed them even though they may not realize it. We live in a Post-Christian age. The standards which formed yesterday’s society are gone. Yesterday is gone.

There are only three options open to man now:

1. Hedonism – each man does what he wants; permissiveness in sex, etc. This is the hippie world. We cannot build a society on this.

2. Absolute dictatorship – 51% vote determines what is right. Kinsey operates on this principle. Whatever 51% of the people are doing in the area of sex is right. How wrong! Sweden is governed by this view and the United States too. This principle is tantamount to saying that Hitler is right if he gets 51% of the vote. There was a day when we had a Christian consensus. It was a different world. The little man could stand on his Book and point his finger at the 51% and say, “You are wrong because the Book says so!”

3. Arbitrary absolutes – when people see that neither “hedonism” nor the dictatorship of 51% is working, there will arise a group of elites (and this is already happening) who will come and give us arbitrary absolutes.

Marcuses, representing the new left in the free speech movement, thought the minority could tell the majority what to do. His movement has faded a bit. Another elite element i~ arising and that is the “establishment elite” pushed most clearly by John Galbraith. This is the intellectual elite of the academic community, particularly the community of science and of the state. They will hand down the arbitrary absolutes which will shape our society. That is why B. F. Skinner’s book, Beyond Freedom and Dignity, made a big noise. 1t came at the right moment when society was asking, “Who will shape these things?” and Skinner said, “We will do it!”

Now, who are the people facing the elite? They are the Silent Majority we’ve heard so much about. But this Silent Majority falls into two categories:

1. Christians – who have “absolutes” and those who have memories of absolutes. This category is the silent minority.

2. Silent Majority – are the people of this country who are interested in only two things: personal peace and affluence.

It is these people that made the kids scream in 1964. They screamed “Bourgeoisie, Bourgeoisie!” because they saw only these two values in adults, personal peace and affluence. These kids were right in their analysis. They developed their own answers to the adult generation: 1. drugs and 2. political revolution. They honestly thought that if everyone was on drugs, problems would disappear. But then came Woodstock, the high point of the hippie world; then the Rolling Stones’ Festival; and finally the ugliness of the Isle of Wright—and the young people realized that there was no hope for solving their problems in drugs. Does that mean there are less drug users? No there are more than ever. But they are taking them for a different reason. They no longer put their hope for answers in it. Their hope is gone—dead! They take it now so as not to be disturbed.

Their second answer, that of political revolution, also came to nothing. So there too hope is dead, so they think. And they have now become the new “bourgeoisie” themselves—interested only in their own personal peace. They take drugs so as not to be disturbed. This is a hard situation to which the church is to minister because the young people of today refuse to be aroused about anything. They just want to be left alone in personal peace. They arc filled with despair. They are not even asking questions anymore. Parents are thrilled about the new peacefulness of the young, but it is, in reality, a deadly dullness, apathy.

So now parents and children are both “bourgeoisie.” They both have as their goals personal peace and affluence. Only their means of achieving it are different. They are both willing to give up their liberties if they can only retain their life style. How tragic!

There are only two conclusions:

1. Too long we evangelical, orthodox people have related the Christian position to a middle-class life style. And likely, if our middle-class life style will not be disturbed through all of this—we will be silent.

2. But for those who will preach the gospel to this generation, we must realize that there are only two choices open to modern man:

a. All things began with an infinite personal God who has spoken in propositional terms with content!

b. Or all things started with the “impersonal plus time, plus chance.”

If we take “a” away, we have total meaninglessness, and that is where we are today.

At this point, Dr. Schaeffer ended his first lecture filled with compassion for the “lost” generation: “Alas, O God, how far they lie from their destination!” (A quote from Felini).

(To be continued)