Saturday, March 9, 2019

10 Concerns Francis Schaeffer Took to the Grave (pt. 2)

"Penned just before his death in 1984, Francis’ Schaeffer’s forgotten tome ‘The Great Evangelical Disaster’ drew attention to various concerns that lay heavily upon the Protestant thinker’s mind before he passed into glory. Today, rereading this book some three decades later seems to almost verge on the prophetic (small case "p"). The Switzerland-based American teacher was able to pinpoint several major themes that have come to plague the evangelical scene in our days. In this article, we are going to highlight ten major fears that Schaeffer took to the grave which should be of concern to all of us who identify ourselves with the Gospel-centred, Reformation-rooted Protestant faith.

Yesterday we considered the first five fears namely:
1.- Growing Relativism
2.- Lack of Discipline 
3.- Compromise of the Truth
4.- Social Work (Misplaced Priorities)
5.- The Temptation of Ecumenism 

Today we will consider the remaining five concerns that Mr. Schaeffer wrote about shortly before his death.  As you think about the past 35 years, how many of these concerns were valid?  What can we do to address these ten concerns as individual believers and as local churches?  

6. Abortion 

Far from assenting to rife abortion-justifying euphemisms such as the ‘quality of life’ or ‘the happiness and well-being of the mother’ or ‘the need for every child to be wanted’, Schaeffer believed that mass abortion was simply the outworking of a revived hedonistic attitude which put a person’s happiness above a sacred respect for human life.  He was unable to understand how anyone confessing the name of Christ could remain within a pro-abortion denomination. In the final analysis, abortion was an all-out attack on the precious image of God which is made known through humankind. “The unborn child is a human being created in the image of God, and to deny this is to deny the authority of the Bible. It is impossible to read Psalm 139 and truly believe what it says without realizing that life in the womb is human life. It is impossible to truly believe in the Incarnation and not realize that the child conceived in Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit was indeed the Son of God from the time of conception”.

7.- Liberalism 

The fruit of theological liberalism had left many formerly-sound churches completely destitute of any spiritual power. Modernism, influenced by German Higher Criticism, had all but baptized the cardinal doctrines of the Enlightenment in the name of Christ. What did such an approach entail? Schaeffer answers: “The denial of the supernatural; belief in the all-sufficiency of human reason; the rejection of the Fall; denial of the deity of Christ and his resurrection; belief in the perfectibility of man; and the destruction of the Bible”.  Liberal preachers like the acclaimed Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878-1969) had no authoritative Bible left to preach from. Secular humanism took centre stage therefore any doctrine that did not put the spotlight upon man was ultimately done away with. Rather than the church influencing the world; the world took the reins of the church into her Gospel-denying grasp. Today this is seen in the emergent church and in the seeker sensitive/church growth movements.

8.- Hedonism (fleshly pleasure seeking)

Hedonism is the philosophy that the meaning of life ultimately revolves around one’s happiness, pleasure and feeling good at the moment. This hedonistic thrust had led contemporary society to cast off Christian morality in the name of self-fulfilment. Schaeffer was alarmed at how one’s personal welfare was gradually taking primacy over human life i.e. as in the case of abortion. As Schaeffer spells out, “We are surrounded by a society with no fixed standards and ‘no-fault’ everything. Each thing is psychologically pushed away or explained away so that there is no right or wrong. And, as with the ‘happiness’ of the mother taking precedence over human life, so anything which interferes with the ‘happiness’ of the individual or society is dispensed with”.  Hedonism’s selfish and amoral nature was a real danger facing the church of Schaeffer’s day and the same truth abides in our generation. In some places church has become more about ‘customer satisfaction’ than the true worship of the triune God. 

9.- The Loss of Propositional Revelation 

Schaeffer insisted upon the need of a strong view of propositional revelation for the spiritual and academic welfare of contemporary Protestantism. Since God, the Creator of all things (language included), was truly there and had desired to communicate his Word to humankind, it was only natural that he should employ the medium of language and hence propositional sentences in order to make his will clear. This meant that Schaeffer’s stress was not primarily upon a believer’s subjective religious experience, but upon the objective account of revelation displayed in Scripture. Experience was useful in the measure that it lined up with the teaching of the Bible. “What is our foundation?” asks Schaeffer. “It is that the infinite-personal God who exists has not been silent, but has spoken propositional truth in all that the Bible teaches” Take away propositional revelation and the foundation of the Christian is obliterated!  In Jude 3 believers are commanded to "contend earnest for THE FAITH."  We have a non-negotiable body of objective truth that has been handed down to us on a sea of blood (the blood of faithful martyrs who would not deny the gospel even unto death).

10.- The Inerrant Scriptures 

“We have an inerrant Scripture”. A final key worry running throughout the whole of Schaeffer’s volume is that of biblical inerrancy. He was incensed to hear of fellow evangelicals who were calling the plenary inspiration of Scripture into question by stressing that the Bible could contain geographical and historical errors despite its teaching upon religion and morals as being true (for the most part). This was the view of the Neo-Orthodox thinkers Karl Barth (1886-1968) and Emil Brunner (1889-1966). The acclaimed Swiss Neo-Orthodox theologian, Karl Barth. Schaeffer disparaged such a view writing that: “The Bible is without error not only when it speaks of values, the meaning system and religious things, but it is also without error when it speaks of history and the cosmos”.  This was the full view of Scripture as the Word of God at which the American aimed. As far as he was concerned, an errant Bible –if only in the realm of science and history- could never be infallible. Infallibility demanded inerrancy (and vice-versa)! Although Barth, Brunner and a host of their theological colleagues had launched an anti-liberal revolution in the early decades of the twentieth century, Schaeffer was far from satisfied with their neo-orthodoxy. The chief concern for the American was their manifest lack of a “full view” of Scripture which was due to an overly subjectivist approach to theology. Rather than saying that the Bible merely ‘contained’ the Word of God or ‘became’ the Word of God by means of an existential encounter with the risen Christ, Schaeffer was adamant that true evangelicalism confesses that “the Bible is objective, absolute truth in all the areas it touches upon”.


To conclude, Schaeffer’s ten concerns can be traced back to the Enlightenment by which man placed his ‘autonomous’ reason over and against the authoritative revelation of God in Scripture. It seems to be that in our day the same decision is forcing itself upon all us evangelicals: shall it be the Word of God or the thoughts of fallen humankind that determine our thinking and praxis? Were Schaeffer still amongst us today, he would doubtlessly have opted for the former. What about you?"

Article written by Will Graham and originally posted at Evangelical Focus.