A Black-And-White Proposal: Farewell To Fuzzy Thinking

Donald Miller raises the banner for “fuzzy thinking” in a recent blog post entitled, “The Problem with Black-and-White Thinking” (re-posted on relevantmagazine.com).  His main thought: “Black-and-white, either-or thinking polarizes people and stunts progressive thought.”  Additionally, he holds that this kind of thinking stunts our “ability to find truth.”

DEFENDING THE GOOD IN MILLER’S PROPOSAL

Miller admits that there is such a thing as right and wrong.  He also admits the existence of absolute truth.  So Miller does not advocate full-fledged relativism.  For this, we can be thankful.  In fact, even though his posting is loaded with difficulties, Miller does include some helpful suggestions worth considering:

First, Miller suggests, “Disengage your ego from your ideas.”  This point is well taken because many times a particular view is so tied to one’s ego that it becomes virtually impossible to separate fact from fiction.

Second, Miller encourages, “Understand there is much you don’t understand.”  He rightly adds, “We begin to think in black-and-white when we assume we know everything.”  While he does not press the point of Christian humility (as he should – pardon the black- and white thinking), it seems to be a part of his overall argument.

Third, Miller seems to argue in essence, that charity and grace ought to be a part of conversations and even arguments.  This implied pointer ought to be a part of daily life, where conversations and arguments produce more light than heat and stimulate deeper thinking about a given subject.

DISMANTLING THE BAD IN MILLER’S PROPOSAL

There are four problems that emerge, including unwarranted assumptions that must be dismantled.

Black-and-White Thinking Demonizes the Opposition

Miller advances the common notion that black-and-white thinking is polarizing; a bad thing. Again, “Black-and-white, either-or thinking polarizes people and stunts progressive thought.”  He adds, “… We begin to believe whatever thought-camp we subscribe to is morally good and the other morally bad, thus demonizing a threatening position.”

But this is not necessarily the case.  One can advance a dogmatic view but do so in a humble, yet decisive way.  After gaining a hearing with the philosophers in Athens, Paul presents an argument that could be construed as black-and-white:  “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30, ESV).

Paul does polarize his audience.  Notice their response.  “Now then they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked.  But others said, ‘We will hear you again about this'” (Acts 17:32).  The polarization that occurs is a necessary part of proclaiming the gospel message.  “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18, ESV).

Jesus employs a similar strategy when he confronts the Jews in John 8:  “Whoever is of God hears the words of God.  The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (v. 47, ESV).  Jesus does not demonize his hearers.  He merely tells them the truth.  Again, polarizing – but necessary.

These Jews maintained, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone.  How is it that you can say, ‘You will become free?'” (John 8:33, ESV).  Jesus polarizes his Jewish audience when he says,”Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34, ESV).  Oh, the horror of polarization!  But Jesus does not leave them without hope.  He adds, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

I would argue that when people are polarized, this can prove to be very helpful. When a truth claim is presented, one either accepts or rejects the claim.  If one accepts the claim but disagrees, thoughtful dialogue may continue.  So instead of “stunting progressive thought” and “stunting our ability to think and find truth” as Miller claims, black-and-white thinking can actually lead to the discovery of truth.

Black-and-White Thinking Assumes Arrogance

Miller continues in his diatribe against black-and-white thinking:  “It [black-and-white thinking] allows us to feel intelligent without understanding, and once we are intelligent, we feel superior.  People who don’t agree with us are just dumb.”  Honestly, Miller’s charge may prove quite accurate at times.  It is true that black-and-white thinking may lead to arrogant behavior and a haughty spirit.  But this does not have to be the case.  One can embrace and promote a dogmatic view and do so in a spirit of gentleness and humility.  This much is demanded in the Scripture.

Scripture instructs believers to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) and demonstrate compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience with one another (Col. 3:12).  Additionally, God’s Word instructs believers to speak in a way that demonstrates gentleness and respect (1 Pet. 3:16).  Paul admonishes Timothy, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness …” (2 Tim. 2:24-25a).  In other words, there is a place for admonition (which by the way requires black-and-white thinking).  But the admonition must be laced with gentleness and kindness.

For instance, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12, ESV).  What is Jesus saying here?  He graciously tells his listeners that if they reject his lordship, they will walk in darkness.  Again, he polarizes his audience but speaks the truth in love.  There is no hint of arrogance.  Indeed, this is the sinless Son of God! Jesus adds, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8:24, ESV).

It is simply naive to automatically assume that black-and-white thinking inevitably leads to arrogance.  Christ-followers, then, must make truth claims with boldness and humility.  Recognizing the danger of pride and arrogance, they must season their words with grace and gentleness.  They must be winsome in their approach to communicating the truth.

Black-and-White Thinking Discourages Open Dialogue

This point is implied when Miller encourages people to walk away from a conversation that becomes characterized as black-and-white.  He says, “When the conversation becomes about defending one’s identity, it’s time to politely move on.”  He goes on to say that “these discussions go nowhere and don’t help me find truth.”  Miller unfairly draws a conclusion that black-and-white arguments result in “defending one’s identity.”  This is certainly a possibility – but is not inevitable.

A few years ago, Whoopi Goldberg and Joy Behar walked off their own set on The View when the conversation got heated with Bill O’Reilly.  They walked away from a black-and-white conversation as Miller encourages.  O’Reilly who was and is usually unashamedly black-and-white was construed as an uncaring and insensitive person, based on some comments he made about the 911 attacks.  Some would argue that Miller’s prediction came to pass; that O’Reilly’s strong stand was tied to his identity.   The fact is that when Goldberg and Behar made their exit, the dialogue stopped – and became even more heated and controversial.  Moreover, O’Reilly was not the only person on the set who promoted black-and-white thinking!

Black-and-White Thinking Assumes the Impossibility of Certainty

Built into the framework of Miller’s argument is at the very least, an implicit suspicion of certainty.  Since Miller admits the existence of absolute truth and since he rejects relativism, he must embrace that some truth is certain.   But where will this suspicion of certainty lead in the long run?

Some progressive-types may be tempted to hop on the postmodern bandwagon and condemn “certainty” as a worn out product of the Enlightenment (a position that is amusing because it is dripping with so much certainty!)

I am less concerned with Don Miller at this point.  He’s too smart to make absolute statements against absolute truth.  What concerns me is what some will do with his antipathy to black-and-white thinking. What concerns me deeply are those who take the next step into uncertainty because they have not examined the logic (or irrationality) of their presuppositions.  What concerns me is that full-fledged relativism is just around the corner.

John Piper sums up the essence of relativism: “No one standard of true and false, right and wrong, good and bad, or beautiful and ugly, can preempt any other standard.  No standard is valid for everyone” (Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God, 98).  This relativistic way of thinking is knocking on the door of the church and in some cases has already barged in.

DISTURBING ELEMENTS OF FUZZY THINKING

Fuzzy Thinking Does Not Work in the Real World

Fuzzy thinking will not fly when it comes to raising children: “Please be home by 10:00 p.m. or feel free to do whatever you want.”  Fuzzy thinking will not fly when a police officer stops you for speeding.  Fuzzy thinking doesn’t work very well at the bank.  It doesn’t work on the basketball court. And it certainly does not fare well on the operating table.  Fuzzy thinking will always lead to a bad grade in philosophy class (and every other course).  Fuzzy thinking cannot stand up to the brutal reality of absolute truth.

Fuzzy thinking didn’t work for Jesus either.  Imagine the difficulty in pointing sinners to the Father in John 14 if Jesus had employed fuzzy thinking.  He would have been forced to say, “I am one of the many ways to the Father.  Everyone gets to heaven so long as their motives are right.”  But instead, Jesus speaks in absolute, black-and-white terms: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, ESV).  He not only makes an absolute truth claim concerning his identity; he utilizes a universal negative and makes it clear that “no one comes to the Father except through me.”

Jesus utilizes black-and-white thinking throughout his ministry.  Notice his absolute truth claims:

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36, ESV).

“But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever.  The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14, ESV).

“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24, ESV).

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.  He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life” (John 5:24).

Fuzzy Thinking Does Not Work in the Pyre

If fuzzy thinking does not work in the real world, then it certainly does not work in the midst of persecution.  The martyrs of historic Christianity lived and died because of black-and-white thinking.

On his way to martyrdom, Ignatius wrote seven black-and-white letters that have proven to be very valuable documents to help our understanding of early Christianity.

When Polycarp faced execution for his Christian faith, the judge promised a quick release if Polycarp swore allegiance to the Emperor and vowed to curse Christ.  Polycarp responded, ““For eighty-six years I have served him, and he has done me no evil.  How could I curse my King, who saved me?”

When the judge threatened him with burning him alive, Polycarp simply answered that the fire that was about to be lit would only last a moment, whereas the eternal fire would never go out.  After Polycarp was tied to the post in the pyre, he looked up and prayed out loud: “Lord Sovereign God . . . I thank you that you have deemed me worthy of this moment, so that, jointly with your martyrs, I may have a share in the cup of Christ . . . For this . . . I bless and glorify you” (Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity – Volume I, 39-48).

And consider the example of William Tyndale.  Tyndale courageously opposed anyone who quenched the work of the Spirit or despised God’s Word.   Again, Spirit enabled black-and-white thinking fueled his resolve.

One time a clergyman told Tyndale, “We are better without God’s laws than the pope’s.”  Tyndale’s black-and-white thinking prompted a decisive response: “I defy the Pope and all his laws; and if God spares my life, I will cause the boy who drives the plow in England to know more of the Scriptures than the Pope himself.”

Ignatius, Polycarp, and Tyndale held fast to the good (1 Thes. 5:21).  John MacArthur describes this imperative as “a militant, defensive, protective stance against anything that undermines the truth or does violence to it in any way.  We must hold the true securely; defend it zealously; preserve it from all threats.  To placate the enemies of truth or lower our guard is to violate this command.”

Fuzzy Thinking Minimizes the Role of Reason and Logic

Miller argues that black-and-white thinking would never make it “through the door of an undergraduate course in logic.”  Much to the contrary, the law of non-contradiction teaches us that a statement and its opposite cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense.

Ron Nash reminds us, “The presence of contradiction is always a sign of error.  Hence, we have a right to expect a conceptual system to be logically consistent, both in its parts (its individual propositions) and in the whole.  A conceptual system is in obvious trouble if it fails to hang together logically” (Worldviews in Conflict, 55).

In other words, every worldview needs to be subjected to the law of non-contradiction.  When a contradiction emerges, the worldview must be abandoned.  Without black-and-white thinking, this worldview test passes by the wayside and discernment vanishes.

The root of this discussion concerning black-and-white thinking is tied to the formation of a worldview.   And in order for a worldview to be plausible, it must be able to be lived out in the real world.  Francis Schaeffer reminds us, “We must be able to live consistently with our theory” (The God Who is There, 121).

So in the final analysis, black-and-white thinking is not problematic.  Indeed, black-and-white thinking is not only philosophically tenable; it is an essential part of living the Christian life.  Without black-and-white thinking, it would be impossible to choose between two competing alternatives.  Without black-and-white thinking, theological and philosophical assertions would all receive equal acclaim, which is to say that truth at the end of the day is a matter of personal preference.

Whenever someone begins to back away from absolutes, reason and logic suddenly become unwelcome in the house of irrationality; a house that is destined to collapse under its own weight.  Peter Kreeft demonstrates the importance of logic: “If an argument has nothing but clear terms, true premises, and valid logic, its conclusion must be true” (Socratic Logic, 32).  Fuzzy thinking, however, tends to minimize the role of reason and logic, which at the end of the day proves not only unrealistic, but irrational.

Additionally, fuzzy thinking militates against the Law of the Excluded Middle.  James Nance and Douglas Wilson define this law: “Any statement is either true or false … it excludes the possibility of a truth value falling somewhere in the middle of truth or false” (Introductory Logic, xi).

Here’s the funny thing.  I am quite certain that Miller embraces these philosophical laws.  The problem is when he discourages black-and-white thinking, he unwittingly begins to whittle away at laws of logic which flow from the nature of God.  The downhill descent eventually leads to full-blown relativism.  Again, I am not concerned so much with Miller.  I am convinced that he would never go this route.  I am concerned, however, with those who are convinced by his arguments against black-and-white thinking.

DETERMINING A PROPOSAL REGARDING  BLACK-AND-WHITE THINKING

Donald Miller focuses on the so-called problems of black-and-white thinking.  I argue that Christian testimony and gospel witness will begin to erode to the degree that black-and-white thinking deteriorates.  Indeed, the essence of the gospel will erode to the degree we embrace fuzzy thinking.  Therefore, I submit the following proposal:

1. Black-and-White Thinking Should be Encouraged – Not Discouraged

Black-and-white thinking should be encouraged on biblical, philosophical, and practical grounds.  Sometimes, such thinking is criticized as “hair-splitting.”  Yet this black-and-white “hair-splitting” was indispensable as Athanasius challenged the arch-heretic, Arius.  This kind of thinking was a necessary part of formulating the doctrine of the Trinity and affirming the two natures of Christ; i.e. fully God and fully man.

Black-and-white thinking led to the formation of the major creeds and catechisms including the Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, Chalcedonian Creed, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Black-and-white thinking should be encouraged.  For whenever black-and-white thinking is discouraged, the net result is theological error and irrationality.

2. Black-and-White Thinking is Essential to Christian Epistemology

Francis Schaeffer warned the church in 1968:  “We are fundamentally affected by a new way of looking at truth.  This change in the concept of the way we come to knowledge and truth is the most crucial problem facing America today” (The God Who Is There, 6).  In other words, “absolutes imply antithesis.”  The working antithesis is that God exists objectively (in antithesis) to his not existing.

The loss of antithesis (or repudiating black-and-white thinking) in American culture led to what Dr. Schaeffer coined the “line of despair” or giving up all hope of achieving a rational unified answer to knowledge and life.

So Christians must rise above the level of despair and affirm a Christ-saturated epistemology.  They recognize that truth is a unified whole.  They understand that there is no disparity between faith and reason.  In other words, faith and reason are not out of contact with each other.  They embrace what Nancy Pearcey refers to as “total truth.”

3. Black-and-White Thinking is Essential to Healthy Christian Living

Christ-followers who recognize that truth is unified understand this fundamental reality:  They know that black-and-white thinking is essential to the Christian life.  They recognize real good and real evil: “Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure.  Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil” (Prov. 4:26-27, ESV).

Because Christians understand that “absolutes imply antithesis” they speak and live in terms of black-and-white:

“Whoever is steadfast in righteousness will live, but he who pursues evil will die.  Those of crooked heart are an abomination to the LORD, but those of blameless ways are his delight.  Be assured, an evil person will not go unpunished, but the offspring of the righteous will be delivered” (Prov. 11:19-21).

“Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence, but a false witness utters deceit” (Prov. 12:17).

4. There Should Be No Dichotomy Between Bold, Black-and-White Convictions and a Gracious Offering of Truth Claims

For instance, Jesus proclaims a series of woes on the Pharisees in Matthew 23.  His black-and-white thinking is actually stunning.  Yet at the end of chapter 23, we find him lamenting over Jerusalem: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (v. 37).

5. Black-and-White Truth Claims Should be Set Forth With Decisive Humility

On the one hand, Christ-followers must maintain their commitment to absolute truth claims.  They must do so vigorously and decisively.  They must boldly proclaim the truth in the marketplace of ideas.  And they must point to Christ, who is the essence of truth, apart from whom, knowledge is impossible.

On the other hand, Christ-followers must believe, proclaim, and defend black-and-white truth with Spirit-enabled humility: “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isa. 66:2b, ESV).  They must passionately proclaim truth “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love …” (Eph. 4:2, ESV).  And they must teach and defend the truth and embrace the framework of 2 Timothy 2:24.  “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness …”

SUMMARY

I hear what Don Miller is saying and I suspect that he’s concerned with Christ-followers who demonstrate less than loving behavior.  He would be right to be concerned.  Indeed, Christ is the most loving person that ever existed or will ever exist.  But Christ was also a black-and-white thinker.  The prophets were black-and-white thinkers.  The apostles were black-and-white thinkers.  And the martyrs were black-and-white thinkers.

Miller’s position could be construed to mean something like this: “We need less truth and more love and grace.”  I am quite confident that this is not his intention.  Similarly, my position could be construed to promote the following: “We need less love and more truth.”  Of course, this is not my argument either.  Rather, as Christians, we are called to both!  We are called to speak the truth – and we are called to engage in this ministry of proclamation with love, gentleness, and humility.

The funny thing is that Miller uses black-and-white thinking to argue against black-and-white thinking.  So at worst, his argument is self-refuting.  At best, perhaps there is hope for the future because, in the final analysis, Miller embraces black-and-white thinking after all!

If Miller is concerned primarily with the promotion of personal opinions, fine.  If he is concerned with soliciting dogmatic statements in gray areas that concern cultural matters like music and one’s choice of the best Italian restaurant, I have no quarrel.  But when it comes to matters of eternal significance, black-and-white thinking is essential.

We live in a world of absolutes.  And absolutes demand humble and decisive proclamation.  May Christians continue to proclaim and defend black-and-white propositional truth to the glory of Jesus Christ.  My black-and-white proposal: Farewell to fuzzy thinking!

“I know that truth stands and is mighty forever, and abides eternally, with whom there is no respect of persons.” – John Hus, Czech reformer, black-and-white thinker and martyr (1412)

Veritas et Lux!

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No Final Conflict – Francis Schaeffer (1975)

“It is my conviction that the crucial area of discussion for evangelicalism in the next years will be Scripture.  At stake is whether evangelicalism will remain evangelical.”  So stated Francis Schaeffer in his 1975 landmine, No Final Conflict.  While this treasure was penned nearly thirty years ago, it remains relevant and applicable to 21st-century culture.

It was not unusual for Schaeffer to warn Christians.  He did it often during the seventies and eighties.  His chief warning in No Final Conflict is to cling to the propositional truth of the Scriptures:  “We must say that if evangelicals are to be evangelicals, we must not compromise our view of Scripture … The issue is clear: Is the Bible truth without error wherever it speaks, including where it touches history and the cosmos, or is it only in some sense revelational where it touches religious subjects?”  Schaeffer smelled a “rat” in 1975.  He always had a good sense of smell!  The pesky “rat” that Schaeffer detected continues to scurry about in postmodern culture; in fact that “rat” has produced offspring.  The liberalism of the 70’s is flourishing in the 21st century.  Schaffer’s antidote is simple – We must embrace the truth of Scripture: “In our day that point is the question of Scripture.  Holding to a strong view of Scripture or not holding to it is the watershed of the evangelical world … We must say most lovingly but clearly: evangelicalism is not consistently evangelical unless there is a line drawn between those who take a full view of Scripture and those who do not.”

One of Schaeffer’s key points is to clear up the confusion between reason and faith.  Indeed, this was one of the major notes of his writing.  He saw a unity between faith and reason; a unity that is marginalized especially by the new atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris.  Schaeffer posits, “There may be a difference between the methodology by which we gain knowledge from what God tells us in the Bible and the methodology by which we gain it from scientific study, but this does not lead to a dichotomy as to the facts … if both studies can be adequately pursued, there will be no final conflict.”  Truth is unified as Nancy Pearcey has reminded us.  There is no conflict between reason and faith.

Dr. Schaeffer went to be with his Lord in 1984.  If he were still with us, I’m convinced that he would never have an “I told you so attitude.”  Rather, he would continue to admonish believers to hold to a strong uncompromising view of Scripture.  He would challenge Christ-followers to cling to the rock of propositional truth.  And he would warn disciples of Christ to flee from anything that looks like a rat, smells, like a rat, or walks like a rat.  His warnings mattered almost thirty years ago.  They continue to be as relevant as ever!

 

He is There and He is Not Silent- Francis Schaeffer (1972)

I first read He is There and He is Not Silent by Francis Schaeffer in 1992.  Multiple readings have ensued and I turn back to Schaeffer’s book again and again for help with apologetics.

Schaeffer argues for three basic areas of philosophical thought: metaphysics (being or existence), morals (the dilemma of man), and epistemology (the problem of knowing). Philosophy and religion are essentially devoted to the same questions, namely, metaphysics, morals, and epistemology.

Philosophy is concerned with either an academic subject or a person’s worldview.  It is the later, that Schaeffer is concerned with in this volume.  Schaeffer contends that every man is a philosopher of sorts because it is impossible for humans to live without a worldview.

Metaphysics

There are three basic answers to the question of metaphysics.  The first answer is that “everything that exists has come out of absolutely nothing.”  Naturalism’s answer suggests no energy, no mass, no motion, and no personality.  This answer is, as Schaeffer calls it, “nothing, nothing.”

The second answer is that everything had an impersonal beginning.  This answer leads automatically to reductionism.  “Beginning with the impersonal must be explained in terms of the impersonal plus time plus chance,” writes Schaeffer.  This answer poses many problems.  But the two primary problems fail to answer the major philosophical question: the need for unity and the need for diversity.

The third answer is the biblical answer.  The third answer is the only rational and satisfying answer.  This answer suggests that we must begin with a personal beginning.  And to have an adequate answer of a personal beginning, one must have a personal infinite God, and personal unity and diversity in God (found the holy Trinity).

Schaeffer concludes: “The reason we have the metaphysical answer is because the infinite-personal God, the full Trinitarian God is there and he is not silent.”

Morals

There are only two basic answers to the question of morals.  The first: Everything had an impersonal beginning.  The is the answer of atheism.  Schaeffer never minces words.  He writes, “Beginning with the impersonal, there is no explanation for the complexity of the universe or the personality of man.”  When one begins with the impersonal, one eliminates the possibility of morals or ethics.

The second answer is the biblical reality of a personal beginning.  Man was created by an infinite-personal God.  Man sinned or “made a decision to change himself” as Schaeffer notes.

“The starting point,” writes Schaeffer “to the answer (of the question of morals) as with metaphysics is the fact that God is there and he is not silent.”

Epistemology

Schaeffer concludes by setting forth the problem concerning epistemology and the epistemological answer.

The epistemological problem concerns the tension between nature (particulars) and grace (universals).  When nature becomes autonomous, the universal is lost with the hope of giving the particulars meaning.  The problem is that when nature becomes autonomous, nature “eats up” grace.  Schaeffer argues that when we are left with only particulars, we become lost in the areas of metaphysics, morality, and epistemology.

The epistemological answer was summarized by the Reformers.  The Reformers did not allow for a dichotomy between nature and grace.  The reason: they had verbal propositional revelation.  The Reformers were vocal about the reality of God’s existence and the reality of his revelation.  Schaeffer popularized this view in the title of his book, He is There and He is Not Silent.  God has spoken truly about himself.  However, he has not spoken exhaustively about himself.

Schaeffer urges readers to come face to face with two gigantic presuppositions – “the uniformity of natural causes in a closed system and the uniformity of natural causes in an open system and in a limited time span.”  Ultimately, readers must determine which worldview fits with the facts.

Schaeffer summarizes, then, the basic presuppositions in historic Christianity.

1. God is there.

2. God is the infinite-personal God who has made man in his image.

3. God made man a verbalizer in the area of propositions in his horizontal communications with other men.

4. God communicates to us on the basis of propositions, viz, he is there and his is not silent.

Schaeffer maintains, “Under the unity of the apex of the infinite-personal God, in all of these areas we can have meaning, we can have reality, and we can have beauty.”

He is There and He is Not Silent is an essential work of apologetics.  It should be required reading for every Bible College/Seminary student.  Schaeffer put his finger on the essential issues of the day – even in the early 70’s and especially in our day.

 

Two Contents, Two Realities – Francis Schaeffer (1974)

Francis-Schaeffer-560x328Sometimes the best things come in small packages.  Case in point: Two Contents, Two Realities by Francis Schaeffer.  To call it a booklet would be inaccurate.  To call it a pamphlet would be insulting.  The worst accusation one could hurl at this work is irrelevant or outdated.  Originally published in 1974 as a position paper that was presented at the International Congress on World Evangelization in Lausanne, Switzerland, Schaeffer’s work (as usual) is prophetic, timely, and challenging.  His writing aims squarely at the Christian mind but always impacts the heart.  And whenever the mind and heart are inflamed by Christian truth, the hands and feet are quick to follow.

Schaeffer’s proposition in this piece is simple.  The culture is getting increasingly more secular and ungodly.  There are two contents and two realities:

Content # 1: Sound Doctrine

Content # 2: Honest Answers to Honest Questions

Reality # 1: True Spirituality

Reality # 2: The Beauty of Human Relationships

The First Content: Sound Doctrine

Schaeffer argues, “We must have the courage to make no compromise with liberal theology and especially neo-orthodox existential theology.”  He argues strenuously against any system that abandons the role of the intellect which is tantamount to rejecting propositional revelation.  In regards to the doctrinal content, Schaeffer maintains there are three things we must recognize:

1) There must be a strong emphasis on content.

2) There must be a strong emphasis on the propositional nature of the Bible, especially the early chapters of Genesis.

3) There must be a strong emphasis on the practice of truth.

Anyone who takes a serious look at the church in the 21st century must admit that we have clearly moved away from these important components in Schaeffer’s system.  Theology is marginalized in most churches.  Propositional truth is relegated to modernity and cast aside in favor of mysticism and existentialism.  And while practicing the truth may be in vogue, one wonders which truth is being practiced given the shaky epistemological groundwork.

The Second Content: Honest Answers to Honest Questions

Schaeffer identifies the strong Platonic worldview that has been embraced by mainstream evangelicals – a view that divides man into two parts, namely, spiritual and physical.  He rightly adds, “We must consciously reject the Platonic element which has been added to Christianity.  God made the whole man; the whole man is redeemed in Christ.  And after we are Christians, the Lordship of Christ covers the whole man.”

Herein lies the rub.  Since historic Christianity is the truth (what Schaeffer calls elsewhere, “true truth),  it must therefore “touch every aspect of life.”  Difficult questions may be challenging, but answers must be given nonetheless.  Forever gone are the days when one answers, “You must just believe.”  Such a mindset is tantamount to blind faith – which in all reality is no faith at all!

Schaeffer adds, “Answers are not salvation.  Salvation is bowing and accepting God as Creator and Christ as Savior.  I must bow twice to become a Christian.  I must bow and acknowledge that I am not autonomous; I am a creature created by the Creator.  And I must bow and acknowledge that I am a guilty sinner who needs the finished work of Christ for my salvation.”

The church must address cultural questions as well as questions that come from within.  Schaeffer maintains that in order for this to take place, there must be sufficient training in both the church as well as the academy.

The First Reality: True Spirituality

Behind true spirituality is a commitment to truth which is stated in propositions.  Schaeffer spoke to the liberals in his day and echoes that same reality to emergent types and neo-liberals with this bold challenge: Anybody who diminishes the concept of the propositionalness of the Word of God is playing into … non-Christian hands.” He proceeds to encourage readers to grasp propositional truth by making truth come alive in the streets and in the marketplace of ideas.  He reacts strongly to any system that is a mere end in itself: “A dead, ugly orthodoxy with no real spiritual reality must be rejected as sub-Christian.”

The Second Reality: The Beauty of Human Relationships

Schaeffer observes, “We are to show something to the watching world on the basis of the human relationships we have with other people, not just other Christians.”  Schaeffer illustrates how we are called to love people without compromise.  He uses the liberal theologian as an example.  He adds, “Yes, we are to stand against his theology.  We are to practice truth, and we are not to compromise.  We are to stand in antithesis to his theology.  But even though we cannot cooperate with him in religious things, we are to treat the liberal theologian in such a way that we try from our side to bring our discussion into the circle of truly human relationships … We can have the beauty of human relationships even when we must say no.”

Francis Schaeffer’s understanding and exposition of two contents and two realities is very helpful as one seeks to make inroads with secular people.  I commend it and trust that this excellent work will be read and digested by many.

Why Francis Schaeffer Matters:The Role of the Church in Cultural Transformation – Part 9

Francis Schaeffer believes that the church has a heavy responsibility to promote community.  He holds that the first step in comprehending Christian community is understanding the individuals who make up the community.  The reason: The individual is important to God.  He adds, “I am convinced that in the twentieth century people all over the world will not listen if we have the right doctrine, the right polity, but are not exhibiting community” (The Church At The End Of The Twentieth Century, 64).

He stresses “existential living in the community.”  The horizontal relationships must all be rooted in the vertical, namely, a relationship with God.  He holds that the primary responsibility is developing community within the church.  He does not minimize the importance of reaching out to the lost but contends the community of the faithful must come first.

We Must Practice Purity

Schaeffer expresses his passion for maintaining purity in the church by appealing to the bride motif in Scripture.  “As the bride of Christ, the church is to keep itself pure and faithful which involve two principles that seem to work against each other” (The Church Before The Watching World, 115).  These principles include the practice of purity in regard to doctrine and life and the practice of an observable love and oneness among all true Christians regardless of who they happen to be.

Ultimately our task is to exhibit simultaneously the holiness and the love of God.  Schaeffer explains this complex responsibility.  “If we stress the love of God without the holiness of God, it turns out only to be compromise.  But if we stress the holiness of God without the love of God, we practice something that is hard and lacks beauty” (The Church Before The Watching World, 152).

The method for practicing purity within the church is the consistent practice of church discipline (noted above as one of the norms of the New Testament church).  Schaeffer unapologetically believes that anyone who rejects the teaching of Scripture in belief or practice should be placed under church discipline – the very purity of Christ’s church is at stake.

Drawing further on the bride motif, Schaeffer warns Christians from committing spiritual adultery:  “The bride of Christ can be led away and can become less than the bride should be.  As there can be physical adultery, so too there can be unfaithfulness to the divine Bridegroom – spiritual adultery” (The Church Before The Watching World, 139).  Further, “To turn away from the divine Bridegroom is to turn to unfufillment.  This is not only sin, it is destruction” (The Church Before The Watching World, 147).

The moment by moment experience with the Bridegroom is an extremely important issue in Schaeffer’s thinking.  He believes that evangelicals for the most part have banked on the doctrine of justification by faith alone but they have failed to live in the light of this teaching:  “As the bride puts herself in the bridegroom’s arms on the wedding day and then daily, and as therefore children are born, so the individual Christian is to put himself in the Bridegroom’s arms, not only once for all in justification, but existentially, moment by moment” (The Church Before The Watching World, 135).  Moreover, “We are to act as that we are.  We are not just going to heaven.  We are even now the wife of God.  We are at this moment the bride of Christ.  And what does our divine Bridegroom want from us?  He wants from us not only doctrinal faithfulness, but our love day by day” (The Church Before The Watching World, 148).

We Must Demonstrate the Reality of Christianity

Schaeffer does not stop with doctrinal and existential faithfulness to Christ.  He contends that we must also demonstrate the reality of the Christian faith in tangible ways to the watching world.  He holds that the essential quality of a believer is love for one another (John 13:35).

Despite Schaeffer’s vigorous attempts to provide a defense of the Christian faith, he contends that love for one another and a unified body provide the basis for the unbeliever to become interested in the Christian faith.  He calls this love and unity “the final apologetic.”  He offers this challenge to the evangelical church:  Our love will not be perfect, but it must be substantial enough for the world to be able to observe or it does not fit into the structure or the verses in John 13 and John 17.  And if the world does not observe this among true Christians, the world has a right to make two awful judgments which these verses indicate: that we are not Christians and that Christ was not sent by the Father (The Mark Of The Christian, 197).

We Must Engage in a Christian Revolution

Schaeffer contends that the evangelical church must return to the base of Scripture and embark on a Christian revolution.  He maintains the church must be pitted against everyone who has turned away from God and the revelation of the Word of God.  He believes the implications of revolution are threefold:  First, Christians must realize that there is a difference between being a cobelligerent and an ally.  Second, the church must take truth seriously (Here is the repeated emphasis on antithesis).  Third, the church must be a real place of community (as noted above).

He provides two basic principles for being a revolutionary Christian.  First, we need a Christianity that is strong, not a mere memory.  He simply calls this “hot Christianity.”  Second, our Christianity must become truly universal; relevant to all segments of society and all societies of the world.  He refers to this as “compassionate Christianity.”

Schaeffer does not believe, however, that mere revolution is enough.  He believes that the church in the modern generation also needs reformation and revival.  Reformation refers to a restoration to pure doctrine and a return to the teachings of Scripture.  Revival refers to a restoration in the Christian life and a proper relationship to the Holy Spirit.

Reformation and revival must occur simultaneously.  Or as Schaeffer puts it, “The great moments of church history have come when these two restorations have simultaneously come into action so that the church has returned to pure doctrine and the lives of the Christians in the church have known the power of the Holy Spirit.  There cannot be true revival unless there has been reformation; and reformation is not complete without revival” (Death In The City, 210).

We Must Reclaim the Culture for the Cause of Christ and His Kingdom

This final admonition for Dr. Schaeffer plays a central role in his thinking.  He sums up his view in his little book, Back To Freedom and Dignity.  “In short, Christians should prepare to take the lead in giving direction to cultural change.”

The primary issue at hand is a return to the Christian consensus; the Christian worldview.  “I tell you in the name of God He will judge our culture unless there is a return to a Christian base for the culture – and that begins with true repentance and renewal in the church” (The Church Before The Watching World, 147).

The most definitive look at Schaeffer’s view in this area is his popular work, A Christian Manifesto.  Inspired by Samuel Rutherford who wrote Lex Rex (law is king) in 1644, Schaeffer proceeds to describe the cultural responsibilities of the church.  He quotes John Witherspoon approvingly who writes, “A republic once easily poised must either preserve its virtue or lose its liberty.”

He addresses the problem of pluralism and believes “it is up to Christians to show that Christianity is the Truth of total reality in the open marketplace of freedom” (A Christian Manifesto, 440).

He addresses the problem of humanism and writes, “If we are going to join the battle in a way that has any hope of effectiveness – with Christians truly being salt and the light in our culture and our society – then we must do battle on the entire front” (A Christian Manifesto, 445).  He continues:

Most fundamentally, our culture, society, government, and law are in the conditions they are in, not because of a conspiracy, but because the church has forsaken its duty to be the salt of the culture.  It is the church’s duty (as well as its privilege ) to do now what it should have been doing all the time – to use freedom we do have to be that salt of the culture (A Christian Manifesto, 447).

The answer Schaeffer gives for the enduring problems that America faces is most interesting.  He endorses civil disobedience and goes so far to say that a given Christian is disobedient if she does not engage in necessary civil disobedience.

The foundation for Schaeffer’s adherence to civil disobedience may be found in the book,  Lex Rex.  It essentially proclaims that the law is king, and if the king and the government disobey the law they are to be disobeyed.  The logic is defined as follows:  All power is from God (Rom. 13) and government is ordained and instituted by God.  However, the state is to be administered according to the principles of God’s Law.  Acts of the state which contradict God’s Law are illegitimate and are considered acts of tyranny (defined as ruling without the sanction of God).

Therefore, the following principles apply to the Christian church:  First, since tyranny is satanic, not to resist it is to resist God.  Conversely, to resist tyranny is to honor God.  Second, since the ruler is granted conditional power, it follows that the people have the power to withdraw their sanction if the proper conditions are not fulfilled.  Third, Christians have a moral obligation to resist unjust and tyrannical government.

Rutherford further explains the steps for a private person engaging in civil disobedience.  The first step is to defend oneself by protest (in our society this would most likely take place by exerting legal action).  Second, one must flee if at all possible.  Finally, one may use force if necessary to defend himself.  Dr. Schaeffer mentions that potential protest or withholding of taxes may be used to protest immoral activity such as euthanasia.

Building on the principles set forth in Lex Rex, Dr. Schaeffer suggests a strategy for Christian force in an injustice such as abortion.  First, one should aggressively support a human life bill or a constitutional amendment that protects the unborn.  Second, one must enter the courts seeking to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision.  Third, legal and political action should be taken against hospitals and abortion clinics that perform abortions.  Fourth, the state must be made to feel the presence of the Christian community.

Schaeffer’s position is clear.  He maintains that the early church engaged in civil disobedience.  He uses Caesar as an example who commanded everyone to worship him.  The Christians in Rome willingly disobeyed and paid the ultimate price for their act of courage.

Schaeffer, then,  issues a challenge to the present day church.  “And we must demonstrate to people that there is indeed a bottom line.  To repeat: the bottom line is that at a certain point there is not only the right, but the duty to disobey the state (A Christian Manifesto, 485).

If there is no final place for civil disobedience, then the government has been made autonomous, and as such, it has been put in the place of the Living God.  If there is no final place for civil disobedience, then the government has been put in the place of the Living God, because then you are to obey it even when it tells you in its own way at the time to worship Caesar (A Christian Manifesto, 491).

To sum up, Dr. Schaeffer challenges the church to stand up and act.  The Christian church must respond to the cultural decay or find itself wanting.  Schaeffer’s warning in the late 60’s and early 70’s is even more relevant today!

 

 

 

Why Francis Schaeffer Matters: The Responsibility of the Church in Post-Modern Culture – Part 8

Francis Schaeffer has an extremely high view of the church and great expectations as any Christian should.  He details some solemn responsibilities that the church of Jesus Christ must consider.

We Must Adhere to the New Testament Boundaries for the Local Church

Schaeffer’s primary assertion is that Scripture mandates eight specific norms for the New Testament church (The Church At The End Of The Twentieth Century, 51-60).  The first norm: Local congregations are to exist and should be made up of Christians.   Schaeffer would have clearly opposed the so-called seeker sensitive movement that is so prevalent in the church today.  While he believed that the church ought to evangelize the lost, he would have had real problems with the present day fascination of catering to the non-believer.

Second, Dr. Schaeffer believed these congregations ought to meet in a special way on the first day of the week.  He clearly has Sunday as the specific meeting day in mind, although I am inclined to think that Schaeffer would be comfortable with the new trend toward Saturday evening services and the like.  The critical issue for him was that the church met regularly each week.

Third, the church should have elders who have a responsibility to shepherd the flock of God.

Fourth, there should also be deacons responsible for the community of the church in the area of material things.

Fifth, Schaeffer strongly believed that these elders and deacons should be qualified in accordance with the Pauline standards set forth in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9.

The sixth norm is that the church must engage in church discipline.  Schaeffer goes to great lengths to show the necessity and benefits of church discipline in accordance with the principle set forth by Jesus in Mathew 18.  Schaeffer explains, “The New Testament stresses such purity, for the church is not to be like an ameba so that no one can tell the difference between the church and the world.  There is to be a sharp edge.  There is to be a distinction between one side and the other – between the world and the church, and between those who are in the church and those who are not” (The Church At The End Of The Twentieth Century, 57).  He writes in no uncertain terms: “For a church not to have discipline in life and doctrine means that it is not a New Testament church on the basis of the New Testament norms” (The Church At The End Of The Twentieth Century, 57).

Finally, Schaeffer declares that a vital mark of the church is the administration of two ordinances: baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

These seven norms are non-negotiable principles in the thinking and ecclesiology of Francis Schaeffer.  These norms are commanded by God.  Any church that fails to engage in even one of these crucial norms forfeits the right to be called a true church.  However, Dr. Schaeffer believes there are many areas in which the church is left free.  There is a form and there is also a freedom.  “It is my thesis that as we cannot bind men morally except where the Scripture clearly commands (beyond that we can only give advice), similarly anything the New Testament does not command concerning church form is a freedom to be exercised under the leadership of the Holy Spirit for that particular time and place” (The Church At The End of The Twentieth Century, 59-60).

In many ways, Francis Schaeffer may be considered very conservative in his approach to “doing church.”  But in other ways, he is a bit of a radical.  His views on form and freedom leave room for creativity, spontaneity and a wide variety of ministry options.

Why Francis Schaeffer Matters: The Church in Culture – Part 7

The Church in Modern Culture

Francis Schaeffer’s view of the church in modern culture is multifaceted yet cuts straight to the point.  He does not mince words or play clever evangelical games.  He believes one major problem with Christians is that they see things in bits and pieces.  They have failed to see that modern man’s despair has come to fruition because of a shift in worldview.  He contends that Christians should begin to think in terms of the big picture.  They should have a view of spiritual reality that is authentic and covers all areas of life.  Indeed, the Lordship of Christ covers all life and all life equally.

The Church in Postmodern Culture: Marks of Postmodernism

It is interesting to note that Dr. Schaeffer may have been the first to write in-depth about post-Christian culture.  It is important to understand Schaeffer’s view on culture in order to understand his position on the church in these perilous times.

Postmodernism essentially posits the view that there is nobody in the universe.  There is “nobody to love man, nobody to comfort him, even while he seeks desperately to find comfort in the limited, finite, horizontal relationships to life (Death In The City, 215).   The result is that “God has turned away in judgment as our generation turned away from Him, and He is allowing cause and effect to take its course in history” (Death In The City, 216).

The postmodern generation is inherently humanistic.  Schaeffer mentions six key planks of the humanistic worldview including:

  • A rejection of the doctrine of creation.
  • A rejection of total depravity.
  • Sees human nature as part of a long, unfolding process of development in which everything is changing.
  • Casts around for some solution to the problem of despair that this determinist-evolutionist vision induces.
  • Can only find a solution in the activity of the human will.
  • Therefore, encourages manipulation of nature and tinkering with people (Whatever Happened To The Human Race, 288).

Humanism in a nutshell.  This is what the church must contend with.  She cannot isolate herself or flee the surrounding culture.    Rather she must face it head on or lose any chance of influencing the culture for the sake of the kingdom.

Hope For a Post-Christian Culture

Despite the degradation of the culture, Schaeffer believes there is hope for the Christian church.  But if the church is to truly thrive, not merely survive, she must boldly proclaim and defend at least seven foundational truths including the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, the deity of Christ and His Virgin Birth, the substitutionary atonement of Christ’s death, the literal resurrection of Christ from the dead, and the literal return of Christ (The Great Evangelical Disaster, 350).

The Christian Perspective on Postmodernism

Schaeffer helps clarify the Christian perspective on postmodernism.  First, he notes that much to the chagrin of many evangelicals, our culture and country is under the wrath of God.  The net effect should not be alarming.  Man has forgotten his purpose and consequently forgets the meaning of life.

Second, Schaeffer helps Christians understand that turning away from the truth of God not only results in decay but ends ultimately in death.

There will be death in the city until people turn to the truth . . . This must be our perspective [emphasis added], for only as men turn back to the One who can really fulfill, return to His revelation, and reaffirm the possibility of having a relationship with Him as He has provided the way through Jesus Christ, can they have the sufficient comfort which every man longs for (Death In The City, 222, 224).

The Christian Response to Postmodernism

First, he warns the church to guard against using worldly methods.  If the church chooses to engage in “worldly” ministry the already cynical post-modern generation will surely reject the organized church.  Rather, the church must stand strong in this age and boldly proclaim the mysteries of God.  “Our generation needs to be told that man cannot disregard God, that a culture like ours has had such light and then has deliberately turned away stands under God’s judgment.  There’s only one kind of preaching that will do in a generation like ours – preaching which includes the preaching of the judgment of God” (Death In The City, 232-233).

Second, he alerts Christians to the danger of compromising the truth.  “Here is the great evangelical disaster – the failure of the evangelical world to stand for truth as truth.  There is only one word for this – namely accommodation; the evangelical church has accommodated to the spirit of the age” (The Great Evangelical Disaster, 320).

He notes two general areas of accommodation, namely, the accommodation of Scripture (which Schaeffer calls the watershed – the inspiration and authority of Scripture) and accommodation on the issues, with no clear stand being taken even on matters of life and death.  He points out that the results of this accommodation has been costly, first in destroying the power of God’s Word to confront the spirit of the age; and second, in allowing the further slide of our culture.  Dr. Schaeffer regularly takes the church to task for accommodation and makes it clear that the two sure ways to destroy the church are to compromise the truth and to engage in a “dead orthodoxy.”

Schaeffer’s Challenge to Christian’s Living in a Postmodern Generation

Given Dr. Schaeffer’s scathing indictment of the church, it should come as no surprise that his greatest challenge concerns not only believing the truth but standing for the truth.  He recognizes the potential risks involved in this endeavor.  He writes, “We must realize that to know the truth and to practice it will be costly . . . We must keep on speaking and acting even if the price is high” (Death In The City, 254).

Second, Schaeffer calls Christians to infiltrate the culture for God rather than being molded and corrupted by it.  “As evangelicals, we need to stand at the point of the call not to be infiltrated by this ever-shifting fallen culture which surrounds us, but rather judging that culture upon the basis of the Bible” (The Great Evangelical Disaster, 340).  Schaeffer holds that Christians should penetrate the culture and engage the political arena, the justice system, the media and the arts just to name a few.