The God Who is There – 6/15/2017

What is Truth?  A famous Roman governor once asked that question, but failed to wait for the answer.  It seems reasonable to view individual truths as particular aspects of reality.  It’s true that the tool I am using right now is a laptop computer.  It is not true that I am typing with a hammer or that the instrument in front of me is a lawnmower.

Francis Schaeffer: 1912-1984

Francis Schaeffer: 1912-1984

See how easy philosophy is?  Francis Schaeffer explains that “Truth, in the sense of antithesis, is related to the idea of cause and effect.  Cause and effect produces a chain reaction which goes straight on in a horizontal line.”  Now, the idea of antithesis is simple:  A and not-A are not the same.  A fact and its opposite cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense.  If you are over six feet tall, then you are not under six feet tall.  This works in morality, too.  If an act is ‘right’ in God’s eyes, then it is not ‘wrong.’

Ah, yes, it matters that reality . . . everything and everyone in creation . . . is God’s reality.  God is ‘there.’  God is not ‘not-there.’  Since God made us in some real conscious and moral sense “in His image,” and has given us His revelation to ground us in the principles of His reality, we have the ability and, indeed, the obligation to do right and to be right and to interact with His creation in honest and rational ways.

One of my all-time favorite authors is Francis A. Schaeffer, who didn’t fit categories easily, but did serve as a pastor, an evangelist, a philosopher, a theologian, a sociologist, even a house church leader, as you might characterize his L’Abri retreat in Switzerland (I do).  If you’re a serious and thoughtful Christian, I recommend that you add his 5-volume The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer:  A Christian Worldview to your bookshelf . . . and read it!  The very first book in his Works is entitled, The God Who Is There.  In this essay I’ll pull some nuggets from it and add some of my own thoughts.  I read Schaeffer many years ago, but am profitably re-reading him now after studying a good number of writers in the area of apologetics.

The man that opened the door to our modern era of irrationality and immorality, in Schaeffer’s view, was the German philosopher Georg Hegel (1770 – 1831).  Schaeffer imagines Hegel sitting in a local tavern with friends, saying, “I have a new idea.  From now on let us think in this way:  instead of thinking in terms of cause and effect, what we really have is a thesis, and opposite it an antithesis, with the answer to their relationship not a horizontal movement of cause and effect, but a synthesis.”  And the world changed with the invention of dialectical thinking, which is crucial to Marxism, liberal politics, and much of modernism / post-modernism.  Nothing is ‘right.’  Nothing is ‘wrong.’  What we have are people and ideas in conflict, and instead of deciding what reality is, what God’s view is, let’s synthesize something that works better, at least for the elites who want to manipulate the masses.

Georg Hegel

Georg Hegel

Let me throw in some of my own (elementary) examples here for how the dialectical method works.

Example #1:  Once upon a time in America, it was commonly understood that abortion is wrong. It’s simply the murder, for convenience sake, of not-yet-born human beings.  That was the ‘thesis’ and it is grounded in Biblical morality.  An opposition was formed, an ‘antithesis,’ proclaiming the horrors and tragedies of ‘back alley abortions.’  This antithesis served to provoke a compromise, a ‘synthesis’ . . . limited abortion rights.  This synthesis then served as the new thesis.  Inevitably, a new antithesis was created, an insistence on women’s rights, particularly a right to choose to kill anything inside her own body anytime for any reason.  The resulting synthesis is virtually unlimited rights to murder the unborn.  As I see it, the ultimate goal, the ultimate synthesis along this dialectical path, is a death culture, man viewed universally as animal, not made in the image of God, and life no different from other mechanistic processes . . . therefore no ground for morality and no purpose for man’s existence, and certainly no God to whom we are accountable.

Example #2 . . . Thesis A: America, a constitutional republic with clear demarcations to limit and decentralize governmental power, enjoys the principle and practice of local government, local law and order, and a local police force.

Antithesis B:  A handful of real and / or phony cases of excessive police force are promoted in politics and the media.  Black Lives Matter protests and DOJ investigations stir up anxieties . . . something must be done!

Synthesis C:  The federal government moves to take over or at least severely regulate local law enforcement.  Federal money is injected and cities become dependent on federal oversight.

The ultimate synthesis along this path:  Tyranny . . . nowhere to escape.

Example #3 . . . A: Evangelical churches enjoy music rich in doctrinal content and with melodies and rhythms that stir the soul more than the glands.

B:  We must save the young people!  We’ve got to make music relevant to the youth who are growing up in a rock and roll culture.

C:  Let’s have a mix of traditional and Contemporary Christian Rock/Roll/Pop/Rap Music.

D:  That’s not good enough.  The old folks don’t matter anyway and who cares about doctrine?  Let’s go 100% CCM, or separate the teens into their own ‘worship service.’  (And when we separate them, we’ll just keep the CCM for the ‘adult’ service anyway.)

The ultimate synthesis . . . and we’re mostly there . . . loss of rich traditional music, ever-shifting modern adaptations of secular pop music, feeding the natural addiction of young people for the rhythms and styles of the world’s music – which they listen to the rest of the week – music which is rife with immorality, rebellion, and despair.

Example #4 . . . A: The Received Text as the foundation for the KJV New Testament.

B:  A Critical Text developed by heretical scholars using a handful of corrupt manuscripts, with the motivation that we must get up-to-date.

C, D, E . . . :  Ever-shifting texts and ever more sloppy translations.  But we’ve got to make it relevant for the kids!

Schaeffer writes that Hegel and synthesis have won.  You can see it everywhere in our culture.  Instead of linear thought, Hegel substituted a triangle with synthesis at the top; once there, a new triangle is formed, and again and again.  All positions are relativized so ‘truth’ is about finding a synthesis that works . . . for somebody, namely the principalities and powers of the air.

Saul Alinsky

Saul Alinsky

Saul Alinsky (1909 – 1972) was a hero for Barack Obama.  Alinsky was a committed Marxist, working to find ways to move America from capitalism to socialism.  Alinsky’s motto was change.  Sound familiar?  Alinsky’s preferred techniques to provoke change included race-baiting, class envy, and anti-Christian bigotry.  How to make it happen?  Community organizing.  In Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals he writes:  “The first step in community organization is community disorganization . . . An organizer must stir up dissatisfaction and discontent . . . agitate to the point of conflict.”  Brannon Howse, in his book Grave Influence, notes that Hillary Clinton wrote her senior thesis at Wellesley College on Alinsky’s strategies.  Barack Obama was a member of an Alinsky-founded group while at Harvard, and when he returned to Chicago, taught Alinsky’s worldview and tactics.  One favored idea is to allow state and federal budgets to expand out of control so that the present order disintegrates and a centralized socialist state is formed.  How are we doing on that score?

The Christian worldview is realistic, rooted in truth, judging ideas and acts as right or wrong, real or fanciful.  Schaeffer defines a ‘line of despair’ separating the down-to-earth sense-driven aspects of our life in this flesh, from the transcendental ideas of life after death, whether God is there, whether life has meaning, whether morality is absolute or ephemeral.

Schaeffer liked to use simple diagrams to illustrate his points.  His “upper story / lower story” diagrams used a “line of despair” to separate the perspective of man’s life in the flesh (lower story) from man’s perspective on the spiritual, the transcendental (upper story).  Since I’m not a web expert, I’ll simplify this one:

A blind optimistic hope of meaning, based on a nonrational leap of faith

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 The rational and the logical which gives no meaning

Your typical atheist or liberal churchgoer or liberal theologian insists that rationality and logic are foundational for understanding anything important in life.  Yet in his man-centered worldview, especially for the atheist who insists that matter and the laws of physics are everything, there is no rationality available and man is merely a machine.  Hope and meaning and morality are not to be found in the periodic table.  Whatever the secularist says or writes must be simply the result of brain chemistry.  The random interactions of molecules cannot dictate what is logical or right or erroneous or rational.  (I like to call this the ‘brain chemistry argument’ for short.)

In the diagram above, the rationalist is not rational at all, based on his own worldview.  Yet he can’t live within his own worldview.  He can’t live without hope.  He cannot conceive of the end of his own existence.  And so he leaps above the line of despair, imagining that there is meaning despite its absence within the periodic table or the laws of physics.  His leap is completely irrational, in order to avoid utter despair.

The secular philosophers of the ages have attempted to explain what life is all about without allowing God into the circle.  They reject God, they reject the supernatural in trying to find ‘the real Jesus,’ and so ironically, they insist that they use rational / logical objectivity in doing so!  Liberal theologians, who are represented today in many of the more liberal denominations, but increasingly so in evangelicalism, can be associated with another of Schaeffer’s “upper story / lower story” diagrams.

THE NONRATIONAL AND NONLOGICAL:  A crisis first-order experience occurs. 

Faith is an optimistic leap without verification or communicable content.

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 THE RATIONAL AND LOGICAL:  The Scripture is full of mistakes – pessimism.

Multitudes of evangelical preachers and speakers depart eagerly and arrogantly from inerrancy, regularly ‘correcting’ or re-interpreting passages of Scripture.  They insist on their rationality as they do so, not realizing that they are criticizing the very ground of rationality.  Yet they want to believe in Heaven.  They must have hope.  And so they promote emotional / spiritual experiences, fill their ‘worship services’ with emotional content, and suggest the Christian life is primarily about feeling good about yourself.

Blog 102 - image periodic table of the elementsThe atheist accuses the liberal evangelical of having a ‘blind faith,’ which is often a legitimate accusation.  Most professing Christians don’t know why they believe the Bible and typically reject much of it, whether it’s the historicity of Genesis or the existence of a literal Hell or the Biblical necessity of genuine repentance and life-transforming faith for salvation.  Of course, the atheist’s faith is blind, too, completely irrational via the brain chemistry argument.

The Christian worldview is rational in both the “lower story” and the “upper story.”  Paul wrote that if the resurrection of Christ did not happen in space / time / history, if you can find his dead body, then it’s all false.  There is no hope.  The Christian doesn’t claim that this messed-up world is slightly flawed and, with a little work, we can fix it . . . politically, economically, socially.  The Christian sees that the world is lost, fallen in sin, each sinner really guilty, not just afflicted with feelings of guilt, but truly guilty and in need of the Savior, the Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ.  No other path exists.  And the prophetic history of the future reports that man will not solve his problems . . . which are SPIRITUAL in nature.  Rather the Lord will return to establish His own kingdom for those who have chosen to be His children.  In the meantime, the true Christian invests in convincing lost individuals to join the family.  He votes, yes, he pays taxes, he conducts his business honestly, etc., but his investment is not in political activism, his investment is in the souls of men and women.

The Bible teaches total antithesis for each individual . . . when we repent and trust Christ we pass from death to life, no more dead spiritually, but alive eternally.  We don’t compromise on this, we don’t succumb to dialecticalism by suggesting that there are other paths to God.  And we take it seriously by taking on the responsibility ourselves to make a difference in the lives of people around us, believing that their eternities are at stake, and acting to convince them.

Schaeffer points out that no man can actually live dialectically, without true antithesis.  If he thinks, “I love her,” or “That flower is beautiful,” his words and thoughts are meaningless unless they stand in antithesis to the possibilities that he doesn’t love her and the flower is ugly.  This reflects one of Schaeffer’s major themes . . . Modern man cannot live with his professed worldview.

Now, Schaeffer was a student of Cornelius Van Til, whom I’ve written about in recent months.  Van Til contends that all unbelieving worldviews, any non-Biblical worldview, is internally inconsistent AND not in touch with reality.  Schaeffer emphasizes that because any non-Biblical system is out of touch with reality, it cannot be lived consistently.  He cites the famous existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, whose left-wing political positions were couched in strong moral terms, suggesting a morality that had no foundation in his atheistic, existentialist worldview.  I note that liberal politicians today regularly make moral arguments, accusing their opponents of lying, or promoting government spending programs on moral grounds, while having no foundation for morality at all.  To mention just one little thing . . . anyone that uses his power to facilitate murdering babies has no credibility with me on any moral issue.

Schaeffer notes that even in his day (so much more now) people use ‘god’ words and ‘faith’ words with no content.  ‘god’ is something (not really someone who has a personal interest) who is undefined, unknown, unknowable.  We hear the phrase ‘people of faith’ with no care regarding the object of their faith.  Schaeffer describes modern theology as a ‘faith in faith’ rather than a faith in someone who is actually there.

L'Abri in Switzerland

L’Abri in Switzerland

Schaeffer:  “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.”  To the Christian, the value of faith depends on its object, to the God who is there and to the Christ who died and rose again in history.  The Christian’s faith can be discussed and verified.  It can be connected to all of life.  It makes sense of the world.

“The fallenness of man does not lead to machineness, but to fallenness.”  Schaeffer once talked to a brilliant young physicist in London who was working to extend Einstein’s work on the synthesis of gravity and electromagnetism.  At the end Schaeffer said, “This is fine for the Christian, who really knows who he is, to say that the material universe may finally be reduced to energy particles moving in opposite directions in a vortex, but what about your naturalistic colleagues?  What happens to them when they go home to their wives and families at night?”

The young scientist paused, then said, “Oh, Dr. Schaeffer, they just have to live in a dichotomy.”  Schaeffer emphasizes that “the very ‘mannishness’ of man refuses to live in the logic of the position to which his humanism and rationalism have brought him.  To say that I am only a machine is one thing; to live consistently as if this were true is quite another.”

At another time Schaeffer and his wife were on a Mediterranean cruise and met a young American engineer, an atheist with a lovely Jewish wife whom he loved dearly.  When the atheist found out that Francis was a pastor, he thought to have some fun, challenging him on his beliefs.  It didn’t turn out like the atheist hoped.  After an hour, the young man sought to end the discussion.  Francis left him with this thought, “When you take your wife into your arms at night, can you be sure she is there?”  The atheist understood the implications and, caught like a fox in a trap, turned and shouted, “No, I am not always sure she is there,” and went into his cabin.

Schaeffer was using presuppositional apologetics, finding a point of contact with the fellow, pointing out that he couldn’t actually live within his own worldview, in the reality of his humanity, wanting to love and be loved, but having no foundation to stand on.  Was his wife a real person who was there?  Or just a clump of molecules in motion?  This technique is powerful and I am pleased to use it regularly in various ways.

There are several reasons why I admire Francis Schaeffer.  One is that he wrote in normal, not scholarly language.  Another is that he personally sought out individual souls to reach them with the Gospel.  Another is that he made presuppositional apologetics practical and personal AND he was not a Calvinist.  So refreshing to find a truly Biblical apologist, one who is presuppositionalist and not infected with Calvinism!  Schaeffer’s writings continually emphasize man’s responsibility, man’s choice, man’s free will.  There is not a hint of Unconditional Damnation in his writings.

Sean Hannity

Sean Hannity

Schaeffer’s presuppositionalism, in practice ‘on the street,’ works to move a man in the direction that his worldview should take him.  We push him towards the place where he consistently should be, if he hadn’t stopped short of thinking it through.  I fault the conservative pundits (Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh) who don’t take the presup approach with their liberal adversaries.  The liberal atheist should continually be challenged whenever he presumes to take a moral position, because his worldview casts morality as mere feelings.  The liberal crusade for LGBT rights, for example, is always portrayed as if it is founded on some moral foundation.  What is their moral foundation?  Similarly for ‘pro-choice’ advocacy or open borders or government health care or a law-mandated exorbitant minimum wage.

When you challenge a liberal or any lost individual, make it personal.  Talk about his real guilt, talk about real truth and real history – in which a real Incarnation occurred and a real Resurrection.  Talk about the individual’s pending reality . . . death and judgment.  Tell him that you really care because you, too, are a sinner; the only difference is that you have found the Savior . . . As I did on the street yesterday, tell him that if he loves his wife and children, then he must trust Christ because that is the only chance his family has to live eternally.  Make it personal and poignant.

Schaeffer has much to say about literature and the arts.  For example, the author Henry Miller (1891 – 1980), in Schaeffer’s view, “murdered” everything meaningful in life, including decency in human sexuality.  His books were “antilaw,” but he couldn’t live within his own system, developing a mystical pantheism as he grew older.  In doing so, he would use Biblical concepts and even Biblical phraseology on occasion . . . “In investing himself (man) with the powers of a god, man has divorced himself from God – and from the universe as well.  That which was his inheritance, his gift and salvation, he has vitiated through pride and arrogance of intellect.  He has not only turned his back on the source, he is no longer aware that there is a source, the source from which, as the Good Book says, all blessings flow.”  Also . . . “The spirit which first breathed upon the waters will create anew . . . There is no last word, unless it be the Word itself:  ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’”

Whoa.  Was Miller a closet Christian?  No, he’s just using god-words to make a connection with people, a mystical connection.  He doesn’t believe in the God of the Bible.  One more example:  “Art more than religion offers us the clue to life, but only those who practice it, those who dedicate themselves, and who come ultimately to realize that they are but the humble instruments whose privilege it is to unveil the glory and the splendor of life.”  ‘Humble’?  ‘Privilege’?  Thus, Schaeffer concludes,  “intellect and knowledge must be put aside in favor of a leap into contentless mysticism and awe.”

Henry Miller

Henry Miller

Schaeffer is warning us.  Beware of artists and theologians and teachers who often use ‘god words,’ “using Christian symbols to give an illusion of meaning to an impersonal world which has no real place for man.”  Evangelicalism is now home to many pastors and teachers who do just that.  The famous megachurch pastor, Andy Stanley, fills his preaching with ‘god words’ and uses Biblical passages to make his points.  But Stanley is a universalist.  He sees no distinction between lost and saved, no antithesis, and there is no Hell to worry about.  So what does ‘the gospel’ really mean?  For Stanley it seems to be about living your life more peacefully and profitably if you act a little more like Jesus . . . that is, the Jesus of the postmodernist who is all about love and tolerance, not the Jesus who is Lord and Savior and Judge.  For Stanley the differences among people are just quantitative, some following Jesus a little better than others, some a little more ‘moral’ than others, some a little more kind, but there is no absolute personal antithesis.  This is the new theology and it reeks throughout evangelicalism.

On a ‘field trip’ a couple of years ago to a local emergent megachurch, we heard the pastor build a sermon around Isaiah 53.  He employed an object lesson, passing out pieces of paper for people to write out any disappointments, mistakes, even ‘sins’ that they would like to bring to a makeshift cross up front.  Listening carefully, however, his language was clear that the offer was to unburden oneself of the feelings of guilt over sins.  There was no clarity about true guilt for which the ultimate sacrifice was made, the Son of God on the cross.  Now, I’m sure that many of the ‘old-timers’ thought his message was quite orthodox.  But without decades of evangelical context, the younger folks would have heard the message clearly . . . it’s about you, about your feelings, nothing about true guilt and certain judgment without repentance and a life-transforming faith.  That pastor used ‘god words’ to manipulate and deceive, to lead people to a place of psychological comfort, but no true peace with God.

Schaeffer cites the notable atheist of the early 20th century, Sir Julian Huxley, who admitted that man functions better if he acts as though God is there, that even though God is dead, you should act as if He is alive.  But if God is dead, so is man.  How can the impersonal . . . protons, neutrons, electrons . . . give rise to the personal?  Yet we all live as if we are persons.  So where does personhood come from, unless there is an ultimate Person who is the source?  And should we not heed the instructions of our Source?  Christians, also, act largely as if God is dead, living autonomously, dropping by a church service once per week as if to do God a favor, that He isn’t forgotten entirely.

Now, God doesn’t communicate exhaustively with us, but He does communicate truly.  Now, we see as if through a glass darkly . . . later, face to face, yet even in eternity, God’s truth is inexhaustible.  We won’t be bored.  Why not embrace eternity while still in this life, learning, serving, witnessing, encouraging, praising, thanking?  We’re made in the image of God; whatever that means, let’s investigate it in some part today!

Andy Stanley

Andy Stanley

Schaeffer advises the evangelist (you and me) to stay on ‘offense’ and not succumb to the wimpy evangelical culture of ‘defense only.’  When an unbeliever challenges your grounded, reasoned, logical faith, answer him.  Do defense brilliantly!   But then go quickly to offense, “keep pressing him back, for he must keep answering questions, too . . . he must realize his system has no answer to the crucial questions of life.”  Furthermore, “we must be men of the Scriptures, so that we can know what the content of the Biblical system is.  Every day of our lives we should be studying the Scriptures to make sure that what we are presenting really is the Christian position, and that we are presenting it as well as possible in our day.”

Indeed.  We can make a difference.

The last point I’ll pull from The God Who Is There is the author’s concern that, “all too often evangelicals are paper people.”  The unbelieving world . . . I would prefer to call it the deluded world . . . must see Christians and exclaim, “These are human people!  These are real people!”  There must be a richness in the Christian culture, a richness in relationships.  Yet Christian personalities and relationships seem so ‘thin’ today.  The scripted church programs fill up the hours, the church member’s experience is passive, and real fellowship and real relationships among the saved are rare.  Friendships are weak.  The believer’s life is filled with all the distractions of modern life, with no time for real fellowship.

How many Christians do you know who are noticeably growing in knowledge, wisdom, zeal, and practical love?  How many marriages are growing observably stronger?  Do friendships entail weekly time with a spiritual core, a godly substance?  How do friendships stack up in priority, on a weekly basis, with all the cares and distractions of modern life?

We don’t typically ask such questions or even analyze our own lives, because we like to grade on a curve.  Hey, I’m no worse than the other guy.  I submit that God does not grade on a curve.  He established the standards for Christian life in the New Testament to benefit us.  How about trying just one new thing this week?  Find a lost individual to share the Gospel with, someone whom you would normally pass by.  Pick out a Christian to spend a little time with this week, whom you would normally neglect until Sunday comes around, at which point you merely smile and shake hands.

Just grow a little bit this week.

  • drdave@truthreallymatters.com

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