Escape from Reason – 2/1/2018

I’ve written on the insights of Francis Schaeffer before, and hope to do so several more times.  I love the guy and anticipate sharing a campfire or a fireplace chat with him during the Millennium.  He was an author, evangelist, house church leader, philosopher, cultural savant, and a really smart fellow.

In this essay I’ll take a safari through a couple of his books, Escape from Reason (1968) and He Is There and He Is Not Silent (1972), pulling some nuggets out and adding my own thoughts.  Let’s start with Escape from Reason.

Francis Schaeffer

Francis Schaeffer

Schaeffer observes that, centuries ago, natural science was not naturalistic.  The early heroes of science (Newton, Galileo, Pascal, Kepler) traced the paths of natural causes, but were never foolish enough to believe that God or man was caught in the machinery.  Yes, we can use the oh-so-repeatable laws of gravitation and mechanics, along with the tools of calculus, to predict orbits and trajectories, yet God and man can intervene and generate causal chains that would never have occurred otherwise.

God made the machine and we can tinker with the machine.  Free will is free indeed.  We live in an open system.  We’re not prisoners.  We’re not automatons.  Both atheists and Calvinists get it spectacularly wrong.  They have escaped from reason . . . reason is not possible without free will.

Integral to our very existence is antithetical thought.  If ‘A’ is true, then ‘not-A’ is false.  If Freddie ought to do right, then he ought not to do wrong.  God is there.  God is not not-there.  God’s existence is the very basis for such thought.  We cannot live without it, despite the pretensions of postmodernists or New Agers who also must live within reality and God’s morality.  They won’t cross the street, either, as the bus rolls by.  It’s either them or the bus, either-or, not both-and or ‘whatever’.  They, too, are offended when someone lies to them or steals from them or seduces their wife.  Where does their anger come from?  They were wronged.  God calls it sin, which is vertical first, horizontal second.

Schaeffer uses a variety of “upper story / lower story” diagrams to illustrate man’s modern dilemma.  Here’s one . . .




The richness of human life in God’s creation depends on the reality of those elements in the upper story, that God, love, morals, etc., are real and not merely consequences of the physics of particle interactions.  Yet modern culture, in education and media, strives to swallow up, to vaporize everything in the upper story, leaving us adrift in “a deterministic sea without a shore.”

Most people who contentedly buy into the evolutionary fairy tale don’t think it through.  If the lower story is the entire story, then man has no freedom, no significance . . . therefore man does not exist.  Any individual man is just a sack of molecules.  But we all live as if we exist and can aspire and choose.

Blog 115 image campfire“If man is determined, then what is, is right . . . morals really do not count.  Morals become a manipulation by society in the midst of the machine.”  Feminists, among others, should object.  If men are stronger than women, by nature, then “the male has the right to do what he wishes to the female.”  What is, is right.  Consider this – only the Biblical worldview makes women truly equal, equal because male and female both are God’s image-bearers.  (See Galatians 3:26-29 for an explicit example.)

But if you teach men that they are just machines and they should maximize their self-esteem, what would you expect to get, if not profanity, cruelty, sexual abuse, and addiction?  I find it remarkable that in recent publications from within the Physics / Astronomy community within academia, that sexual harassment of female grad students and female faculty is epidemic.  Isn’t academia a bastion of feminism?  No, atheism trumps feminism.

No one can live consistently as if only the lower story exists.  And so, many make an irrational leap toward an upper story that has no basis in their worldview.  They talk of “people of faith” . . . faith in whom?  Doesn’t matter.  Just have faith in faith.  Go ahead and talk about faith and meaning because the talk makes you feel better, because it’s just so darn depressing to face up to the idea that there is nothing upstairs.  “Modern man is committed to finding his answer upstairs, by a leap away from rationality and away from reason.”  Man “feels the damnation of being in the machine.”  So he flees from reason.  We see this all the time when secular media personalities deal with a tragedy by saying “their thoughts and prayers are with . . .”  No, they’re not.

Jesus gets roped into this irrationality.  What matters most to evangelicals is an encounter with Jesus.  Here’s another two-level diagram . . .





How does this play out?  Doctrine is despised.  Don’t argue about what the Bible says or doesn’t say.  Don’t divide over doctrine.  Don’t you dare suggest someone is not truly born again – How dare you judge that?!?  As long as someone says she has had an encounter with Jesus, that’s good enough!  Let’s all get together . . . Mormons and Catholics love Jesus, too!

But a contentless Christianity is no Christianity at all.  A Jesus not grounded in the true / false propositions of God’s word is a Jesus who cannot save.  The Biblical propositions on law, sin, and judgment enable a real encounter with the real Jesus who will save only via content-full propositions regarding repentance and faith.  At the end of the story Heaven and Hell, specifically the New Heaven and New Earth vs. the Lake of Fire, are content-full Biblical propositions about reality that have eternal consequences for every man and woman.

Blog 115 image shepherds at BethlehemChristian parents had better model such realities in both love and discipline, consistently, or their children will grow up thinking that religion must be like Santa Claus.

I just noticed as I was reading Schaeffer’s 1974 book last night, No Little People, that he invites us to imagine that we were among the shepherds visited by the angels in Bethlehem as the baby Jesus was delivered.  “Can we think that these shepherds would have accepted the idea that the great doctrinal truths about this baby did not matter?  Imagine them proclaiming the message in the street.  All believe!  All believe!  Then someone comes along and claps one of them on the shoulder.  ‘All right.  Never mind about what the angel said.  Remove the content and just let us believe.’  These down-to-the-earth men would never have accepted such a thing.  They would have turned around and responded, ‘Forget the angels and the content they spoke?  We can’t.  They were there.’”

Schaeffer describes a beautiful painting by Paul Robert displayed in Switzerland’s old Supreme Court Building.  In the foreground the artist depicts many kinds of litigation – wife against husband, architect against builder, etc.  How shall the Judges judge?  But this is a Reformation country.  The artist has portrayed Justice pointing her sword toward a book emblazoned with the words, “The Law of God.”

The Christian man has a basis for law.  Modern man has thrown the book away and with it the possibility for a foundation for morality and law.

Blog 115 image Paul Robert painting 01Schaeffer recounts his conversion path.  He had been part of a liberal church for many years.  What he heard led to a decision for atheism or agnosticism.  For the first time he decided to read the Bible so he could contrast it with other philosophies, including the Greeks he was reading.  He worked through this as a matter of personal integrity, so he could say with honesty that he had evaluated what he’d left behind.

After about six months of this he became a Christian, a real one, “because I was convinced that the full answer which the Bible presented was alone sufficient to the problems I then knew, and sufficient in a very exciting way.”

Just so.  This is presuppositionalism.  Examine God’s worldview via the Bible.  See if it makes sense of everyone and everything in reality.  It does.  Nothing else comes close.  Schaeffer found the Bible to be a system of truth that a man can use to explain himself, his needs, his desires, his temptations, his sins, his conscience, and how he fits into reality . . . that God is there, man is accountable, hope is grounded in the Gospel, and that history will have a climax.  Above all, man is not a machine.  He is personal and therefore the product of a person – God.  No God, no personhood, no man.  And man can only find truth in and from God.

As far as how man should live, that’s based on this truth:  “Man can influence history, including his own eternity and that of others.  This view sees man, as man, as something wonderful.”  That’s good stuff.  And it provides us a very specific quote proclaiming Schaeffer’s abhorrence of Calvinism.

In his book He Is There and He Is Not Silent, Schaeffer deals with epistemology, how we know and how we know that we know.  If you get that wrong, you’ve got no ground to stand on.  Schaeffer’s foundation is presuppositional . . . God is there and He is not silent, and that changes everything about who we are and what it’s all about.  An example he cites is that no materialist or psychological determinist is ever able to live as though he is not a man, a person with free will.  Only the Biblical worldview can be lived honestly.

Everyone has a worldview.  This is as true, Schaeffer writes, for “the man digging a ditch as it is of the philosopher in the university.”  I discovered this by experience many years ago while knocking hundreds of doors in various towns, sharing the Gospel.  Everyone I met thought they had the world figured out.  They didn’t necessarily know why they believed what they believed, but they were sure what they believed was the real deal.

Schaeffer notes what I’ve also observed – Christians tend to despise the concept of philosophy, and are proud to do so!  A consequence is that Christians don’t know how to point out the fallacies in unbelieving worldviews and are weak in explaining the strength of the Gospel.  Evangelism suffers.  The lost fellow needs help to understand that his ground is mere quicksand and he needs help to see why the Gospel is on solid ground.  If you’re too proud to learn how to help him, shame on you.  That’s why I’ve written so much about apologetics and personal evangelism on this web site, and I’ve tried to convey the issues in the most practical way possible.  I’ve tested these things on the street. I’m no armchair philosopher / theologian.  I keep learning and I keep trying.  So should you.

Blog 115 image galaxySchaeffer discusses the philosophers Heidegger and Wittgenstein.  Their names aren’t important – on the street – but they had some relevant insights.  They realized that if we are going to know anything, something must be spoken.  Language is vital.  If you can’t express it, you don’t understand it.  You can have a feeling, but language is essential for anyone else to benefit from what’s inside you.

The problem those two guys had was that they were secularists . . . no God and therefore man is just a clump of molecules.  It’s the brain chemistry argument that I’ve written much about.  Who’s speaking?  Or is that just brain chemistry?  And if it’s all just brain chemistry then there is no man (or woman) who understands anything.  Knowing must start with God as a person who created us as persons.

If you’re a machine, you don’t know anything.  You’re a machine in a closed system of cause and effect, just bumping along one particle collision at a time.  Materialism dehumanizes man and makes the world so small and trivial.  In reality, we live in an open system, “open to reordering by God and by man.”

Everyone lives as if this is true.  Everyone loves even though love is not part of the laws of physics.  Everyone subscribes to absolute morality – murder, rape, etc., are wrong – even though morals cannot be found in the Periodic Table.

Schaeffer writes, “That is why I am a Christian and no longer an agnostic.  In all other systems something ‘sticks out,’ something cannot be included; and it has to be mutilated or ignored.  But without losing his own integrity, the Christian can see everything fitting into place beneath the Christian apex of the existence of the infinite-personal God who is there.”

a crude sketch of a ribosome

a crude sketch of a ribosome

This is true regarding what we see in creation, including the design of galaxies, ecosystems, and ribosomes.  It’s also true when we look inward at our own conscience.  Furthermore, the dynamics of relationships – interpersonal, social, and societal – make sense within the Biblical scheme.

Schaeffer was visited by a brilliant man, who broke down weeping because he had thought through the consequences of his humanistic existentialism.  The man had spent much time in Paris, the center of such thought (Sartre, Camus).  He had ultimately found it all so ugly and inhuman, provoking him to consider suicide.

The fellow was amazed that Schaeffer showed him love.  “How do you love me, how do you start?”

Schaeffer replied, “I know who you are because you are made in the image of God.”

Their façade doesn’t matter when we witness to the lost.  We know who they are.  God put in everyone a capacity to recognize truth.  Start with God.  Use the law, knowing that the conscience will hear it.  Declare the Gospel, knowing that there is no other salvation, both for living this life and for eternity.  If need be, dismantle his objections and misunderstandings.  But come from above, from on high, knowing that the message is God’s, infinitely superior to man’s vain philosophies.  (Only one philosophy works!)

This isn’t just about dealing with skeptics.  The religious lost all have man-centered philosophies.  Isn’t that what works-based religion is all about?  How man can earn some form of salvation?

It’s also not just about evangelism.  Rather, it’s the core of discipleship.  The growing Christian must work to understand better and better, more and more Biblically, who God is and who we are.  Knowledge enables wisdom for living.  A God-honoring perspective puts the trivialities of the world in their place.  Yes, we must all pay our bills and brush our teeth and cut the grass, but the Christian must spend quality time in the upper story, encouraging others to do the same.  If necessary, schedule it!  Most young and middle-aged adult Christians I know are consumed with Earth’s perspective, foolishly hoping that some day they might lift their heads up high enough to look around the upper story.

No, live it today.


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