Saturday, February 16, 2008


After reading Frank Schaeffer’s book CRAZY FOR GOD (see 2/12/2008), I felt the need to reexamine his father’s writings. Had I missed something in them, some flaw inherent in his thinking, something that had been in them all along, that I had overlooked?

As I said in the previous blog, Francis Schaeffer’s books had a profound effect on my thinking as well as my views of the ministry, and yet I had noticed some changes in direction in his later books and films.

I must admit that I had read his last two books: A Christian Manifesto, 1981 and The Great Evangelical Disaster, 1984, rather cursorily, so I felt I now needed to reread them critically.

As I have said elsewhere of another author, it is with fear and trembling that I venture to disagree with this saint. But I must! Forgive me for oversimplifying. While Francis Schaeffer spoke clearly to the problems of his (and my) generation, I believe his viewpoint was extremely limited in at least two ways:

First, I don’t believe he was really a “world Christian.” His views were limited to the west. He didn’t seem as concerned about “whatever happened to the human race,” as he was about whatever happened to the west: Europe and America. While this has made his writings extremely relevant to us, they don’t seem as relevant to the rest of the world, or to our overall thinking.

Because of this narrow focus, it’s easy to view certain past eras as golden ages (though he constantly denies doing this): the early (western) church, the Reformation, the American Revolution; and to paint them in a bit too glorious colors. Everything that deviates from these pictures is seen as a decline in culture and a cause for hand-wringing.

Second (again I write with fear and trembling), Francis Schaeffer did not seem to be a Biblicist first, but second. His biblical views are filtered through the Reformation He based much of his argument on scholars and authors (Christian and secular) with whom he was in agreement. Now there’s nothing wrong with this as a tool for debate, but it seems that he almost baptized some of these arguments with a “thus saith the Lord,” even though they had little if any biblical support and may even, I believe, run contrary to Scripture. This especially shows in his later writings.

Some examples (pages referred to are those in A Christian Manifesto in volume 5 of The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer):

Referring to the works of some of his 19th century heroes, he says, “both of them said something very firmly: If a law is wrong, you must disobey it. Both of them call, when it is necessary, for civil disobedience” (page 453). Well and good. We have plenty of biblical precedent for this. See Acts 5:29, where Peter says, “We must obey God rather than men.” But in the very next paragraph, he quotes Finney regarding “the right and duty of revolution.” I fail to find any biblical warrant for that remark.

He says, “In almost every place where the Reformation had success there was some form of civil disobedience or armed rebellion” (page 470). (Schaeffer almost seems to equate the two.) Then he goes on to list approvingly all the heroic and bloody victories of the Reformers and their allies. He quotes Jasper Ridley, “The theory of the justification of revolution is Knox’s special contribution to theological and political thought” (page 472).

Where was Schaeffer going with all this? “There does come a time when force, even physical force, is appropriate. The Christian is not to take the law into his own hands and become a law unto himself. But when all avenues to flight and protest have closed, force in the defensive posture is appropriate” (page 483).

When does he feel it is right for the Christian to take up arms against his government? Apparently for defense, if I’m reading the above quote correctly. But how does this square with what Jesus said? “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also“ (Matthew 5:39); “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44); and “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52).

The holy wars of the Reformation period can possibly be justified in retrospect by what they achieved, but this sounds like an argument of “the end justifies the means.” In his other writings Schaefer recoils in horror from that sort of situation ethic.

When we take up arms in the Name of Christ, we set ourselves on a slippery slope. If the wars of the Reformation can be justified, what about the Crusades? The Inquisition? What about the mutilation and hanging of Quakers by Schaeffer’s beloved Massachusetts Puritans?

But Schaeffer goes even further. “It is time that we consciously realize that when any office commands what is contrary to God’s Law it abrogates its authority” (page 493). He goes on to say that when this happens, God “requires” us to respond, apparently with force.

Wait a minute! Paul tells the Roman Christians, many of whom would soon face martyrdom under Nero, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves” (Romans 13:1, 2). Nero was appointed by God, yet much of what he commanded was “contrary to God’s Law.” Nowhere does Paul or any other biblical writer, Old Testament or New Testament tell us that a ruler could “abrogate its authority.”

If the actions recommended by Schaeffer are to be taken, who gets to decide when and how? The Religious Right? The Religious Left? Catholics? Protestants? (Anyone who has a gun or a bomb? -- Uni’s question.) This is what’s going on throughout the Middle East and Africa. Do we really want a Christian Jihad?

When we come to Schaeffer’s last book written in 1984, we find that he has retreated a bit from what he wrote in 1981, although he does not reverse any of his previous statements. In The Great Evangelical Disaster, he comes down rather harshly on evangelicals, but at least doesn’t advocate an armed rebellion. (Good thing, or some of us would be dead – Uni.)

Schaeffer states his theme: “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 world spirit of the age” (page 320, volume 4). He speaks of two accommodations: on Scripture and on “the issues.” He contrasts accommodation (which he feels evangelicals are involved in) with confrontation (which he feels they are not involved in).

He seems to blame evangelicalism for the moral problems of our age. Though he expects evangelicals to confront these issues, he is not exactly clear how we are to confront, other than by speaking out. And could our speaking out have much, if any effect on our culture?

A couple of chapters in Frank’s book were interesting to me, and I suppose comforting to him. In chapter 56, Frank tells of how he had said goodbye to his father a week before his death. It was a brief tale of reconciliation and fond memories. The other was chapter 54, wherein he describes his father as expressing regret over his alliance with what he felt were “lunatics, psychopaths and extremists” of the Religious Right. This, however, never showed up in Francis’ writings.

I have greatly respected Francis Schaeffer and will continue to do so. I respect the man who said “the real battle for men is in the world of ideas.” “The local church or Christian group should be right, but it should also be beautiful.” I feel that he will be remembered for his earlier writings and ministry. It’s too bad, but many, both those who agree with him and those who disagree, will remember him for his later harsher works and extremism.

Bill Ball

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