I keep meaning to read the fiction books sitting on my nightstand, but I keep picking up Francis Schaeffer’s The God Who Is There instead.
I came to Schaeffer via my newfound respect for Nancy Pearcey, who sites Schaeffer’s L’Abri ministry as the key to her return to faith. I don’t know how to review this book without noting all the ways in which these books support and reinforce one another. There is simply no way I would have understood the first third of this book had I not read Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning with its terrific full color reproductions of paintings. Like Pearcey, Schaeffer begins his examination of culture by looking at the way an artist’s world view and philosophy are expressed through art. Of course, these are not “propositional truths” to be examined, but nonetheless, art expresses a way of experiencing the world and I appreciate that now better than I ever have.
Schaeffer (I believe) originated the idea of the upper/lower story imagery, and Pearcey relies on it heavily in her two books. If you’re not familiar, Schaeffer uses the upper/lower story image to explain how modern man must live in tension between his ideals of how he wants the world to work and the reality of how far the world is from those ideals. This despair can lead to nihilism, but it can also lead to a compartmentalizing of the two irreconcilable parts of life: if you imagine a person’s mental life as a house, the “upper story” contains “a blind optimistic hope of meaning, based on a non-rational leap of faith” and the “lower story” contains “the rational and the logical which gives no meaning.” If you’re not convinced that this is the reigning contemporary mindset, read Pearcey. I think her work does a better job of explaining Schaeffer’s ideas than he himself does.
My favorite part of the book was Schaeffer’s helpful explanation of how to use these ideas to help modern people approach the gospel. He is not trying to show off his intelligence by dismantling faulty worldviews, he is trying to take compassion on the despair of the people who hold these views. Schaeffer says “The whole purpose of our speaking to twentieth-century people in this way is not to make them admit that we are right in some personally superior way, nor to push their noses in the dirt, but to make them see their need so that they will listen to the Gospel” (127). It is a very humble approach from a very intelligent man.
The crux of the issue is that God is there and he is not silent. He has interacted with humanity in ways that cannot be accounted for any other way. A personal God is the only rational source for people with personality. Modern man is prepared to explain away the whole universe as the products of blind chance and rational mechanics, but this doesn’t explain (to use Schaeffer’s words) the “mannishness” of man. Schaeffer makes the point often that “Personality is not an intrusion in the universe but central” (159). We can’t help but have personality, and that means it is not something we can ignore when we attempt to explain where humans come from.
Actually, the crux of the issue is the cross. All of Schaeffer’s ideas in this book are to help the person who claims to be a Christian to understand that calling oneself a Christian means actually believing that Jesus came to earth, died, and rose again. When we share the gospel, we must make sure that our audience knows “that we are talking to him about history, and that the death of Jesus was NOT just an ideal or a symbol but a fact of space and time” (127). God revealed himself in such a way that his existence was open to being verified.
Schaeffer was passionate about preparing Christians to speak the gospel into their current culture, and even 30 years later his books continue to help us to do that.