Archives For Francis Schaeffer

I am so thankful for Christianity. That probably sounds odd, or lame, or both. But the longer I live, the more I test out my Christian beliefs in more of the real world, and the more amazed I am at Christianity’s ability to explain this world and to allow me to thrive within it.

Francis Schaeffer always said that Christianity offers an explanation for all of life. It speaks to everything. And I keep finding that he’s right about that. We sometimes think that Christianity is about going to heaven when we die, but it provides the only accurate and profound answer to everything we encounter.

I am thankful…

Return of the Prodigal Son (Rembrandt)To be able to forgive someone who doesn’t deserve forgiveness, and to know that justice is still served. Because the wicked will be punished, and because Jesus was punished on behalf of the wicked who trust in him, justice will be completely served in this universe. I can always forgive because Christ forgave first, and because vengeance belongs to him. This gives me unbelievable freedom and joy in relationships.

To be able to tell my daughters that they will see their dead loved ones again—and mean it. The loss of a loved one is unbearable. And yet I am so comforted that when a believing friend or family member dies, I will be able to look my daughters in the eye and tell them truthfully, “You will see him again, and it will be amazing!”

To be able to point my daughters to Jesus as an example of forgiveness—and everything. This morning I was talking to one of my girls about what to do if her sister hits her. How amazing that I can explain that Jesus was hit, wounded, and even killed, and that he did not hit back! Parenting would be so difficult without the example of Jesus.

To be able to explain and value the good in this world. When I see people doing good, pursuing good, praising good, I don’t have to wonder why people who don’t see the world as I see it can still do good things. I believe in a God who made a very good world, and who still showers his goodness in all corners of this world, even when some people want nothing to do with him.

To be able to explain and oppose the evil in this world. Contrary to some world religions, I don’t have to accept evil as simply “the way it is.” And I can fight against the evil in this world without fighting against God (as in some Eastern religions). This is God’s good world, and though he permits evil for a time, he has sacrificed himself to defeat evil and he will one day remove it entirely.

Rembrandt - Descent from the CrossTo be able to point people to the power of love, and know that it’s something deeper than the power of positive thinking. Love can be a cheesy concept—Why can’t we all just love one another? And yet I believe in a God who is love. I can say with a straight face that true, self-sacrificing love is the most powerful force in the universe.

To be affirmed in my deep understanding that I am not good enough, and to be reminded that that was never the point anyway. Every day I am proven right in my suspicions that I’m actually a horrible person. And Christianity told me that this is what I would find about myself. Yet Christianity also reminds me daily that my value is not dependent on my performance, and that Jesus saved me while I was a sinner. There are no words to express how amazing this reality is.

To be affirmed in my love for this world. Contrary to some religions (such as Gnosticism or Buddhism) that see this world as icky or illusory, I can look around at this world, love and enjoy it deeply, and be affirmed in this by the Creator. He made a good world and placed us within it. What a joy to have the freedom to love the world God made!

To be affirmed in my love for the people around me. I don’t have to be in competition with the people around me. I don’t have to hate them. I can value them as bearers of the image of God. I can see their value, and love them with the love of Christ.

To know that God is there, and that he loves deeply. I am part of one of the very few world religions that sees God as a personal being who cares about what happens in this world. I belong to the ONLY religion that understands that God cares so much about us that he sacrificed himself for the sake of human beings. There is so much comfort in these profound truths!

To know that no godly effort in this life will be in vain. I don’t have to wonder if my sacrifice for the sake of God and his kingdom will be worth it in the end. I am promised that every bit of suffering, every bit of effort, every single undertaking done for the Lord has value, and none of it will be wasted (1 Cor. 15:58).

This list can (and should) go on forever. Christianity is more than a dusty, lifeless belief system. It is the self-revelation of the infinite-personal God who is the only foundation for reality. I am so thankful for God and for his accurate, artful, and brilliant revelation to us.


Yesterday I wrote about the existence of the external world. This is something that every person has to wrestle with. We can’t deny the existence and the form of the world around us, though some have tried. Even those who deny the external world are still forced to live within it. This unflinching reality is an absolute that all people must take into account. They can believe what they want, but they still have to account for the world’s existence and form.

Vitruvian ManIn this post I will explore a second reality that no one can deny—a concept that Francis Schaeffer referred to as the “mannishness” of man. As ridiculous as that phrasing sounds, all Schaeffer was saying is that human beings are unique. We know we are. There’s something special about us, and we have to wrestle with what makes us special and why we can’t shake the feeling that we are somehow qualitatively different than the rest of the natural world.

As an example, take the human personality. What exactly is a personality? Why do we each have one? Why are we able to relate to one another in a personal way? If this world were nothing more than the product of time plus chance, then there would be absolutely no way to account for the existence of personality. There is simply no way to get something personal out of something impersonal. It doesn’t matter how much time you give it or how creative you believe chance to be.

Nor can personality be accounted for in a pantheistic worldview. If God is everything and everything is God, then God is ultimately impersonal. We may well believe that everything is connected, that we are all part of the “infinite everything,” but if we choose to believe this we are forfeiting any hope of explaining human personality. The best we can do here is believe that personality is an illusion that must be overcome.

Unless our worldview adequately explains the personality of mankind—his ability to relate personally with other personal beings, his ability to love, to show compassion, his moral motions, his will, etc.—then our worldview does not fit the world that exists.

From a Darwinian perspective, it has been said that personality can be accounted for in terms of survival of the fittest. People developed emotions because they saw that this would help them survive and master the other creatures. But this is a stretch. It is not at all clear that the first person to develop emotions would have an evolutionary advantage. In fact, if you developed compassion in a world in which no one else felt compassion, you would be at a huge disadvantage. If you developed the ability to love, but no other being on earth possessed the ability to love you in return, you would be digging yourself a whole. Personality simply cannot be accounted for in a Darwinian framework.

The Christian worldview, on the other hand, offers a satisfying explanation of the unique nature of humanity. This world began with a personal God, and this personal God created personal beings according to his image. Man is a created being like everything else in creation. But the Bible is clear that man is unique in that he alone is made in God’s image. This explains the indefinable qualities of human beings, and it perfectly explains the existence of personality.

As I said in yesterday’s post, this undeniable “mannishness” of man is on our side, working on our behalf in the minds of those we are reaching out to. We want them to see the world as it truly is. They can choose to believe in a non-Christian worldview, but they still have to live in the world that God made. This means that at every turn they are living in a world that was formed by the God of the Bible, and they find in themselves and in the people around them an undeniable quality that cannot be explained apart from the personal God who exists and lovingly formed them. They will attempt to suppress this truth (see Romans 1), but it will continue to fight its way into their consciousness, like a thorn in the brain that points them always to the Truth.


Francis Schaeffer liked to talk about two aspects of the human experience that every person has to wrestle with. These are constants—every person who has ever lived has encountered these two things. The first (which I will explore in this post) is the existence of the external world. The second (which I will explore tomorrow) is what Schaeffer referred to as “the mannishness of man.”

The World 2We live in the midst of a world. We can’t deny it. We keep bumping into it. It’s everywhere we look. Try as we might, we can’t see beyond it, nor can we quite manage to see it differently than it is, though we often try. We can’t get its smell out of our nostrils or its feel away from our nerve endings. It’s just there. Unavoidable. Undeniable.

Of course, people being what they are, some have tried to deny the existence of the external world. Or at least cast doubt upon its existence. Renee Descartes’ famous dictum “I think therefore I am” was the conclusion of his experiment of systematic doubt. How do I really know anything at all? How do I know I even exist? Could not my senses or some evil spirit be deceiving me about everything I’ve ever known? The only thing that Descartes could not doubt was the fact that he was doubting.

Some of the eastern religions teach that this world is nothing more than an illusion. The trick is to call it out and realize that all of the distinctions we make between individual objects (I am not you, you are not a tree, the land is not the sea) are misguided. These distinctions are illusions. So we must let go of the illusion of an external world and mindlessly meld with everything.

How do I know I exist? How do I know you’re not a figment of my imagination? We can certainly ask ourselves these questions.

But at the end of the day, we’re still living in the real world. Go ahead and believe that this world is an illusion. You still can’t escape it. You still have to follow the dictates of gravity. You still come into contact with real people. You still see things like beauty and understand things like truth. Believe what you want, but we all know—truly and deeply—that the external world is real.

Literally every thing points to the reality of the external world. As Christians, the inescapable reality of the external world works in our favor. We can have a discussion with a Buddhist, for example, about the whole world being an illusion. And we can try to convince him intellectually. He will argue against us, but then he must go about his day living as though this world is a real place. In other words, he can say what he wants, but at this point—if he wants to function in the world that exists—he must live inconsistently with regard to his stated beliefs.

Or talk to the person who denies the existence of a Creator. She will explain that the existence of God is improbable or even impossible. But then she has to face the fact that this world is here. Why should it be here? She can appeal to concepts like “deep time” and talk about what could happen when time and chance work together over billions of years, but still—something is here! Where did it come from? That question must persist like a thorn in the brain when the only available answer is, “Well, who knows what could happen when you give it enough time and chance?”

The beauty of this whole thing is that the God who gave us the gospel is also the God who fashioned the external world. And he knows what he’s talking about. So when we speak to people about the truth of the Christian worldview, we can have full confidence that our worldview matches the world that exists completely. No one else has this advantage. So we have both truth and reality on our side—both working together to point people to the truth and power of the gospel. But even more powerful than the existence of the external world is “the mannishness of man”—a concept  that we will explore tomorrow.

Bob Dylan 2My father in law introduced me to the music of Bob Dylan. At first, I didn’t understand the appeal. But a few years and several albums later, Dylan has become one of my favorites. I won’t argue with anyone who finds his voice less than appealing, but I will say that he uses it skillfully. There is a reason that people are still intrigued by his music, and his influence on the development of modern music is absolutely incalculable.

In the 60s, Dylan was hailed as a prophet. His simple but enduring lyric caught everyone’s attention: “The times they are a-changin’.” He won the admiration of the hippie generation as well as the thoughtful analysis of Christian thinkers like Francis Schaeffer. This reveals the depth of his musical projects. For a variety of reasons, people were—and still are—interested in what Bob Dylan had to say.

I recently watched the 1965 documentary about Dylan: Don’t Look Back. Dylan’s demeanor throughout the documentary probably wouldn’t surprise anyone. He comes across as a young, talented visionary—confident, beloved, and mysterious. But I was struck by something that Dylan said on the documentary during an interview with Time Magazine:

“I’ve got nothing to say about these things I write. I mean, I just write ‘em. I’m not going to say anything about ‘em. I don’t write ‘em for any reason. There’s no great message.”

Think about the implications of this. A whole generation (and every generation since, to a lesser degree) was enamored with the songs that Dylan was writing, yet he tells a reporter that there’s no great message behind them.

Is it true that everyone is simply looking for something that’s not there when they listen to Dylan’s albums? Could Dylan really have been writing something meaningless that somehow become meaningful to the world around him?

I don’t think so.

Let me be clear: I don’t claim to know Bob Dylan better than he knows himself. But it does seem clear to me that people only engage in artistic endeavors because they feel some compulsion to do so. No one ever wrote a song by accident. Lyrics don’t just happen to rhyme, nor do they fit into song structures or tell stories of their own accord.

It may well be that Dylan wasn’t fully aware of what he was trying to get at by writing those songs. Perhaps he intentionally wrote some things that he considered nonsense. But the artistic enterprise itself draws from something deeper.

Human beings create art in a search for meaning. We know that this world is more meaningful than the bare facts might indicate, so we tell stories, we sing songs, we paint pictures. We adorn our world in an effort to highlight its true significance.

So there is a deep sense of irony in Dylan’s words. Essentially, he was claiming that his search for meaning had no meaning. But perhaps the “great message” behind Dylan’s music was the search itself rather than any answers that he may or may not have discovered in the process.

Dylan eventually converted to Christianity, recorded two albums that were over the top Christian, and generally made a big deal of his faith (he is far more ambiguous now). It is clear that Dylan was expressing a message and attempting to convey meaning through his music at this point in his life.

But it is also clear to me that Dylan was exploring truth and meaning through his pre-1965 recordings as well. I can’t be convinced that songs like “The Times They Are A-Changing,” “Boots of Spanish Leather,” or “When the Ship Comes In” are meaningless. I find them powerful attempts to find and convey meaning.

As Francis Schaeffer would say, try as we might to believe that this world is meaningless, we all know deep down that this world and we ourselves are overwhelmingly meaningful. And when we try to deny this reality with our art, our artistic creations themselves betray the truth of the matter.


EnvironmentalismThe environment can be a polarizing issue. Talk too much about caring for the earth and you risk being branded a liberal, as though recycling is the equivalent of compromising the gospel. I have heard well-known Christian leaders that I respect advocate depleting the earth’s resources and polluting with gusto because God is going to destroy the world anyway.

A college student once asked me after a church service if the church recycled its bulletins. I explained to her that, no, we don’t recycle the bulletins, and that we don’t need to go crazy caring for the environment because we know that the world will end when Jesus returns. I wish I could have those words back.

The simple truth is that our stewardship of creation matters. Francis Schaeffer used to explain that environmentalists were misguided in appealing to pantheism in supporting their cause. Why? Because they really should be appealing to the Christian worldview!

Pantheism would seem to be a good foundation for environmentalism. If everything is God, then we honor the divine by treating the grass, trees, and animals well. But Schaeffer explains that pantheism is an impersonal religion. If everything is God, then God is nothing more than an impersonal force. So why try to appease an impersonal force? There is no motivation to adjust our actions based on the existence of an impersonal entity.

Christianity, on the other hand, teaches us that this world was created by God. Every leaf, every ant, every drop of water was lovingly crafted by the Maker himself. And having created it all, he declared our world “very good.” Sure, it has been stained by sin, but sin is just that: a stain, not the fabric itself. In fact, Paul explains that the creation is groaning under the weight of sin and longs for the redemption that will come at Christ’s return (see Rom. 8). So the stain of sin is no reason to treat the environment badly any more than it is a reason to treat unredeemed people badly.

If you’re not convinced that God’s creation is still worth caring about, take a lesson from the incarnation. By taking on flesh and becoming a human being, Jesus was again validating the essential goodness of creation. If creation had become evil at the fall, then Jesus could not have become a part of it. So Jesus affirmed the goodness of creation and made clear his intention to redeem it.

If Christians are going to care for the environment, then we have to subscribe to the right kind of environmentalism. Some pursue a biocentric environmentalism, in which the natural world is said to have intrinsic value and therefore is to be protected. Others go for an anthropocentric environmentalism, in which the environment is protected and/or utilized in whichever ways best serve human ends. But neither of these approaches should satisfy the Christian. Rather, we should go with a theocentric environmentalism, in which we view the natural world as the good creation of God and therefore steward it appropriately to his glory.

Not only did God create a good world, but he specifically placed human beings in the midst of it and tasked them “to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:5, 15). If part of God’s intention in creating humanity was to have an under-ruler who could care for his world, then we’re missing the point pretty badly by trashing his world rather than stewarding it. So let’s be environmentalists. But let’s also make sure we’re being the right kind of environmentalists.