Archives For Francis Schaeffer

Yesterday I posted on the economic effects of sin, and I cited a couple of examples from Vishal Mangalwadi’s book Truth & Transformation. Today I’m going to take the extra step and formally recommend the book.

Vishal Mangalwadi 2Mangalwadi has been referred to as “the Francis Schaeffer of India,” partially because he studied under Schaeffer, partially because he follows Schaeffer’s method of applying biblical truth to the pressing issues of the day. Mangalwadi is particularly interesting because he is a non-Western scholar who is well acquainted with Western thought and development. He provides a much needed perspective on our approach to life that is at once intelligent and unbiased.

In Truth & Transformation, Mangalwadi explores the impact that worldview has on our societies. You might be tempted to think that a worldview is a personal matter that doesn’t have much bearing on practical matters that affect whole societies. But Mangalwadi argues otherwise.

Water CarriersFor example, Mangalwadi asks why there are still women in India transporting water on their heads, when the Western world has found ample means for piping water and harnessing its power. It has nothing to do with intelligence, ingenuity, or motivation. It has everything to do with worldview.

One important contribution of Christianity to the Western worldview has been in the development of science. Christians see the world as God’s creation, and humanity as God’s caretakers. Because God is an orderly and rational Creator, the creation is worth exploring and mankind is capable of learning how the creation functions and shaping it in ways that benefit our societies. In this way, the Christian worldview has led the Western world into some major technological developments.

In parts of India, by contrast, the animistic worldview leads people to see the world not as something that can be explored and shaped, but rather as something controlled by unpredictable spirits that must be appeased. The local river is not something that can be harnessed for power and the water passing downstream is not something that can be piped into villages and homes. Rather, the spiritual forces within the river must be respected and appeased, and therefore water must be manually transported.

Truth and TransformationMangalwadi’s simple argument is that truth transforms. What we believe affects the way we live, both as individuals and as societies. And what God reveals to us holds true in the real world. So when we appropriate truth, it transforms our lives. And when we labor to see that truth take root in our larger societies, then widespread transformation can result.

This doesn’t mean that we can force God’s truth onto our culture or that transformation will be quick and easy. Mangalwadi carefully avoids two extremes here. He insists that this world and our societies are worth fighting for. Real healing and transformation is possible on this earth. But he equally insists that the world will not suddenly become a perfect place through our efforts.

Mangalwadi explains that God calls us to be witnesses, not revolutionaries. Our role is to faithfully represent God’s truth in every area of life. The transformation is in God’s hands. Truth & Transformation will help you think through the impact of truth and our calling to actively bring that truth to bear outside of the walls of our churches.

A stereotypical fairytale begins with the words, “Once upon a time.” When we hear these words, something triggers in our brains that tells us, “Oh, okay, so this never really happened.” But the phrase itself would indicate otherwise. Once upon a time actually suggests that this event took place in history, in real space and real time.

Now, I’m not going to argue that any of our fairytales are historically accurate, but watching some of these tales with my daughters got me to thinking about the biblical story. The story of the Bible happened once upon a time as well, but in the literal sense. Whenever Francis Schaeffer wrote about the story of the Bible, he would frequently use the phrase “in space and time.”

Jesus on the CrossWe have a tendency to think of the biblical events as though they happened in some different plane, in some parallel universe, or even in the head of a grand Author. But the Bible presents its stories to us as though they really happened. In the same space we inhabit. In the same flow of history that we experience. The Jerusalem that Jesus walked through does not belong on a map of Narnia or Middle Earth, it belongs on a map of the Middle East. The moment in history in which Jesus was laid in the manger does not fit on some independent timeline in the front of a novel, it started our calendars moving from 0 to 2012.

I know of missionaries who have gone into jungle tribes and have taught the tribesmen to read a map. They show them a map of their village, then a map of their region, then their country, then the world. The missionaries do this because they believe it is important for these people to understand that the events they will be learning about happened in their real world.

In some circles, it has been popular to think of the resurrection as an event that takes place in our hearts. There’s no need to research its historicity, it’s about our experience of the living Christ now, not about a specific date in the first century.

But the Bible will have none of this. Paul insists that if Jesus did not rise from the dead; if the resurrection wasn’t a literal, historical event; if it’s not something that you could have witnessed had you been standing in the right place at the right time 2,000 years ago; then the world should just feel sorry for us because we’ve been devoting our lives to a lie. This is his argument in 1 Corinthians 15.

Three authors in particular—Francis Schaeffer, Annie Dillard, and N. D. Wilson (all authors I’d recommend reading)—have helped me understand the significance of the literal once-upon-a-time-ness of the biblical events. Travel to Jerusalem and dip your feet into bodies of water that Jesus walked upon. Stand on the edge of the ocean and realize that this same blue matter was on this earth when Jesus healed a blind man. Contemplate the reality that molecules which flowed through Jesus’ veins dropped to the ground at the prompting of a Roman whip and have remained a part of our world to this very day; if we knew where to look, we could go and collect them. And consider the inspiring truth that the matter that made up Jesus’ body as he rose from the dead and ascended to the Father is no longer with us, but will rejoin our world when he returns. God’s true story took place in real space and in real time, and Jesus was and remains a true to life character in that story.

Once upon a time God created the heavens and the earth. Once upon a time the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And once upon a time, Jesus will return to gather his people, to judge the world in righteousness, and to set the world to rights. And we will all live happily ever after.

 

We are often told that Christianity is incompatible with scientific inquiry, or even that Christianity is anti-scientific. We are told this so much that we begin to believe it. Maybe they’re right, we think, maybe I should keep my religion safely tucked behind the church doors and leave the science to those who aren’t so biased by religious beliefs.

But here’s the thing. If our Christianity leads us to have a religious experience with the God who claims to have crafted this world—who claims to actually hold it in existence at every moment—then shouldn’t he know what he’s talking about when it comes to describing the way the world works? I should think so. Should we really be satisfied with a God who can explain the longings of our souls but who can’t write basic history and seems to be clueless about scientific principles? I should think not.

So the whole “Christianity is anti-scientific” thing should strike us as odd.

Despite what we’re told, Christianity is pro-science. In fact, science as we know it has Christian origins. In the midst of sixteenth-century Europe, a part of the world in which the Christian worldview was still dominant, scientific discoveries began to pile up at a shocking rate. Contrary to what leaders in the Enlightenment claimed, it was not “throwing off the shackles of the church” that allowed scientists to make these discoveries.

In this historical context, people believed that the universe had been created by a reasonable, personal God. And as such, the universe could be known and understood. More than that, the universe was worth examining because through knowing the universe people could learn about the God who made it.

If the universe was all an illusion to be rejected—as in Eastern pantheistic belief—then why would we examine the illusion? If God were fickle and changing, then we wouldn’t have any reason to believe that his world would operate consistently. But God is a loving and careful creator, so why shouldn’t we be able to know him and his world by studying it? What might we learn by paying close attention to the phenomena that take place around us all the time?

Blaise Pascal

It’s not that every scientist at this point in history was a devout Christian. It’s simply that the Christian worldview, which believes in an orderly, reasonable, personal God, was dominant at this time. So even those who were more deistic (believing that God created the world and then backed away) or those who disbelieved in God’s existence were still shaped by this worldview that saw the world as ordered and understandable. And many of the scientific discoveries at this time were made by committed Christians. A good example of this is Blaise Pascal, who was pretty much brilliant in both the scientific and theological worlds.

I would recommend two books to those who want to look into this further. Francis Schaeffer explains this in How Should We Then Live? in a chapter entitled “The Rise of Modern Science.” His account is compelling and easy to read. The other book to look at is Rodney Stark’s For the Glory of God. His chapter entitled “The Religious Origins of Science” explores this in much greater depth, and he cites a wide range of historical writing and source material.

In any case, the origins of modern science show that Christianity is not anti-science. We should be the first to promote science and to warmly welcome its investigation into the world God made. Of course, we should all be careful of biases that are inevitably involved in every area of human endeavor, but this does not make science bad. Christianity is not anti-science, nor is science anti-Christian. Let’s remember that the next time we’re told to mind our own business and get back to our religious games.

 

How Nietzsche Killed God

Mark Beuving —  August 22, 2012 — 3 Comments

On a bright nineteenth-century morning, a madman lit a lantern and rushed into a crowded marketplace in a German town. “I seek God!” he exclaimed. No self-respecting townsperson in the post-Enlightenment world believed in God, so the madman’s cry was met only with laughter.

“I’ll tell you where God is,” returned the madman. “God is dead! God remains dead. And we have killed him.” At this, the townsfolk grew silent. The madman went on to explain the ramifications of this murderous act, but still no response from the crowd. Throwing his lantern to the ground, the madman cried out, “I have come too soon! The deed has been done, but news of it has not yet spread this far.” From there, the madman went into church after church, singing a funeral dirge to God and declaring the churches to be nothing more than tombs to the divine.

Friedrich Nietzsche told this parable of the madman (loosely paraphrased above, you can read the whole text of this short parable here—I’d definitely recommend reading it). The story is provocative, to say the least. What exactly did Nietzsche mean when he said that God is dead? How is this possible?

Nietzsche’s parable is brilliant. His observation is incredibly astute, even if you don’t like what it’s saying. Before Nietzsche came on the scene, humanity had indeed killed God. Or the notion of God. With the Renaissance, gifted individuals recovered something of the ancient Greek way of thinking, which set aside myth, superstition, and revelation and focused on what a person could learn for himself. Beginning with myself alone, how can I use my brain and my senses to decide what is true and what is false?

This return to autonomous human reason picked up in the Renaissance, came to a head in the Enlightenment, and then continued to grow bolder and more absolute. By the time Nietzsche came on the scene, people no longer needed God. Science was explaining away the mysteries of the world, and Darwin had finally developed an alternative explanation for the origins of the world.

And so Nietzsche entered the proverbial marketplace declaring the death of God. God had been killed, yet people didn’t seem to be aware of the implications of their unadulterated faith in scientific naturalism.

But Nietzsche’s parable isn’t as hostile toward religion in general as it might appear. Nietzsche had a huge problem with Christianity as an institution, but he kind of admired Jesus (sound familiar?). Nietzsche wasn’t trying to get people to stop believing. To the contrary, he recognized that some sort of spirituality was necessary to find meaning in life.

In The Madman, Nietzsche rightly emphasizes the significance of losing faith. The people in the marketplace did not believe in God, but to a large extent their lives would have been shaped by a memory of this belief. Nietzsche warns us that if God is dead—really truly dead, entirely discounted—then everything will change.

What Nietzsche is saying in The Madman is not that God is dead so let’s throw a party, he is saying that God is dead and he must be replaced with something. In the post-Enlightenment world, faith in God had been replaced with faith in science. But Nietzsche, himself an atheist, insists that a person cannot live a faith-free life. God is dead, so what must we do to find meaning for our lives in his absence?

“What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”

Here is why I bring all of this up. Even a bitter atheist like Nietzsche knows that life is meaningful. He understands that life cannot be lived apart from some sort of spiritual pursuit. What “festivals of atonement” or “sacred games” must we develop in order to replace our old, dead religions? Even an atheist fills her life with liturgy. If we deny the existence of a transcendent God, we are the only possible replacements. Prepare yourself, you’ve got some huge shoes to fill.

Nietzsche’s spiritual alternative to God was a fascination with the world around us. We will find meaning for our lives precisely by rejecting false notions about God and jumping into the world around us. For Nietzsche, vitality itself was the meaning of life.

What I find fascinating is that this is exactly the approach that the Preacher tried in Ecclesiastes. He, too, supposed that meaning could be found by throwing himself into life. But what the Preacher found is that all of life is meaningless apart from God, yet overwhelmingly meaningful with God.

This world is a certain type of place, and regardless of what we choose to believe, the world itself does not change with our convictions. As Francis Schaeffer would say, people can choose to believe what they want, but they still have to live in the world that God made. It’s a meaningful world, a world that is badly broken yet still overflowing with glory, and a world in which God is anything but dead.

 

The word Hippie has a lot of connotations. Most of them are bad, but I suppose that depends on your perspective. If thinking about Hippies automatically makes you break out in hives, however, let me assure you that Hippie culture is not all bad, nor is it all good. (Which means, of course, that it’s like every other culture in the world).

Yesterday I talked about two values that destroyed modern civilization. Francis Schaeffer identified these values as “personal peace” and “affluence.” As a generation in the midst of the twentieth century embraced these two values, they became apathetic about most everything. To them, there was nothing wrong with this. To their children coming of age in the 60s and 70s, however, this was revolting.

This generation looked at their parents and wanted nothing to do with their sugary Leave-It-to-Beaver lifestyle. What that saw was fake. Plastic. What they wanted was real. Genuine. They didn’t want pretenses or the appearance of having it all together. They wanted to let it all hang out and find out what was real.

So they acted out. They pursued ideologies in ways that their parents never had. They aggressively experimented with drugs, sex, and alcohol. They threw themselves into rock n’ roll. Plenty were just going along for the ride, but many pursued these things ideologically. They were searching for meaning, for some experience that would validate their lives and give them a sense of reality. In fact, even those who were just after the pleasure often did this as a means of finding a philosophical experience through the pleasure itself.

Here’s the thing. We can look back at the Hippies and mock them for Woodstock. We can call them stoners and look down on them for being so rebellious and out of touch with their parents. But Schaeffer insists that this generation was doing something right. They were searching for something. They saw their parents’ values of personal peace and affluence for what they really were: bankrupt. They wanted nothing to do with these values, so they rebelled and tried something different.

Steve Jobs in 1976

The problem is, they didn’t find what they were looking for. In the tradition of Ecclesiastes, they looked everywhere for meaning and found nothing. So what did they do? They fell in line. They stopped acting out. They got jobs, moved a few steps up the corporate ladder, and started families. The only remnants of their rebellion were the closet pot smoking and their continued fascination with Dylan and the Beatles.

But most importantly, they ended exactly where their parents had been. They too embraced personal peace and affluence as their highest values. They dressed differently and still couldn’t quite relate to their parents, but in this area they were identical. Many looked at this mellowing out and rejoiced. The Woodstock generation is behind us! Our children are normal again! But Schaeffer says that he could have cried. At least they had been passionate about something! Now their lives were devoted to the same impoverished values their parents had settled into.

So what about us? What do you really care about? What drives you? What are you pursuing? Does your subculture make you feel unique? In touch? Are you a passionate type of person?

As I said yesterday, don’t assume that being passionate in general is enough to carry you through. What you want to see is action. Devotion. You want to see your beliefs making a difference in your life and in the people around you. If all you have is a rebellious passion, it doesn’t matter whether your ideology is drug taking or evangelizing.

At the end of the day, if your highest values are personal peace and affluence, you’re still just sitting on the sidelines. Too much of the church today looks no different than the world in this respect. They wear Christian t-shirts and attend Christian services, but these are mild forms of rebellion that eventually fade back into the pursuit of personal peace and affluence.

See these values for what they are and let your commitment to Christ and his kingdom transform you and the world around you.