Jan 21

SchaefferDuriez

Francis Schaeffer, An Authentic Life, by Colin Duriez ★★★★

I haven’t thought much about Francis Schaeffer recently, but realized through conversations with younger Christians that Francis Schaeffer is no longer a recognizable name. This is to the shame of the church that he and his thinking aren’t occasionally brought back to mind. For many of us that became Christians in the 60’s and 70’s, especially during the era of the Jesus movement, he was quite influential at shaping our thinking and world view. I have read or listened to other biographies of Francis Schaeffer and his work, including the Tapestry and L’Abri, written by Edith Schaeffer, listened to the Covenant Seminary course on Francis Schaeffer, by Jerram Barrs, and have met and spoke at length with Edith Schaeffer and Francis’ son-in-law Udo Middelman, have read his complete works at least twice and watched both of his film series several times, but have never met Francis Schaeffer personally. I also have many friends who have spent time at L’Abri, all of whom would say that their contact with Dr. Schaeffer was heavily influential at affecting the remainder of their life course. My own pastor had spent many hours as a child with Francis, being that his father was president of Covenant Seminary. With that in mind, I review this book.

Colin Duriez, who has spent a number of years at L’Abri and much time with the Schaeffers, is a most capable person to be writing Schaeffer’s biography, and can include personal anecdotes, as well as the result of an interview with Schaeffer toward the end of Schaeffer’s life, in 1980, and this interview is contained in the appendix of the book. The biography is short, and thus is going to be missing in some important details. Specifically, other biographies suggest that Schaeffer was more of a churchman than is presented in this book. He was quite involved up to the end with his Presbyterian denomination, which eventually became the Presbyterian Church in America. His books such as The Church before the Watching World and others witness Schaeffer’s true concern for the Christian church as found in denominations, even though Schaeffer felt as much at home in a Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Orthodox or Pentecostal church as he did in his native Presbyterian church environment.  Duriez speaks often and peripherally about Schaeffer’s philosophy, yet doesn’t develop it systematically. True, Schaeffer would identify himself as an eclectic mix of evidentialist, presuppositionalist, etc., and yet there is meaning to Schaeffer’s madness over and above trying to create a philosophy that was primarily evangelical in it’s intent. Words and thinkers (like Dooyeweerd) are thrown out without offering the reader at least some explanation as to why these people are being mentioned in the context of Schaeffer’s life. I loved the story of Schaeffer visiting Karl Barth, and wish that could have been further elaborated.

Duriez mentions frequently Schaeffer’s love for art museums, with an affection for modern art. Schaeffer appreciated some of the contemporary filmography, but tended to be highly selective in what he considered worthy of review. Duriez also mentions Schaeffer’s love for contemporary rock music, and knowing the words to many songs for the big rock groups of the 60’s and 70’s. Oddly, Schaeffer had a particular distaste for much music such as that of Wagner, and many 20th century musicians. Schaeffer rarely ever mentions Bach’s music as formative of a broader Reformed Christian community. This selection of particular appreciation for the arts has permeated Schaeffer’s disciples, almost to the point that they view Schaeffer as their cultural pope. I find that to be a touch disingenuous.

Outside of my criticisms, the book was an enjoyable read. Schaeffer is sadly being forgotten by the Christian world, and it is to our detriment. Nobody within Christianity has yet risen that was as capable as Schaeffer at providing both a philosophical justification for Christianity while demonstrating the need for Christians to be obedient to the word of God. His was not an ethereal philosophy, but very practical, since it emphasized the need to never divorce religion from experience or history.

 

SchaefferLittle

Francis Schaeffer, A Mind and Heart for God, edited by Bruce Little ★★★★

This short book was taken from a conference given in 2008 in Wake Forest, NC, which included five talks. I’ll briefly mention each talk.

Francis A. Schaeffer: The Man, by Udo Middelmann. This is a very brief but delightful summary of the life and thinking of Schaeffer.

Francis A. Schaeffer: His Apologetics, by Jerram Barrs. Jerram surveys the apologetic methodology of Schaeffer, concluding that Schaeffer was most interested in evangelism, and never ever thought of himself as an apologist for the faith. Thus, Schaeffer avoided debates, and avoided fixing himself within any apologetic category.

Francis Schaeffer in the Twenty-first Century, by Ronald Macaulay. This talk addresses the question as to whether Schaeffer was a prophet in foreseeing future troubles in the world. Schaeffer would have vigorously denied being a prophet, yet his cultural predictions have essentially become true. Schaeffer was particularly sensitive to a culture that advocated freedom without a Christian basis for it, or a Christian church based on religious sentiment rather than a dynamic belief in the word of God. Macaulay hits hard on Schaeffer’s war against contemporary pietism, which I appreciated. This was a delightful chapter to read, but am left wondering what Schaeffer would have been saying in today’s world. It is different than 50 years ago, in that, now that truth is universally accepted as unknowable, people no longer ask questions. The solution to any crisis in life is now resolved not by seeking philosophical consistency, but by seeking a hedonistic resolution for the moment without concern for future consequences. I would wonder regarding Schaeffer’s approach to the current political scene, now in a truly post-Christian scenario. “Speaking the truth in love” is going to take a different form than Schaeffer manifested throughout his life, perhaps being more pointed such as found in Christ’s, or perhaps Jeremiah’s ministry. What would Schaeffer say to a culture now overrun by the anti-Christian culture of the Muslim faith? I don’t believe that we could predict his response, and even if we could would still wish to defer to guidance from Scripture. Again, Schaeffer should not be treated as the political-cultural pope of our age, and he would agree with that if he could speak from the dead.

Francis Schaeffer: His Legacy and His Influence on Evangelicalism, by Jerram Barrs. Much of this talk focused on Schaeffer’s evangelistic method as it affected Jerram Barrs himself, as he became a Christian under the influence of Schaeffer. Barrs offers 8 points that characterize the nature and style of Schaeffer’s evangelistic methodology.

Sentimentality: Significance for Apologetics, by Dick Keyes. This talk has come under criticism from Amazon.com reviewers as being only peripherally related to Schaeffer, and not directly about him. Yet, I really enjoyed this talk, and felt that because it so heavily reflected Schaeffer’s thinking, that it was a worthy inclusion in this text. Sentimentality is displaced emotion that is directed toward the self. It denies a world that is not fallen, and does not result in appropriate responses. Though not mentioned in this chapter, my first thought was the outpouring of emotion when one watched Mel Gibson’s The Passion, yet I’ve to hear of even one life changed from this emotional Sintflut. Keyes discusses the result of Christians controlled by sentimentality, and how to deal with the sentimental person, by bringing them back to reality through some point of contact with reality.

I wonder how many more Francis Schaeffer conferences will be seen in the future, especially as those who lived in the 60’s and 70’s and were influenced by Schaeffer now are becoming a dying breed. Hopefully, his thinking will live on through such institutions such as Jerram Barr’s Francis Schaeffer Institute at Covenant Seminary. The history of institutions devoted to a good cause seem to be rather sad. Just look at such institutions as the YMCA, which is now neither young, doesn’t know the difference between a man or woman, is definitely not Christian, but sadly remains an Association. Schaeffer’s books will live on, and hopefully will be read by our children’s children for many more generations. I pray that someone in a future generation will rise and capably question the culture, and be able to confront the culture as Schaeffer was able to do a half century ago.

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Oct 17

space-trilogy

The Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength) by C. S. Lewis ★★★

This set of books was read on my iPad. Each book stands distinct from the other two, but need to be read in the order noted in order to make sense. Generally, I tend to give C. S. Lewis a 5-star rating for everything he writes. There is also a 5-star quality to much of what is contained within these stories, but the quality just doesn’t approximate what C.S. Lewis does elsewhere. In brief, Out of the Silent Planet is the most enjoyable read, and contains the most story telling. In this book, the lead character who is found in all three stories, Ransom, is kidnapped by two academic types who figure out how to make a spaceship to fly to Mars. On Mars, Ransom escapes the grasp of the two kidnappers, and encounter many alien types until he finally encounters the answer as to why he was brought to Mars. Mars is a world where the creatures have not experienced the “fall” as Adam and Eve did on earth. Perelandra is the story of Ransom now traveling to Venus, only to encounter one of the two kidnappers from Mars. he also encounters a very distinctly different female, in what amounts to be an pre-fall Adam and Eve story, with the kidnapper as the satanic tempter. In the end, Ransom kills the professorial colleague, and saves the planet. Throughout the first two books, Lewis would make lengthy divergences from the story to allow dialogue of a philosophical nature to transpire. Oftentimes, it is just not fitting, such as at the end of Perelandra. That Hideous Strength is over twice as long as the other two books, and is a story about an academic center in England which sells itself out to outside concerns (N.I.C.E.) and eventually degenerates into auto-destruct mode. This is probably the story closest to reality, in that it seems to be exactly what is occurring today in academia. I’m sure Lewis was writing from personal experience, but turning the experience into a science fiction tale in order point fingers at academia while not directing the criticism to any particular person or institution. This book was also the hardest to read, as it starts very slowly, and if you haven’t read it before, have a hard time determining where the story is leading you.

The philosophic statements in the three books are profound and make this trilogy a worthy read.  Lewis is especially hard on academia, but rightfully so, as he was able to predict where academia was heading and identify the driving factors that cause academia to fail in its mission.

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Apr 16


Modern Intellectual History: From Descartes to Derrida, by Lawrence Cahoone (Teaching Company) ????
I’ve been a bit disappointed recently at the quality of Teaching Company lectures and have backed off on purchase of some of the latest productions from that company. My feeling was that the lecturers were too biased in their discussions without giving credence to opposing views. In this lecture series, Cahoone maintains a very compelling discussion of the major philosophers from Descartes to those still alive today, holding ones’ interest while giving an in depth review of the main philosophical contributions of the person under discussion. He ends a touch weak, with a discussion arguing against the death of philosophy. It seems as though philosophy has gone full circle, with philosophy realizing that a crisis created by Derrida and other post-modernists have left no discussion since the claim is that all truth is either un-knowable or un-communicateable. Cahoone shows how modern philosophers have tended to return to the classics to resolve this muddle, creating a spiral (not a circle). Thankfully, he doesn’t discuss whether philosophy is spiraling downwards or upwards, as I tend to feel that it’s taking a downward spiral. After all, without an infinite reference frame, there should be no way of knowing whether one is spiraling up or down! This is a lecture series worth listening to, and will probably be heard again by me.

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Aug 15

Brother Dennis opened up some thought processes when he made some comments regarding a book that I reviewed by Dempski called The End of Christianity. In particular, he comments on God sticking His fingers into the process of Creation/Evolution by saying “This is a key issue between intelligent-design theorists and evolutionary creationists. Why God should have to tinker with the creation after he establishes the laws of the universe along with initial conditions is unclear. Has he not gotten it right from the start?”.

Simultaneous with Dennis’ comments, I receive an e-mail from NH, a physician and Christian thinker whom I respect dearly. His note is as follows…

“I would commend to you a careful reading of these two items:

http://www.modernreformation.org/default.php?page=articledisplay&var1=ArtRead&var2=1137&var3=issuedisplay&var4=IssRead&var5=112

in which 8 geologists appeal to the PCA to accept the “old earth view.”  It is a pitiful piece when looked at from a theological perspective, and actually quite poor from a scientific perspective (the analogies in particular are often invalid). Hopefully when you read it you will anticipate the arguments made in this point-by-point rebuttal by another geologist:

http://www.reasonablehope.com/node/117

Both the links are worth reading, the second article being a rebuttal of the first. You may determine for yourself the strength of his rebuttal, though I consider it as standard classical argument of young-earthers.  Clearly, NH is a 7-literal day creationist. I am very reluctant to trash either Dennis’ or NH’s comments, yet offer a slightly different approach.  The first difficulty is in creating a discussion. The 7-day creationist (if you wish, young-earth folk) consider their stand as a litmus-test of orthodoxy, and any disagreement is considered either an inability of believe the Scriptures or inability to hold Scripture as the infallible word of God. The old-earthers look at disdain at young-earthers as somewhat scientifically naive and guilty of the sins that possesses many medieval theologians that fought against Kepler and Galileo. Neither side is right.

I proffer several foundational statements.

1. The word “day” in Genesis 1-3 does not necessarily denote 24 hour spans. This argument is ably developed by both Hebrew scholars and biblical scholars that look at the use of the word “day” throughout Scripture.

2. The genre of Genesis 1-3 is neither strictly poetic nor strictly literal-historical. Those who develop the construct of Genesis 1 as simply being an apologetic against the Egyptian gods are wrong, though an apologetic is implied by the structure of how Moses constructs Gen. 1. Nor does it utilize language and terms that suggest an accurate detailed historical approach to creation.

3. The implication that God commands events to happen in each of the days of creation suggest a divine interference on a “daily” basis. Dennis’ comments, of which I’ve heard many times before, suggests that there is a “anthropomorphism” in the very substance of the atomic structure of the universe, that demanded that this is the sort of universe only that could have come out of the “big bang”. This seems to lean dangerously to Deism, if not Animism, whereby Nature itself is offered the source of personality, and that the universe, once wound up, can take care of itself.

Thus, there remain a few questions of relevance…

1. What is the level of involvement of God in the process of creation/evolution? At what stage, or, at what time in history, did God decide to cease active interventional work in the universe outside of the laws of nature, and thus work through the “laws of the universe” in his actions in the world, including his miracles as described in Scripture? This is simply an unanswerable question. Scriptures give us no clues, and science could never answer such questions.

2. Is it morally deceptive of God to create things that are aged? To what extent would he have done that? In my opinion, it is neither right nor proper to ask such questions.

3. Do the questions of creation/evolution really need to recruit discussions of a universal flood? Are these not ultimately separate questions?

4. Can we ultimately claim an exegetical basis for establishing the genre-type of Gen 1-3? I bring this up, because young earthers wail long and hard about the abandonment of a strictly literal interpretation of the Scripture. Yet, John Gerstner, in Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth, waxes long and hard against dispensationalists who force literal interpretations when the genre doesn’t permit a literal interpretation.

My own personal stance leaves me neither a strictly young nor old earth creationist. I feel that we assume too much when we attempt to engage in the creation argument. I feel that discussions have not allowed for a plastic middle position, and focused on how far from that middle one needs to go before one falls off the edge. It could happen both ways. I feel that Dempski falls off the edge, when he removes God from the much of the processes of creation. Morris from the Creation Research Institute falls off the other edge by pushing his agenda so hard he simply does poor science. It would be better for Morris to simply be a fideist than an apologist. Yet, I also accept that much of science will eventually be proven wrong, that our standard tools such as carbon dating will be replaced, and that new paradigms will replace old. Like Hugh Ross, and others of the conservative old-earth school, I see how we may use science as an apologetic for a Christian worldview, even though the science may evolve with time. As an example, the red-shift observation in the stars led to the “big-bang” theory, which is entirely consistent with Christian thinking that there was a time when the universe was not, and then came instantly (almost) into being. The intelligent design argument wonderfully argues against a laissez-faire universe explained entirely by random events. God clearly interfered with natural processes at all stages throughout the development of this world, though we will never know the balance of interference/natural process nor the speed/acceleration by which he had natural processes occur. To me, the arguments sit around trying to tell God how He did things. I’m sure He’s not so amused at our undertakings.

Since we are on the topic of God interfering with nature, there is one more thing that bothers me. I just wish to know why Jesus didn’t turn the water into beer rather than wine.

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Jun 15

The Providence of God, by Paul Helm ?????

This was a hard book to rate, in that it was not an easy book to read. A few sections had to be re-read a number of times, and still pretty much passed me by. I have reviewed other books in the past by Paul Helm. Dr. Helm is noted as one of the premier conservative Christian philosophers alive today, and currently teaches at Regent College in Vancouver, B.C. In this text, Helm tackles the hardest of all possible problems, the issue of God’s providence. This book, as I understand from other sources, was written as the philosophical response to Openness theology. What does “providence” mean? How does providence fit philosophically with the thought of human freedom, with the idea of petitionary or intercessory prayer, with the idea of human responsibility, or with the idea of the existence of evil. Helm efficiently shows how all of these concepts relate to the same issue. He shows that if one believes in a situation where God is not knowledgeable of the precise future, or has not determined all future decisions that one will make (God taking “risks”), it does not lend to easier solutions to the problem of evil, the problem of freedom, etc., than if one believes in a God who ordains all that will come to pass (God in a no-risk situation). So, Helm concludes with a strong “Calvinistic” approach to free-will and providence, though remaining very gracious to disagreement. In the end, Helm does a laudable job at showing the consistency of one’s free will and a God who has determined all that is, was, and will be. Helm shows that not only is a no-risk God the most logical (as well as Scriptural) conclusion, but also the conclusion that offers the Christian the greatest comfort, knowing that the future is not in our hands, but in His. Thus, he provides a rational basis for life and obedience as a Christian person, not in “immobility” of feeling that there is no point in acting, since the fates will be what they will be, but, since we remain ignorant of the future, living out our lives as responsible moral agents under a God who will make all things, evil or good, work out for our best. This is not a book for everybody. Perhaps one needs to possess a certain insanity to even think about the philosophical implications of providence. If your are one of those tormented souls that troubles over philosophical details of good, evil, determinism, and the fates in a theistic context, this is a must read book.

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