22 August 2015

Francis Schaeffer and The Line of Despair

Writer's Note:  All I know about Francis Schaeffer is what I remember from, “The God Who Is There”, and a comment from a friend who gave me the book for a Christmas gift. Other than that, his overall doctrinal views and the denomination he belonged to is something I never bothered to find out. When I opened the book for the first time I found this inscription below Schaeffer’s dedicatory to his wife:

" Brother, As you continue your exploration of Christian thought & philosophy you will eventually want to do business with Francis Schaeffer.  Dr. Schaeffer was one of the most important Christian thinkers of the 20th Century. This book is a pretty good introduction to his thought…”

In any case, whatever denomination or religious camp you might place him, he did not disparage the importance of correct doctrine or ascribe to a faith void of Biblical content:

“…people in our culture in general are already in process of being accustomed to accept nondefined, countentless religious words and symbols, without any rational or historical control. Such words and symbols can be filled with the content of the moment. The words, Jesus and Christ are the most ready for the manipulator. The phrase Jesus Christ has become a contentless banner which can be carried in any direction for sociological purposes. In other words, because the phrase Jesus Christ has been separated from true history and the content of Scripture, it can be used to trigger religiously motivated sociological actions directly contrary to the teaching of Christ.” [ Francis Schaeffer: The God Who is There, pg. 110.]

Below is a brief essay I wrote in 2012 inspired by his work. Originally I had planned to write a critical analysis but at the time I did not think I was up to it. I still don’t. However, Schaeffer wrote a few things which pricked my heart. One of which was the idea of communicating the gospel in a way that relates to people in our time and culture, a skill which I had never really developed.


Skepticism may have been dealt with in the 17th century in answering at least one fundamental truth — no rational person can deny his own existence. However, it is unlikely self-awareness will satisfy the modern day skeptic. When pressed on the concept of certitude you might get him to confess he is a rational thinking being and must necessarily exist, however, it will not be enough to convince him that truth can be known with reasonable certitude. When he says there is no truth what he’s really means is, he does not believe in a unified, coherent system of truth.

In the first chapter of Francis A. Schaeffer’s book The God Who Is There, he gives a brief summary of major thinkers in philosophy, art, music, and theology; and then places them under what he calls – the line of despair. He does not mean these men were sulking about or living their lives in utter dejection:

“…let us note that when we speak of being under the line of despair, we do not mean that these people necessarily sit and weep, but that have given up all hope of achieving a rational, unified answer to knowledge and life.” (p. 43)

They had failed in their attempt to find a system of knowledge or universals which would ultimately satisfy the big questions in life. He points out if you seek to find meaning in some grand, mystical experience with no content, or depend on man to figure out life’s problems you’re doomed, you are as Schaeffer says, the destroyed ones.

What I like about Mr. Schaeffer is he took the implications of these thinkers seriously and those who had unwittingly bought into their ideas. He didn’t fluff them off as false then bash them over the head with a figurative baseball bat. He had compassion. He sought to communicate the life giving message of the Gospel on terms they could relate to, but never compromised on the truth of the Biblical Jesus and His work on the cross. If Christians are to speak about The God Who is There, according to Schaeffer, they must know something of their own culture. You have to meet people where they are in life.

This is in part the message I read from the first chapter. Is it really any different from what the apostle Paul said – I have become all things to all men that I might save some? 1 Cor. 9:22.

On a personal note: I beat my own self over the head. I have failed –sometimes miserably– in the area of communication. It is ironic because I have been trained over the years to read and study using those same rules of communication, but somehow have managed not to say anything at all. Maybe I don’t have the gift of witnessing.

Communicating the right path to people shouldn’t be difficult because most of the work is done. Man knows intuitively he has fallen short of perfection. It is up to those who are gifted to convince the skeptic from where they have fallen and how far. Only then will it be possible for them to rise above the line of despair and know The

No comments:

Post a Comment

First Man and No Flag

“I think this was widely regarded in the end as a human achievement [and] that’s how we chose to view it,” Gosling told The Daily Telegrap...