Friday, August 28, 2009

How Should We Then Live? (Part One)

I just finished a book written the year in which I was born,  How Should We Then Live?:The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture by Francis A. Schaeffer, he of the goatee before it was trendy.  He's up there as one of my personal heroes for his thoughtful way of expression the evangelical truth in contemporary culture.  I often wonder how he would respond to some of the phenomena we see today if he were still around.
This book is worthy of more than one post.  He pretty much marches through history using philosophy and the arts to show how humanity has at times embraced the living God who has spoken and at other times rejected Him, declaring humanity autonomous and reaping disastrous results.
Near the end of Chapter Nine, he speaks of the failure of contemporary liberal and neo-orthodox theology, which attempts to preserve religious language but denies much of the content behind that language:
"One is left with the connotation of religious words without content, and the emotion which certain religious words still bring forth--and that is all.
The next step is that these highly motivating religious words out of our religious past, but separated from their original content and context in the Bible, are then used for manipulation.  The words become a banner for men to grab and run with in any arbitrary direction--either shifting sexual morality from its historic Christian position based on the Bible's and Christ's teaching, or in legal and political manipulation." 
He says we are left where Nietzsche found himself:  God for all intents and purposes is dead.
"Neitzsche knew the tension and despair of modern man.  With no personal God, all is dead.  Yet man, being truly man (no matter what he says he is), cries out for a meaning that can only be found in the existence of the infinite-personal God, who has not been silent but has spoken, and in the existence of a personal life continuing into eternity.  Thus Nietzsche's words are profound: 'But all pleasure seeks eternity--a deep and profound eternity.'
     Without the infinite-personal God, all a person can do, as Nietzsche points out, is to make 'systems.'  In today's speech we would call them 'game plans.'  A person can erect some sort of structure, some type of limited frame, in which he lives, shutting himself up in that frame and not looking beyond it.  This game plan can be one of a number of things.  It can sound high and noble, such as talking in an idealistic way about the greatest good for the greatest number.  Or it can be a scientist concentrating on some small point of science so that he does not have to think of any of the big questions, such as why things exist at all.  It can be a skier concentrating for years on knocking one-tenth of a second from a downhill run.  Or it can as easily be a theological word game within the structure of the existential methodology.  That is where modern people, building only on themselves, have come, and that is where they are now."
Well-put.  We distract ourselves with our jobs, hobbies, or do-goodism so we don't need to think about a deeper meaning to it all.  Perfecting the golf swing.  Finding the perfect place to shoot the big buck.  Pouring ourselves into environmental volunteerism, political action, working with the youth group, home-schooling the kids, etc.  So many things can provide this distraction for us.  Are we really willing to acknowledge the "infinite-personal God, who has not been silent but has spoken" and build our lives upon the foundation of those words from the mouth of God?
-Abu Tulip 


Abu Daoud said...

FS made a huge impact on me when I was an undergrad studying philosophy (at a secular university). I still think often about his line of despair and on the whole I think he is correct. However, I wonder if he doesn't see the problem with the Reformation itself. I mean, the Reformation seems like it so radically decentered hermeneutical authority that it was the end of Christendom. The end of Christendom gave us secularism, it just took a while. Of course, one could go back further to the year of three popes and say the Catholics did it to themselves.

abu 'n um tulip said...

Glad you're a fan too. I'm not so sure a centralized hermeneutical authority is such a good thing. The problem Schaeffer first describes is man declaring himself autonomous from God.
Christendom fell apart pretty early on, when the centralized hermeneutical authority (i.e., the pope) declared himself autonomous and blurred the distinction between "God's representative" (and thus under His authority) and simply "the authority."
The Reformation did not take away hermeneutical authority; it de-centralized it, so that authority rests in many men who come together to hear the voice of the Spirit. No one man can have his voice squelched by the authority, and no one man can impose his arbitrary will on the whole.
See the next post and his discussion of the elite. Without the ideals of the Reformation, the elite can impose their arbitrary ideals on all and no one has any foundation upon which to resist.

-Abu Tulip