Francis Schaeffer was one of the more important apologists and evangelists in the twentieth century. Almost thirty years after his death, his works seem to many to be prophetic. It becomes all thoughtful Christians to be familiar with his works at some basic level. For many, this volume may be the place to begin.
Full disclosure: readers should know that his "The Great Evangelical Disaster" would be a much easier read for those less conversant in philosophy.
This particular volume is bound with all three of Schaeffer's primary works in his essential trilogy; "The God Who is There," "Escape from Reason," and "He is There and He is Not Silent." Here, I will be reviewing only the first book, "The God Who is There," as it is foundational to its sequels.
Schaeffer's overall goal is to trace the flow of history to the modern era where the idea of absolute truth ("true truth" as he often calls it) has been abandoned. Schaeffer traces this loss of absolutes at critical junctures in the arenas of philosophy, art, music, and language before moving on to theology. Schaeffer sees the abandonment of absolutes as the death knell to the individual man and the entirety of our culture.
In this work, Schaeffer coins the important term "the line of despair," viz. the threshold at which humanity must abandon rationality and reason in order to also abdicate absolutes. Once a man abandons antithesis (the idea that some things are true and their opposites necessarily untrue; some actions moral and their opposites evil) man begins to live in a realm in which all meaning and truth are compromised. Among the losses most precious, ironically, is man's own understanding of his own life and purpose.
In the realm of theology, Schaeffer diagnoses the problem and deception of liberalism, namely, that it makes a leap into obscurity by removing the traditional meaning of words and replacing them with nebulous undefinable ideas. For instance, the very word "god" can be imputed with virtually any meaning (or lack of meaning) that the speaker desires. While one has the ability to continue the use of religious language (and thus to reap a sentimental benefit) he may simultaneously forgo any real foundational relationship with living God who entered time/space/history in the person of Jesus Christ.
From there, Schaeffer helps Christians to begin to speak to this dreadful existentialism by addressing modern man at the point of his own absurdity. While pointing out the hopelessness of existentialism (what we would now call "post-modernism"; Schaeffer called it modernism), he acknowledges that the weight of the despair of the modern worldview has the potential to crush its adherents if they were intellectually honest enough to live consistently with their own beliefs.
Thus, in the latter half of the book, Schaeffer calls for an intelligent, compassionate defense of the rational, historic Christian faith through a combination of apologetic approaches. Throughout "The God Who Is There," Schaeffer's love for and pity upon unbelieving modern men comes through strongly. Of course, listening and responding to the questions and objections of skeptics was part of his lifeblood, and integral to his intellectual rescue mission in L'Abri in Switzerland.
Ultimately, Schaeffer cries out for three things: (1) an uncompromising defense of doctrinal, systematic Christianity (2) a compassionate approach to men who have fallen below the line of despair and (3) and an integrated all-encompassing worldview founded upon the absolute truth of the God who is (truly) there!
If you are ready for an intellectual challenge, read this book.
Matthew Everhard is the senior pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida.