Soli Deo Gloria: For the Glory of God Alone
Posted: Thursday, September 2, 2010 11:27 am
The Messenger, September 2, 2010
The great evangelical disaster
By ARTHUR W. HUNT
Special to The Messenger
Toward the end of his life, Francis A. Schaeffer wrote, “Accommodation leads to accommodation, which leads to accommodation.” He was terminally ill with cancer and did not have long to put on paper the last things he wanted to say to a large evangelical audience. In book form, the message took the title “The Great Evangelical Disaster.”
Schaeffer (1912-1984) was a Reformed theologian and apologist who held to a high view of scripture and who sought to point out the cultural consequences of rejecting historic Christianity.
In the 1930’s he had witnessed firsthand the slide toward liberalism within mainline Protestant denominations. Now, 50 years later, he saw the potential of it happening again. Only this time the slippage was more subtle. Whereas the old liberalism openly declared its hostility for the supernatural through higher criticism of the Bible, 20th century neo-orthodoxy, heralded by theologians like Karl Barth, retained the “religious talk” of Christianity but nevertheless cast doubts toward the inerrancy of scripture. Neo-orthodoxy placed a much higher emphasis on personal faith and experience.
While neo-orthodoxy had a helpful critique of liberalism, its allowance for the possibility of mistakes in the Bible put it on shaky ground. Schaeffer believed the weight given to the full authority of scripture was the determinate watershed issue for theology, doctrine and the Christian life. Like the melting snow on the Swiss Alps, where half of the snow ends up in the North Sea and half of it ends up in the Mediterranean, he claimed a compromised view of biblical inspiration and authority will end up a thousand miles apart from a conservative view.
Schaeffer saw how the typical Christian had managed to divide his thinking into two distinct compartments. In one compartment — what he called “the upper story” — existed spirituality, values, morality and “personal feelings.” In the lower story were “facts,” which included matters relating to science, politics and economics. The tragedy was that neither story informed the other, causing him to have an incomplete or truncated Christian worldview, one that could not supply consistent answers for himself or for the non-believer who asked hard questions. For example, how can the cosmos be both a result of random chance and at the same time created by a divine being? This would be a logical contradiction, but the postmodern mind has no problem holding opposing viewpoints in one mind.
The Great Evangelical Disaster was a matter of Christians embracing the same presuppositions that existed in the culture-namely relativism. Schaeffer did not use the word “postmodernism” but he anticipated and described it before the term was popularized. Postmodernism is a worldview that assumes there are no objective truths — that moral values are relative — that “truth” is socially constructed. Biblical Christianity sees truth as something outside of ourselves, belonging to God.
Schaeffer said that if Christians compromised biblical truth they would no longer have a worldview that would “hang together.” It would collapse and the Christian message would be seen as irrelevant or as just another truth among many other truths. Therefore, Schaeffer maintained, the church must not compromise its beliefs — Adam was a real historical person; humans were created in the image of God, male and female; the “fall” was a real time-space event; Christ is divine; and the resurrection really happened.
Editor’s note: Arthur W. Hunt is associate professor of communications at the University of Tennessee at Martin and a member of Grace Community Church (www.graceunioncity.com).