Saturday, February 14, 2009

Book Review: Francis Schaeffer's Trilogy

Francis Schaeffer’s Trilogy includes the books The God Who Is There, Escape from Reason, and He Is There and He Is Not Silent. These three books represent the main focus of Schaeffer’s thought. This trilogy presents a panoramic view of the influence of non-Christian philosophies and how they fall short of the Christian worldview. In addition, Schaeffer demonstrates the answer that the Christian view brings to life, as it is both consistent and livable as a comprehensive philosophical system.

A great deal of The God Who Is There traces what Schaeffer calls “the line of despair.” This can be likened to a gradual downward decay of man’s view of truth. The lower down on the line of despair, the further from the Christian view of truth one gets. Schaeffer’s examination traces the line of despair from philosophy, to art, to music, to general culture, and on to theology. His thesis is that change in society begins with the ideas of philosophy. Philosophy creates a ripple effect through art, music, culture, and final permeates theology.

Schaeffer emphasizes truth. This is a primary concern and the core of his endeavor throughout the trilogy. He stresses the reality of Christianity in history and its ability to stand up under critical scrutiny:
In Christianity the value of faith depends on the object towards which the faith is directed. So it looks outward to the God who is there, and to the Christ who in history died upon the cross once for all, finished the work of atonement, and on the third day rose again in space and in time. This makes Christian faith open to discussion and verification.1
His goal is to show that Christianity is true and verifiable, and all other philosophies, or worldviews, fall short. Throughout each chapter, the author exposes the shortcomings and inadequacies of all opposing worldviews. Schaeffer demonstrates that without the Christian worldview, man truly is falling below this line of despair.

The apologetic aspects of Schaeffer’s trilogy are very valuable. Of course, Schaeffer himself has had a profound and lasting effect on the apologetic landscape of Christianity, and this springs not only from his brilliance as a thinker, but from his genuineness as a Christian. His motivation of Christian love permeates his writing and can be especially noted in the helpful appendices. As Schaeffer states: “There is nothing more ugly than a Christian orthodoxy without understanding or without compassion.”2

Schaeffer’s skill as a communicator of the Gospel is not in his watering down of the truth. Instead, he seeks to take what is profound and make it as accessible as possible:
The problem which confronts us as we approach modern man today is not how we are to change Christian teaching in order to make it more palatable, for to do that would mean throwing away any chance of giving the real answer to man in despair; rather, it is the problem of how to communicate the gospel so that it is understood.3
Schaeffer is passionate about correct epistemology (one’s theory of knowledge). He points out that if one’s epistemology is wrong, then all that flows from it will be flawed. The author shows that much of the drift down the line of despair has been a shift in epistemology. Accordingly, Schaeffer seeks to expose the problems with postmodern thinking, relativism, scientism, and the like.

Francis Scaeffer’s Trilogy can be highly recommended as a book still very relevant to our present time. It has much apologetic value, with its strong emphasis on truth and the critique of other worldviews. Finally, this volume will acquaint the reader with one of the most influential Christian thinkers in the last century.

1 Francis Schaeffer, Trilogy: The God Who is There (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1990), p. 65.
2 Ibid., p. 34.
3 Ibid., p. 145.


Mike Felker said...

I've yet to read Shaeffer, but intend to in the future. Does he take an evidentialist approach?

Brian said...

That's a great question.

In my estimation, he doesn't fall within the standard definition of presuppositionalist. He was a student of Van Til, and so much of the terminology comes through, but Schaeffer brings a different definition when he talks about dealing with someone's presuppositions.

He does presuppose the God of the Bible - but then he will go the role of verifying that it is true by comparing all other philosophies and showing how they fall apart in a world without the God of the Bible. One could label him more of a "verificationalist" than presuppositionalist -- because, in a way, he combines them both.

I would highly recommend reading his works. They have been very influential. He also brings a very personal side to it. He's not all arguments - he is pastoral, caring, concerned, conversational.

Also, if you can ever get ahold of his DVD series, "How Then Should We Live" it is well worth the watch.

Anonymous said...

Good Review Brian. I have this book too and have been slowly reading through it - I need to just sit down and get it done - I shared a few thoughts on it already here:

but I was wondering too if you could share your thoughts on this CT article on Schaeffer put out a while back:

I'd like to know what you think.


Brian said...

Thanks for stopping by and I appreciate your review at your site. I have not read all of Schaeffer's stuff, but appreciate what I have read.

As for my thoughts on the article at CT... One thing that should not be read into my review of Schaeffer's trilogy is that his history and philosophy are 100%. He was not a historian or philosopher - but at least he saw the trends in philosophy through history. He at least shows that man's search for meaning and an epistemology that can provide answers fails without God.

I think the CT article tries to shed light on Schaeffer's lack of accuracy and/or education. But I don't personally read Schaeffer for a history lesson or a philosophy lesson. Anyone who goes to him as their primary source of either is going to be very lopsided.

As for the whole L'Abri thing - I must say that I don't know enough about it all to comment fully. What I would say is that the quote you mentioned in your review -- about being aware of culture and engaging the culture Biblically -- that idea should be preserved. Whether or not L'Abri followed things through rightly or not is unknown.

I think we need to be aware of the thought and influence of Schaeffer, read his books, take the good, leave the bad. There's just too much good stuff to pass him up because (like anyone) his misses it on certain points.

Henry Middleton said...

This is an excellent book. It is not easy to read, but it is well worth the effort. I also suggest Schaeffer's How Should We Then Live? video series.

Manny said...

Does anyone know if his 5 volume work on the "Christain Worldview" is available on DVD set?

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