Book Review: “The God Who Is There” by Francis Schaeffer (1968)

Following a massive life transition, I committed two weeks to reading Volume 1 of The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer. This book, the first of five, categorizes each of Schaeffer’s major works by topic rather than chronology, which is much better for me, because it has educated me in the foundational thought of this great Christian thinker and apologist. Rather than summarizing and critiquing The God Who Is There (as I normally would in a book review), I would like simply to record my own personal responses written as I waded through each Part of this most excellent book.

Part 1: Response
I see the flow of modern history to this point: relativism. I recognize how it has been infiltrating churches across the world, from the liberal First Presbyterian Church in my hometown (where the Pastor told me that the difference between him and me is that I believe everything in the Bible) to the “contemporary” Evangelical church. Compromise has killed their effectiveness, not because “compromise itself how we win them,” but because when compromise becomes the only possible course, then morality is viewed as relative and absolutes (what Schaeffer calls “antithesis”) cease to exist. Perhaps his “How Should We Then Live” will answer this question, but I truly wonder: “What now?” If I continue to live my life with the reality of antithesis always before my eyes, I would then avoid sin (and, no matter how you translate that verse, even “the appearance” of it). I would view my justification as my having passed from death (and the deadness of sin) unto life (and the sheer joy that comes with holiness). I would understand the old-man / new man transfer. I would understand how a man like me ought to move from un-holiness to a life of separation from sin. I would change my thinking and my behavior, just as the Bible calls for! For the Bible—more than anything else in existence—is the true source of antithesis. There is no relativism involved. “Black is black,” as the singer says. God has not saved me so I can wallow in the filth that I have excused as “Christian Liberty,” for this is nothing more than an alias for “Christian relativism,” which is a oxymoron at best. God has saved me instead unto holiness, just as He Himself is holy. If I argue with this conclusion, I argue against the Bible itself. If I am to follow God’s Word and Jesus’ steps and Paul’s teaching, then I will become a more holy, righteous, and blameless person—I will become an imitator of Christ, and in doing so, I will become different to those who are watching. I might even become a role model to others, if not simply a novelty.

Part 2: Response
Because these new liberal theologies are working off a completely new system of beliefs than the world has ever known before, I must be careful with how I read them (if I choose to read them at all). Their definitions for common biblical concepts will not be my definitions. The fact that they base their entire belief system on a “leap of faith” makes me wonder again why any of these people would choose to give their lives to such a pursuit! Why dedicate yourself to something you barely believe and could never prove (like that First Presbyterian pastor)? “Just believe in God,” they say. “Take that leap of faith, and don’t worry about whether it’s rational or not…cuz it’s not.” What a way to live! Likely, if I did choose to read such fools, their non-reasoning would first grate against my own experience but then, in time, begin to convince me that perhaps I cannot prove my own beliefs. So be careful what you read! Likewise, be careful with what you watch and listen to. Their worldviews will affect you at a level you might not be aware of. Better to fill your life with the Truth of God’s Word than the skewed interpretations of liberal fools. When speaking with the lost, emphasize not only the proofs of your own faith, but also their inability to remain consistent inside their own belief system (non-antithesis, for example, is impossible on all levels of life and thought). I would be interested in following the growth of Salvidore Dali and Paul Klee throughout their careers, as Schaeffer points out. Likewise, I’d like to try and listen to Leonard Bernstein’s Third Symphony, just to see how Schaeffer’s points play out in real life. I’ll choose to avoid Henry Miller.

Part 3: Response
Chapter 1 – I’ve never understood personality in such terms as Schaeffer lays out: that the existence of personality proves the existence of God. When I think of personality (i.e. the idea of a “personal God”), I think of two things. First, I think of a person’s being knowable—not just the sense of chatting with him over coffee, but in the sense that he has a character and emotions that can be experienced and known. God has spoken in history, and people have attested to having known Him and having been with Him. The second thing about “personality” that I consider is the type of person a person is—what he is known for or how people describe him. The problem with this “descriptive personality” is that people use the concept so flippantly, one can describe the personality of a dog as a much as they can of a person or of God Himself. So while I understand Schaeffer’s use of the word deals more with the first type (knowability), I simply can’t get that second one (describability) out of my mind.
Chapter 2 – Two things from this chapter excite me. First, that God’s true revelation (Scripture) is not exhaustive excites me. In my mind, this ends the debate over the Truth of God’s Word: no one ever said it has every answer to every question, so why do we pretend like it does? I can recall as a student innocently calling my youth pastor out on this very question. He said, “God’s Word has the answer to everything.” Not trying to be sarcastic at all, I asked, “But what if we asked, ‘How do you build a chair?’ It wouldn’t have that answer.” He berated me as if I was trying to disrupt the class, though my question was genuine and legitimate. He didn’t answer. He had no answer. And not until my 30s when I read Schaeffer do I finally get some clarification! God’s Word is truly true, but not exhaustive. Secondly, the fact that I, as made in God’s image, can explore further truths through my own creativity excites me. This is exactly what I’m doing right now, in fact! God’s Word exists. Schaeffer studied it and contrasted its truths with modern culture and wrote this book. I in turn read this book and, within the framework of my own biblical background and my own experiences, interact with it and learn from it.
Chapter 3 – Schaeffer shares that modern man’s dilemma has become thus: believe God and the logic of the Bible or refuse belief and embrace contradictions. I can avoid this dilemma by being too egotistic to care about the people around me by avoiding the debate at all. That’s pretty hard to take as a guy committed to the spread of the Gospel! It’s also shocking to finally understand that the loss of moral absolutes—a constant danger in all cultures, I think—inevitably leads either to universalism or outright atheism.
Chapter 4 – To take the theology of Jesus’ death and bring it right down to my level is totally healthy. My guilt exists because God’s character exists. But God’s character has no antithesis (sin) within itself; the antithesis only exists inside mankind. Therefore, Jesus became a man, entered this world of antithesis but actively rose above it. He then bore mankind’s guilt, the very antithesis of His own divine character, so that He could ultimately destroy that antithesis. He allowed that antithesis to destroy Him physically so He could ultimately destroy it spiritually. He then proved this victory by claiming the physical victory as well through His physical resurrection from the dead. Of course, these terms are not all “my level of thinking,” but after reading this chapter and connecting the dots, it’s come to be so. Schaeffer brings in another startling concept: that because evil is so morally evil, Christians ought to be the first to step up and fight all human wrongs! In response to this, I challenged myself to consider what in GE village angers me—for Jesus not only wept at Lazerus’ tomb, He was also angry at the very existence of the abnormality of death! Cancer. Corruption. The rich feeding off the poor. The powerful ignoring the weak. I hate it all, and perhaps I can fight it all.
Chapter 5 – Does the rationality (not “rationalism”) of Christianity cause me to worship God in a more effective, more meaningful way? It is my responsibility to teach morality and reality (i.e. absolutes) to my children and to my “disciples.” As I pre-evangelize, I must remember that Christianity does not begin with “accept Jesus as your Savior.” It rather begins with, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” and everything else that follows in Genesis 1-3. Without the foundational truths of these chapters, I am only teaching a groundless theory, a leap of faith with no ties to history or reality. Don’t cheat my disciples. And in my own life, come to this Truth of reality as delivered by the Scriptures, act on it, live it out, and worship God as a result.

Part 4: Response
Of course, finding the tensions between the failures and illogic of a lost person’s philosophy and then using such tensions to drive him towards the Truth of the Gospel is not easy—it takes understanding and even practice. Yet is it essential, for we know that a believer can’t simply jump in with “Jesus Loves You,” if the person they’re trying to reach doesn’t believe in Jesus or if they hate the Bible or if they reject the concept of love or if they aren’t even sure if “you” exists! The time invested in understanding a person’s beliefs and then discussing those beliefs predominantly will be well-spent, for once their roof is removed and the Truth is acknowledged (if not readily accepted), then the Gospel actually becomes a fairly simple solution to deliver and explain. It’s like this: after the return capsule of Apollo 13 lands in the ocean, the believer who does all this properly is like the guy who opens the hatch on the return capsule as it bobs helplessly in the ocean. The astronauts had thought all was well, but then tragedy struck and they had no idea how to get out of their mess. After their long and dangerous trip to the moon and back, they burn through the atmosphere and then plop right into the ocean, staying inches from utter destruction the entire time. But then, “Click.” Salvation comes in the simple form of an unnamed sailor wearing a life preserver. A few days ago, these men never knew they needed saving, but their trip to Hell and back ends with that beautiful breath of fresh air. As I read Blue Like Jazz alongside this Schaeffer book, it’s amazing how much these worthless “just believe” and “God is like magic” concepts have infiltrated Christianity (and all its various flavors), so that we no longer have Christianity as it’s always historically been, but are instead stuck with this baseless mystic spiritualism. The four things that Schaeffer brings out at the end of this section are always a challenge for any believer after salvation: Study, Pray, Share, and Attend. Note, though, that at back of it all is the constant answer to “Why?”: to worship God.

Part 5: Response
As noted in Section 4, the time invested in laying a base of knowledge for a skeptic of Christianity will be well worth my efforts, for salvation need never be a leap of faith but rather a simple understanding of Truth. The foundation is there, and it’s both entirely logical and reasonable. This logical Truth can answer every important question I have (which is the answer to my teenage question—true yet not exhaustive). If the God of the Bible exists, He can do anything but sin. Creation makes sense. Personality and morality and sin and love and purpose all make sense, if the God of the Bible exists. There’s no leap about it. Logic dictates that God is real, for without Him, none of these things just mentioned could logically exist…and yet we all know they do! Logic dictates that God’s Word is true, for through it alone we learn about this True God. Logic therefore dictates that after my physical death, I will either end up in Heaven or Hell, for the True Bible provided by the True God says so.

Part 6: Response
Man’s separation came at multiple levels: man from God, man from nature, man from other men, and man from himself. These are the four types of conflict in literature, and they are all explained in the curses of Genesis 3! To know that Jesus’ finished work will eventually heal all 4 rifts (one is done!) helps me understand why Christian fiction is often so shallow. Need it be so weak? Christ hasn’t healed those other 3 conflicts yet, and even now believers still have conflict with God! Schaeffer argues that even the rift between man and man can be shown as healed through the godly relationships within a local church. Sadly, this is rarely the case. Christianity is filled with the wonder of personality and through it, I can live out my true, beautiful and exciting calling! What a purpose! It’s also important to remember that justification is essential but not the end-all. It’s like what a birth is to life: justification is my rebirth into a new life, and while the rebirth was essential, it’s the new life that can really make a huge difference. Remember: If God is not personal to me, then I deny Him by my actions (if not by my words). May it never be so, Lord!

©2015 E.T.

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2 Responses to Book Review: “The God Who Is There” by Francis Schaeffer (1968)

  1. Pingback: Book Review: “Introduction to Francis Schaeffer” by Francis Schaeffer (1974) | Elliot's Blog

  2. Pingback: Book Review: “Joshua and the Flow of Biblical History” by Francis Schaeffer (1975) | Elliot's Blog

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