Building upon similar threads of reasoning that he developed in his monumental work, The God Who is There, Francis Schaeffer in his follow-up work Escape from Reason delivers a most challenging decree to true believers not only that we must all understand the thought-forms that permeate our time periods and cultures, but that we must also engage those thought-forms in honest debate, pitting such ever-evolving philosophies against the ever-stable Word of God. This review will briefly summarize Schaeffer’s key points and then point out just one intriguing and applicable thought besides.
In Chapter 1, Schaeffer suggests that all present-day philosophic trends began with Thomas Aquinas’ distinction between “Nature” and “Grace,” a move which made man’s intellect autonomous with no relationship to Scripture. As time went on, autonomous Nature began to eat up this Grace and, in Chapter 2, he states: “thus art and science themselves soon began to be meaningless.”
In Chapter 3, he notes that following the Renaissance-Reformation period, the problem of Nature and Grace turned into a problem instead of Nature and Freedom. Of course, autonomous Nature soon ate up Freedom as well, and he illustrates this as he runs quickly through the philosophies of Kant, Rousseau, de Sade, Hegel, and Kierkegaard. Finally he gets to his oft-discussed “line of despair” which “arises from the abandonment of the hope of a unified answer for knowledge and life.”
In Chapter 4, Schaeffer adds that because of the inevitable drawing of this line of despair, “man as man is dead. You have simply mathematics, particulars, mechanics. Man has no meaning, no purpose, no significance. There is only pessimism concerning man as man.” Thus here comes such men as Sartre and Camus, Jaspers, Heidegger, and Huxley with their anti-philosophies. Here also come Kierkegaard and Tillich with their “leap theologies,” which try to keep religion while being weighed down with the non-rationality of anti-philosophies below the line of despair.
Chapter 5 takes philosophy into the word of art, discussing such artists as Heidegger, Malraux, Picasso, Dali, Leonard Bernstein, and Henry Miller. Ultimately, pornography and letting loose one’s morals replaces any thought of religion, becoming the upper-story source of freedom opposite the lower story concept that man is dead.
Chapter 6 takes this downgrade one step further, stating that the upper-story loss of morality eventually turns into complete madness in antithesis to the concept that man is dead: “The logical end of the dichotomy, in which hope is separated from reason, is the giving up of all reason.” Here Schaeffer takes us to such artists as Bergman, Capote, and Antonioni. Thus, it no longer matters what “faith” a person has (literally, ANYTHING can written into one’s upper story), because Reason in the lower story states that both God and Man are dead. Nothing “religious” or dealing with “faith” that is separated from the authority of the very reasonable Word of God could have any meaning whatsoever, to the point that even the word “Jesus” has lost all meaning (and has in fact become a danger to the true Jesus of the Bible!).
Schaeffer concludes Escape from Reason with four “consequences of pitting faith against rationality”: 1) that we have a society with relative morality based upon public opinion; 2) that we have no adequate basis for law; 3) that we have no answer to the problem of evil; 4) and that we have no way to evangelize humanity where they are. He reminds his readers that, because man has personality, he also has the right to begin with that knowledge and therefore seek the “why” behind this reality of personality. But since the only rational answer comes from Scripture—that an infinite-personal God existed first—the honest seeker could only come to one true conclusion. Schaeffer then closes this book by reiterating his original thesis: that one cannot reach his generation without first knowing and understanding—and finally engaging—the thought-forms of his own generation, as Hudson Taylor did in with the 19th century Chinese.
One note from Escape from Reason that I found most interesting was this statement by Schaeffer in Chapter 4:
- The Reformation and the Scriptures say that man cannot do anything to save himself, but he can, with his reason, search the Scriptures which touch not only ‘religious truth,’ but also history and the cosmos. He not only is able to search the Scriptures as the whole man, including his reason, but he has the responsibility to do so.
I found it peculiar that Francis Schaeffer, though a Presbyterian minister himself, would make such a startling claim regarding the responsibility of man in his own search for salvation, for Reformed theology would teach that a dead man cannot choose God or (as the new anti-buzz-word might suggest) “accept Christ.” Apparently, such a fallen person not only has the ability to seek God, but he also has the responsibility to do so. A dead or fallen man is not “nothing,” and he therefore can search and understand and, with the Holy Spirit’s drawing, choose. This in no way minimizes the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration! Instead, this seems to defend His marvelous work in the life of a sinner, even allowing a dead man to make active steps in the direction of Life.