Book Review: “True Spirituality” by Francis Schaeffer (1971)

This book marks the half-way point in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview, book eleven of twenty-two. All books have been organized thematically rather than chronologically into five volumes, and True Spirituality fits snugly inside Volume Three: A Christian View of Spirituality.

I began my reading venture through these complete works roughly sixteen months ago, and overall I have been very pleased with the study. I have found many of Schaeffer’s arguments working their way into my own discussions, though certainly I would need a healthy review of all that I’ve consumed already to really own his way of thinking. Overall, however, his clear and common-sense responses to the tainted world-philosophies of the late twentieth century have helped strengthen my own faith in the power of God, His Word, and His Gospel that saved me. Schaeffer writes of Christianity as a philosophy above all others this way:

I think [Christianity] is the best philosophy that ever has existed. More than this, it is the only philosophy that is consistent to itself and answers the questions. It is a good philosophy precisely because it deals with the problems and gives us answers to them. Nevertheless, it is not only a good philosophy. The Bible does not just speak in abstractions; it does not tell about a religious idea far away. It tells about man as Man. It tells about each individual, as each man is that individual. And it tells us how to live in the real universe as it is now. Remove this factor, and it becomes only a dialectic. (68)

In True Spirituality, Schaeffer’s takes this unwavering confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture to discuss what he considers to be a general problem among believers, that of seeing too minute spiritual changes after salvation: “With all the teaching I had received after I was a Christian, I had heard little about what the Bible says about the meaning of the finished work of Christ for our present lives.” (Preface) Concluding that such a problem rests in the believer’s minimal understanding and enjoyment of sanctification (79), he emphasizes the difference between our necessary justification and our almost-optional sanctification: “While it is not possible to be more or less justified it is possible to be more or less sanctified. Justification deals with the guilt of sin: sanctification deals with the power of sin in the Christian’s life, and there are degrees in this.” (78) These degrees, he goes to point out throughout the book, affect virtually every relationship we have as believers: relationships within the church, with unbelievers, with our spouses, and even with our own minds.

Because the root cause of so much failure in Christian living is a failure to accept Christ’s sacrifice day-in and day-out, Schaeffer emphasizes an adjustment in how we view our justification as compared to our sanctification:

In one way physical birth is the most important part of our physical lives, because we are not alive in the external world until we have been born. In another way, however, it is the least important of all the aspects of our life, because it is only the beginning and then it is past. After we are born, the important thing is the living of our lives in all their relationships, possibilities, and capabilities. It is exactly the same with the new birth. In one way, the new birth is the most important thing in our spiritual lives, because we are not Christians until we have come thing way. In another way, however, after one has become a Christian, it must be minimized, in that we should not always have our minds only on our new birth. The important thing after being born spiritually is to live. (Chapter 1)

This concept noted above reminds me much of what Jerry Bridges describes in The Gospel for Real Life, that we tend to view the Gospel as the door that brought us into Christianity, when really the Gospel is the door, the room, the everything! The fact that I didn’t “enter into Christianity” but that Jesus Christ entered me changes everything, for then I can view my relationship to Him not as a one-time event, but rather as a moment-by-moment reality. To this end, Schaeffer writes:

The reality of living by faith as though we were already dead, of living by faith in open communion with God, and then stepping back into the external world as though we are already raised from the dead, this is not once for all, it is a matter of moment-by-moment faith, and living moment by moment. This morning’s faith will never do for this noon. The faith of this noon will never do for supper time. The faith of supper time will never do for the time of going to bed. The faith of midnight will never do for the next morning. Thank God for the reality for which we were created, a moment-by-moment communication with God himself. We should indeed be thankful because the moment-by-moment quality brings the whole thing to the size which we are, as God has made us. (92)

As these truths sink in for me, I am drawn into a better understanding of what true spirituality looks like, that it involves a change of perspective from my natural, fallen way of thinking to my redeemed and revived way of thinking. Of course, it’s not merely a mental game, as if “thinking is doing.” Far from it! Nevertheless, God knew the natural curvature of human hearts toward the flesh and the mentality of the Old Man, which is why His Spirit directed the Apostle Paul to write this:

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:11-14)

It’s an adjustment in my understanding of reality (that I’m dead to sin and alive to God) that changes my behavior (rather than obeying sin, I obey God and give myself fully to Him).

Although True Spirituality has its rough and dry patches, and although it was difficult at times to maintain the excitement Schaeffer offers in his early pages, I found this book to be a strong treatise on the importance of sanctification in the believer’s spiritual life. Some laypeople might find this book a bit difficult to consume (as is true with many of Schaeffer’s works, I find), though it would be an excellent read for ministers and teachers to digest and recount in their own words and in their own situations. Certainly many of these ideas will work their way into my own teaching in the months to come!

©2016 E.T.

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