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Why Francis Schaeffer Matters: Consequences of Pitting Rationality Against Faith – Part 4

Posted On April 24, 2018

The decisive result of falling below the line of despair is a pitting of rationality against faith. Schaeffer sees this as an enormous problem and details four consequences in his book, Escape From Reason.

Pitting Rationality Against Faith

First, when rationality contends against faith, one is not able to establish a system of morality. It is simply impossible to have an “upstairs morality” that is unrelated to matters of everyday living.

Second, when rationality and faith are dichotomized, there is no adequate basis for law. “The whole Reformation system of law was built on the fact that God had revealed something real down into the common things of life” (Escape From Reason, 261). But when rationality and faith are pitted against one another, all hope of maintaining any semblance of law is obliterated.

The third consequence is that this scheme throws away the answer to the problem of evil. Christianity’s answer rests in the historic, space-time, real and complete Fall of man who rebelled and made a choice against God. “Once the historic Christian answer is put away, all we can do is to leap upstairs and say that against all reason God is good” (Escape From Reason, 262).

Finally, when one accepts this unbiblical dichotomy he loses the opportunity to evangelize people at their real point of despair. Schaeffer makes it clear that modern man longs for answers. “He did not accept the line of despair and the dichotomy because he wanted to.  He accepted it because, on the basis of the natural development of his rationalistic presuppositions, he had to. He may talk bravely at times, but in the end it is despair” (Escape From Reason, 262). It is at this point that Schaeffer believes the Christian apologist has a golden opportunity to make an impact. “Christianity has the opportunity, therefore, to say clearly that its answer has the very thing modern man has despaired of – the unity of thought. It provides a unified answer for the whole of life.  True, man has to renounce his rationalism; but then, on the basis of what can be discussed, he has the possibility of recovering his rationality” (Escape From Reason, 262).

Schaeffer challenges us, “Let us Christians remember, then, that if we fall into the trap  against which I have been warning, what we have done, among other things, is to put ourselves in the position where in reality we are only saying with evangelical words what the unbeliever is saying with his words. In order to confront modern man effectively, we must not have this dichotomy. You must have the Scriptures speaking truth both about God Himself and about the area where the Bible touches history and the cosmos” (Escape From Reason, 263).

The Tension of Being a Man

Before proceeding to Dr. Schaeffer’s basic approach to apologetics one must understand the concept he calls “mannishness” or the tension of being a man. The idea is essentially that no man can live at ease in the area of despair. His significance, ability to love and be loved, and his capacity for rationality distinguish him from machines and animals and give evidence to this fact: Man is made in the image of God. Modern man has been forced to accept the false dichotomy between nature and grace and consequently, takes a leap of faith to the upper story and embraces some form of mysticism, which gives an illusion of unity to the whole. But as Schaeffer points out, “The very ‘mannishness’ of man refuses to live in the logic of the position to which his humanism and rationalism have brought him. To say that I am only a machine is one thing; to live consistently as if this were true is quite another” (The God Who Is There, 68). Schaeffer continues, “Every truly modern man is forced to accept some sort of leap in theory or practice because the pressure of his own humanity demands it. He can say what he will concerning what he himself is; but no matter what he says he is, he is still a man” (The God Who Is There, 69).

Thus, the foundation for Francis Schaeffer’s basic approach to apologetics is simply to recognize that man is an image-bearer. Man even in his sin has personality, significance, and worth. Therefore, the apologist should approach him in those terms. The apologist must not only recognize that man is made in the image of God; he must also love him in word and deed. Finally, the apologist must speak to the man as a unit; he must reach the whole man (for faith truly does involve the whole man) and refuse to buy into the popularized Platonic idea that man’s soul is more important than the body.

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