Cornerstone

“The historic Christian position is that man’s dilemma has a moral cause. God, being nondetermined, created man as a nondetermined person. This is a difficult idea for anyone thinking in twentieth-century terms because most twentieth-century thinking sees man as determined.”

In 1968, in his book “The God Who Is There”, Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer wrote,

“The historic Christian position is that man’s dilemma has a moral cause. God, being nondetermined, created man as a nondetermined person. This is a difficult idea for anyone thinking in twentieth-century terms because most twentieth-century thinking sees man as determined. He is determined either by chemical factors, as the Marquis de Sade held and Francis Crick is trying to prove, or by psychological factors, as Freud and others have suggested, or by sociological factors , such as B. F. Skinner holds.”

Dr. Schaeffer was firing the opening salvo in a fight against the understanding of our culture that human origin could be traced back to what Schaeffer called “time and chance.”

I found his books in the early 1980’s as a relatively new believer. His arguments were refreshing. I was in a Master’s degree program in a Marriage and Family Counseling program at a private college at the time, and had been asked to withdraw from the program when they found out I was a Christian. I had been looking for information to defend my “philosophy” of counseling as something that could legitimately come from my faith. Most biblically oriented believers I knew had simply withdrawn from this war of words feeling that argument was useless. You either didn’t mention your Christian foundation, or you didn’t apply for a secular program.

But I saw that Francis Schaeffer was fighting back with intelligence and a fusillade of books.

I loved the title – “The God Who is THERE!” His second book was also provocatively titled: “Escape from Reason”, and his next was obviously meant as a sequel to the first – “He Is There and He Is NOT SILENT.” (emphasis mine)

Today, Dr. Schaeffer is probably best known for establishing the L’Abri Centers approach to working out your faith issues in groups where those hungry for debate and struggle with the Christian truths and lifestyle can find fellow journeyers. “L’Abri” means “shelter” in French. He started the first one with his wife, Edith, in their home in Switzerland. They opened the doors of their Chalet in the summer of 1956. Their invitation – mostly to disillusioned college students in America and Europe - was to come and live with them and debate their faith issues. Over the next several years, many hundreds grabbed the invitation. Debates were held daily. Everyone was asked to pitch in and help with expenses and chores. Francis spoke, argued and acted as referee. Much of his writing (22 books altogether) came out of those sessions. In fact, some of them resulted from L’Abri residents who recorded his discussions and transcribed them.

The unrest of the generation coming to adulthood in the late 60’s and early 70’s, who were facing an educational system and culture moving away from a Christian mindset to a growing science-driven debate that Christianity, and religion in general, were mere superstition, fueled the movement. Anthropology, Astronomy, Chemistry, Physics all seemed to demand a human origin and continuation in the mortar of “time and chance”, with no direction and no Director. But that left many with a dilemma regarding such things as the origin of consciousness, self-awareness, a basis for a moral code, a need for purpose, a need for transcendence.

Dr. Schaeffer came to prominence through his books. In later life he toured Europe and America, speaking on college campuses and establishing other “L’Abri’s” in other countries. He died in 1984 of cancer. Edith finally followed him in death just three years ago, at the age of 98. (Incidentally, in the mid-1990’s, she spoke at Cornerstone West Los Angeles (then First Baptist Church of WLA.) Their three daughters and son are still alive.

The L’Abri movement is still extant. Dr. Schaeffer’s 22 books have been gathered into a five-volume collection. While he himself seems to have slipped out of the public mind, and his arguments continue to be attacked and ridiculed, the issues he addressed and his approach still have traction. All of his books are still in print. How DO we deal with the argument of much of science that we are chance-occurring beings without relevance in the universe?

How DO we engage in life without transcendent purpose or meaning?

How DO we explain the God of the Bible and the existence of everything?

Are we, in fact, nondetermined and therefore contingent, or determined and fatally free?

If these questions trouble you, start with the New Testament and read to understand the considerable evidence of the reality, life, and resurrection life of Jesus, then work back from there to the entire Bible’s credible statements about the course of God in human history.

If that’s not enough, try reading Schaeffer.

Listen to audio from the 2 part seminar on the writings of Francis Schaeffer»

Jim Leonard

Jim serves Cornerstone through pastoral care and by overseeing internal ministries and administration.

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