The book jacket gives this description of Francis Schaefer's great book: "'This book is a personal analysis of the key moments of history which have formed our present culture, and the thinking of the men who brought those moments to pass. This study is made in the hope that light may be shed upon its major characteristics of our age and that solutions may be found to the myriad of problems which face us as we look toward the end of the twentieth century.'
With these words, Francis Schaeffer commences his opus on the condition and direction of Western civilization--a monumental work that is the culmination of more than forty years of broad inquiry, intensive research and philosophical study in conjunction with his ongoing work in Christian basics. As the foremost evangelical thinker of our day, Dr. Schaeffer has long pondered the fate of declining Western culture, and concludes that not only have we lost sight of our roots, but of our direction as well. However, unlike most doomsayers, he pinpoints the problems, researches their origins and formulates a hopeful, positive proposal for the future.
Dr. Schaeffer begins his brilliant analysis with the fall of Rome, tracing Western man's progression throughout the ensuing ages. From ancient Roman times to the Middle Ages, through the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment, up to our present scientific Atomic Age, each step of our cultural development is scrutinized, documented and expanded upon in the light of subsequent historical facts."
If there had been no Christ and no Christian faith, Western Civilization, if there was still such a thing you could call that, would be godless and heathen and full of every sort of depraved cult and pagan religion (just as it was before Christianity burst on the Roman world in the first decades of the 1st century A.D.). What a terrible cultural scene it would be [which is not unimaginable now that we are rapidly actualizing it in our own time, sad to say)! But Christ's Gospel ultimately changed everything, and led to the reformation and emancipation of mankind, improving living conditions beyond Rome's to where they are now. Ironically, when science as we know it was given birth by Christians, it is now being misused and twisted to attack Christianity and its eternal truths. And the same secularists who are misusing science in this way are also turning against Western Civilization, denouncing and degrading it, and injecting into it every kind of depravity and degeneracy while they are expelling every restraint on human sinning put there by Christianity and Christian morality. This is a civilization that, abandoning God and Christ, is self-destructing right before our very eyes. Francis Schaeffer explains how this incredible thing came about, but in the Special Note he says what we must do in response as Christians (if we call ourselves Christians). To do nothing is to vote for evil to triumph, he says. And the Bible exhorts us to do something! We must stand up for righteousness now, or forever be ashamed that we allowed evil to pervert and destroy the world while we stood idly by, tolerating, conforming to, or remaining indifferent to the wickedness of the world rather than resisting it. It is our choice, Francis Schaeffer challenges us. What will we do? Rise up against unrighteousness and evil, or remain silent while the whole society and the nation go to hell?--Ed.
As Christians, we must not slip into our own form of existential methodology. We do this if we try to keep hold of the value system, the meaning system, and the "religious matters" given in the Bible, while playing down what the Bible affirms about the cosmos, history, and specific commands in morals. We are following our own form of existential methodology if we put what the Bible says about the cosmos, history, and absolute commands in morals in the realm of the culturally oriented. If we do this, the generation which follows will certainly be undercut as far as historic Christianity is concerned. But also, if we ourselves bear the central mark of our generation, we cannot at this moment in history be the voice we should be to our poor and fractured generation; we cannot be the restorative salt which Christians are supposed to be to their generation and their culture if in regard to the Scriptures we, too, are marked by the existential methodology. If we are so marked, we then have no real absolute by which to help, or by which to judge, the culture, state, and society.
Second, as Christians we are not only to know the right world view, the world view that tells us the truth of what is, but consciously to act upon that world view so as to influence society in all its parts and facets across the whole spectrum of life, as much as we can to the extent of our individual and collective ability.
Third, as we look back to the time of slavery and the time after the Industrial Revolution, we are thankful for Christians such as Elizabeth Fry, Lord Shaftesbury, William Wilberforce, and John Wesley who spoke out and acted publicly against slavery and against the noncompassionate use of accummulated wealth. I wonder if Christians of the future will be thankful that in our day we spoke out and acted against the abuses in the area of race and the noncompassionate use of wealth, yet simultaneously and equally balanced this in speaking out and acting also against the special sickness and threat of our age--the rise of authoritarian government? [the same thing we are confronted in the rise of Obama and an ever expanding Big Welfare Government in the U.S., with all its authoritarian, socialistic agendas including the nationalization of the financial sector and major banks, with crushing taxes imposed on energy and income to support the entire edifice]. That is, will we resist authoritarian government in all its forms regardless of the label it carries and regardless of its origin? THE DANGER IN REGARD TO THE RISE OF AUTHORITARIAN GOVERNMENT IS THAT CHRISTIANS WILL BE STILL AS LONG AS THEIR OWN RELIGIOUS ACTIVITIES, EVANGELISM, AND LIFE-STYLES ARE NOT DISTURBED [capitals are mine--Ed.].
We are not excused from speaking, just because the culture and society no longer est as much as they once did on Christian thinking. Moreover, Christians do not need to be in the majority in order to influence society [just as a rudder is small but can turn a mighty, seagoing ocean liner].
But we must be realistic. John the Baptist raised his voice, on the basis of the biblical absolutes, against the personification of power in the person of Herod, and it cost him his head. In the Roman Empire the Christians refused to worship Caesar along with Christ, and this was seen by those in power as disrupting the unity of the Empire; for many this was costly.
But let us be realistic in another way, too. If we as Christians do not speak out as authoritarian governments grow from within or come from outside, eventually we or our children will be the enemy of society and the state. No truly authoritarian government can tolerate those who have a real absolute by which to judge its arbitrary absolutes and who speak out and act upon that absolute. This was the issue with the early church in regard to the Roman Empire, and though the specific issue will in all probability take a different form than Caesar-worship [in which the "president," was not only acknowledged by a Roman citizen as the chief executive but also commanded to worship as a divinity, a god], the basic issue of having an absolute by which to judge the state and society will be the same. [Again, for our American minds which do not understand the mixture of state and religion that was ancient Rome's authoritarian government: The Roman state was based on absolute obedience to the authoritarian state power structure and its supreme administrator, the emperor, which was one side of the Roman coin. On the other side of the same coin, Rome commanded that this supreme state administrator or emperor be given all rights and honor and worshipped as a god of heaven, no matter what other god you worshiped; so if you did not both acknowledge the Emperor as supreme state leader and also worship him as a celestial god, you were a traitor to the state and to the state religion--a double infraction, that cost you your life!--Ed.}.
Here is a sentence to memorize: TO MAKE NO DECISION IN REGARD TO THE GROWTH OF AUTHORITARIAN GOVERNMENT IS ALREADY A DECISION FOR IT [capitals mine--Ed.]. The title of this book and film series, "How Should We Then Live?" comes from the watchman passage in Ezekiel 33:1-11, 19. The title is contained in verse 10.
Son of man, speak to the children of thy people, and say unto them, When I bring the sword upon a land, if the people of the land take a man of their coasts, and set him for their watchman:
If when he seeth the sword come upon the land, he blow the trumpet, and warn the people;
Then whosever heareth the sound of the trumpet, and taketh not warning; if the sword come, and take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head.
He heard the sound of the trumpet, and took not warning; his blood shall be upon him. But he that taketh warning shall deliver his soul.
But if the watchman see th sword come,a nd blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman's hand.
So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt bear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me.
When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; IF THOU DOST NOT SPEAK TO WARN THE WICKED FROM HIS WAY, THAT WICKED MAN SHALL DIE IN HIS INIQUITY, BUT HIS BLOOD I WILL REQUIRE AT THINE HAND [capitals mine-- Ed}.
Nethertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.
Therefore, O thou son of man, speak unto the house of Israel;
Thus yet speak, saying, If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live?
Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?
...But if the wicked turn from his wickedness, and do that which is lawfula nd right, he shall live thereby."
Without any basis, rationality, also became madness, for there was no reason for it, lacking the assurance of faith in an Absolute God or Absolute Truth to explain it. If there was no anchor there, what about Faith? Non-reason's faith was also left in limbo, an upper storey of man's existence without any justification in science or reason. Friedrich Nietzsche, the great German philosopher of nihilism who claimed that God was dead and that man was, therefore, Superman, set free beyond any other absolute of morality and truth, went mad and ended in an asylum. That was where his "freedom" took him. His mind went literally to pieces. Man, without God, was cut free from every restraint, even that of reason, and ended a lunatic, without a reason for his existence, so that suicide was the only philsophically valid option. The existential novels were once very popular, with heroes who chose to define their own meaning for existence, without God, without morality, without anybody else's belief systems. One was Albert Camus's "The Stranger," a novel in which a man travels about the Mediterranean and has to make his own arbitrary meaning in life, since existence is meaningless in reality, a something that hovers briefly over the abyss). In Samuel Beckett's play about nihilism and meaninglessness, the people sit on a stage waiting endlessly for "Godot," a personage or thing which never comes--that is all they can do, given their meaningless existence.
So if we accept, as Christians, that faith is in a special compartment separate from science and reason, then we are committing an error that will render our faith irrelevant to society and its concerns and issues of which world view is to exercise dominance int he public sphere. That kind of "existential methodology" can creep into Christians' thinking, influencing their world views, to the extent they are unaware of how much it is guiding their actions and their morals and their lives and even their faith in God. We are to beware of this happening to us, or letting it unconsciously direct our lives and determine what kind of world view we have.
How can we judge anything, declare or determine what is right or wrong, if we have no absolutes in our faith? Children can be taught in the public schools that sodomy is the best way for humans to engage in sex, at any age (which is being done in U.S. public schools and in Britain's too, so how can we call that wrong and perverse, which it is, without absolutes? If it is merely a question of "situational ethics" or individual, relative morals no one else need heed, then Christian parents must remain silent and let their children be turned into sodomists, homosexuals and lesbians). If we cannot defend absolutes, what can we say against authoritarism and its inhumane abuses or misuse of its powers? Without God, there can be no basis for absolutes, as science has thrown out absolutes long ago and is only slowly moving back toward an absolute, perhaps. In the meantime, evolutionary theory is used to explain man and his existence, and that is not a Christian world-view at all, for in the evolutionary system man is just an animal much like any other animal, without any morality or purpose other than to exist and perpetuate his species. Why not govern that species of animal, man, authoritatively, and make him do what is thought best for the maintenance of the state? Why not dispose of humans like you dispose of plastic or metal or wood or any other material? Why not view them commercially, to be maintained for profit or to be disposed of when they are costing the state too much? Man has no real value, worth, or dignity, under such a system and world view, and so authoritarianism, with the state power, arises to determine his destiny, without any question of freedom or liberty involved as man's right. Communism, or any other authoritarianism, sees a man only as a part of the social organism or social system--he has no other meaning to his existence. Is that what God intended for the human beings He created? Absolutely not! It is the complete opposite of what God intended. It is a fate worse than death. Yet for vast numbers, it is the reality that is crushing them on this planet, while they are ruled and exploited by authoritarian governments and elites and dictators. And this authoritarianism, promoted by secularist thought and philsophy, is taking over Western Civilization, reducing man to a mere more or less useful component of the state. Against that we, as Christians, must protest vigorously as long as we are able. Of course, we will come to be viewed by the general society as enemies, backward religionists, unscientific, irrational, even stupid, and social poison--and treated accordingly, but we must not sit quietly and let this world view based on evolution go unchallenged, lest we conspire with it by default.--Ed.