In what may be his most important statement to date, Francis Schaeffer challenges the Christian community to reclaim the world for Christ. If we do not, he indicates, freedom for all men may be lost.
Schaeffer’s new 10-part film series, Reclaiming the World, follows his two earlier statements, How Should We Then Live? and Whatever Happened to the Human Race? (the latter made with C. Everett Koop, M.D., now U.S. surgeon general). The series was produced by Franky Schaeffer V Productions. In it, Schaeffer is interviewed by Jeremy Jackson (historical researcher for How Should We Then Live?) and Franky Schaeffer V. Unlike the previous two series, which abounded in cinematographic effects, the viewer is instead drawn into the dialogue as an unobtrusive listener, while Schaeffer and his two interviewers trade questions and answers in the Schaeffer home. The result is not unlike television interviews à la Barbara Walters. The 10 films are divided into three sections: “Reclaiming the World” (films one through five); “Reclaiming the Church” (six through eight); and “Reclaiming Our Personal Lives” (nine and ten).
The first and second films are entitled “Why I Am a Christian.” In them Schaeffer discusses the objective reality of God—the God who is there. In beginning here, he states that man can finally answer the metaphysical question of the nature of his very existence. Christianity, as seen in terms of the Bible and as applied to the world around us, is reality. Those who refuse the Christian solution live in conflict with the real world. And as men live out this illusion, they are driven to despair. Nonreality, as expressed in terms of humanism, has no answers except in the material realm—answers that soon exhaust themselves. Again, the hope for man is found in the Bible and its truths.
Why is Francis Schaeffer a Christian? “It is not,” he says, “because it will make me feel good” or “that I get a big emotional boost out of it.” It is because “it is truth. The truth of what is … the reality of the total of life. On this basis, we should become a Christian.”
In films three and four, entitled “What Is Humanism?,” Schaeffer examines the philosophical base of humanism (as compared to Christianity) and the logical consequences of humanistic thought forms. (He points up the inconsistencies and dangers of humanism as it operates in the world today.)
Schaeffer notes that the revolt of Adam and Eve is the true historic beginning of humanism. Modern humanism was born of the humanistic elements of the high Renaissance and came to its climax in the Enlightenment (which was played out in the real world during the French Revolution). Out of this period were born the thought forms that predominate in our present age.
People do live consistently with the way they think, Schaeffer states, and they manifest their philosophy in whatever they do. Humanism is being exhibited in a dominant form today in the West. This is clearly illustrated, he says, in the legal system in the United States. An example was the Supreme Court’s abortion-on-demand decision, in which it upheld the selfish desires of a pregnant woman to be free of an “unwanted” child. Schaeffer points out that in this case, the Court thereby stated that the personal peace of a particular individual is more important than life itself. He warns that we can no longer proceed on the idea that humanism is a theory without practical application in the real world. It is a movement (although not a conspiracy) and a continuous crusade practiced with religious fervor.
Humanism is dedicated to the destruction of the system of biblical absolutes. All this is in light of the fect that humanism does not have anything to replace the biblical system it attacks. The logical consequences of humanism are therefore chaos and anarchy—first in personal lives and then in the political arena (as it has its outworkings in the real world). As such, Schaeffer issues a call for Christians to combat humanism on all fronts. Silent Christians must become vocal Christians.
In the fifth film, “Confronting the World: Challenging the Separation of Church and State,” Schaeffer exposes the modern concept of the separation of church and state for what it really is: “It is absolutely inane. It is not rooted in history. It is not a reality on the basis of the history of this nation.”
In this important episode, Schaeffer examines the dilemma faced by Christians when they vocalize their faith. They are most assuredly put down by the mass media as second-class citizens and told to be silent. Why? Because there is a separation of church and state, which, in humanistic terms, means the state is to be humanistic (atheistic, if you like). The Bible of Christianity is thus not considered relevant in any decision making by the state.
Schaeffer correctly states that the founders of America never intended a separation of the state and theistic religion, which, at that time in history, was the Judeo-Christian system of absolutes. With the predominance of humanism, however, the founders’ original intentions have been totally distorted Essentially, the humanists have applied a relativistic interpretation to the Constitution, molding it to fit their world view. To do so, they have invariably been forced to ignore history and distort words. It has become a semantic battle. For example, the phrase “separation of church and state” says nothing about the separation of religion and state, though unfortunately, that is the way the concept is now used.
Sadly, Schaeffer notes, the church has bought the humanistic propaganda line. As a result, in large part Christians have been silent except in the area of personal evangelism. But, Schaeffer emphasizes, Christians must reaffirm their Christian roots and say, in effect, “This is our world. This is our country. This is the way it was.” Christians must become assertive, and carefully consider Christian resistance to illegal and unbiblical acts by the modern state. If they do, there is real hope.
In “God’s Authority and Our Responsibility” (film six), Schaeffer analyzes the question of authority and the proper Christian response to it. He notes that in the fallen world, God has established hierarchy and authority in the form of the state, the church, and the family. Because men are fallen, authority is necessary to keep order and to keep things from collapsing into utter chaos. He indicates that nonbiblical rebellion against authority is rebellion against God. It leads to wrong ends and chaos in this life.
Thus, there must always be authority in the fallen world. Today, however, most authority has been assumed by the state. Schaeffer notes that this is the result of the church’s failure to be effective as salt or preservative in society. The real Bible-believing church has the power to reestablish proper lines of authority that should rest ultimately in such biblical institutions as the family and the church. Again, this means applying biblical absolutes in all walks of life in reaffirming the lordship of Christ. The modern state that sees itself as sovereign, however, will resist the claims of another sovereign—that is, Christ as the ultimate sovereign.
In film seven, “What Is the Church?,” Schaeffer discusses the true nature of the church and the church’s responsibility to the culture surrounding it. He sees the church as a living organism, not a formal liturgy or a building. It is a group of believers who come together to worship in spirit and in truth. For example, a group of Christians who meet in a home to worship God is no less a church than the more formal church gathering.
Schaeffer notes there should be room for creativity in the church; God created individuals, not committees. This means that men will worship God in varying ways and in varying forms, but they are still part of the church. He warns, however, that any body of believers that comes together must do so in accordance with biblical standards and discipline. There must be church government. He reiterates the proposition set forth in the previous film that authority is necessary in the fallen world, even in the church. However, because there must be authority does not mean there is but a single form a church should assume.
The eighth film, “Conversion and Evangelism,” focuses on the basic meanings behind such terms and concepts as conversion, salvation, and evangelism. Schaeffer begins by making the crucial distinction between conversion and salvation, saying, “Conversion is once and for all. Salvation is never complete till Jesus comes back again.”
He emphasizes that true conversion is not only hearing the Word of God, it is doing it. “It is keeping the laws of God, not as a bare religious abstraction, but because God is God.… It isn’t even just affirming his Word, but, theoretically, there will be fruit.” Christianity, he stresses, is not static, and each person will continue to grow at his or her rate of maturity. But as the Christian matures, fruit will be evidence of true conversion.
Schaeffer warns that Christianity is more than an experiential trip: we live in a real world with real people and real problems, and there will be suffering and pain. If Christians are to persevere, they must understand that Christianity is in the living and doing, not just the talking. The bottom line of the Christian experience is placing Christ at the center of things in making him Lord.
In the final two films, “Living with Suffering and Sickness” and “God’s Leading in L’Abri and Our Lives,” both Francis and Edith Schaeffer offer their views on suffering and sickness and their involvement in L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland. From the perspective of their personal sufferings and afflictions, each observes that suffering is part and parcel of life in a fallen world. The idea prevalent in some Christian circles that sickness or suffering is a sign that something is wrong with the individual is strongly rebutted. Schaeffer believes such an idea arises when the Fall is not taken seriously. Neither the world nor Christians will be perfect until Christ returns. Until then, we live in an abnormal world where suffering is normal. God uses suffering for his purposes, and it is not something to escape at all costs. Schaeffer says sometimes God does chasten us, and that we have to ask with seriousness when trouble comes: God, are you teaching me something?
These 10 films are a very personal statement from one of the great theologian/philosophers of our times. In actuality, they are the culmination of a half-century of important work. They should be seen by a large audience, and appreciated for what they are: the tapestry of the life of a man who has given himself totally to the service of the God who is there.
Mr. Whitehead is a practicing attorney in Manassas, Virginia, and an expert in church-and-state legal issues.
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