“Autonomous freedom! How the voices of our day cry out! I must be free to kill the child in my womb. I must be free even to kill the newborn child if I don’t think he or she measures up to my standards of “quality life.” I must be free to desert my husband or wife, and abandon my children. I must be free to commit shameless acts with those of my own sex….”
(Bill Muehlenberg – Culture Watch) Amazing and much-needed prophetic words from the late, great Francis Schaeffer:
The good news is this: when the times get the darkest, God will raise up prophets to confront the situation, speak to his people, and declare much-needed truth. But the bad news is this: these prophets are invariably rejected. When they are the most needed, they are often the least heeded.
Simply read the Old Testament to see this happening time and time again. The same when Christ came to planet earth. And the same throughout church history. God sends his prophets, but they are spurned, ridiculed and rejected. Here I want to speak about one recent prophetic voice that we should have paid much more close attention to.
Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984) was without question a prophet for our times. The American pastor and apologist did have a huge impact during his lifetime, but his words are needed now more than ever. He spoke and warned about things that most Christians seemed oblivious to.
He could see the worrying trends ahead of time, and he sought to sound the alarm. Much of what he said has now come to pass, and if things are now not too late, we need to revisit his words and take them to heart today. Moments ago a friend posted on the social media something I had quoted from Schaeffer some seven years ago.
I just pulled that book from my shelves and was struck again by what an utterly prophetic word this was to God’s people. I refer to The Great Evangelical Disaster (Crossway Books, 1984). What an incredibly important, relevant and timely book – especially given that it was penned 35 years ago.
Schaeffer was speaking about crucial issues that few evangelicals were talking about back then – things like the war on truth, abortion, feminism, homosexuality, and other key issues. This volume is so important that the best thing I can do here is simply quote from it. Early on he says this:
The Scriptures make clear that we as Bible-believing Christians are locked in a battle of cosmic proportions. It is a life and death struggle over the minds and souls of men for all eternity, but it is equally a life and death struggle over life on this earth… Do we really believe that we are engaged in this cosmic battle?… Why has the Christian ethos in our culture been squandered? Why do we have so little impact upon the world today? Is it not because we have failed to take the primary battle seriously? And if we have failed to take the battle seriously, we have certainly failed to use the weapons our Lord has provided….
The primary battle is a spiritual battle in the heavenlies. But this does not mean, therefore, that the battle we are in is otherworldly or outside of human history. It is a real spiritual battle, but it is equally a battle here on earth in our own country, our own communities, our places of work and our schools, and even our own homes. The spiritual battle has its counterpart in the visible world, in the minds of men and women, and in every area of human culture. In the realm of space and time the heavenly battle is fought on the stage of human history.
One can sense the tears coming down his cheeks as he says this:
Do not take this lightly! It is a horrible thing for a man like myself to look back and see my country and my culture go down the drain in my own lifetime. It is a horrible thing that sixty years ago you could move across this country and almost everyone, even non-Christians, would have known what the gospel was. A horrible thing that fifty to sixty years ago our culture was built on the Christian consensus, and now this is no longer the case. Once again I would refer to Romans 1:21, 22: ‘although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools’….
There hardly could be a more fitting description of our own culture today. Bent on the pursuit of autonomous freedom-freedom from any restraint, and especially from God’s truth and moral absolutes – our culture has set itself on the course of self-destruction. Autonomous freedom! How the voices of our day cry out! I must be free to kill the child in my womb. I must be free even to kill the newborn child if I don’t think he or she measures up to my standards of “quality life.” I must be free to desert my husband or wife, and abandon my children. I must be free to commit shameless acts with those of my own sex….
Make no mistake. We as Bible-believing evangelical Christians are locked in a battle. This is not a friendly gentleman’s discussion. It is a life and death conflict between the spiritual hosts of wickedness and those who claim the name of Christ. It is a conflict on the level of ideas between two fundamentally opposed views of truth and reality. It is a conflict on the level of actions between a complete moral perversion and chaos and God’s absolutes. But do we really believe that we are in a life and death battle? Do we really believe that the part we play in the battle has consequences for whether or not men and women will spend eternity in hell? Or whether or not in this life people will live with meaning or meaninglessness? Or whether or not those who do live will live in a climate of moral perversion and degradation? Sadly, we must say that very few in the evangelical world have acted as if these things are true. Rather than trumpet our accomplishments and revel in our growing numbers, it would be closer to the truth to admit that our response has been a disaster.
And we must ask where we as evangelicals have been in the battle for truth and morality in our culture. Have we as evangelicals been on the front lines contending for the faith and confronting the moral breakdown over the last forty to sixty years? Have we been aware that there is a battle going on – not just a heavenly battle, but a life-and-death struggle over what will happen to men and women and children in both this life and the next? . . .Truth demands confrontation. It must be loving confrontation, but there must be confrontation nonetheless. Sadly we must say that this has seldom happened. Most of the evangelical world has not been active in the battle, or even been able to see that we are in a battle. And when it comes to the issues of the day the evangelical world most often has said nothing; or worse has said nothing different from what the world would say. Here is the great evangelical disaster – the failure of the evangelical world to stand for truth as truth. There is only one word for this – namely accommodation: the evangelical church has accommodated to the world spirit of the age.
He defines further what he is so concerned about:
Here is the great evangelical disaster – the failure of the evangelical world to stand for truth as truth. There is only one word for this – namely accommodation: the evangelical church has accommodated to the world spirit of the age. First, there has been accommodation on Scripture, so that many who call themselves evangelicals hold a weakened view of the Bible and no longer affirm the truth of all the Bible teaches – truth not only in religious matters but in the areas of science and history and morality. . . . And second, there has been accommodation on the issues, with no clear stand being taken even on matters of life and death.
How far we have drifted from early Christianity:
Without a strong commitment to God’s absolutes, the early church could never have remained faithful in the face of the constant Roman harassment and persecution. And our situation today is remarkably similar as our own legal, moral, and social structure is based on an increasingly anti-Christian, secularist consensus.
The consequences of this are great:
We are not only losing the church, but our entire culture as well. We live in the post-Christian world which is under the judgment of God. I believe today that we must speak as Jeremiah did. . . . Do you think God will not judge our countries simply because they are our countries? Do you think that the holy God will not judge? . . . Jesus cannot be said to be Savior unless we also say he is Lord. And we cannot honestly and rightly say he is our Lord if he is only a Lord of part of life and not of the totality of life, including all the social and political and cultural life.
Very few were speaking about the life issues back then. But Schaeffer was. In Ch. 4 he discusses these matters. He reminds us that a “lowered view of life and a lowered view of Scripture go hand in hand.” He goes on to say:
Do you realize what the implications of this are? Do you really understand that the biblical view of man and the secularist view are a total antithesis – and as such, they result in a totally conflicting view of human life, with totally different consequences?…
The question of human life truly is a watershed issue. . . . But the question is not just abortion, as important as that is. Are we so blind not to see what is involved? It is human life as human life that is involved. Yet much of the evangelical world carries on business as usual, saying they are not for abortion except for this or that; saying that we should not make an issue of this because it might be divisive; or saying we should not draw a line – even when millions of human lives are at stake. But if we are not willing to take a stand even for human life, is there anything for which we will stand?
He also discusses things like feminism, homosexuality and the war on God’s purposes for human sexuality:
Why are marriage and these related aspects of human sexuality so important? The Bible teaches that the marriage relationship is not just a human institution, but rather it is in fact a sacred mystery which, when honoured, reveals something about the character of God himself. Thus we find the man-woman relationship of marriage is stressed throughout the Scriptures as a picture, an illustration, a type of the wonderful relationship between the individual and Christ, and between the church and Christ.
Sadly, “Evangelicalism is deeply infiltrated with the world spirit of our age when it comes to marriage and sexual morality.” He continues:
God condemns sexual sin in the strongest language. This is not to say that sexual sin is worse than any other sin. And to be consistent with what the Bible teaches, we must take a strong stand against every kind of sin. At the same time, we can never forget that God very strongly condemns sexual sin and he never allows us to tone down on the condemnation of that sin.
Why has all this happened?
Accommodation, accommodation. How the mindset of accommodation grows and expands. The last sixty years have given birth to a moral disaster and what have we done? Sadly we must say that the evangelical world has been part of the disaster. More than this, the evangelical response itself has been a disaster. Where is the clear voice speaking to the crucial issues of the day with distinctively Biblical, Christian answers? With tears we must say that largely it is not there, and that a large segment of the evangelical world has become seduced by the world spirit of the present age. And more than this, we can expect the future to be a further disaster if the evangelical world does not take a stand for Biblical truth and morality in the full spectrum of life. For the evangelical accommodation to the world of our age represents the removal of the last barrier against the breakdown of our culture. And with the final removal of this barrier will come social chaos and the rise of authoritarianism in some form to restore social order.
In his final chapter he calls for “Radicals for Truth.” He says this:
The evangelical accommodation has constantly been in one direction – that is, to accommodate with whatever is in vogue with the form of the world spirit which is dominant today. It is this same world spirit which is destroying both church and society. Balance must be considered constantly. But the accommodation we have been speaking of has constantly taken the form of giving in to the humanistic, secular consensus which is the dominant destructive force of our day. And if no change in this comes, our opportunity will be past. Not only will the compromising portion of evangelicalism go down in collapse, all of us will be carried down with it.
We cannot think that all of this is unrelated to us. It will all come crashing down unless you and I and each one of us who loves the Lord and his church are willing to act. And so I challenge you, I call for Christian radicals, and especially young Christian radicals, to stand up in loving confrontation, but confrontation – looking to the living Christ moment by moment for strength – in loving confrontation with all that is wrong and destructive in the church, our culture, and the state.
All concerned Christians need to get this book and read it – or find it on your shelves and reread it. Schaeffer was a prophet to his times. We sure need such prophetic voices today.
Published with Bill Muehlenberg’s permission. Visit his blog here.