Brad Brisco and Lance Ford’s Missional Essentials

46092205Some months ago, Dave McClung of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention wanted to know if I would like to participate in one of a few small groups working through Missional Essentials by Brad Brisco and Lance Ford.  Now, Dave is a cool, eclectic, smart, well-read guy with a deep love for the church and a keen eye on how the church engages culture.  Furthermore, I have for some time now regretted the fact that I have never seriously wrestled with the whole missional concept , so I said yes.

Missional Essentials is a workbook, though it has some strong sections of insightful prose on the missional church as well.  It is an insightful primer to missional thinking as well as a practical challenge to many of the assumptions undergirding the institutional church today.  The reading sections are helpful and make very good use of other sources and the workbook interaction sections do a good job of (a) leading the reader to interact with scripture and (b) challenging the reader to think through the practice of missional living.

In essence, the missional movement is calling the church to see itself as a missionary in its culture.  What this means is that the local church should stop seeing itself as an entity that engages in mission projects and trips and instead should see itself as the mission project.  What this means is that church doesn’t send out missionaries, the church is God’s missionary.  Therefore, all believers are to embrace missional living, in and through their church, to be sure, but in their neighborhoods as the church preeminently.  If you have grown up in the conservative, institutional, North American church, you will readily get what is so revolutionary about this thought and against what fallacious ecclesiological concepts it is pushing.

I would caution you in one way about reading Missional Essentials:  if you do not want to be seriously unsettled in your complacency concerning loving and reaching your neighbors, do not read this work.  This workbook, especially the last third of it, really engages the reader with pretty direct questions about whether or not we love our neighbors, are actively forming relationships with them, and are being good stewards of our homes.  It has certainly caused me to have a number of conversations with my wife about developing a strategy to reach the streets on which we live.

I have every intention of leading Central Baptist Church through this study.  I believe this is fantastic, biblical, soul-stirring stuff that I, for one, desperately needed to hear.

Umberto Eco and Jean-Claude Carriere’s This is Not the End of the Book

If you are a bibliophile, you simply must read this book.  This is Not the End of the Book is a transcribed conversation between the great Italian novelist Umberto Eco and French writer and playwright Jean-Claude Carriere on books.  Yes, a book of two guys discussing books.  The two were interviewed by Jean-Philippe Da Tonnac on various questions concerning books, collecting books, whether or not books will survive the internet, the nature of libraries, threats to books, past, present, and future, and the history and future of books.  Eco and Carriere are both avid book collectors.  Eco estimates his collection to be around 80,000 volumes and Carrier, 50,000, many of which are antiquarian.

The conversation is enthralling.  I had a great deal of trouble putting the book down.  I mainly bought it because I try to read Eco whenever I can, but, in truth, Carriere’s comments were fascinating as well.  It is a dizzying, often humorous conversation filled with arcane and eclectic insights.  It is replete with fascinating anecdotal stories about the authors’ personal encounters with books.  It is also filled with references to the history of book making and the history of books in general.

It is hard to describe this book because it is so all over the place!  But if you think you would enjoy sitting in the corner of a room listening to two brilliant, eclectic minds discussing all things book related, you really should get a copy of this work.

Carl F.H. Henry’s Has Democracy Had Its Day?

It’s impossible to read the late Carl Henry without receiving at least some benefit.  To be sure, Richard Land overreaches in the Introduction when he observes that “Carl F.H. Henry is undeniably the twentieth century’s greatest evangelical theologian, and arguably its most important theologian of any perspective” (iii), but Henry was, no doubt, a great theologian, and a great mind, and his works will remain important for a very long time.

In Has Democracy Had Its Day? (published by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC in 1996), Henry explores the titular question with characteristic precision and insight.  Written almost 13 years ago, there are aspects of the work that are a bit dated, but the question is no less pressing for our day than for the day that saw its original publication and Henry’s thoughts on the matter are still more than worthy of serious consideration.

In this work, Henry deplores the threat to democracy that had come about by the ascendency of a “secular humanism” and “naturalistic relativism” (62) that had detached democracy from its transcendent underpinnings, had called into question the very existence of truth itself, and had come to deplore the Judeo-Christian heritage that has played such a crucial role in our nation’s life from its inception.  He is not unaware that “Christianity stipulates no one permanent form of government in the name of divine revelation” (3), yet he pursuasively argues that “the biblical emphasis on human depravity and the consequent temptation to divert political power to inordinate ends argues for limited government as least oppressive.  A democratic political context apppears the most promising framework for fulfilling the public duties incumbent on human beings.  A democratically chosen and constitutionally limited government seems to be the political structure most compatible with the Christian insistence on human worth and liberty and most likely to accommodate the promotion and protection of human freedoms, justice, and peace” (6).

Yet, Henry argues, democracy is in peril.  His diagnosis is compelling:  “A generation that elevates the essentiality of human rights to intellectual priority yet simultaneously contends that all philosophical affirmations are culture-conditioned sooner or later will engulf those very rights in moral relativism” (9).  Henry saw this happening in his own day, and, of course, the intervening 13 years have done nothing but solidify the prophetic truthfulness of his contention.  Furthermore, Henry’s observation that “were [the United States] to vanish suddenly from the globe, the remnants of the Free World would be plunged into grief and mourning” (54) remains a great truth, if less self-evidently so in light of the media’s constant funneling of anti-American sentiments into our homes and, to be sure, the presence of some very real anti-American sentiment in some parts of the world today.

One of Henry’s repeated themes is that Christianity’s despisers nonetheless must use the fruits of Christianity to rail against it.  “Even the nonreligious feed on the very creeds they have rejected” (21).  And even more poignantly, “Those who assail democracy from radical perspectives themselves avoid despair only by munching on facets of faith anchored in beliefs they now demean as outworn” (45).

Henry continues the theme he laid out in his tremendous The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalismby calling on conservative believers to be involved in social engagement and not to retreat into their sanctuaries.  This is true enough, but I will state again as I have stated elsewhere on this blog that our prophetic witness to the power of Christ will accomplish more than political activism ever could even though Christians should be involved in political activism.  It is a matter of priority and perspective.  I think Henry would agree.

Interestingly, Henry calls in this work for co-belligerency between Protestants and Catholics and, indeed, between believers and non-believers where they are able to stand together against certain common threats.  While there are corners of the church that believe co-belligerency to be a sellout, I do not think so.  Again, it’s all a matter of perspective.  What are we trying to accomplish?  It would be absurd and blasphemous to check our Christian convictions at the door for political expediency, and, on the gospel itself, there can be no compromise, no matter how noble the social cause.  This must never happen.  But if I can maintain my Christian witness while standing beside whomever in the fight against, say, abortion, then fine and good.  Yet the witness must remain and the gospel must not be compromised.

Finally, Henry was good at turning a phrase.  Some of the more memorable quotes from this little book include:

“If we are going to abandon democracy, we had better be sure of the alternative we are welcoming.” (viii)

“Jesus did not, to be sure, say to the disciples: ‘Go ye into all the world and teach democracy, capitalism, and privatization of business.’  He did not name a political apostolate.  He gave priority to a gospel that sutains freedom, justice, and grace.” (4)

“Only two alternatives lie before a democracy:  either self-restraint and self-discipline, or chaos and authoritarian repression.” (10)

“In an age when accepted standards of right and wrong are scorned, when absolutes are demeaned as a return to the superseded past, when doubt threatens to evaporate great national beliefs and political principles and weakens inherited guidelines, when new conceptions degrade the minds and corrupt the lives of the newly emerging generations, those who refuse to abandon history to the forces of decadence must speak out.” (23)

And, finally:

“No government can perpetually survive on red ink, but without ethical imperatives it is unworthy of survival.” (49)

Al Mohler’s Desire and Deceit: The Real Cost of the New Sexual Tolerance

R. Albert Mohler, Jr., is President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and is an astute cultural observer and commentator.  I approached his earlier book, Culture Shift(reviewed here), a bit reluctantly (I’m generally weary of a lot of culture war material), but was so impressed by the keen insights I found there that I decided to read his Desire and Deceit: The Real Cost of the New Sexual Tolerance.  I’m glad I did.

Desire and Deceit is a concise, well-organized diagnosis of the sexual wasteland that modern culture finds itself in as well as a powerful proposal for the church to counteract this madness through radical fidelity to God’s ideal of sexual love within the covenant marriage bond.  Mohler addresses pornography, homosexuality, and some of the key figures that have sought and are seeking to redefine basic sexual mores in our times.

I found his chapter on Kinsey to be absolutely unsettling.  Furthermore, his discussion of the homosexual movement’s cultural, political, and theological agenda is well-documented, convincing, and reflects deep and seasoned Christian cultural analysis at its finest.  Mohler somehow manages to avoid the typical hysterical tone that many a red-faced Christian culture warrior puts forth while at the same time writing with passion and genuine concern.

Mohler is reminiscent of early Schaeffer here, or of modern Guinness, and he has done the church a valuable service.  In truth, I needed this book.  In a sense, it is difficult to live in our society, with its constant barrage of secularism and sexual anarchy, and not grow fatigued by the sheer immensity of the anti-Christian forces in our culture.  This fatigue, in turn, leads not so much to disinterest as a sense of resignation with the way things are.  Mohler has cut through the fog here and reminded all of us of what exactly is at stake.  Most importantly, he transcends shrill platitudes and calls, correctly, for the church to lovingly but clearly disarm and win over Christianity’s cultural despisers by showing them in our own lives and homes the beauty and majesty of biblical relationships and covenant marital fidelity.

Os Guinness’ Time for Truth

There’s really no such thing as a “little” Os Guinness book. Most of them are fairly short, but none of them are “little.” Guinness has achieved what most social commentators lack: the ability to communicate deep truths with brevity. Time for Truth (like Dining With the Devil and Fit Bodies, Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think and What to Do About It) is no exception.

To be candid, when I realized that I was holding yet another book by yet another Christian about the issue of moral relativism I was apprehensive. I have personally reached yawn status with this theme because much Christian writing and sermonizing is beginning to sound like a stuck record and most of the old standard arguments are simply being repackaged and rehashed in new but safe formats (probably more for the benefit of Christian publishers than for the average Christian in the pew.) I approached this book with a “Here we go again!” mind set. I am glad to be proved wrong.

Guinness does indeed make many of the arguments on which writers such as Chuck Colson and the late Francis Schaeffer have spoken eloquently (yet repetitively). The notion of objective truth has been rejected by the culture at large. The arrogance of Postmodernism now reigns supreme. Yet man cannot live consistently within his own parameters, so he must live in hypocrisy. Guinness then goes on to exhort those who hold to the Biblical world view (a word he perhaps mercifully avoids) to defend an objective view of truth, founded upon a recognition of God’s presence.

What makes this book a departure from the standard conservative line, however, is Guinness’s powerful narrative examples of modern man’s despair and inconsistencies, and his challenge to Christians to get the whole argument out of its rut and to re-articulate our case with a new vigor and force.

Most striking, Guinness warns those holding to the idea of the objectivity of truth against merely repeating the old arguments against relativism. For instance, the argument that moral relativism cannot stand up to its own criteria is not sufficient in and of itself to make the case for objective truth. “Relativizing the relativizers” is only one argument and (as Guinness rightly points out) it is a necessarily negative argument.

We most go beyond this to stress the positive argument against “radical relativism.” Namely, we must argue against relativism by “pointing out the signals of transcendence.” (p.101) He explains: “Whereas ‘relativizing the relativizers’ is negative because it highlights the negative consequences of false assumption, ‘pointing out the signals of transcendence’ is positive because it point toward the positive conclusions of true aspirations, unnoticed before.” (p.101)

This is a much-needed admonition. Moral relativism, when closely examined, does reveal many such “signals of transcendence.” Time and again, the relativist must be shown that his very arguments have within them evidence of that which is outside our perceived reality. If this can be realized and utilized, the Christian hoping to communicate truth to those who doubt its existence will go much further than merely calling the relativist inconsistent.

Christianity and the Arts with Dr. Calvin Miller

I conducted the following interview with Dr. Miller in May of 2000. 

Christianity and the Arts
An Interview With Dr. Calvin Miller

Conducted by Wyman Richardson and Tyler Jones / May 4, 2000
Beeson Divinity School of Samford University / Birmingham, Alabama


Christians are often criticized for being seriously behind in the arts. Do you agree with this criticism?

I agree that they are behind in the sense that being “behind” means they haven’t caught up with where the world is in terms of art appreciation or even art definition. I think Christians just generally – especially if they are very active Christians – tend to indulge in a worship style and a life and world view that doesn’t really touch the arts. They’d be far less likely to pick up a book, a serious novel, a Pulitzer Prize winner, in the church than they would to pick up, say, something like Left Behind. I think that would be a lot more likely. So I think they are behind.

Also, I think that because evangelical Christians often get very busy within a congregation, they kind of shallow out. Os Guinness says the chances of meeting an educated person are 68% better on the sidewalks of the city than inside the evangelical churches of the city. This means that evangelical Christians are dumbing down faster than the culture is dumbing down as a whole, and that’s a kind of sad thing.

I think you can see practical evidence of this when you walk into a Christian bookstore. Oftentimes, way back behind where the Christian T-shirts are and the new popular recordings and that sort of thing, you do maybe come to a bookshelf. But it will often have very few really great titles, titles that show evidence of scholarship and/or the arts.

Is it possible that Christians are actually producing more quality work than they are given credit for, but that the culture is not willing to concede this fact?

I do think that is very, very true. I think secular culture and religious culture pass like ships in the night. I’m always aware that the people who are heroes to us in the evangelical community are generally unknown in the world at large. When Jesus is on the cover of Newsweek, as He was recently, people at Newsweek or Time will always go first to the famous divinity schools, Harvard or Yale, or they will go to old-line denominational churches which look like cathedrals and traditional churches. These are the people who usually get picked up for interviews. I think rarely ever do they go to Dallas Seminary or to a Southern Baptist seminary, though the bulk, and certainly the most vital part, of American Christianity is evangelical. I just think the secular media does not pick up and keep in touch with that fact.

I became aware of this, to some degree, when Ronald Reagan was President and they dedicated the new renovations to the Statue of Liberty and Sandi Patty sang “The Star Spangled Banner.” At that time she was well known by every evangelical Christian in America. But Peter Jennings on hearing her sing said, “Who is that?” And they told him and he said, “Sandi Patty? Sandi Patty? Does anybody know Sandi Patty?” Nobody in the news room knew Sandi Patty, and at that time she was very, very popular in Christian culture.

So, I would say that the secular media is way out of touch with the institutions, the schools, the heroes and the scholars, such few as we may have in evangelicalism.

What do think of the current state of much Christian writing?

Well, I’m probably a poor one to ask because I do think there is a very small number of great Christian writers, and those are the ones, I believe, who will probably be remembered historically. The Christian publishing scenario is only one-tenth the size of the secular machine, and I’m confident that, book for book, it must work the same way in the secular media, for the 350 million books of Danielle Steele, there’d be a few Toni Morrison books or a few John Updike books on the other end, the Pulitzer Prize end, of the secular scale.

I think the same thing’s true in Christian writing. I believe that there are probably ten or fifteen outstanding Christian writers only. The other thousands and thousands are writing stuff that is not informed. They are writing out of shallow experience and very little scholarship and very little reading and study experience. They are producing their own books and contributing to a mass pool of ignorance. I think we’re out of touch here.

So, I have no idea how to clear that up. I don’t know if there is a way to do it. But I do not think that much Christian writing today is very worthy. I think every writer picks an audience. I think there are very few intelligent readers in the Christian scene. So, it doesn’t require a very large staff of intelligent writers to feed their minds, unfortunately.

Who do you like?

The top Christian writers, in my judgment, would be members of the Chrysostom Society, which is an attempt that Richard Foster and I started some years ago to include, as far as we could, the best Christian writers. A few of them did not join the group that we considered great writers. One that did not join was Frederick Buechner. I’m sure we asked Henri Nouwen at that time and he did not. But, Madeline L’Engle did, Richard Foster, Eugene Peterson, Philip Yancey, Walt Wangerin, Luci Shaw, Greg Wolfe, myself. That’s about it I think. There’s more, but those are the ones whose product is pretty continually in the marketplace to some degree.

C.S. Lewis once said that we do not need more Christian authors, but we do need more authors who are Christian. What do you think of this distinction that Lewis makes?

I think that he’s right about that. Flannery O’Connor, a Catholic Christian writer, said it this way: “Great writers write about the whole world at once.” I think that’s what Lewis is saying. He’s saying that the use of the word “Christian writer” implies that there are some people who live within the subculture and write about the subculture. There are few Christian writers, like himself, I think, who live within secular culture and hold to a Christian world view. And those kind of people wrote about the whole world at once but always saw it through the filter of their own faith. I think that’s what he’s saying.

I think most Christian writers, I have no idea if it’s 90 or 95% of them that I read, are writing within the context of a very narrow system, usually a local church or a denomination or some para-church organization, and their values are shaped by that organization before they ever pick up their pen or their pencil or sit down at the computer keyboard to write. So, they’ve already precluded a vast amount of possible learning. There’s not much chance that Christian writers who write within a denomination, live within it, serve within it and don’t read much outside of it are ever going to integrate the great values of art and literature that occur on a wider basis outside the Christian market.

Do you think it’s safe for them to try if they are within the confines of, let’s say, a church setting?

No, I don’t think it’s very safe. I think that’s why some of them don’t do it more. I think that, most of the time, if they tried to integrate at all they’d be branded as “liberal” or they would lose this radical constituency that buys their books. That’s why, in some sense, people like Madeline L’Engle or Richard Foster probably sell better in Barnes and Noble stores than they do in Christian bookstores. Because I think that essentially that’s the best hope of finding people who have integrated both worlds and still maintain a Christian world view.

Along those same lines, there are guys like Walker Percy and John Updike, who are Christian writers, who will often use profanity and sexuality in their works. Do you think that Christian authors need to make these concessions to become popular?

I don’t think they have to make that concession to be popular though I cannot really prove that. I can only say that popular writers like John Grisham, who is not in the same camp as John Updike, writes fairly cleanly. There’s not near the amount of sex and profanity in a Grisham novel that you would find in some of the more popular works.

I think the classic example of this would be Ernest Hemingway, who was a contemporary of Fitzgerald and people like that who continually used profanity and sex. D.H. Lawrence was doing this as well. On the other hand, here is the highly moral fiction of Ernest Hemingway who is probably the best loved author of the twentieth century. So, I don’t think you have to do it. I think people just buy into it, and they do it often to reflect a kind of realism about the culture or the character who dominate their novels.

I would say this. When a person gets too squeamish about it, they’re probably more squeamish about it than God is. As much as I don’t like to hear profanity, particularly God’s name taken in vain, for instance, I have a feeling that not everybody who does that is necessarily a non-contributor or should be cast aside. I don’t think that’s true. Flannery O’Connor said that the key – and she used some profanity when it fit the character – the key is to make sure that the author, the writer doesn’t glorify it in some way out of proportion to its importance in the description of a particular character. I think she’s right about that. I think the key to writing good fiction is to write it realistically. Once in a while, I suppose it would include that.

One of the things that I have found a little safe in the minimal fiction I have done is to do period pieces, a period when profanity was not very popular. My novel that I recently wrote occurred 70 years ago when profanity, at least among church people, and, indeed, throughout the culture, would not have been nearly so frequent.

I can remember when Clark Gable first used the word “damn” or when President Truman used the world “hell” in a speech, how odd that seemed to the American public and how far we’ve gone in this more Bruce Willis age of ours.

Are there steps that can be taken to promote a more healthy and substantial movement of Christians in the arts?

This is a question that some of us never cease asking. I think that probably the missing integer here is for Christians to realize that the arts in their purest or impurest form and the Bible are trying to do the same thing. They are both trying to arrive at a picture of reality and God’s impact on reality. I think it is truer in the Old Testament than in the New Testament. Phil Yancey says in his book on the Bible that he prefers reading the Old Testament because the Old Testament will often give you the moral and immoral sides of the same character and leave you to draw the conclusions. It’s a highly inductive book in some ways. We get David’s affair. We get his repentance. We get his beautiful psalms and hymns and poetry, and we have to make the decision. There is no de facto decision made about David of Jezebel or Moses, the bigamist Moses, or the polygamist Solomon. Often those facts come at us and we do the interpreting.

I think that, in the arts, there is the cry to try to understand who we are. Artists try to paint it. In one particular age, let’s talk about High Renaissance, they painted it in terms of the idealism of a lost Greek culture. In our day and age, it becomes a lot more abstract. Artists argue with color, with form or without form. The art form in the chapel here at Beeson is kind of post-Renaissance, but, in a way, probably not like painters paint today. It’s been an interesting thing to see this chapel and ask, “Why does this building look so much like Michelangelo could have done it? Is it really the way an artist would paint today? What if Andrew Wyeth – he didn’t do murals or walls necessarily – but, if he had been asked to paint that, or if Muro had been asked to, or even Dali a few years ago, how would they have done that differently? And I think I’m always kind of looking for that in art now. I love Renaissance art, but I wouldn’t plaster it against the best art, at least the representational art of our own time and say that it was necessarily better. It was different.

So, I think it’s that part where the church doesn’t quite dig and it doesn’t quite understand. It likes representation. The Sunday School Jesus does better on the walls of the evangelical church than someone who has a new representation of Christ somehow.

There again, just as we were talking about earlier with authors, is it safer for Christian artists, painters, to not branch out and try new representations of Christian themes?

I think they’d find more acceptance than they think they would. Take this picture. It’s a watercolor. It’s highly surreal. I think a lot more could be done like that. We just haven’t tried. I’ve never had anybody come in and say, “Well, that turns me off.”

Well, if we try not to do things similar to “the secular realm,” why is that for every secular band you have a Christian counterpart and why wouldn’t it be equated then with the art scene, with visual arts?

Well, that’s a great question. For one thing, Evangelicals are particularly devoted to music as a form of worship. I don’t think they have that same devotion to art. There was a time in church history when architecture played a bigger part in how people felt about God – architecture, glasswork, sculpture and painting. I don’t think that’s true anymore. The average auditorium I go to, the Bill Hybel’s kind of auditorium, is carpet and chairs and almost devoid of symbols. He doesn’t even have a cross, and when questioned by Peter Jennings about why he didn’t have a cross he said that it turned people off, just a simple cross. So, I have a feeling that that’s part of it. If you don’t put up a symbol you don’t ever have to fight about it and you can remain more loosely interpretive than if you do. But, I think the real weakness of evangelicalism is that there are no symbols. And there is nothing, except the cross, that we could all agree on.

I think that in this book (Into the Depths of God), like my other books on the inward life, I have a lot of statements by devotional mystics throughout the ages, none of which are Baptist, ever. These were people who went beyond the symbols into their walk with God, but who at least started there. I think Evangelicals just don’t have that going.

Do you think that the widespread popularity of books like prophecy novels is overall helpful or harmful to the goal of having Christian literature become more influential in the wider culture?

I think that the worst thing that happens with widespread, popular Christianity is that the naiveté is assessed by thinkers, by secular thinkers, and simply just rejected. I think that, after a while, they don’t see it anymore, and, of course, I think that hurts us in a secular culture. Now, that isn’t necessarily an anathema. The fact is that anybody who believes in Jesus would not find Peter Jennings a good bridge partner. I just don’t think it would happen. But I do think that things like prophecy novels, if they appear naive to other Christians, would probably appear so to humanists at Harvard or Yale.

And I wouldn’t mind, if those books really had about them a heavy ball of scholarship, if these people got together and said, “Let us study. Let us have a conclave of the best minds who have read the great books, who are Greek or Hebrew lexicographers, who understand, great scholars, and let us talk about these things and then we’ll write novels about them.” But I don’t feel that. I feel as if I’m being met by the shibboleths of popular theology. “Jesus is coming again. The church is going to be raptured. There’s 3.5 years of good tribulation and 3.5 years of bad tribulation.” We all know the schemes. The dispensations of time – we all know all those things. They’ve gone on and on and on. They never were right. At least it seems to me they never were right. When the Millerites went up on the mountain to wait or the Fifth Monarchists in England went up in 1656 to wait for Jesus to return when Charles II took the throne of England or whatever it is. They were always wrong, wrong, wrong. So, when they said to me last October, “Fill your bathtubs up, it’s Y2K time,” I’m just not interested. I didn’t even fill my car up with gas the night before

Do you think there’s almost something pornographic in throwing out popular theology that’s not thought out for the titillation of the masses? Do you agree with that?

That’s a great description of it. I’m sure some of the authors wouldn’t agree! But, I do kind of think that. I used the same kind of thinking when I first reacted to “Jesus Christ Superstar.” And I sometimes have the same kind of reaction when I get Jesus from the secular end and He doesn’t look like the Jesus from the Bible end. Which Jesus do I take then? But, I talked about what I call “theological obscenity.” There’s a kind of thing you do that takes the clothes off God. It makes God appear ugly or naked and shameful. I think I experienced that in “Jesus Christ Superstar” to some degree, especially in the movie when Judas rises from the dead and Jesus doesn’t, for instance. That is theological obscenity, as far as I’m concerned.

You know what’s the worst part about books like that? They give people a little God and cement Him in so that they never go looking for the one that really exists. I think that’s one of the bad things about popular theology. We give people the little God.

I think that’s one of the bad things about Experiencing God. I think it’s a great beginning point, but for most people in the church it’s the final point. There’s no other step. So we give people this little book, they take the course, the experience God and it’s over. They can go back and play softball for the church or whatever they do. And I think that’s one of the real bad parts.

H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture

Christ and Culture represents a cogent and systematic approach towards the categorization and evaluation of the Church’s interplay with culture throughout space and time.  It is a seminal articulation, as evidenced by the strong feelings that it elicits from modern authors writing in the same field today, fifty-two years after its initial appearance.  One begins to sense, when surveying a merely random sampling of modern works on the subject, that there is something of a Niebuhrian specter over the entire field which one may resist, acquiesce to, or curse, but never ignore or deny.

Niebuhr’s foundational contention is bold and provocative in its Christological assertions.  He quotes approvingly Rabbi Klausner’s contention that Jesus threatened culture “by abstracting religion and ethics from the rest of social life” and postulating a concept of an otherworldly, a-cultural kingdom.1  Niebuhr speaks of Christ and culture as “two complex realities” and argues that “Christ leads men away from the temporality and pluralism of culture” and towards a radical devotion to God.2  To prove this contention, he points to the claims of the early antagonists to Christianity and their perception that Christ presented a threat to their culture.

It must frankly be asked whether or not this picture of Christ is true.  Did Jesus teach a radical devotion to the God outside of culture and in so doing not only not concern Himself with the advancement of culture but frankly disregard it as well?  This assertion would appear to be a gross oversimplification, and we may defend this by a number of means.

To begin with, there is no explicit evidence in the instructions of Jesus that this was His intention.  Such a bold claim should ideally be able to point to some extant biblical claims to this effect.  In truth, given the radical nature of Klausner and Niebuhr’s claim and given the far-reaching implications of such a claim, one would hope to see an abundance of such evidence.

Instead, what the Gospels offer us are claims that are either enigmatic or seemingly contradictory to Niebuhr’s Christology.  Mark 12:17 (“Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”) may be seen as postulating a radical dichotomy between the Way and the culture, but it could also be read as a theological statement about the supremacy of God, the recognition of which might, in actuality, cause His followers to enrich and guide culture.   Furthermore, John 17:11,15-16 (“I do not ask that You take them out of the world…They are not of the world.”) could be read as an expression of Jesus’ desire that His people live with no regard to the culture, but it is perhaps better to see it as an appeal to the Father on behalf of His followers who will be exhibiting other-cultural values (yet not necessarily a-cultural values) in the dominant world system.  Furthermore, the salt and light word-picture given by Jesus in Matthew 5:13-16 would appear to flatly contradict Niebuhr’s picture of Jesus through its emphasis on such restorative, preservative, and life-sustaining mediums.

Niebuhr’s Christology has also been poignantly critiqued in the work of John Howard Yoder.  In The Politics of Jesus, Yoder takes great pains to show that, far from ignoring culture or abolishing it, Jesus’ teachings offered a revolutionary political ethic that was a far cry from the simply sectarian privatized spirituality to which Niebuhr appears to limit His focus.  Yoder argues that the cross was “a political alternative to both insurrection and quietism,” that Jesus was killed for sedition, not heresy, that the very forming of the disciples had “political import,” and that Jesus ushered in a quite this-worldly jubilee.  Furthermore, Yoder contends that Christ represented and taught a new kingdom on earth then (as opposed to a merely future kingdom), that Jesus rejected precisely that separatistic a-cultural spiritualism which Neibuhr claims He adhered to, and that He sought to create “an alternative social group” and not simply an anti-social group.3  Through many other examples, Yoder demonstrates that Christ not only did have great concern for culture, but that the redemption of man in his entirety was the crux of His coming.

Yoder’s critique, which, while it may be forced and overstated at times, is quite solid in its central assertions, also calls into question Niebuhr’s understanding of the reasons why Christ and the Church were resented and resisted by the culture.  Niebuhr argues that early Christianity was resisted because they threatened culture through disinterest in it and through directing “their hopes towards another world.”4  Niebuhr contends also that Christ was understood to have failed to motivate His followers to “human achievement” and that He fostered “intolerance” in His followers.5  However, it would seem that the opposite was the case.

Christ was resisted not because He bred indifference to the culture in His disciples thereby rendering them effectually useless in the construction of a better social order, but rather because He introduced a culture that stood in such radical contradistinction to the prevailing culture that it was seen as a threat to the power structures of the day.  It was not, then, that Jesus and His followers were so intolerant that it engendered ire in those outside of the community of faith.  Rather, they were so tolerant that their counter-cultural alternative threatened the very survival of the world’s norms.  Thus, Christ may be accused of threatening culture, but for very different reasons than Niebuhr suggests.  Most importantly, his understanding of the cultural and socio-political import and, indeed, thrust of Christ’s teachings is misguided.

Flawed though his Christology is, however, Niebuhr’s typology of Christ and culture may still be evaluated.  This is because of the fact that his typology more readily reflects the Church and culture.  The body of Christ and Culture is ecclesial more than Christological.  Niebuhr expressed five types of approaches the Church has taken towards culture:  “Christ Against Culture,” “The Christ of Culture,” “Christ Above Culture,” “Christ and Culture in Paradox,” “Christ the Transformer of Culture.”  Before interacting with the individual types, we must deal with the overall typological structure itself.

Fairly serious charges have been leveled against Niebuhr’s framing of the problem by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon (who have rather famously claimed that “few books have been a greater hindrance to an accurate assessment of our situation than Christ and Culture.”).6 Hauerwas and Willimon argue that Niebuhr affirmed “Constantinian” social strategies and that he dismissed those outside of his own liberal tradition as being narrowly sectarian. They also argue that Niebuhr sacrificed the radical nature of the Christian community in his call to responsible participation in the power structures of the culture, and that, in his typology, he “failed to describe the various historical or contemporary options for the church” and  “simply justified what was already there.”7  This last charge is a direct criticism of the typology itself.

Hauerwas and Willimon are, overall, quite persuasive in their critique of Niebuhr, but one suspects that they protest too much and have not adequately considered the qualifications which Niebuhr himself put on the types.  In truth, Niebuhr recognized a “multiplicity” of approaches that churches and individual believers have taken towards culture.  Furthermore, the categories are merely “typical partial answers” that have been recurrent throughout history.8  He saw the entire discussion as dynamic and ongoing.  The types do seem insufficient with the benefit of fifty years of hindsight, but Hauerwas and Willimon go too far in their implication that Niebuhr was being underhanded by framing “the argument in such a way as to ensure that the transformist approach would be viewed as the most worthy” and by employing “subtle repressiveness” in his construction of the types.9

It must also be stated that Niebuhr’s methodology is commendable.  In presenting each type, he offers an in-depth expression of its thesis, points to representative examples of the type, and then offers the positives and negatives of the position.  Hauerwas and Willimon go so far as to be suspect of his affirmation of the positive aspects of each type, seeing in these affirmations a strategic ploy which subtly promoted pluralism as a virtue thereby preparing the reader to see Niebuhr’s own pluralistic position as the most admirable.10  It is difficult not to feel that Hauerwas and Willimon, for all of the brilliance of their own proposals concerning the problem of Christ and culture, occasionally lose themselves in the moment.  There is no reason to suspect that Niebuhr was being anything other than objective and fair with the types, even if, as seems clear, he preferred one over the others.

Niebuhr depicts his first type, “Christ against culture,” as that approach which rejects culture, sees it as fundamentally evil, and turns from culture’s political and societal expressions in an attempt to find protection and avoid spiritual contamination.  Those who use this approach view the Church as “a third race” which stands apart from the fallen culture.11 Representative of this type were Tertullian and Leo Tolstoy.

Niebuhr’s handling of 1 John under this type illustrates one of the deficiencies of his approach:  the tendency and temptation to force the scriptures into these categories.  Admittedly, he does qualify that no book of the Bible fits neatly into any of these categories, and that 1 John simply “contains the least ambiguous presentation of this point of view.”12  However, Niebuhr’s rather conjectural assertion that the author of 1 John was so sure of the imminence of Christ’s return that he gave little thought towards creating a cultural ethic or set of instructions in this area reveals a certain tendency towards eisegesis in his handling of the text.

Even so, Niebuhr’s critique of this position is quite thorough and balanced.  He correctly notes that those who have adopted this approach often end up influencing and advancing the culture as well as drawing from the culture at the same time.  In short, the great Achilles’ heel of this type is its assumption than one can truly detach oneself from the culture.  It is, in actuality, impossible, and even those that have adopted this approach end up trafficking in cultural forms of thought, speech, and interaction.13  This approach appears to be naïve of the cultures’ role in forming who we are.

As balanced as Niebuhr’s handling of the “Christ Against Culture” type is, it must be noted that there are subtle but serious problems that arise here as well.  By lumping “Protestant sectarianism” in with the ascetic and nearly monastic Tolstoy and the legalist Tertullian, Niebuhr appears to imply that viewing the Church as a separate culture (i.e., “sect”) means abandoning it to irrelevance.  Yet, there is a powerful school of thought, of which Hauerwas, Willimon, Yoder, Clapp, and many others are a part, which have convincingly shown that the Church as a separate people among the people not only has the potential to redeem the culture but is, in fact, the model which Christ himself taught.  That is, there is a form of sectarian engagement which the Niebuhrian categories cannot allow.

For instance, Christian political thinkers Timothy Sherratt and Ronald Mahurin would almost certainly be considered by Niebuhr to be in the “Christ Against Culture” category.  They see Christians as inhabiting a unique culture, a Kingdom within the culture, so to speak.  However, they argue that the ethics of the Kingdom will enrich the culture even though they will do so through the use of non-cultural tools (i.e., the infusion of love instead of power into the political process).14  Furthermore, Lawrence E. Adams has demonstrated that, given the inner turmoil and self-contradictions of American public opinions, and given the willingness of the American culture to follow leadership which is clear and engaging, “the acting out” of kingdom principles within the community of faith, regardless of any use of or involvement in the normative cultural power structures, will likely prove to be its most effective tool in reaching the culture.15  Thus, the suggestion that all sectarianism is a form of negation and isolation proves to be too simplistic.  In truth, a sectarianism that would offer the wider culture a powerful display of countercultural ethics, political, economic, and otherwise, might possibly be the best way of engaging the culture.

Niebuhr’s handling of “Christ in Culture” is quite admirable and balanced.  Those in this camp are theological liberals, those who seek to wed what is best in Christianity with what is best in culture.  They are “this worldly” and are concerned less with the purported miracles of Scripture than with human achievement and attainment.  The Gospel is posited in cultural terms, and Jesus is seen as the apex of civilization.  These are the enlightened ones, rationalists whose Christianity ultimately ends up being a vague form of Gnosticism wearing a Christian jacket.16

While pointing out that Fundamentalist critics of cultural-Protestantism are often guilty of the same cultural loyalties and societal causes (albeit, of a different stripe) as those they criticize, Niebuhr actually repeats many Fundamentalist objections to this position.  He points out, for instance, that those who have adopted this approach do not seem to draw others to Christ, that they must, of necessity, compromise on the scandal of Christ in order to accommodate to culture, and that they seem to open the door for mere humanism.17  Consequently, his overall tone of this position is one of rejection.

Niebuhr classes his final three types under the umbrella term “the church of the center” and argues that these churches represent “the great majority movement in Christianity.”18  The “church of the center” expresses itself, according to Niebuhr, in three ways:  through the synthesis of Christ and culture (“Christ Above Culture”), dualistically (“Christ and Culture in Paradox”), and with a conversionist emphasis (“Christ the Transformer of Culture”).  This grouping together is important insofar as it implicitly relegates separatistic strains to the realm of the tangential.  At this point, Haurwas, Willimon, and others who are arguing for the creation of a radical culture within the culture seem justified in their frustration with Niebuhr.  Again, separatism and sectarianism are too easily dismissed by Niebuhr’s types as being those approaches which impact culture only incidentally.  Clapp, Yoder, Hauerwas and others have very convincingly shown that this is simply faulty.

The synthesist is the believer who understands the distinction between the Lordship of Christ and the temporality of culture, but who nonetheless seeks to bring Christian verities to bear on his immediate culture.  He seeks a unified system, though not, like the “Christ of Culture” believer, to the point of sacrificing the supremacy of Christ.  There is no confusion in his mind about his priorities.  Christ is preeminent.  However, he wants to see the Kingdom lived in the culture now.

In many ways, Francis Schaeffer is the champion of this approach.  Through his use of culture in apologetics and his call for a return to a Christian America, Schaeffer, who clearly reflects elements of “Christ the Transformer of Culture” as well, represents a modern attempt at the synthesis of Christ and culture.  Yet, Schaeffer offered tragic but clear affirmation of Niebuhr’s criticism that synthesists “tend, perhaps inevitably, to the absolutizing of what is relative, the reduction of the infinite to a finite form, and the materialization of the dynamic.”19

This is seen nowhere more clearly than in Schaeffer’s most blatant call for Christian engagement with the culture, A Christian Manifesto, a book which was instrumental in the solidifying of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority in the 1980’s.  Here, Schaeffer bizarrely attacks Christian lawyers and intellectuals for the “loss” of the culture to the humanist worldview and rather shrilly calls for Christians to see the “conservative swing in the United States,” as evidenced by the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, as a temporarily opened window which offers Christians the greatest opportunity to impact the culture.20  In so doing, Schaeffer “absolutized the relative” (i.e., a political opportunity in a particular election) and reduced the “infinite to a finite form” (i.e., the Church within the structures of the state).  In this, Niebuhr’s evaluation of the synthesists proves not only amazingly accurate, but prophetic as well.

Ultimately, Niebuhr appears to favor “Christ the Transformer of Culture.”  He refers to the adherents of this position as belonging to “the great central tradition of Christianity” and seeks to show how this position avoids the extremities of the others.  Once again, those who see Christ as being “against culture” are relegated to the category of largely irrelevant and reactionary separatists.  True engagement, according to Niebuhr, comes in operating within the structures of the culture.  His appeal to this position as being not merely a position, but a “motif” which runs through “the Gospel of Matthew and the Letter of James through Paul’s epistles to the Fourth Gospel, or proceeds from Tertullian, the Gnostics, and Clement to Augustine, or from Tolstoy, Ritschl, and Kierkegaard to F.D. Maurice” further reflects his admiration of it.21  Clearly, then, Niebuhr sees this type as that which not only has the widest biblical support but is also so pervasive that those of other types inevitably return and partake of it.  Indeed, for Niebuhr, this type strikes something of a via media between “the anti-culturalism of exclusive Christianity, and against the accommodationism of culture-Christians.”22

Yet Niebuhr’s optimism for this position has proven to be naïve.  One must question whether or not such an optimistic understanding and approach to the Church’s interaction within culture is truly able to impact culture and, perhaps more critical to the question at hand, to avoid cultural accommodation.  The charge that such an approach merely reinforces a “Constantinian” approach to culture, downplays the restorative and reforming power of a community exhibiting other-cultural values in the midst of the dominant cultural system to change that system, and binds the church to necessarily ineffectual means is frankly difficult to contest.  Furthermore, it has perhaps been demonstrated in the fifty years which have elapsed since the initial publication of Niebuhr’s work, that the optimistic liberalism of his approach has simply not achieved the type of results that adherents to this position might desire.

Ultimately, the dismissal of “sectarianism” as irrelevant and reactionary is too simplistic.  It inappropriately neglects the great potential for cultural transformation through the establishment of a community of believers who see themselves not merely as consumers and manipulators of existing cultural models but rather as harbingers of a radical new Kingdom ethic which might be exhibited among the larger culture, thereby creating a distinct new alternative to decaying cultural norms.

1 H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture (San Francisco:  Harper & Row, 2001), 3.
2 Ibid., 39.
3 John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), 36-39,62,96,106.
4 Niebuhr, 6.
5 Niebuhr, 6-7.
6 Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon, Resident Aliens (Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 1989), 40.
7 Ibid., 40-41.
8 Niebuhr, 40.
9 Hauerwas and Willimon, 40-41.
10 Hauerwas and Willimon, 41.
11 Niebuhr, 49.
12 Ibid., 46.
13 Niebuhr, 66-69,72.
14 Timothy R. Sherratt and Ronald P. Mahurn, Saints as Citizens (Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Books, 1995), 38.
15 Lawrence E. Adams, Going Public (Grand Rapids, MI:  Brazos Press, 2002), 131,133,152,154.
16 Niebuhr, 85-90.
17 Niebuhr, 108,113.
18 Ibid., 117.
19 Niebuhr, 145.
20 Francis Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto (Wheaton, IL:  Crossway Books, 1982), 47,50-51,73-74.
21 Niebuhr, 190-191.
22 Ibid., 206.

Francis Schaeffer’s How Should We Then Live?, Whatever Happened to the Human Race?, A Christian Manifesto

[The following essay explores the role that Francis Schaeffer played in the rise of the pro-life movement.  It examines the place of How Should We Then Live?Whatever Happened to the Human Race?, and A Christian Manifesto in that process.]

One of the most enigmatic, controversial, and influential figures in the growth of the “pro-life” movement was Francis August Schaeffer.  It was the issue of abortion in particular that drove Schaeffer to shift his later work in the direction of political involvement and mobilization.(1)  Yet, despite the enormous impact of his books and films on the public, it was in his influencing of key individuals that Schaeffer made his greatest contribution.
The most effective way to understand Schaeffer’s impact on the Pro-Life movement is to consider the appearance and influence of his 1976 book and film How Should We Then Live?, his 1979 book and filmWhatever Happened to the Human Race?, and his 1981 book A Christian Manifesto.  These three works represent an important evolution in both Schaeffer’s and a large part of American Evangelicalism’s understanding of and willingness to participate in the abortion debate.

Schaeffer’s Shift to Political Activism

In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, it was becoming apparent to many of Francis Schaeffer’s followers that he had made a rather substantial shift in his work.  Whereas he had previously focused on merely critiquing and explaining philosophy, culture, and the church, he was now seen to be flirting too much with political activism.  Ronald Wells bemoaned in 1983 that Schaeffer’s “present fixation is with political action and social protest” and that what was damaging to Schaeffer and his followers was for them to “embrace and baptize the Christian Right.”(2)  Regardless of Schaeffer’s efforts to downplay any idea of his having abandoned his earlier focus, it was apparent to all that a shift had indeed taken place.(3)

Yet the presence of Schaeffer’s voice in the growing political activity of fundamentalist Christians, and particularly in the fight against abortion, was seen as a truly powerful catalyst for and in the growth of the movement.  So great was Schaeffer’s influence and so early was it recognized that Newsweekmagazine wrote a full page article on him in 1982 and declared him “the newest celebrity in the fundamentalist firmament.”(4)  Richard Pierard would later declare that the “coopting” of Schaeffer’s voice with the growing movement of political activism among fundamentalists was “the Right’s biggest coup by far.”(5)

While the recognition of Schaeffer’s influence among certain circles of Christians was correct and justifiable, the failure of the above-mentioned sources to understand Schaeffer as a cause of the rise of the Christian Right is mistaken.  He was not merely “coopted” into the movement, he was a major cause of it.  The beginning of his influence in the rising political activism of fundamentalists, and in particular in their efforts against abortion, is found in 1976 and the introduction of the film and bookHow Should We Then Live? to the public.

How Should We Then Live?

It is difficult to imagine How Should We Then Live? as a book which took a prominent place in the growth of a “grass-roots” movement such as fundamentalist political activism.  The book seeks to trace the historical, philosophical, and cultural events in which an “existential methodology” entered into society and into the hearts of modern men and women, detached the culture from its previous anchoring in an objective source of truth (the Bible), allowed for the growth of humanism, and susequently allowed morality and ethics to be defined in a purely arbitrary and relative way.(6)  While the book does not really differ from his earlier work in regards to its discussion of humanism and its effects, it did vary greatly in its discussion of the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision concerning abortion as a product of humanistic ideology.(7)  Even more substantial is the fact that Schaeffer’s first plea for Christian activism against abortion is found in this book.(8)

While the discussion on abortion does not take up a major part of the book, How Should We Then Live?must be seen as the work in which the public was first introduced to Schaeffer’s view on the subject.  Had the book received little attention, then it would have to be considered largely irrelevent in the formation of the Pro-Live movement.  Yet the presence of an accompanying film and lecture tour, however, helped to make it a major factor indeed.

In 1976, the year of the book’s release, Schaeffer went on an eighteen city tour in which he showed the ten-part film version of the book.(9)  The response was overwhelming.  Forty-five hundred people viewed the film in Oakland, thirty-one hundred in Chicago, sixty-six hundred in Los Angeles, and forty-four hundred in Toronto.(10)  It was also shown in England and much of Europe.(11)  The film broke the all-time “booking” record for Gospel Films.(12)

The book, undoubtedly helped by the film, sold forty thousand copies in its first three months.(13)  Three years later, in 1979, it was still selling fifteen-hundred copies a month.(14)  These numbers alone seem to lend credence to L.G. Parkhurst’s suggestion that the book and film “had a remarkable effect upon Western culture and Christian leaders in various governments around the world.”(15)

Through this medium, then, Schaeffer’s assessment of abortion and the need for Christian opposition gained a wide audience.  One important figure in this audience was John W. Whithead, the founder and president of The Rutherford Institute.  The Rutherford Institute has become a major vehicle of Christian political activism as well as a strong voice against the practice of abortion.  It seeks to battle in the courts over free speech and religious issues.(16)

Whitehead notes that How Should We Then Live? was “an important catalyst for me and other Christian lawyers interested in seeing society positively influenced by Christianity.”(17)  He was similiarly moved by the book’s claim that abortion was a violation of the sanctity of life.  After making the important point that Schaeffer was the first main Protestant leader to launch a strong attack against abortion, he notes that “Schaeffer’s critique of the abortion issue was the initial impetus for my own defense of the sanctity of human life.”(18)

How Should We Then Live? takes its place as the starting point of Schaeffer’s impact on the Pro-Life Movement.  First, it introduced a unique critique of abortion as well as the suggestion that the church should raise its voice against the practice.  Second, by the use of film, Schaeffer reached an extremely large audience, widened his influence, and drew national attention to the issues he raised.  And lastly, the book and film inspired John Whitehead to steer The Rutherford Institute  (an institution which is still very important to many in the Christian Right and Pro-Life movement) in the direction of free speech issues, religious issues, political activism and opposition to abortion.

Whatever Happened to the Human Race?

While How Should We Then Live? introduced Schaeffer’s views on abortion and Christian activism, his 1979 book and film series entitled Whatever Happened to the Human Race?, co-authored with soon-to-be Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, catapulted the subject of abortion as an evil to be opposed into the middle of the evangelical mind set.  The book suggests that abortion has become possible because America has released itself from its “Judeo-Christian moorings.”(19)  It then suggests that abortion naturally leads to infanticide and euthanasia.(20)  Lastly, Schaeffer appeals for Christian involvement in the fight against abortion.(21)

The film version of the book would prove to have a tremendous impact on the Pro-Life movement.  In September, 1979, Schaeffer and Koop began a film/lecture tour in Philadelphia and travelled west showing it in other major cities of the country.(22)  In February, 1980, Schaeffer showed the film to a group of Congressmen in Washington, D.C.(23)  Schaeffer, Dr. Koop, and an English doctor then sparked a great deal of attention as they showed the film throughout England.(24)  While this tour drew smaller crowds than the How Should We Then Live? tour, it is widely agreed that its impact on the Pro-Life movement was even greater than that of the first tour.(25)

The film was also shown on various television stations throughout the United States and other countries.  The Humanist magazine, in an extremely critical article, would later call Schaeffer a “prominent figure in the Pro-Life movement” and suggest that the film was “seen by millions” on television. (26)

It also gained national attention, as well as criticism from Planned Parenthood, the National Organization of Women, and the National Abortion Rights Action League, when a group of Pentecostal Christians bought air time at a Washington, D.C., television station and showed Whatever Happened to the Human Race? during the confirmation process of C. Everett Koop as the Reagan Surgeon General.(27)

The impact of Whatever Happened to the Human Race? on the Pro-Life movement was enormous.  Harold O.J. Brown suggests that “nothing has had an impact across the board that compares to the Schaeffer-Koop series.”(28)  Historian William Martin notes that the book, film, and tour are “often credited with having been the single most important factor in bringing evangelicals into the fight against abortion.”(29)  Denis Haack suggests that, while Schaeffer and Koop were not the first evangelicals to attack the issue, the book and film were instrumental in bringing more evangelicals into the fight against abortion.(30)  Feminist author Rosaling Petchesky also revealed the importance of the film when she condemned it as “a major ‘right-to-life’ propaganda piece.”(31)

The most important contribution that the book and film made to the Pro-Life movement, however, was in its influencing of a young man at Elim Bible Institute.  It was there that Randall Terry would seeWhatever Happened to the Human Race?.(32)  Terry points to his viewing of the film as the defining moment in his life and as the point of awakening in which he realized that he must do something about abortion.(33)  He would later use this conviction to found Operation Rescue, undoubtedly the most well known and controversial wing of the Pro-Life movement.(34)  In the case of Randall Terry, as in the case of John Whitehead, the assertion that Schaeffer’s greatest impact on the Pro-Life movement was in the people he influenced is proven true again.

A Christian Manifesto

How Should We Then Live? and Whatever Happened to the Human Race? were powerful in convicting the Evangelical community about the need to combat abortion.  It was in A Christian Manifesto, however, that Schaeffer gave his clearest, and most controversial, call to political activism.  Schaeffer considered A Christian Manifesto to be “the next logical step” in his call for Christian involvement against abortion.(35)

In this important book, Schaeffer begins by condemning the Evangelical church for its apathy about issues such as abortion.(36) He then makes his most blatant call for political action by showing that there is “a window of opportunity” open to the Christians in the conservative Reagan administration.(37)  He concludes with his extremely controversial suggestion that, if “the window” closes, Christians must consider civil disobedience and possibly even the use of force to oppose “authoritarianism” and the promotion of humanistic practices such as abortion.(38)

While the book proved to be extremely influential in bringing Evangelicals into the political arena, it also served to polarize Schaeffer from many in the Christian community.  Ronald Wells suggested that the book should have been entitled “A Fundamentalist Manifesto,” “because it bears all the marks of that unfortunate movement.”(39)  W. Merwin Forbes wrote of his uneasiness with it and suggested that, after having read it, he was sure that a true “Christian manifesto” had not yet been written.(40)

Regardless of these and other criticisms, the book exploded onto the scene.  It sold two hundred and ninety thousand copies in its first year.(41)  Newsweek reported that Schaeffer spoke to an audience consisting of Sen. Paul Laxalt, Rep. Jack Kemp, and various other government officials in the winter of 1981 about the book and its contents.  Conservative columnist Cal Thomas praised the book as a “a battle plan for the rest of the century” and Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ praised Schaeffer as “one of the greatest men of our times.”(42)  Pat Robertson was also greatly influenced by it.(43)  Furthermore, Randall Terry suggested that, while Whatever Happened to the Human Race? convicted him about abortion, A Christian Manifesto gave him instructions on how to act out his convictions.

The greatest impact of the book, however, was found in the figure of Jerry Falwell.  Falwell notes that he was early on convicted by the writings of Schaeffer and Dr. Jack Wilke concerning abortion.(44)  Despite being moved by their arguments, his convictions concerning Christian exclusivism left him with “terrific problem”  concerning how one could go about mobilizing a large enough group of people to make a difference.(45)  It was Schaeffer’s call for Christians to cooperate with non-Christians in social causes that gave Falwell a peace about founding such cooperative efforts as The Moral Majority.(46)

Falwell took a particular interest in A Christian Manifesto.  He purchased sixty-two thousand copies of the book and distributed it over his television show, “The Old Time Gospel Hour.”(47)  Furthermore, Falwell began following Schaeffer’s advice to him that he use “The Old Time Gospel Hour” as a political action vehicle.(48)  Through Falwell, then, Schaeffer was able to have a tremendous impact on the rise of the Pro Life movement and on Christian political action in general.

The cumulative effect of How Should We Then Live?Whatever Happened to the Human Race?, and A Christian Manifesto on the Pro-Life movement is certainly significant.  The three works constitute a progression from the initial introduction of the practice of abortion as it fits within humanistic ideology (HSWTL?), to a passionate description of the practices and results of abortion (WHTTHR?), to an appeal for Christian political involvement in the fight to stop abortion (Manifesto).  Most important of all is the fact that these three works directly influenced the growth, development, and direction of Whitehead’s Rutherford Institute, Terry’s Operation Rescue, and Falwell’s Moral Majority.

How Schaeffer is Remembered

Another way of understanding Schaeffer’s impact on the Pro-Life movement is to view how he is remembered by both his followers and his critics.  Denis Haack views Schaeffer as a “champion” of the sanctity of human life.(49)  Earl Lee, an opponent of Schaeffer, referred to him as a “prominent figure in the Pro-Life movement.”(50)  Schaeffer’s obituary in The New York Times referred him as an author and as an architect of “a much publicized crusade against abortion.”(51)  Marian Faux called Schaeffer the “philosopher-king” of Pro-Life leaders such as Randall Terry.(52)  Ronald Nash remembered Schaeffer as one who “captured the spirit of millions of evangelicals” concerning the abortion issue.(53)  Lastly, while suggesting that Schaeffer’s followers have possibly overstated his importance in other areas, Richard Neuhaus does praise him for bringing the issue of abortion into the discussions, minds, and hearts of Protestants.(54)

But Schaeffer’s influence on the Pro-Life movement must undoubtedly return to a consideration of those he influenced.  Nash rightly considers Schaeffer’s influence over others who would carry on the work as his “greatest accomplishment.”(55)  The list includes: Harold O.J. Brown, Os Guinness, Jack Kemp, C. Everett Koop, Randall Terry, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson.(56)

1. Michael S Hamilton, “The Dissatisfaction of Francis Schaeffer,” Christianity Today, 3 March 1997, 30.
2. Ronald Wells, “Whatever Happened to Francis Schaeffer?,”  The Reformed Journal 33 (May 1983): 11,13.
3. Francis Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster (Westchester: Crossway Books, 1984), 185n16.
4. Kenneth Woodward, “Guru of Fudamentalism,” Newsweek, 1 November 1982, 88.
5. Richard V. Pierard, Religion and State: Essays in Honor of Leo Pfeffer, ed. James E. Wood, Jr. (Waco: Baylor University Press, 1985), 400-401.
6. Francis Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell, Co., 1976), 255-256.
7. Hamilton, 28.
8. Schaeffer, HSWTL?, 256.
9. Hamilton, 28.
10. Stephen Board, “The Rise of Francis Schaeffer,” Eternity, June 1977, 40.
11. D. Keith Mano, review of How Should We Then Live?, by Francis Schaeffer, National Review, 18 March 1977, 345.
12. Philip Yancey, “Francis Schaeffer: A Prophet for Our Times?,” Christianity Today, 23 March 1979, 17.
13. Mano, 345.
14. Yancey, 17.
15. L.G. Parkhurst, Jr., Francis and Edith Schaeffer (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1996), 115.
16. John W. Whitehead, Francis A. Schaeffer: Portraits of the Man and His Work., ed. Lane T. Dennis (Westchester: Crossway Books, 1986), 177.
17. Ibid., 181.
18. Ibid., 182.
19. The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, ed. Francis A. Schaeffer, vol.5, Whatever Happened to the Human Race?, with C. Everett Koop (Westchester: Crossway Books, 1982), 284.
20. Ibid., 308,329.
21. Ibid., 405-410.
22. Parkhurst, 124.
23. Ibid., 125.
24. Parkhurst, 126.
25. Hamilton, 28.
26. Earl Lee, “Francis Schaeffer: Prophet of the Religious Right,” The Humanist, September/October 1988, 27.
27. C. Everett Koop, M.D., Koop: The Memoirs of America’s Family Doctor (New York: Random House, 1991), 130.
28. Martin, 194.
29. Ibid., 239.
30. Denis Haack, “Francis August Schaeffer, RIP,” National Review, 15 June 1984, 20.
31. Rosaling Pollack Petchesky, Abortion and Woman’s Choice (New York: Longman Inc., 1984), 339-340.
32. Marian Faux, Crusaders: Voices From the Abortion Front (New York: Carol Publishing Group, 1990, 133.
33. Martin, 321.
34. Faux, 138.
35. The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, ed. Francis A. Schaeffer, vol.5, A Christian Manifesto (Westchester: Crossway Books, 1982), 417.
36. Ibid., 454-455.
37. Ibid., 457.
38. Ibid., 475-482, 483-491.
39. Ronald A. Wells, “Francis Schaeffer’s Jeremiad,” The Reformed Journal 32 (May 1982): 19.
40. W. Merwin Forbes, review of A Christian Manifesto, by Francis Schaeffer, Grace Theological Journal 4 (Fall 1983): 309.
41. Woodward, 88.
42. Ibid., 88.
43. Hamilton, 29.
44. Jerry Falwell, Strength for the Journey:  An Autobiography (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987), 335.
45. Ibid., 361.
46. Ibid., 361-362.
47. Woodward, 88.
48. Martin, 197.
49. Haack, 20.
50. Lee, 27.
51. The New York Times (New York), 17 May 1984.
52. Faux, 134.
53. Ronald Nash, Evangelicals in America (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1987, 105.
54. Richard John Neuhaus, “The Schaeffer Legacy,” First Things, June/July 1993, 64.
55. Nash, 92.
56. Michael G. Maudlin, “Midwives of Francis Schaeffer,” Christianity Today, 3 March 1997, 6.