Culture News & Commentary

We Should Have Heeded Schaeffer’s Prophetic Warnings

"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."

On May 15, 1984, the great evangelical thinker, Presbyterian pastor, and noted apologist Francis Schaeffer passed away. Just a few months earlier his last book was released: The Great Evangelical Disaster (Crossway). Anyone who is familiar with his life and work knows that this volume very much followed in the same vein as his previous 21 books.

It continued the basic themes he had always preached on and written about, which include: an infinite personal God exists; he has revealed himself to us; Scripture is his inspired and infallible word; we can come to this holy God based on the finished work of Christ; Christians are called to model the truth and beauty of God in our relations with others, and the church must refuse to compromise and accommodate with the surrounding culture.

His final book certainly hammers home these key truths. In the dedication page he says the following:

To a new, young generation –
and to those in the older generation –
who will stand and be counted
as radicals for truth and for Christ.

That is emphasised throughout this crucial volume. Plenty of quotes could be offered here. Let me feature just a few. On pages 31-32 he speaks about how utterly important all this is, and what a massive war we are in:

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 on pages 48-49 he warns about which way we will go: with humanistic relativism or God’s absolutes:

Soft days for evangelical Christians are past, and only a strong view of Scripture is sufficient to withstand the pressure of an all-pervasive culture built upon relativism and relativistic thinking. We must remember that it was a strong view of the absolutes which the infinite-personal God gave to the early church in the Old Testament, in the revelation of Christ through the Incarnation, and in the then growing New Testament — absolutes which enabled the early church to withstand the pressure of the Roman Empire. 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.

On page 60 he discusses what happens when cultural infiltration saps the strength and vitality of the church. Everything that we have now experienced – including the evangelical acceptance of homosexuality and fake marriage, was all foreseen by Schaeffer:

There is no end to this. The Bible is made to say only that which echoes the surrounding culture at our moment of history. The Bible is bent to the culture instead of the Bible judging our society and culture. Once men and women begin to go down the path of the existential methodology under the name of evangelicalism, the Bible is no longer the Word of God without error — each part may be eaten away step by step.

And it is his final, short chapter on “Radicals for Truth” that is especially worth featuring here. He writes:

In September of 1965, when I spoke at Wheaton College for the Spiritual Emphasis Week, my message was “Speaking the Historic Christian Position into the Twentieth Century.” At that time the youth rebellion, which began at Berkeley in the early 1960s, was underway. There were those at Wheaton, including the student body president, who were called “rebels,” and the administration was having problems with them. However, it was this radical group who understood my message that if Christianity is true, it touches all life, and that it is a radical voice in the modern world. The rebels listened. And there were some of them who turned around in their thinking.

We need a revolutionary message in the midst of today’s relativistic thinking. By revolutionary, or radical, I mean standing against the all-pervasive form which the world spirit has taken in our day. This is the real meaning of radical. God has given his answers in the Bible – that Bible that is true when it speaks of history and of the cosmos, as well as when it speaks of religious things. And it therefore gives truth concerning all reality. It thus sustains radical rebellion against the relativism and the syncretism which are the hallmark of our own days – whether that syncretism is expressed in secular or religious terminology, including evangelical terminology….

Evangelicalism has done many things for which we can be greatly thankful. But the mentality of accommodation is indeed a disaster. We should note, however, that in holding to the same Bible principles, there could come a time when we will have to lean against an opposite swing of the pendulum. In this fallen world, things constantly swing like a pendulum, from being wrong in one extreme way to being wrong in another extreme. The devil never gives us the luxury of fighting on only one front, and this will always be the case. 

However, the problem of evangelical accommodation, in the years we have been considering, and especially at this crucial moment in history, is that 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.

If there is not loving confrontation, but courageous confrontation, and if we do not have the courage to draw lines even when we wish we did not have to, then history will look back at this time when certain “evangelical colleges” went the way of Harvard and Yale, when certain “evangelical seminaries” went the way of Union Seminary in New York, and the time when other “evangelical organizations” were lost to Christ’s cause – forever.

What Schaeffer wrote there nearly 40 years ago was prophetic in nature. But as is so often the case, such prophetic words are ignored and rejected. As we look around the West today we see the sad fulfilment of what he had warned against.

He was not the only prophetic voice back then to sound the alarm, but he certainly was one of the most significant and important voices. His words are even more vital today than they were back then. I repeat the plea of Schaeffer; ‘We need a new, young generation who will stand and be counted as radicals for truth and for Christ.’

Will you be one of them?