Saturday, September 10, 2011

Francis Schaeffer Buzz

I largely ignored the dialog on Francis Schaeffer that recently occurred. Andrew Sullivan recaps:

One of the more engaging discourses I read while I was sick was the exchange between Ryan Lizza and Ross Douthat on exactly how radical the Christianist writer Francis Schaeffer is. Schaeffer had a huge influence on Michele Bachmann, and his work is clearly part of the thriving Christianist/GOP subculture. Ross's first post in defense of this radical is here. Ryan's riposte is here. Ross concludes here.

Buried in all this
is an interesting quotation by Schaeffer on the American Founding and Romans 13 issues:

"When any office commands that which is contrary to the Word of God, those who hold that office abrogate their authority and they are not to be obeyed. And that includes the state ... Rutherford offered suggestions concerning illegitimate acts of the state. A ruler, he wrote, should not be deposed merely because he commits a single breach of the compact he has with the people. Only when the magistrate acts in such a way that the governing structure of the country is being destroyed—that is, when he is attacking the fundamental structure of society—is he to be relieved of his power and authority.

That is exactly what we are facing today. The whole structure of our society is being attacked and destroyed. It is being given an entirely opposite base which gives exactly opposite results. The reversal is much more total and destructive than t
hat which Rutherford or any of the Reformers faced in their day."

A while back we noted Mark Noll among others took Schaeffer to task for his arguable misunderstanding of the American Founding. Schaeffer wrongly credits Samuel Rutherford with the ideas for the American Founding. America's Founders didn't cite Rutherford, but Locke for these propositions. And Locke didn't cite Rutherford either.

[And yes, I know of the tradition of resistance among Calvinists, though not Calvin himself, that almost certainly, in some meaningful way, influenced the American Founding.]


Daniel said...

Those particular quotes from Schaeffer are probably statements that most of our framers would have been o.k. with (depending on the definition of "Word of God"). Certainly the criterion for when a magistrate is to be removed is reflected in the D of I. No more radical (probably less so) than a true Jeffersonian.

Schaeffer's philosophy is an odd blend of the Cartesian and the Aristotilian similar to that which is found in elements of the Scottish or American Enlightenment.

I agree that Schaeffer makes some dubious claims about history. When I read The Christian Manifesto, I found at least one quote that seemed to be intentionally misconstrued. I am pushing back, not against your critique that his history is bad, but against Sullivan's, that he is a bizarre radical.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"Schaeffer's philosophy is an odd blend of the Cartesian and the Aristotilian"

I don't think so. I think Schaeffer understood himself to be a Sola Scripturaist who didn't need anything else -- no extra-biblical philosophy like from Aristotle -- to guide his way. In fact, he slammed Aquinas for so corrupting Christianity in doing this.

Phil Johnson said...

Going deeper into the various denominations of Christianity and, in particular, the denominations that make up what we call Evangelicals, I think we have a pretty good understanding of just how far Schaeffer's ideas of pluralism would go. Pretty soon, once the Evangelicals have a voting majority in Congress, the Whitehouse, and the Supreme Court, the questions will all be about doctrinal truth. And, that my dear friends, is what we have to fear about Shaeffer's ideas of Christian Dominionism.
It is very frightening.
It will be a theocracy.

Daniel said...

Schaeffer's thinking was a muddle. He claimed sola scriptura and attacked Aquinas. But his political writings are infused with natural law thinking. He sometimes made Cartesian claims that we can derive all knowledge (including at least the existence of God) through observation (and, implicitly reason). In The Christian Manifesto, his thought looks Aristotilian or Thomist (although he claims neither). Escape from Reason is an attack on forces of Moderism and Existentialism that would undermine society by rejecting reason. He isn't very coherent in defining his approach to reason, but he certainly views it as a good thing.

A Thomist philosopher friend agrees with you that Schaeffer cannot be called Aristotilian. His approach to reason is not sufficiently disciplined and his starting points are not clear. Since I don't want to go back and re-read Schaeffer, I'll grant your point that he is not an Aritotilian.

Tom Van Dyke said...

First Things had an interesting controversy in 1996 about the legitimacy of government.