5.0 out of 5 stars Still fills a vacuum in evangelical thought
Schaeffer's understandings of Kierkegaard and Barth are right on the money. His "rationalism" (i.e. belief in a rational God Whose Logos became incarnate in Jesus Christ) is in fact the only proper and possible harmonization of Christianity and reason. Neither one can last long without the other.
If God isn't "bound" by "human" logic and...
Published on Jan. 8 2001
2.0 out of 5 stars THE ESCAPE OF REASON FROM REASON – A BOOK REVIEW
Escape from Reason. Francis A. Schaeffer. InterVarsity Press, 1974. 96pp. ISBN 0-87784-538-7.
Francis Schaeffer has been widely recognized as one of the twentieth century’s greatest Christian apologists. In his book Escape from Reason, Schaeffer proposes to help the reader to interact, on a more meaningful level, with the current culture. Why? “We...
Published 8 months ago by David Haines
Most Helpful First | Newest First
2.0 out of 5 stars THE ESCAPE OF REASON FROM REASON – A BOOK REVIEW,
This review is from: Escape from Reason (Paperback)Escape from Reason. Francis A. Schaeffer. InterVarsity Press, 1974. 96pp. ISBN 0-87784-538-7.
Francis Schaeffer has been widely recognized as one of the twentieth century’s greatest Christian apologists. In his book Escape from Reason, Schaeffer proposes to help the reader to interact, on a more meaningful level, with the current culture. Why? “We must realize that we are facing a rapidly changing historical situation, and if we are going to talk to people about the gospel we need to know what is the present ebb and flow of thought-forms. Unless we do this the unchangeable principles of Christianity will fall on deaf ears. And if we are going to reach the intellectuals and the workers, both groups right outside our middle-class churches, then we shall need to do a great deal of heart-searching as to how we may speak what is eternal into a changing historical situation.” In order to help the reader to properly understand his current cultural situation, Schaeffer proposes to explain why people think the way they do today, and how we got to this point. Unless we understand the cause, we will be unable to know the effect fully. Schaeffer proposes, as a starting point, that the entire contemporary situation finds its starting place in a number of doctrines that he claims were proposed by Thomas Aquinas, namely: a distinction between nature and grace, and a partial fall of humanity by which humans retained some form of autonomy from their creator. “What is wrong? Again, it goes back to Thomas Aquinas’s insufficient view of the Fall which gives certain things an autonomous structure. When nature is made autonomous it soon ends up by devouring God, grace, freedom and eventually man.”
Schaeffer proposes that from this starting point we can follow the history of human philosophy and theology and give an explanation of contemporary thought, and how to approach it. He traces a line through the renaissance, the reformation, the development of science, Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, contemporary existentialism, into contemporary culture. In his analysis of culture he considers the different domains of science, philosophy, and, primarily, the arts.
The most important contributions of this book are Schaeffer's intriguing analysis of contemporary culture and society, and how Christians need to approach it. Furthermore, Schaeffer shows how the work of the existentialist philosophers such as Sartre and Heidegger have influenced our society, and indeed the Christian church, more than what most people realize. One of the conclusions that the reader will inevitably draw, after reading this book, is that, in order to be able to successfully present the gospel, we need to truly understand our culture, however, in order to truly understand this culture, we need to understand the ideas that drive it. If we don't understand our culture, then, when we preach the gospel, those who hear it won't understand it; it will be like trying to speak english to someone who does not understand english.
The major problem of this book is that the starting point for his cultural analysis is factually wrong. He repeats his starting point on numerous occasions; namely, that Aquinas's distinction between nature and grace is the source of a dichotomy that has been influencing and destroying culture ever since. Regardless of his wrong interpretation of Aquinas, and his naming of Aquinas as the source of all the trouble, I do think that his diagnostic of culture is, in the main points, mostly right. It is a book worth reading for its diagnosis of culture, but not for its philosophical insights into the ancient and medieval philosophers. On the other hand, his critiques of Kierkegaard and Heidegger are a little bit more interesting, as he shows how these contemporary philosophers have had an enormous influence on our current society.
It is necessary to respond to his constantly repeated claim that "nature destroys grace", which shows up, in one form or another, throughout the book, as well as to his claim whereby he attributes a distinction between nature and grace to Aquinas, and the claim that Aquinas only allows for a "partial fall", allowing for human autonomy from God. These claims are simply false as anyone who is familiar with Aquinas would know. Aquinas claims, to the contrary, that the entire human nature is corrupted, but that the fall did not erase all traces of rationality, etc. To make such a claim would be to contradict Rom. 1:19-20 and Rom. 2:15. A good book on this subject, which will correct the erroneous claims of Schaeffer, is "Aquinas, Calvin & Contemporary Protestant Thought" by Arvin Vos.
In relation to his claim that Aquinas only proposes a partial fall Schaeffer constantly claims that the "biblical doctrine" of the fall implies a total fall, and he constantly claims that a biblical theology is uninfluenced by any type of philosophy. Both of these later claims are naive and simply false. Most reformation theologians were either nominalists, such as Luther, or Platonist, in their philosophy, and these philosophical views, which were quite popular at that time, influenced their theology. Furthermore, the only truly "biblical theology" is the words of the Bible itself properly interpreted; however as many modern philosophers have noted, as soon as we begin the process of explaining and interpreting the Bible, we do so in the light of the categories that we accept about the world. That is, the Bible is interpreted in light of how we define certain terms, and these terms are not defined in the Bible. I always cringe whenever I hear someone claim, "That's just what the Bible teaches!", as they are arrogantly claiming some sort of insight that is over and above that of every other human since the apostle's finished writing the New Testament. There is only one proper interpretation for every part of scripture, however, human limitations and sinfulness should keep us from the pretentious and dogmatic claim that our theology is 100% truth. Schaeffer’s claim that nature destroys grace is humorous, because there was a common saying in the medieval age: "Grace perfects Nature".
All in all, I agree with his analysis of culture, but was greatly discouraged by his analysis of philosophy and theology. When I finished the book, the first thought that crossed my mind was, "how in the world did Schaeffer gain as much popularity as a Christian apologist as C. S. Lewis?" In fact, one can find, in C. S . Lewis, almost every insight that Schaeffer is credited with, however, with a more profound analysis of philosophical and theological trends. In my humble opinion, one would be better off reading C. S. Lewis than Schaeffer.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Schaeffer evidently didn't read primary sources,
If you have just a little background in philosophy or the history of theology, and you look carefully through the footnotes of any of Schaeffer's books, it becomes fairly obvious that his reading was restricted almost entirely to secondary sources. He didn't read Aquinas so much as books about Aquinas. He seems to have been especially indebted to books by Dutch Reformed scholars. Most of his discussions of the great figures in the history of the church are travesties of their actual thought.
An example: Kierkegaard. Most of my graduate work both at Yale and Chicago was on Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard is a widely misunderstood scholar, but virtually everyone who has studied his work at any length will acknowledge that he was not a theological innovator, that he in no sense was trying to undermine Christian faith, and that he was utterly orthodox in his thought. It is impossible to find a single orthodox Christian doctrine that Kierkegaard attacks. In no sense is Kierkegaard an opponent of Christianity. Being as generous as possible, I think the most I can say is that Kierkegaard was a puzzlement to Schaeffer. The tragedy is that there are a very large number of excellent scholars, even Dutch Reformed scholars, who could have helped Schaeffer in his misunderstandings.
We can contrast this with C. S. Lewis. Lewis was not perfect as a thinker, but Lewis at least read the people he discusses. Had Lewis ever read Schaeffer, he would have been angered and disgusted at Schaeffer persistent misreadings of people like Aquinas (who I would also disagree with, but for very, very different reasons). Lewis was a perceptive and penetrating reader, and to discuss at length anyone without having studied their work at length would have been anathema to him.
Folks, Schaeffer's understanding of philosophy is not even up to the level of a good undergraduate. I am grateful to Schaeffer for having introduced me to the world of philosophical thought. Hopefully others go on to read the figures he discusses. If so, they also will see that Schaeffer is guilty of profoundly misrepresenting their thought. But I profoundly regret that others do not go to read any of the figures that he critiques. I regret this. I regret it as a Christian, and I regret it as a philosophy.
I especially regret it as a Christian because Christ and the Christian faith is not served by the distortion of the truth.
5.0 out of 5 stars Still fills a vacuum in evangelical thought,
By A Customer
If God isn't "bound" by "human" logic and if the Bible can contain genuine paradoxes (a la Barth), then why do we bother defending the quaint and outmoded doctrine that the Bible is free of contradictions? Or do those who damn Schaeffer with faint praise wish to dispense with that doctrine too?
That there are still some readers who think Barth was "orthodox" proves only that Schaeffer's book is just as timely now as it was early in the twentieth century.
5.0 out of 5 stars The prophet of the 20th Century speaks,
Francis A. Schaeffer had the insight to see into the near future by analyzing popular thought and showing that by bringing them to their logical conclusions, they usher in an era of chaos and moral irresponsibility. He demonstrated how the escapism of modernism and post-modernism only leads to absurdity and madness. The only way Schaeffer saw that anyone can transcend the absurd is the belief in a personal God who loves, expressing this love in God's Son Jesus. Good advice from a legendary saint.
I recommend this book to the student of philosophy, history, apologetics, and any Christian who wants to see a clear and well thought out discourse of Christian thought.
5.0 out of 5 stars Schaeffer diagnoses modern-day ills and prescribes cure,
Schaeffer sees the true beginning of the humanistic Renaissance in the work of Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). Aquinas' dualistic Grace/Nature scheme was useful in many ways, but its critical flaw was in failing to recognize man's fallen intellect along with his fallen will. Aquinas saw man's intellect as essentially undamaged by the Fall. This had the unfortunate consequence of setting up man's intellect as autonomous and independent.
Aquinas adapted parts of Greek philosophy to Christianity, perhaps most importantly (and with the most negative consequences) the dualistic view of man and world as represented by the Grace/Nature split. As Schaeffer stresses, the main danger of a dualistic scheme is that, eventually, the lower sphere "eats up" the upper sphere. Another way to say the same thing is, once the lower sphere is given "autonomy," it tends to deny the existence or importance of whatever is in the upper sphere in support of its own autonomy.
Schaeffer explains how the Grace/Nature dualism eventually became the Freedom/Nature, then the Faith/Rationality split. He introduces his interesting idea of the Line of Despair, which began in philosophy with Hegelian relativism. Kierkegaard was the first major figure after this line. The line of despair is the point in history at which philosophers (and others) gave up on the age-old hope of a unified (i.e. not dualistic) answer for knowledge and life.
This new despairing way of thinking spread in 3 ways; geographically, from Germany outward to Europe, England and finally much later to America. Then by classes, from the intellectuals to the workers via the mass media (the middle classes were largely unaffected and remained a product of the Reformation, thankfully for stability, but this is why the middle class didn't understand its own children). Finally, it spread by disciplines; philosophy (Hegel), art (post-impressionists), music (Debussy), general culture (early T S Eliot)...then lastly theology (Barth).
Once this way of thinking set in, Schaeffer explains the need for "the leap," promoted by both secular and religious existentialists. On the secular side, Sartre located this leap in "authenticating oneself by an act of the will," Jaspers spoke of the need for the "final experience" and Heidegger talked of 'angst,' the vague sense of dread resulting from the separation of hope from the rational 'downstairs.' On the religious side, we have Barth preaching the lack of any interchange between the upper and lower spheres, using the higher criticism to debunk parts of the Bible, but saying we should believe it anyway. "'Religious truth' is separated from the historical truth of the Scriptures. Thus there is no place for reason and no point of verification. This constitutes the leap in religious terms. Aquinas opened the door to an independent man downstairs, a natural theology and a philosophy which were both autnomous from the Scriptures. This has led, in secular thinking, to the necessity of finally placing all hope in a non-rational upstairs" (p. 53, thus the book's title). This is in contrast to the biblical and Reformation message that even though man is fallen, he can and must search the scriptures to find the verifiable truth. Schaeffer devotes alot of space in his book to illustrating the many ways modern men have taken this "leap," assuming there is no rational way upstairs.
Schaeffer ends with a call to reject dualism and return to the reformation view of the scriptures, which is that God has spoken truth not only about Himself, but about the cosmos and history (p. 83). In order to do this, man must give up rationalism (i.e. autonomous reason), but by doing so he can retrieve rationality. "Modern man longs for a different answer than the answer of his damnation. He did not accept the Line of Despair and the dichotomy because he wanted to. He accepted it because, on the basis of the natural development of his rationalistic presuppositions, he had to. He may talk bravely at times, but in the end it is despair" (p. 82). No area of life can be autonomous of what God has said, since this will inevitably lead to the destruction of all value (including God, freedom and man). By placing all human activity within the framework of what God has told us, "it gives us the form inside which, being finite, freedom is possible" (p. 84).
God created man as significant, and he still is, even in his fallen and lost state. He is not a machine, plant or animal. He continues to bear the marks of "mannishness" (p. 89): love, rationality, longing for significance, fear of non-being, and so on. He will never be nothing.
The author emphasizes the existence of certain unchanging facts, which are true regardless of the shifting tides of man's thoughts. He challenges Christians to understand these tides and speak the unchanging truth in a way that can be understood in the midst of them.
3.0 out of 5 stars Schaeffer filled a void in the 80's, but not anymore,
4.0 out of 5 stars Is God Personal?,
5.0 out of 5 stars This book is highly thought provocing.,
By A Customer
1.0 out of 5 stars Very Poor,
By A Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars A True Classic,
By A Customer
Most Helpful First | Newest First
Escape from Reason by Francis A. Schaeffer (Paperback - Dec 26 2006)
CDN$ 8.55 CDN$ 8.08