by Francis Schaeffer (Book Review by Dr. J Andrew Charles)
Dr Francis Schaeffer was born in 1912, converted in 1930 and died in 1984. In his long and influential ministry he addressed many of the great issues which confronted Christians in the second half of the twentieth century.
In Escape from reason (1968), he affirmed that to communicate the Christian faith meaningfully to the people roundabout, Christians need to understand the age in which they live and the modern thought-forms produced by the cultural bombardment of the media. “People often ask which is better – American or BBC television. What do you want – to be entertained to death, or to be killed with wisely planted blows?”
In How should we then live? (1976) Dr Schaeffer traced the rise and decline of Western thought and culture over two thousand years from Ancient Rome to the late twentieth century. He warned Christians against trying to maintain the “spiritual” teaching of Scripture while ignoring not only what it teaches about history and the cosmos, but also its specific moral commands.
Whatever happened to the human race? (1979) alerted many evangelicals to the significance of the issues concerning abortion and euthanasia. Dr Schaeffer and his co-author, Dr C Everett Koop (Surgeon General of the United States during the presidency of Ronald Reagan), asserted that “… the only thing that can stem this tide is the certainty of the absolute uniqueness and value of people. And the only thing which gives us this is the knowledge that people are made in the image of God. We have no other final protection.”
One other major issue, which is particularly relevant today, is the need for a Christian perspective on environmentalism and this was addressed by Dr Schaeffer in Pollution and the death of man (1970)1. The book was written as a Christian response to an article by Professor Lynn White on “The historical roots of our ecological crisis”, published in Science magazine. In this article, White, who was professor of history at the University of California at Los Angeles and who described himself as a “churchman”, referred to “orthodox Christian arrogance toward nature” and sought alternative approaches to the “man-nature relationship”. He examined Zen Buddhism and found it wanting in some respects, but went on to credit Francis of Assisi with an alternative Christian view of nature on the basis of which White advocated that he should be recognised as the “patron saint for ecologists”.
In the Saturday Review of 2 December 1967, Richard L Means, associate professor of sociology at the College of Kalamazoo in Michigan, extended White’s concept and suggested that there may be a “sound instinct” at work in those who have turned to Zen Buddhism.
While Dr Schaeffer was in agreement with the perception of ecologists and environmentalists that modern man’s “plastic culture” and mechanistic worldview are poor in their sensitivity to nature, he strongly objected to their proposed solution which was to get rid of Christianity and replace it with some form of Eastern pantheism! In opposition to such ideas Dr Schaeffer proceeded to demonstrate that the answer to our ecological and environmental crises is to be found in the truths of Biblical Christianity.
(a) Beginning at the beginning – creation
In setting out the Christian view of nature, Dr Schaeffer began with the concept of creation: God created everything out of nothing. In pantheism, which is the belief that the whole of reality is divine, there is no creation, only an extension of God’s essence. The Bible teaches us that creation is not an extension of the essence of God; created things are real with an objective existence in themselves. Nature has a value in itself because God made it.
(b) The significance of Man – made in the image of God
Man is separated from nature because he is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Although he is united to all other creatures as being created, he has personality which makes him unique in the creation. Man was given dominion over creation (Genesis 1:28) and, as a steward, is responsible to God, not to nature.
(c) The Fall of Man – the basic problem
In chapter 3 of the book of Genesis we are told how Adam and Eve wilfully chose to disobey God and how that rebellion not only separated man from God, it divided man from nature. Fallen man is a rebel who has put himself at the centre of the universe. He has abused his position and exploited created things as though they had no intrinsic value.
(d) The end of the age – final deliverance
In chapter 8 of the apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans we are told what will happen at the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: “Because the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). Schaeffer explains this remarkable prophecy in the following terms: “As Christ’s death redeems men, including their bodies, from the consequences of the Fall, so His death will redeem all nature from the Fall’s evil consequences at the time when we are raised from the dead.”
(e) The Christian view of nature
Christians who have returned, through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, to fellowship with God should demonstrate a proper use of nature and not abuse it as fallen man does. With the massive development of technology, modern man does everything that he can do and, as Schaeffer describes it, modern man “functions on this single boundary principle”. In contrast the Christian, knowing that he is made in the image of God and can make a choice, determines not to do to nature things that he is able to do but knows that he should not do. The Christian is to “put a self-limitation on what is possible.”
Dr Schaeffer concludes that Biblical Christianity offers a balanced and healthy attitude to nature based on the truth of its creation by God. It not only gives a hope of substantial healing in nature of some of the results of the Fall through the truth of redemption in Christ, it also tells of a future complete healing at Christ’s return.
1. Pollution and the death of man was first published in 1970. It was republished in 1992 by Crossway Books, Wheaton, Illinois, with Lynn White’s article “The historical roots of our ecological crisis” and Richard Means’ article “Why worry about nature” included as appendices.
This article first appeared in the January 2010 issue of the Alexandra Road Congregational Church Newsletter, Hemel Hempstead