I meet with the young adult group on Friday nights for more targeted discussions. One of the things that Tammy and I have come to realize is that a lot of young adults do not see the value of gleaning wisdom from helpful folks who have come in generations before them. C.S. Lewis calls this “chronological snobbery.”
So, we have begun a series with our group called “Books You Should Have in Your Library.” We started with Francis Schaeffer’s “How Should We Then Live?” The plan is kick it off here and then work backwards. Although, I plan to get to some stuff from James White, who is certainly not backwards, except for the kilt, and Dan Phillips, who does have somewhat of an obsession with the band Chicago. But, alas, even Schaeffer had his knickers.
To encourage others to read some of these great works, I plan on posting some of the notes and quotes from our discussions under the category, oddly enough, Books You Should Have in Your Library. I trust that these will be helpful as an incentive to read the book, of course. If you would like to add some additional things that strike you in each chapter, please feel free to post them in the comment section.
Here are some of the things we discussed that were in Chapter 1.
Francis Schaeffer and Presuppositions
The book begins with this statement:
There is a flow to history and culture. This flow is rooted and has its wellspring in the thoughts of people. People are unique in the inner life of the mind—what they are in their thought-world determines how they act. This is true of their value systems and it is true of their creativity. It is true of their corporate actions, such as political decisions, and it is true of their personal lives. The results of their thought-world flow through their fingers or from their tongues into the external world. This is true of Michelangelo’s chisel, and it is true of a dictator’s sword.
These basic starting points of understanding reality are called, “presuppositions.”
People have presuppositions, and they will live more consistently on the basis of these presuppositions than even they themselves may realize…Their presuppositions also provide the basis for their values and therefore the basis for their decisions.
Schaeffer defines presuppositions as “the basic way an individual looks at life, his basic world-view, the grid through which he sees the world.”
When it comes down to it, there are really only three ways that the thinkers of the past have posited that we can know reality. What we perceive through our senses; what we can reason from the inside out; and, what we can know because we have been told by someone outside of us who is trustworthy.
Paul said it this way:
But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”— these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. (1 Corinthians 2:9–10, ESV)
Everyone has a worldview, an ultimate grid through which they understand reality. “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,” may be called in our day “empiricism” – reality is perceived by what is observed. We pile up pieces of data, “particulars” as Aristotle called them, and draw conclusions to make a unified whole. But, it fails. We cannot observe everything because we are limited creatures. That last piece of data might change the whole conclusion.
“Nor the heart of man imagined” may be called “rationalism,” or deriving a unified whole starting from the inside and reasoning out. “I think, therefore I am.” DeCartes posited. But, doesn’t everyone start from a different spot internally? Isn’t everyone flawed in their beginning?
There needs to be a Perfect Perceiver of reality, and their needs to be a Perfect starting point for reason. Paul points to the only viable source of knowing when he says, “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.”
All worldviews are designed to answer three basic questions:
- 1) What is real? The Theory of Reality (metaphysics)
- 2) How do I know? The Theory of Knowledge (epistemology)
- 3) How should I live? The Theory of Ethics (morality)
Schaeffer begins to demonstrate his thesis that “the inner thought-world determines the outward action” by looking at ancient Rome.
The Presuppositions of Rome
What caused Rome to fall? It wasn’t the barbarian attacks. It was that it rotted from the inside out.
In many ways Rome was great, but it had no real answers to the basic problems that all humanity faces.
The gods of Rome were glorified human beings. Petty, selfish, and without ultimate authority.
These gods depended on the society which had made them, and when this society collapsed the gods tumbled with it.
Is that not the way with any authority structure that depends upon humanity? Is that not true of the state as well? Fickle, changing, and ultimately unsupported. With Rome, each faction vied for its own special interest. Nothing was accomplished in the Roman Senate because Senators were only concerned with enlarging their power and perks of office. Chaos ruled the streets of Rome and Romans traded their freedoms as citizens for the security of subjugation. Ultimately, they worshipped Caesar and the genius of Rome. However, this ultimate authority was also finite and fickle as Caesar ultimately began to be ruled by the polls of his day.
Schaeffer contrasts the weakness of Rome and its worldview with the strength of Christianity and its worldview. Christianity survived intense persecution and the pressures of a cruel state power because Christian thought was not dependent upon the subjective wants of the culture. Christian thought is dependent upon objective truth, that of the revelation of God in Scripture.
The parallels to Rome and our current day are striking, there is no doubt. The solution is also striking. The Western church longs to be a power base in the secular political scene, to be accepted in the ever-godless culture. To do so, the Church must abandon her dependence upon objective truth and subject herself to the whims of the public. That has never ended well.