Summary: An Analysis Of Francis Schaeffer's "The Church At The End Of The 20th Century"
Francis Schaeffer has been characterized as an Elijah to the late twentieth century. Though not as inspired in the same direct sense as his Biblical forebears, Francis Schaeffer did articulate a vision of the future remarkable in its accuracy and a message startling in its relevancy. Schaeffer was able to accomplish this by extrapolating from the cultural situation of the late 1960's and early 1970's and projecting these trends into the future where the implications of these assumptions would have the time necessary to fester over into a comprehensive dystopian milieu. Schaeffer's "The Church At The End 20th Century", from a standpoint a tad less than nearly a half century in the past, explored a world not unlike our own where Western society has abandoned its Judeo-Christian foundations and stands poised to lose not only its order but also its liberty as a consequence.
Throughout the corpus of his life's work, Francis Schaeffer categorized ideas as the primary force motivating history. Richard Pierard in "Reflections On Francis Schaeffer" says regarding Schaeffer's philosophy of history, "People's world views or presuppositions determine the direction of their political and social institutions and their scientific endeavors (199)." "The Church At The End Of The 20th Century" attempts to show how such distorted thinking comes to impact the structures of civilized existence such as the institutions of government and culture.
Francis Schaeffer concluded that the confusion and chaos rampant at the end of the twentieth century were traceable to the rejection of the Judeo-Christian foundations upon which Western civilization once sat. However, as a result, modern man has not drifted along as before, blissfully unencumbered by the burdens classical theism strove to address. Instead the whole world has pretty much started falling apart. In the first chapter titled "The Roots Of The Student Revolution", Schaeffer provides a summary of the streams of thought he saw as establishing the backdrop of the contemporary world drama.
Having abandoned the Judeo-Christian worldview, modern man has also forfeited many of the benefits inherent to that particular body of thought. Being the God of both the physical realm and its order as well as the realm of the spirit and its yearning for freedom, those turning their backs on the God of the Bible inevitably end up losing an essential balance between these two pillars of existence.
Much of the social confusion characterizing the contemporary world is understandable in terms of these extremes dancing unfettered across America's cultural landscape. In the mind of Schaeffer, philosophies and perspectives seemingly light-years apart to the casual observer were in the final analysis interconnected in that they stemmed from the same root problem.
A number of thinkers who have abandoned Judeo-Christian principles have attempted to find ultimate answers in an understanding of science construed though their materialistic philosophy excluding life's spiritual component. Schaeffer referred to this approach as "modern modern science" (13).
Schaeffer deliberately distinguished between modern science and modern modern science in an attempt to emphasize the difference between the two epistemological approaches. Schaeffer stressed that modern science in fact arose amidst a Christian framework. The methodology's earliest practitioners believed that one could understand the operation of the physical universe since it had been imbued with a sense of orderliness by its rational creator.
However, modern modern science would step beyond the confines of such a paradigm to exclude the role of God by arguing that the universe is a closed system complete in itself. But by eliminating the need for a personal Creator, modern modern science also eliminates those aspects of man transcending the sum of his material parts or those qualities Schaffer cleverly referred to as “the mannishness of man”.
When the cosmos is reduced to mere matter, man can no longer be seen as possessing those qualities that distinguish him from the proverbial furniture of the universe. Instead of arising as responses to metaphysical verities, things such as emotions, thoughts, and acts of creativity are reduced to nothing more than responses to electro-chemical biological stimuli. The aspirations the Declaration of Independence gives rise to become no different than the reaction to the gastrointestinal conditions sparking heartburn and may in fact possibly be interrelated.
The hypothesis of man as little more than an empty bag of mostly water, as the infamous Crystalline Entity put it on one episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, does not fit the data or provide much comfort on a cold night when we consider the aspects of existence seeming to rise above the immediacy of our biological functions. Such inadequacy no doubt provokes a response from those not willing to accept how divine revelation fills in these blanks but who realize that the cold scientism of Mr. Spock does not quite cut it either.
Schaeffer pointed out that assorted brands of mysticism are often, surprisingly, the children of scientism's ultimate consequences. With rationalism found wanting, modern man feels he must step beyond reason and make what Schaeffer refers to as "a leap upstairs" in order to find meaning in nonrational experience.