The Francis Schaeffer Collection - The L. Rush Bush Center for Faith & Culture The Schaeffer Legacy Project - An Interview With Dr. David Calhoun of Covenant Theological Seminary True Spirituality Class Francis Schaeffer at International Congress of World Evangelism, Lausanne, Switzerland, July 1974 Whatever Happened To The Human Race? - Playlist The Mark of A Christian Class - Playlist The Question of Apologetics A Christian Manifesto - Playlist

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

BOOK ARTICLE: The Origins of Francis Schaeffer's "How Should We Then Live"

The initial film idea for How Should We Then Live video series that was released in 1976, is often said to have came from Francis Schaeffer's son Franky, who prodded his father to do a film. Very often, much is made of this by Franky, to suggest that he is the one who pushed his reluctant father into film. Yet recently, Rick Pearcy sent me a message that seems to indicate that Franky, although involved, was passing a suggestion along. "During a dinner with Franky, his wife, and another L'Abri student back in 1972-73, in the basement of Chalet les Melezes, I suggested to Franky that, given his dad's work in art, cultural analysis, and the history of ideas, FAS [Francis August Schaeffer] might put together a film series to answer Kenneth Clark's Civilisation. I saw it as a natural progression, a next step, in Schaeffer's work." says Pearcy. In an interview with Colin Duriez, Francis Schaeffer does indicate that Franky played a role in asking him, and he was definitely swayed by the opportunity to work on a project with his son. Yet he was not the sole influence. So although Schaeffer was at first reticent, there were additional factors that motivated Dr. Schaeffer's decision. The core early inspiration for a good portion of the historic content came much earlier from Schaeffer's tour of post-war Europe after WW II in 1947, where he was tasked with assessing the state of the children and churches for the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions. Schaeffer had been chosen for this task due to the growing influence and impact of his and Edith's ministry Children For Christ. This tour would eventually result in the Schaeffer's being called to be missionaries to Europe to "Strengthen that which remains." He toured 31 cities (many more than once), in 13 countries in just 90 days and had seen first hand the destruction the humanist mindset could produce.

Yet further motivation resulted from the various documentaries that were being produced by historians that were giving revisionist, speculative analysis of western civilization. Schaeffer seems to have been already thinking along the same lines as Pearcy on the matter. In the aforementioned interview with Colin Duriez, Schaeffer recalls seeing Kenneth Clark's "Civilisation," released in 1969, on television and mentioning to Edith, "If I ever get a chance to hit that, I want to hit it," and so he did!  

The first episode of Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation,  called "The Skin of our Teeth," which tells you something of the nature of the historical commentary, opens with a shot of Michelangelo’s David, a shot similar to what we later see in How Should We Then Live. Herein, Clark says civilization got through the destruction of civilization the first time by the invading barbarians by the skin of it's teeth. He goes on to applaud man for being an “intelligent, creative and orderly, compassionate, animal.” One has to stop an laugh here, as I've personally never seen a raccoon out in the forest making art. Yet here, Clark wants to lessen man to a mere animal that somehow creates and is intelligent, orderly and compassionate. These of course are attributes of mankind created by God, with dignity and value more than a mere animal.

His next statement is, “What is civilization? I don’t know, but I think I can recognize it when I see it, and I’m looking at it right now.” Here the video pans to a view of the Notre Dame Cathedral behind him, which of course blatantly contradicts everything he just said. It's easy to see that he is making a romantic appeal to an example of civilization that he himself does not believe in. We can immediately see from the beginning of the documentary why Schaeffer became hungry to take on the task of rebuttal. Here is that first episode:

Jacob Bronowski’s Ascent of Man, released in 1974, took things a bit further. Probably the most blatantly obvious example of this is is the segment where Bronowski says, “It has been said that science will dehumanize people and turn them into numbers. That’s false, tragically false. Look for yourself, this is the concentration camp and crematorium at Auschwitz. This is where people were turned into numbers. Into this pond were flushed the ashes of some four million people, and that was not done by gas, it was done by arrogance, it was done by dogma, it was done by ignorance. When people believe they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods.” How surprising this is, coming from a Polish-Jew. Anyone who is honest, must acknowledge that the origin of the horrific tragedy in Auschwitz is not the result of those who believed in God, like the four million victims who were slain there, but rather those who adopted and followed Darwinism to it's natural end. Here is the segment where Bronowski seeks to rewrite history and make the victims the perpetrators.

As Schaeffer points out, "...these ideas helped produce an even more far-reaching yet logical conclusion: the Nazi movement in Germany. Heinrich Himmler (1900-1945), leader of the Gestapo, stated that the law of nature must take its course in the survival of the fittest. The result was the gas chambers. Hitler stated numerous times that Christianity and its notion of charity should be “replaced by the ethic of strength over weakness.” Surely many factors were involved in the rise of National Socialism in Germany. For example, the Christian consensus had largely been lost by the undermining from a rationalistic philosophy and a romantic pantheism on the secular side, and a liberal theology (which was an adoption of rationalism in theological terminology) in the universities and many of the churches. Thus biblical Christianity was no longer giving the consensus for German society. After World War I came political and economic chaos and a flood of moral permissiveness in Germany. Thus, many factors created the situation. But in that setting the theory of the survival of the fittest sanctioned what occurred. " 

It is our hope that by seeing the larger picture of the reasons behind How Should We Then Live our eyes will be opened to what Schaeffer was really speaking to. In many ways these accusations are perhaps far more sinister that what we might have realized.

For a wonderful explanation on How Should We Then Live, see Ronald Macaulay's video from the 2008 Francis Schaeffer Conference in 2008, sponsored by the L. Rush Bush Center for Faith and Culture.

Ranald Macaulay - Schaeffer in the 21st Century from Southeastern Seminary on Vimeo.