Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The God Who Is There--Ch.1 Summary -- "The Line of Despair"

I finished the God Who Is There last night, and as tempted as I was to go on to something else, I decided to read it again because I believe it was this book that largely set a tone for Christian apologetics today. Schaeffer died in '84, and I'm not sure what year the book was written in, but many of the things I read in this book, I hear echoed in the lectures and sermons of Ravi Zacharias. And, to RZ's credit, he says that any and all apologetics starts with Francis Schaeffer and C.S. Lewis.

This book was included in Volume 1 Book 1 of "The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer" and the subtitle for Volume 1 is "A Christian View of Philosophy and Culture." I'm going to summarize the book chapter by chapter, starting today with Chapter One, "The Gulf Is Fixed."
Schaeffer says that the present chasm between the generations has been brought out by a total change in the concept of truth.

Above the "Line of Despair" (which he dates in the U.S. between 1913-1940) everyone in society today would understand, work, and talk from the same presuppositions* which were the Christian's own presuppositions.

The most important and basic presupposition that American society worked from was that there were such things as absolutes (which finds its opposite in "relativism"). They accepted the possibility of an absolute in the area of Being (or knowledge), and in the area of morals. Therefore, because they accepted the possibility of absolutes, though people might have disagreed as to what these were, nevertheless, they could reason together on the classical basis of antithesis**. People above the line of despair (or before 1913-1940) took for granted that if anything was true, its opposite was false. (i.e., A is A, and A is not non-A). But it was later when society went under the line of despair that people began thinking in terms of relativity which leads to a culture and society of "anything goes," or "everything is permitted."

The upshot is that historic Christianity stands on a basis of antithesis (i.e., absolutes), and that without that antithesis historic Christianity is meaningless. And as antithesis dwindled and people did not operate from traditional presuppositions, they became intolerant and irreverent towards the messageo f Christian antithesis (or absolutes). Ultimately, we are left with an apathetic culture that is not sympathetic to the concept of Orthodox Christianity.

The Line of Despair and Expansion

Schaeffer spends most of his time in Chapter One explaining cultural malaise, how it happened, and the way in which it spread.

First, the line of despair spread geographically. It started in Germany, spread outwards throughout the continent, then toward England and later towards the United States. (Schaeffer dates the "line of despair" as being crossed in Europe about 50 years before that of the United States).

Secondly, the line of despair expanded throughout society from the real intellectual to the more educated, down to the workers, reaching the middle class last of all.

Thirdly, it spread across disciplines. In almost chronological fashion it started with the academic discipline of Philosophy; Art; Music; General Culture; Theology.

If Christians try to talk to people as though they were above the line when in reality they are this side of it, we will only beat the air.

Unity and Disunity in Rationalism

The unity in non-Christian thought can be called "rationalism," or "humanism." This is the system whereby men and women, beginning absolutely by themselves, try rationally to build out from themselves, having only Man as their integration point, to find all knowledge, meaning and value.
*Presupposition-- a belief or theory which is accepted before the next step in logic is developed. Such a prior postulate often consciously or unconsciously affects the way a person subsequently reasons.
**Antithesis-- direct opposition of contrast between two things. (As in "joy" which is the antithesis of "sorrow.")

Opinion: Not to be lost in the summary of chapter 1 is Schaeffer's belief that if the Evangelical and Orthodox Christian church had only seen the "line of despair" coming prior to 1913 (which he later explains that date) presuppositional apologetics could have saved the day in the United States. Instead, intelligentsia embraced non-Christian thought as the Orthodox church was unprepared to defend the Christian faith as they hadn't sured up their presuppositional apologetics, and simply took it for granted that people would always operate from the starting assumption of absolutes and not relativism. Once the social intellectual, and moral rebellion occurred it was too late.

The upshot of all this is the public perception that Christianity is not for the "thinking man," and reason and faith are mutually exclusive. Unfortunately, the Church still today doesn't appeal to the intellect to equip the next generation of believers, but only appeals to the emotional senses in worship service etc.

The later generations who suffered were those who were being taught at home by their parents or others above the "line of despair," and went to school and studied with classmates and professors who taught and thought below the "line of despair." Many were ill-equipped to engage their unbelieving or hostile adversaries, and were convinced their Christianity was not for the educated, and as Ravi Zacharias frequently says that the Church has lost an entire generation of believers.

I'll try to summarize Ch. 2 tomorrow "The First Step in the Line of Despair: Philosophy."


  1. WOW! Great - have you done summaries of the rest of the book as well?

  2. WOW! Great - have you done summaries of the rest of the book as well?