Adrian gave me this book that I started reading, The God Who Is There by Francis Shaeffer, and it is really really good so far. I don’t know, it’s just very very insightful, I think.
Like, one thing he mentions in passing is something that’s been on my mind a lot. Just, we’re a society that knows more and more, but are less and less able to assimilate it all – our thinking is increasingly specialized and fractured. Even at Stanford, Stanford’s like a trade school now, and the education is super specialized, with a trend towards making the broad education requirements less and less “arduous”. This idea is becoming more and more a life influence of mine.
He also writes something extremely interesting, just how the spread of modern ideas has spread from philosophy to the arts, to music, to general thinking, and then to theology. This says two important things. One, that theology is way behind in the times. All these ideas in theology that are hailed as being novel, in particular relativist and pluralistic theologies (all paths lead to God) have already permeated every other field, and started with philosophy a long time ago.
Second, it says something to me about the importance of philsophy. One big frustration I had with my philosophy classes is that it just seemed pointless. It was just a bunch of games, endless thinking, but with no practical use. Meaning, in the end, you can reach some conclusions, but what does it do you? Practically? Nothing.
I think I was completely wrong about that. I mean, I find what he’s saying and showing compelling – ideas that started out in philosophy have permeated every part of modern culture. That’s no exaggeration. And that’s an amazing insight to me. Far from being pointless, philosophy influences everything, and if you look at how that’s happened, it’s hard to argue with that.
He has a bunch of other insights. Like, he says again in passing another thing I’ve thought before, that science proceeds without a firm epistemological foundation. Most scientists don’t recognize this. Like, the “scientific method” is considered the end all, but why is this sound? Not functionally, but more deeply? In a philosophical sense? I’ve only looked a little bit of epistemology, but I haven’t heard anything close to compelling about this.
Other stuff is interesting also. Like, his analysis of Kierkegaard is very interesting. Dunno if you know, but Kierkegaard was this Christian guy but he’s also considered the father of existentialism. He was a good Christian guy, and Christians quote from him all the time. KCPC had one of his quotes as the thought for the week a while back. But anyway, Schaeffer says that he was a good guy but his ideas were the foundations of later ideas that led to the relativist worldview.
The cool thing is, we read Kierkegaard’s main book (Fear and Trembling) in Intro to Christian Ethics. Uh, that is, me, John, Andrew, and a bunch of other people. Schaeffer says that his analysis in said book comes from a lack of understanding of Scripture. I don’t know, I didn’t read it like that. Fear and Trembling by the way is an exposition on the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac. The basic idea (hope I’m explaining it right) is that faith is inherently absurd; it’s beyond rationality and thus there is a “leap of faith”. Schaeffer says this analysis of the story is stems from lack of Biblical knowledge. But I just thought Kierkegaard was using this story to explain his views. I don’t think he meant to say it was the main point of the story, but he used it as a tool, kind of like Camus with the Myth of Sisyphus.
At any rate, the interesting thing to me is that if I’m reading it correctly, I don’t think Schaeffer believes Kierkegaard’s ideas to have been a good thing. His whole “leap of faith” thing led to ideas of separating faith from rationality and also to other ideas of existentialism.
Uh, digression. Anyway, what Schaeffer has said so far is that before this turn in history in philosophical thinking, everyone just took for granted the absolute world view. And he says that it was a romantic notion, in that there was no (philosophical?) basis for it, but everyone just took it for granted as a presupposition.
What he says is that starting with some Germans in the late 1800s this new worldview came out that challenged those presuppositions, and this thinking has permeated all of society, in every field, including theology. The problem is that Bible-believing Christians want to cling to the romantic pressupositions of absolutism without realizing these as being presuppositions, and that puts us at odds with the world. I really hope I’m understanding him right; I’m not sure I am.
So like, in the past, a Christian could tell a someone, even though he was a non-Christian to “be good”, and even though he doesn’t share in the faith, he could understand what the Christian was talking about. But now, do the same thing, and the non-Christian will just be confused. Like, what the heck does it mean to be “good” anymore? With things like sex, abortion, or whatever, the word “good” isn’t really meaningful anymore. There is no absolute “good”; it has to be defined in terms of something else.
Anyway, I think most (maybe I’m overly optimistic) Christians recognize that the world is relativistic nowadays. But I think Schaeffer’s right in that Christians don’t really understand the world, and maybe the extent and implications of that relativism. Or, that they don’t know how to address that well from their absolute world view.
I don’t know, he says a lot of things I find compelling. I think (again, hope I’m reading him correctly) another thing he’s saying is that to be relevant to the culture you have to understand the times, and that’s something he tries to do. I admire someone who can expound intelligently on Hegel, Heidegger, and the Beatles (and know enough to differentiate Revolver from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band). This is just another idea I jive with a lot, and it’s why I get encouraged when I see stuff like Ned Flanders on the cover of Christianity Today.
He also has an interesting idea. Just, he believes that God made man. And as such, he hard-wired man to be a certain way, “mannish”, that isn’t in line with the conclusions of certain philosophies and stuff. Like he tells a story of lovers on the Seine who weep because they are in love with each other but don’t believe in love. What he says is that their experience shows that their intellectual understanding is false. His point is that there are other things we can show to be experientially false because God made us, and made us a certain way. I don’t know, I haven’t just started the book so I haven’t gotten to the meat, but it’s really interesting.
I don’t know, it’s a fascinating book that I recommend highly. If you wanna read it while I’m reading it and talk about it and miscellaneous together, that would be super.
Uh, this was probably interesting for no one.