Francis Schaeffer discussed modern films and how they showed the state of man. That is why I like Woody Allen’s films so much. He knows what the big issues are in life and even though he present the right answers he does grapple with the right questions. Michelangelo Antonioni heavily influenced Allen and below is a picture from one of his best well known films.
Let’s remember Francis Schaeffer’s most crucial legacy–tears.
John FischerMarch 19, 2007He was a small man—barely five feet in his knickers, knee socks, and ballooning white shirts. For two weeks, first as a freshman and then again as a senior, I sat in my assigned seat at Wheaton College’s chapel and heard him cry. He was the evangelical conscience at the end of the 20th century, weeping over a world that most of his peers dismissed as not worth saving, except to rescue a few souls in the doomed planet’s waning hours. While Hal Lindsey was disseminating an exit strategy in The Late Great Planet Earth, Francis Schaeffer was trying to understand and care for people still trapped on the planet in The God Who Is There.Francis Schaeffer was hard to listen to. His voice grated. It was a high-pitched scream that, when mixed with his eastern Pennsylvania accent, sounded something like Elmer Fudd on speed. As freshmen, unfamiliar with the thought and works of modern man, we thought it was funny. As seniors, it wasn’t funny any more. After we had studied Kant, Hegel, Sartre, and Camus, the voice sounded more like an existential shriek. If Edvard Munch’s The Scream had a voice, it would have sounded like Francis Schaeffer. Schaeffer, who died in 1984, understood the existential cry of humanity trapped in a prison of its own making. He was the closest thing to a “man of sorrows” I have seen.
I grew up with a Christianity that was predisposed against sorrow. To be sad was to deny your faith or your salvation. Jesus had made us happy, and we had an obligation to always show that happiness. Then Francis Schaeffer came along. He could not allow himself to be happy when most of the world was desperately lost and he knew why. He was the first Christian I found who could embrace faith and the despair of a lost humanity at the same time. Though he had been found, he still knew what it was to be lost.
How different from the perception of conservative Christians held by so many people today! Today, the Religious Right is caricatured in society as a theocratic movement with no concern for the poor and downtrodden. Of course, such an ugly stereotype, presented as fact in a spate of pre-election books ranging from American Theocracy to Thy Kingdom Come, overlooks crisis pregnancy centers, humanitarian work, and generous giving to causes sacred and secular by members of the Christian Right.
However, like most stereotypes, this one of politically engaged conservative Christians contains a painful element of truth. Too often we confuse our agendas with God’s agenda and demonize our opponents in a desperate attempt to score political points. What’s ironic is that many of today’s culture warriors look to Schaeffer as the man who fired the first shot.
Yes, in two of Schaeffer’s later works, How Should We Then Live? (1976) and A Christian Manifesto (1981), he took a strong stand against abortion and euthanasia and even called for serious measures, including political intervention, to stop what he saw as impending cultural suicide. But to conclude that this invocation to war was Schaeffer’s crowning achievement is to truncate the man and his work.
Though his last words may have resounded like a battle cry to the next generation of Christians locked in a culture war, everything leading up to them said something else. Schaeffer’s work is ultimately not a call to arms, but a call to care. Those who have taken up arms and claimed him as their champion have gotten only part of his message.
Schaeffer never meant for Christians to take a combative stance in society without first experiencing empathy for the human predicament that brought us to this place. Those who go back only as far as A Christian Manifesto—without also understanding Escape from Reason (1968), The God Who Is There (1968), and Death in the City (1970)—are doing Schaeffer’s life and work a great disservice. The later Schaeffer cannot be divorced from the former.
Weeping over the World
Schaeffer was the first Christian leader who taught me to weep over the world instead of judging it. Schaeffer modeled a caring and thoughtful engagement with the history of philosophy and its influence through movies, novels, plays, music, and art. Schaeffer was teaching at Wheaton College about the existential dilemma expressed in Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 film, Blowup, when movies were still forbidden to students. He didn’t bat an eye. He ignored our legalism and went on teaching, because he had been personally gripped by the desperation of such cultural statements.
Death in the City is the book of Lamentations in the Old Testament applied to America. It is all about weeping over the death of a culture. Schaeffer saw the most brilliant thinkers and artists of his day as trapped under what he called a line of despair—in a lower-story hopelessness without any access to upper-story revelation. Schaeffer taught his followers not to sneer at or dismiss the dissonance in modern art. He showed how these artists were merely expressing the outcome of the presuppositions of the modern era that did away with God and put all conclusions on a strictly human, rational level. Instead of shaking our heads at a depressing, dark, abstract work of art, the true Christian reaction should be to weep for the lost person who created it. Schaeffer was a rare Christian leader who advocated understanding and empathizing with non-Christians instead of taking issue with them.
Francis Schaeffer was not afraid to ask why, and he did not rest until he had an answer. Why are our most brilliant thinkers in despair? Why is our art so dark? Why have abortion and euthanasia become so easy on the conscience of a generation? What process of thinking has led to this ultimate denial of the value of human life? Though some may disagree with his answers, no one can gainsay the passion with which he sought them.
The normal human reaction is to hate what we don’t understand. This is the stuff of prejudice and the cause of hate crimes and escalating social evil. It is much more Christ-like to identify with those we don’t understand—to discover why people do what they do, because we care about them, even if they are our ideological enemies.
Jesus asked us to love our enemies. Part of loving is learning to understand. Too few Christians today seek to understand why their enemies think in ways that we find abhorrent. Too many of us are too busy bashing feminists, secular humanists, gay activists, and political liberals to consider why they believe what they do. It’s difficult to sympathize with people we see as threats to our children and our neighborhoods. It’s hard to weep over those whom we have declared enemies.
Perhaps a good beginning would be to more fully grasp the depravity of our own souls and the depth to which God’s grace had to go to reach us. I doubt we can cry over the world if we’ve never cried over ourselves.
To be sure, Francis Schaeffer’s influence has declined in recent years, as postmodernism has supplanted the modernity he dissected for so long. Schaeffer is not without his critics, even among Christians. But perhaps, in the end, his greatest influence on the church will not be his words as much as his tears. The same things that made Francis Schaeffer cry in his day should make us cry in ours.
Singer-songwriter John Fischer has recorded 12 albums and is the author of 15 books.
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In 1955, Schaeffer founded L’Abri fellowship, “where individuals have the opportunity to seek answers to honest questions about God and the significance of human life.”
Other Christianity Today articles on Schaeffer’s influence include:
The Book Report: Things We Ought to Know | Charles Colson’s apologetic—and call to action—is in the tradition of Francis Schaeffer. (January 10, 2000)
Inside CT: Midwives of Francis Schaeffer | March 3, 1997
Here is an episode of Schaeffer’s film series that discusses the philosophic movies that show man’s desperation:
E P I S O D E 8
How Should We Then Live 8#1
I saw this film series in 1979 and it had a major impact on me.
T h e Age of FRAGMENTATION
I. Art As a Vehicle Of Modern Thought
A. Impressionism (Monet, Renoir, Pissarro, Sisley, Degas) and Post-Impressionism (Cézanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Seurat): appearance and reality.
1. Problem of reality in Impressionism: no universal.
2. Post-Impression seeks the universal behind appearances.
3. Painting expresses an idea in its own terms as a work of art; to discuss the idea in a painting is not to intellectualize art.
4. Parallel search for universal in art and philosophy; Cézanne.
1. Extremes of ultra-naturalism or abstraction: Wassily Kandinsky.
2. Picasso leads choice for abstraction: relevance of this choice.
3. Failure of Picasso (like Sartre, and for similar reasons) to be fully consistent with his choice.
C. Retreat to absurdity.
1. Dada , and Marcel Duchamp: art as absurd.
2. Art followed philosophy but came sooner to logical end.
3. Chance in his art technique as an art theory impossible to practice: Pollock.
II. Music As a Vehicle of Modern Thought
A. Non-resolution and fragmentation: German and French streams.
1. Influence of Beethoven’s last Quartets.
2. Direction and influence of Debussy.
3. Schoenberg’s non-resolution; contrast with Bach.
4. Stockhausen: electronic music and concern with the element of change.
B. Cage: a case study in confusion.
1. Deliberate chance and confusion in Cage’s music.
2. Cage’s inability to live the philosophy of his music.
C. Contrast of music-by-chance and the world around us.
1. Inconsistency of indulging in expression of chaos when we acknowledge order for practical matters like airplane design.
2. Art as anti-art when it is mere intellectual statement, divorced from reality of who people are and the fullness of what the universe is.
III. General Culture As the Vehicle of Modern Thought
A. Propagation of idea of fragmentation in literature.
1. Effect of Eliot’s Wasteland and Picasso’s Demoiselles d’ Avignon
compared; the drift of general culture.
2. Eliot’s change in his form of writing when he became a Christian.
3. Philosophic popularization by novel: Sartre, Camus, de Beauvoir.
B. Cinema as advanced medium of philosophy.
1. Cinema in the 1960s used to express Man’s destruction: e.g. Blow-up.
2. Cinema and the leap into fantasy:
The Hour of the Wolf, Belle de Jour, Juliet of the Spirits, The Last Year at Marienbad.
3. Bergman’s inability to live out his philosophy (see Cage): Silence and The Hour of the Wolf.
IV. Only on Christian Base Can Reality Be Faced Squarely
1. Explain what “fragmentation” means, as discussed by Dr. Schaeffer. What does it result from? Give examples of it.
2. Apart from the fact that modern printing and recording processes made the art and music of the past more accessible than ever before, do you think that the preference of many people for the art and music of the past is related to the matters discussed by Dr. Schaeffer? If so, how?
3. “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds… With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do.” Emerson wrote this over a century ago. Debate.
4. How far do you think that the opinion of some Christians that one should have nothing to do with philosophy, art and novels is a manifestation of the very fragmentation which is characteristic of modern secular thought? Discuss.
Key Events and Persons
Beethoven’s last Quartets: 1825-26
Claude Monet: 1840-1926
Poplars at Giverny, Sunrise: 1885
Paul Cézanne: 1839-1906
The Bathers: c.1905
Claude Debussy: 1862-1918
Wassily Kandinsky: 1866-1944
Arnold Schoenberg: 1874-1951
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon: 1906-7
Marcel Duchamp: 1887-1969
Nude Descending a Staircase: 1912
T.S. Eliot: 1888-1965
The Wasteland: 1922
John Cage: 1912-1992
Music for Marcel Duchamp: 1947
Jackson Pollock: 1912-1956
Karlheinz Stockhausen: 1928-
Sartre’s Nausea: 1938
Beauvoir’s L’Invitée: 1943
Camus’ The Stranger: 1942
Camus’ The Plague: 1947
Resnais’ The Last Year at Marienbad: 1961
Bergman’s The Silence: 1963
Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits: 1965
Antonioni’s Blow-Up: 1966
Bergman’s The Hour of the Wolf: 1967
Buñel’s Belle de Jour: 1967
Perhaps you have seen some of the films mentioned. You should try to see them if you haven’t.Watch for them in local art-film festivals, on TV, or in campus film series. They rarely return nowadays to the commercial circuit. The sex and violence which they treated philosophically have now taken over the screen in a more popular and crude form! Easier of access are the philosophic novels of Sartre, Camus and de Beauvoir. Read the titles Dr. Schaeffer mentions. Again, for the artwork and music mentioned, consult libraries and record shops. But spend time here—let the visual images and the musical sounds sink in.
Listening patiently to Cage and Webern, for example, will tell you more than volumes of musicology.