Libertarian Jonathan Martin on Francis Schaeffer

Libertarian Jonathan Martin on Francis Schaeffer

Episode 8: The Age Of Fragmentation

Published on Jul 24, 2012

Dr. Schaeffer’s sweeping epic on the rise and decline of Western thought and Culture

How Should We Then Live Episode 9: The Age Of Personal Peace & Affluence

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I love the works of Francis Schaeffer and I have been on the internet reading several blogs that talk about Schaeffer’s work and the work below by Jonathan Martin was really helpful. Schaeffer’s film series “How should we then live?  Wikipedia notes, “According to Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live traces Western history from Ancient Rome until the time of writing (1976) along three lines: the philosophic, scientific, and religious.[3] He also makes extensive references to art and architecture as a means of showing how these movements reflected changing patterns of thought through time. Schaeffer’s central premise is: when we base society on the Bible, on the infinite-personal God who is there and has spoken,[4] this provides an absolute by which we can conduct our lives and by which we can judge society.  Here are some posts I have done on this series: Francis Schaeffer’s “How should we then live?” Video and outline of episode 10 “Final Choices” episode 9 “The Age of Personal Peace and Affluence”episode 8 “The Age of Fragmentation”episode 7 “The Age of Non-Reason” episode 6 “The Scientific Age”  episode 5 “The Revolutionary Age” episode 4 “The Reformation” episode 3 “The Renaissance”episode 2 “The Middle Ages,”, and  episode 1 “The Roman Age,” .

In the film series “WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE HUMAN RACE?” the arguments are presented  against abortion (Episode 1),  infanticide (Episode 2),   euthanasia (Episode 3), and then there is a discussion of the Christian versus Humanist worldview concerning the issue of “the basis for human dignity” in Episode 4 and then in the last episode a close look at the truth claims of the Bible.

Francis Schaeffer

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Fallen Babel

A Biblical look at our world and its history

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Adventism: A Light For Our Time

Disclaimer: this article is not meant to imply that only Adventist Christians have light to offer to the world.

People today are wondering why the middle class is fading away. The populist protests that are gaining popularity among young adults around the world express a great anxiety about the declining middle class and the prospects of future social mobility. While these concerns are real and entirely founded, speculation on this topic abounds. Some insist that government intervention created the middle class and that it is because of the decline of social programs that the middle class is fading. Others say that the key to restoring the middle class is to cut all social programs and let people fend for themselves. It is often suggested in some circles that people today are simply lazy and complacent and that if the safety nets were removed, they would have to work and would be forced to pull themselves up by their bootstraps so to speak. Still others blame high taxes, saying that taxation takes away the incentive to work and makes people less willing to invest their time and money into projects when the profits won’t all be theirs.

In order to make sense of the declining middle class, it is useful to go back in time and understand what created it. One historian who is making a lasting mark on this topic is university of Chicago economics and history professor Deirdre McCloskey. In her latest book, Bourgeois Dignity, McCloskey describes how the creation of the bourgeoisie cannot be explained by materialistic phenomena like new technologies, slavery, access to education, genetic superiority, banking or property rights. In the history of western civilisation, the middle class bourgeoisie started with a spiritual and intellectual revaluation of economic life and innovation which happened first in the Netherlands, Scandinavia and Great Britain during the 17th century. McCloskey however does not seem to know why this change happened, she simply attributes it to happy coincidences of history. Her contribution is to demonstrate that it happened and that this was the fundamental reason the world changed. But this begs an explanation, one which we turn to next.

THE LINK BETWEEN MEDIEVAL TIMES AND TODAY

Medieval society had cast nature as inferior and unspiritual. By nature, I am referring to the mundane and natural realities of existence like work, raising a family, facing hardships and death. The monastic ideal sought to shun these things in an effort to pursue more ‘noble’ and ‘spiritual’ endeavors. Inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs, who were finding practical solutions to daily life were seen as inferior to the philosophers and theologians who speculated on the higher spheres.

As Francis Schaeffer points out in his book How Then Shall We Live?, an important part in reversing this developement was the rediscovery of the Biblical view of nature and sanctity of living life in the real world. Nature and its scarcity, work, child rearing and death were made a part of God’s appointed agencies for our redemption. Nature involved difficulty and trials, but it also has the marks of great beauty, harmony and order that point to God. This conviction also existed in the early Christian church, as attested by the art that was produced by early Christian artists. But Christianity was soon attacked by a very enduring heresy called gnosticism.

Gnosticism taught that nature (and the work, suffering and death that came with it) were actually created by an evil God. The true God sought to free us from this existence by giving us special knowledge and showing us that these are all illusions. There is no evil, no pain and no death. The only evil is to believe the contrary. All that is in this world is simply an illusion, not to be appreciated or paid attention to. This extreme form of gnosticism did not last very long and was eventually abandoned. However the seed it had sown remained in medieval teachings about monastic life, death, marriage, family and salvation. The church was cast as the kingdom of God on earth, while the natural world was seen as irrelevant and unspiritual.

A particular point of interest is the medieval teaching about death. Like the gnostics taught, death was essentially presented as an illusion and as the gateway to paradise. An extremely unfortunate corollary of this idea was that of an eternal conscious torment in hell. The modern view of death has remained largely unchanged other than the fact that most have simply put hell aside and believe that everyone will either go to a paradise of some kind or at least have another shot at it in another life. Many prominent biblical scholars like John Stott and N.T. Wright have returned to the Biblical and realist view of death. It is another temporary problem that will be solved when Christ establishes his kingdom. In the mean time it is not to be feared since it has been defanged by Christ’s resurrection. The Bible presents death as a temporary sleep as we wait in the tomb for Christ’s kingdom. Death also has redemptive aspects. It teaches us to “number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). Death reminds us of our mortality and that this earth can therefore never be anything other than a fool’s paradise.

As the Bible was rediscovered and became widely read in the 16th and 17th centuries, there was a renewed interest in nature and godly living in the real world. No longer was spirituality confined to the monastery and the church. Spirituality could be lived in the mundane every day life. In fact, it had to be. The story of Genesis gave meaning to all aspects of life, from birth to death we are in a training ground for eternal life in God’s kingdom – a kingdom that will have a literal fulfillment in history. The medieval theologians had taught that the kingdom of God was already here in the church and to enter it was to leave the real world and shun its realities. But the Biblical view was that the kingdom of God had not yet come and living faithful and useful lives in the real world was the only way to be fitted for it.  As Martin Luther discovered, man was to live not by religious works but by practical everyday faith. Economic life was thus revalued in the process.

But economic prosperity sowed the seeds of its own destruction. In short, what happened is that economic prosperity and the ease and pleasure that accompanied it came to be seen as the most important end. In the place of living by faith in God, society set up the idols of personal peace and prosperity. In prosperity, people lost the Biblical view of nature and once again came to see nature as a purposeless and undesirable taskmaster to be escaped as soon as possible. Technology and science, which had been created by the practical and realist view of nature derived from the Bible, became tools to deny God and lead the world to escape the realities of  nature which God had created. Once again nature was rejected; this time not because it was unspiritual, but because it was seen as unpleasurable and unsatisfying. It was decided that the natural hardships and setbacks of life should be completely eliminated by human institutions. Prosperity made hedonism the new religion and the interventionist state would be the new church which would free men to pursue this higher goal of personal peace and pleasure.

Nobelist economist F.A. Hayek, who professed atheism, states the problem this way: “One can even say that the very success of liberalism became the cause of its decline. The success already achieved made men less willing to tolerate the evils still existing, which appeared both unbearable and unnecessary.” – The Road to Serfdom

Moses in fact warned the Israelites against this tendency in Deuteronomy.

When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down,and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery… You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. Like the nations the Lord destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 8:11-14, 17-20)

Of course, a rejection of nature is a rejection of the very liberty that had made prosperity possible. But society no longer had patience for liberty – they wanted happiness and the promise of an easy life for all. It was decided that now that we had science, wise central planners would be capable of bringing about better results than that produced by the creative chaos of the bourgeois era. Economists like John Maynard Keynes were happy to fill this desire and reinvented economics as a positivist statistic-based science rather than a social science. In short, society chose to entrust their welfare to wise industrialists, bankers and central planners who would organise society in such a way as to insulate us from hardship. It was hoped that the right to vote would ensure that these would not abuse their privilege. But lo and behold, today this class makes up an important part of the much loathed 1%. Who would have thought that if you gave special privileges to a certain class of people that they would end up using these to benefit themselves more than anyone else?

On a side note, I don’t intend this post to be a polemic against all state intervention and social safety nets. In reality, these are only a small part of the big picture. The problem is that our lust for security and easy living at all cost has led us to focus more on temporary ease than long-term sustainability and basic justice. Bailouts, subsidies, tariffs, quotas, state-granted monopolies, artificial interest rates, managed currency, fractional reserve banking, etc. These are the norm in today’s economy. To compensate for these privileges, populist politicians push for social programs, regulations and worker protection regimes. But these only serve to perpetuate the cancer by hiding the symptoms. They also make the state more and more dependent on economic elite in order to keep financing these programs. It’s a vicious cycle of dependence. Today, because of their endless financial obligations, governments must bow to the whim of the bond markets and hedge funds which hold the wealth of the banking and industrial elite. It’s not that there should be no laws to protect individuals in the most dire situations. But attempts to create heaven on earth through government is an experiment that can only fail for the simple reason that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”-Lord Acton

LIGHT THROUGH DARKNESS

Adventist Christianity is the light of the world because it places an important focus on God as Creator. Our message hails from the three angels messages of Revelation 14 which begins with the words: “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.” (Revelation 14:7) Our faith is therefore also founded on the first chapters of Genesis. In these we find that hardship, work and death have a purpose in our redemption.

The second and third angel’s message speak of the fall of Babylon and the destruction of those who cling to it. Adventism rejects babel-builders ancient and modern. Our message is that Babylon is fallen. Fallen are the attempts at building a perfect world through human power, science and scheming. These can only ever make life worse because they are built around corruptible man rather than God. Babel has always been based around the fear of work, hardship and death which we are not afraid of because we know they are temporary and that they have a purpose. On the contrary we embrace them as the cross we must bear on the path to heaven. This world is fading away and the only hope of paradise is Jesus Christ’s kingdom.

Finally, the mark of those who have escaped Babylon and do not fear suffering in this world will be whole-hearted obedience to God’s law of love. (Revelation 14:12). The Sabbath is at the heart of God’s law and points to the past, present and future. The past to remind us that nature is not evil and even under the curse is a part our redemption. The present to remind us that we do not live by bread alone – that this life is passing away and that what matters even more than material well-being is faithfulness to God. It also points to the future: to the time when toil, suffering and death will be no more.

More than anyone else, Adventists have a clear vision of God’s purposes – past, present and future, which is why we are the light of the world at this crucial time in history when liberty is on its deathbed because of increasing fear all around us. We have a clear and credible message of peace and hope because our prophetic faith, more than any other, gives us the assurance that God is in charge and history is moving along as planned. We don’t need central planners because we have His plan of salvation and restoration of our world. This plan of salvation is large and broad enough to ensure that every human that has ever lived has a fair chance at being saved. All that it takes is to walk in humble obedience to God, choosing to submit to God’s providence and His law rather than the path of ease and popularity. We hunger and thirst after the righteousness of God and recognise the hand that allows the suffering as one of love.

This may raise a question in the minds of some. Is Adventist christianity nothing but a life of stoic and morose resolve to suffer. No, quite on the contrary, facing reality without fear is the key to successful living. Ironically, when one accepts and embraces the inevitable suffering of life without fear, their creative potential is unleashed and they will lead lives that are the greatest blessing to themselves and to others. This is the lesson of history: prosperity and freedom are the unintended consequence of humility and poverty and slavery will be the unintended consequence of living for ease and wealth. This simple fact has extraordinary explanatory power in explaining the rise and fall of civilisations. It also perfectly echos the teachings of Christ: “whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted”. (Matthew 23:12)

Jesus Christ is the Desire of all Nations and is known in the hearts of all people who seek Him and His path of humility – no matter their religion. In presenting Jesus Christ to the world, we are introducing the humble people of all religions of the world to a fuller knowledge of the God they already knew dimly in their hearts. We are pulling them out of fear to a life of tangible and reasonable hope. Christ’s death and resurrection have reconciled the whole world to God and are the guarantee of the future kingdom He has promised.

Further suggested reading:

On Economics and History: Murray N. Rothbard, Austrian Perspectives on the History of Economic Thought, 2 vol.; Karl Popper, The Open Society and it Enemies; Frederic Bastiat, The Law; Antony Sutton, Wall Street and FDR; Lord Acton, Essays on Freedom and Power; Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson; Ludwig von Mises, The Free Market and its Enemies; Marxism Unmasked: From Delusion to Destruction (most of these books can be read online or purchased at www.mises.org)

On Adventism and its historical significance: Ellen G. White, The Great ControversyKeepers of the Flame (video series)

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