Truth Tuesday:The Infinite-Personal God: Thoughts from Francis Schaeffer’s Escape from Reason by Mark Peach

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The Infinite-Personal God: Thoughts from Francis Schaeffer’s Escape from Reason by Mark Peach

The Scientific Age

Uploaded by  on Oct 3, 2011

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Episode VII – The Age of Non Reason

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

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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 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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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Infinite-Personal God: Thoughts from Francis Schaeffer’s Escape from Reason


Perhaps you are familiar with the indie band Arcade Fire. Their most recent album is entitled Neon Bible. The songs on Neon Bible certainly reflect something of the Bible itself in so far as it raises some of life’s biggest questions. Some of these questions are about fear, faith, love and disappointment. On the album is an update version of their song “No Cars Go” in which we hear the eerie tone of the line “Don’t know where we are goin.’ The line gives the listener the sense that there is no certainty to what our end is. This captures much of what I think indie music captures about our fragmented culture where the greatest questions are asked, but with very few answers.Because we live in a postmodern culture where many are not afraid to ask honest questions about life, the concept of faith is quite popular. Francis Schaeffer’s work and his book Escape from Reason have made a tremendous contribution to an understanding of Christian faith in this type of cultural context. In Escape from Reason, Schaeffer is clear in pointing out that the Bible reveals that God is both infinite and personal. He is the infinite-personal God whom created all things out of nothing and therefore the creation is finite or limited. Only God alone is the infinite Creator, the Creator without limitations. On the side of infinity, Schaeffer points out that, humans are “as separated from God as is the machine.” (pg. 26)On the side of human personality, Schaeffer is clear that humans, being made in the image of God, were made to have a personal relationship with God. Schaeffer states, “On the side of personality you are related to God. You are not infinite but finite; nevertheless, you are truly personal; you are created in the image of the personal God who exists.” (pg. 26-27)As Schaeffer fleshes this idea out in Escape from Reason, he presents a clear Biblical view of human persons. About the Biblical view of the whole of a human being, Schaeffer states,

“It is not a Platonic view. The soul is not more important than the body. God made the whole man and the whole man is important. The doctrine of the biblical resurrection of the dead is not an old-fashioned thing. It tells us that God loves the whole man and the whole man is important. The biblical teaching, therefore, opposes the Platonic, which makes the soul (“the upper”) very important and leaves the body (“the lower”) with little importance at all. The biblical view opposes the humanistic position where the body and autonomous mind of man become important, and grace becomes very unimportant.”(pg. 28)

God made the whole human being and cares about the whole human being.

Schaeffer goes on to point out the importance of understanding historically the philosophical schools that have help to shape where we are today. He points out that in Western philosophy, from the rise of Greek philosophy until now, the commonly held belief that the hope of finding complete answers which would encompass all of thought and life would come through rationalism plus rationality rather than rationality and faith in the God of the Bible. In his book Death in the City Schaeffer states,

The Bible puts its religious teaching in a historic setting. It is quite the opposite of the new theology and existential thought, quite the opposite of the twentieth century’s reduction of religion to the “spiritual” and the subjective. Scripture relates true religion to space-time history which may be expressed in normal literary form. And that is important, because our generation takes the word religion and everything religious and turns it into something psychological or sociological…a holy and loving God really exists, and He works into the significant history which exists” (Death in the City, pg. 17)

The philosophical thought during the time of Kant and Rousseau in the late 1700’s was a time of fighting for freedom. The freedom that was sought after was an autonomous freedom in which human freedom would have no restraint or limitations. The quest for this kind of freedom took place during a time when Western philosophy was rationalistic, rational, and sought to find a unified field of knowledge.

Rationalism as Schaeffer puts it in Escape from Reason is “man begins absolutely and totally from himself, gathers the information concerning the particulars and formulates the universals.” (pg. 34) The term “rational” on the other hand has no relationship to “rationalism.” This term “rational” is the act in which “man’s aspirations for the validity of reason are well founded.” In other words, if something is true the opposite is not true. Schaeffer states,

The basic position of man in rebellion against God is that man is at the centre of the universe, that he is autonomous – here lies his rebellion. Man will keep his rationalism and his rebellion, his insistence on total autonomy or partially autonomous areas, even if it means he must give up his rationality.”(pg. 42)

With this quest for autonomy, humans began to view reality in which there is a large gap between nature and universals. Schaeffer states,

“The hope of a connecting link between two spheres has completely disappeared. There is a complete dichotomy between the upper and lower storeys. The line between the upper and lower storeys has become a concrete horizontal, ten thousand feet thick, with highly-charged barbed-wire fixed in the concrete…Below the line there is rationality and logic. The upper storey becomes the non-logical and the non-rational.”(pg. 46)

With this dichotomy, on the basis of reason human have no meaning, purpose, or significance. On the basis of the non-rational and non-reasonable humans obtain a sense of optimism. But from this worldview humans are left with the need to take a leap of faith because they cannot rationally search for God.

The search for significance is intrinsic to who we are as people made in the image of God. Humans made in the image of God cannot live as though they are insignificant. But humans cannot live in the lower storey and find adequate answers concerning meaning, purpose, and significance. Yet as Schaeffer states, “in our day, the sphere of faith is placed in the non-rational and non-logical as opposed to the rational and logical.” (pg. 75)

Schaeffer points out some consequences of pitting faith against rationality. First, if we separate the upper storey or the world of universals from nature there is no way of establishing a relationship between the upper storey and everyday life in regard to morality. Schaeffer states, “You cannot have real morals in the real world after you have made this separation.” (pg. 80) The second consequence is that the separation creates no adequate basis for law. God revealed something real in the common world of life. Third, the separation, “throws away the answer to the problem of evil.” Schaeffer states,

“the True Christian position is that, in space and time and history, there was an unprogrammed man who made a choice, and actually rebelled against God…without Christianity’s answer that God made a significant man in a significant history with evil being the result of Satan’s and then man’s historic space-time revolt, there is no answer but to accept Baudelaire’s answer [‘If there is a God, He is the devil’] with tears. Once the historic Christian answer is put away, all we can do is to leap upstairs and say that against all reason God is good.”(pg. 81)

Without Christianity’s answer to the problem of evil what we have left is an irrational leap of faith.

Christianity thoroughly provides an answer, but rationalism must be renounced and rationality embraced. Christianity provides a world and life view with a unified answer. Schaeffer states,

“On the side of infinity…we are separated from God entirely, but on the side of personality we are made in the image of God. So God can speak and tell us about Himself—not exhaustively, but truly. (We could not, after all, know anything exhaustively as finite creatures.) Then He has told us about things in the finite created realm, too. He has told us true things about the cosmos and history. Thus, we are not adrift.” (pg. 83)

I do recognize now that doubt is real and that doubt’s role is significant in our lives and yet at a fundamental level we have answers to our cry, “Don’t know where were goin.” Although we cannot have ultimate answers without something revealed about God and God indeed is made known in the person of Jesus Christ. The person and work of Christ is communicated to us in the story that the Bible tells. It is the story of the infinite-personal God drawing near because he cares. God cares about the whole of a human being. There is not an area of our life that he does not care about and there is not an area of our life that is autonomous. The Bible says first that there is an infinite-personal God who created all things. Because he created all things the universe begins as personal. Because it is personal the longings of love and communication are intrinsic to all of humanity.

God has also always existed and has created all things. Not only has God created all things, but created them outside of himself. Because he created all things outside of himself the world is objectively real and therefore there is a true history and a true me. Schaeffer states,

“If the intrinsically personal origin of the universe is rejected, what alternative outlook can anyone have? It must be said emphatically that there is no final answer except that man is a product of the impersonal, plus time, plus chance.” (pg. 87)

Humanism or rationalism says that humans can built bridges to ultimate answers apart from anyone else, apart from an infinite-personal God. But this is impossible given that humans are finite. Humans cannot point to anything with ultimate certainty. Regarding human quests for answers Schaeffer states,

“beginning only from himself autonomously, it is quite obvious that, being finite, he can never reach any absolute answer. This would be true if only on the basis of the fact that he is finite; but to this must be added the Fall, the fact of his rebellion.” (pg. 89)

We are not only finite and limited, but by nature our own quest for true significance and meaning takes place in autonomous rebellion against the God who is there.

But we have hope. The Bible states clearly that humans are made in the image of this infinite-personal God and this gives us a starting point at which to seek for ultimate answers. The Bible says even as lost and broken as we are, seeking to live life apart from the life source, the image of God is still exhibited in humans. We are not like from machines or plants as beautiful as they might be, because we are personal. But how can we seek the infinite-personal God if we ourselves are finite humans?

We cannot possess ultimate answers apart from the reference point of the infinite God himself. The humanist or rationalist puts himself at the center of the universe in order to seek ultimate meaning and answers. Schaeffer says this persons “insists on being autonomous with only the knowledge he can gather, and has ended up finding himself quite meaningless.” (pg. 90) The knowledge we can gather is limited and if it comes only from within we have no hope for ultimate answers regarding meaning and life.

Christianity does provide a worldview in which to wrestle with ultimate questions in not simply a theoretical way, but in a personal way. Schaeffer states,

“Christianity is a system which is composed of a set of ideas which can be discussed. By ‘system’ we do not mean a scholastic abstraction, nevertheless we do not shrink from using the word. The Bible does not set out unrelated thoughts. The system it sets forth has a beginning and moves from that beginning in a non-contradictory way. The beginning is the existence of the infinite-personal God as Creator of all else. Christianity is not just a vague set of incommunicable experiences, based on a totally unverifiable ‘leap in the dark.’ Neither conversion (the beginning of the Christian life) nor spirituality (the growth) should be such a leap. Both are firmly related to the God who is there and the knowledge He has given us – and both involve the whole man.”

I would add that the Bible is not just a system, but also a story. It is a story where God is the ultimate actor and also the one who has written the script. It is a story that reveals that the infinite-personal God is there and has drawn near to his people with a passionate pursuit. He is infinite and he is personal. As finite persons we can have hope that God has drawn personally near in the person of Jesus in whom the whole story points to.

Jesus is also the one who grants us the privilege of being included in this great story as well. Jesus through his death and resurrection from death provides a way to live personally with this infinite-personal God. Our response to his grace in drawing near ought to be acknowledging our rebellion as we have insistence on being autonomous. The meaningful life comes through acknowledging our dependence on the God who is there and in Jesus Christ as The Way, The Truth, and The Life.

The story continues to move forward unfolding toward a day when lost people from all nations will have their story included in the great story of God’s personal restoration of his people and the world. The story unfolds until one day we will know fully the God who is there. No longer must we live out our own story without a script. No longer must we live out our own story by the line, “Don’t no where were goin!”

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