Francis Schaeffer on Rob Bell by Carson T. Clark on April 7, 2011

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Dr. Francis Schaeffer – Episode IV – The Reformation 27 min

NoMirrorHDDHrorriMoN

I was impacted by this film series by Francis Schaeffer back in the 1970’s and I wanted to share it with you. Schaeffer makes three key points concerning the Reformation: “1. Erasmian Christian humanism rejected by Farel. 2. Bible gives needed answers not only as to how to be right with God, but concerning the meaning of life and what is right and what is wrong, and concerning mankind and nature. 3. The people of the Reformation did not have humanism’s problem, because the Bible gives a unity between God—as the ultimate universal—and the individual things.” What a great difference this made in the world!!!

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Francis Schaeffer pictured below:

 

 

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Francis Schaeffer on Rob Bell

by Carson T. Clark on April 7, 2011

Have you ever come across a quote that describes the present better than its own time? I recently had that experience while reading Barry Hankins’ biographical work, Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America. Time and again I reread Schaeffer’s words, thinking about their applicability to the present theological war overLove Wins. It caused me to consider what Schaeffer would have thought about Bell and contemporary evangelicalism.

Schaeffer’s greatest gift was his almost prophetic ability to perceive the tensions underlying cultural trends, whether sacred or secular. Here precision of word is required. It seems to me that Schaeffer was a one-trick pony. He exhibited true greatness at the thing he did well, but regularly got into trouble when he ventured away from that specialty. I’d love to get Hankins’ feedback on this, but, in my opinion, Schaeffer was at his best when dealing with the present as opposed to the past or future. To employ a medical analogy, Schaeffer would be like a doctor who struggles to understand diseases causes or prescribe effective treatments, but is truly brilliant in making the initial diagnoses that few others can.

To be perfectly candid, I groan virtually every time I encounter Schaeffer’s treatment of history or philosophy. It’s just awful. For example, his so-called “Reformation base” is an ideological Utopia that never actually existed and his criticisms of Thomas Aquinas reveals rampant ignorance about his subject matter. Furthermore, I cringe at the solutions he proposed to legitimate problems. This is perhaps best illustrated by his role in galvanizing the Christian Right into a political bloc after Roe v. Wade. Yet, despite such blunders, his discernment of the cultural challenges of his day were truly penetrating as he identified issues like ecology and homosexuality decades before other conservative evangelicals. It was that ability that enables his observations to still ring true some 30 years later.

From everything I’ve read and heard of Schaeffer, there’s no doubt in my mind that, were he alive today, he’d be firmly opposed to Rob Bell. As a forerunner to the Neo-Reformed movement, my guess is Schaeffer would a) decry Bell’s doctrine as heretical–thinking it the result of evangelical accommodation to liberalism and postmodernism–and b) would recommend that we come right out and identify Bell as apostate, not unlike John Piper implicitly suggested. Naturally, I’d be groaning and cringing. Then I suspect Schaeffer would notice a crucial pattern that has apparently escaped notice among most his conservative peers. Specifically, the degree to which people resonate with Bell’s book seems to have a direct, inverse correlation to the degree to which they’re troubled by the lack of compassion among conservative evangelicals. This brings me back to that quote:

“What men find ugly is what they see in Christians who hold to the orthodox doctrine that men are lost, but show no signs of compassion… This is what causes men in our generation to be turned off by evangelicalism.”

My suspicion is that Schaeffer would see that Bell’s fans are motivated not by a rational disdain of “biblical doctrine” (as so many have charged), but rather an existential reaction against the (apparent) delight those individuals take in their doctrines about God’s wrath and eternal punishment. For most the motivation isn’t an assault upon the doctrine of hell, but a retreat from its misuse and abuse. Schaeffer would see that Bell and his followers are being driven by a grave concern that God is being painted as a sort of cosmic sadist who revels in unending torture. Though he’d almost certainly denounce such theology as an overreaction, I can’t help but think his heart would go out to them.

 

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