A review of How Should We Then Live? (The Reformation)


How Should We Then Live – Episode 4 – The Reformation | Francis Schaeffe…

    December 26, 2010 · 2:15 am

How Should We Then Live? (The Reformation)

Francis Schaeffer is all over the Reformation in chapters four and five. This section is less about art and more about the Reformation’s reaction to the “secular and religious distortions” in Renaissance humanism. Schaeffer continually stresses that the Renaissance and Reformation dealt with the same basic philosophical questions of universals and particulars but each gave completely different answers.

While the Renaissance advocated the humanistic ideal of man’s centrality in the universe, Schaeffer writes that the Reformation responded with Sola Scriptura. Luther preached the Bible as the supreme and final authority originating from an infinite, personal God who reveals himself to the world and tells us true things about people and nature. Schaeffer writes that when humanism infiltrated the church, the church was made equal to the Bible, but the Reformation taught that this authority was not divided between the Bible and the church because the Bible is our highest authority.

Schaeffer also discusses the reformers’ stance on Sola Gratia in reaction to the elevation of human reason or merit. The reformers taught that grace through faith in Christ is an unearned gift and nothing humans can accomplish themselves. While the Renaissance tried to give man his ultimate freedom, ironically, his real identity comes from the biblical declaration that man is made in the image of God but also fallen. In this view, we find both human dignity and the priesthood of all believers, but also a certain “abnormality” and the need for divine intervention. Schaeffer thinks that unfortunately Thomas Aquinas got this all wrong because he said that only man’s will was fallen, not his mind. Schaeffer also cites Raphael, Michelangelo, and Dante as examples of painters and poets who “distorted” biblical truth, although he doesn’t exactly explain why these men had to “merge biblical teaching and pagan thought” and did not simply realize the full implications of the gospel in the world.

Schaeffer talks about the “rood screen” – the screen which used to separate the altar from congregation. According the Schaeffer, the reformers saw this as a sign that the church was too big for her britches and tore it down to make a statement that the Bible is our highest authority and even the common people have free access to God. To those who see this as a ‘veil in the temple’ flashback, this makes a lot of sense. But to others, the rood screen or iconostas is a visual statement that we really cannot access the holy of holies through our own merit. Only Christ the high priest who moves in and out of the partitioned space is able to intercede “on behalf of all and for all.” Who really embraces the meaning of grace?

Schaeffer admits that the Reformation was certainly not a “golden age” but it was an attempt to make religion applicable to all of life and to “return to the Bible’s instruction and the example of the early church.” He argues that because the reformers did not mix humanism with Christianity, there was no nature versus grace problem and science and art were free to operate on biblical ground.

Was the Reformation against art? Schaeffer defends its iconoclastic reforms in the church because “to the men and women of the time, these were images to worship.” He likens the removal of religious images to cutting down “sacred groves,” although the reformers were not against “art as art.” Certainly, there were a lot of good things about Luther, Bach, and Handel’s musicianship which “related form and music to truth,” but the “Geneva Jigs” or the fact that Luther once ordered a family portrait do not seem like a satisfactory testimony to the Reformation’s support of the arts. Eventually, Schaeffer does praise Rembrandt, “a man of the Reformation,” whose artwork “neither idealized nature nor demeaned it.”

So the Reformation was not perfect, but Schaeffer argues that it brought good results to society, politics, and culture. The law of God governing both society and civil government and the insistence on the responsibility of people to the authority of the Bible paved the way for “tremendous freedom, but without chaos.” He writes that the Bible as the absolute and final authority on right and wrong provided the form and freedom in both society and government. Bucer, Rutherford, and Witherspoon recognized this as well as Locke and Jefferson, despite the two latter men’s inclinations to secularize the biblical form. Schaeffer briefly compares the checks and balances system of societies which embrace the authority of the Bible versus the Machiavellian politics of societies which do not. I wish he would have written more here.

In the same discussion of the Reformation’s influence on politics, Schaeffer finds himself defending Calvin, who “did not have the authority often attributed to him.” Evidently, Calvin’s influence in Geneva wasn’t so bad because he settled on the majority of pastor’s vote to have communion every three months even though he preferred it every Sunday.

Finally, Schaeffer lists consequences for societies which do not embrace Sola Scripture and Sola Gratia: “a twisted view of race” and a “noncompassionate use of accumulated wealth.” Issues such as slavery and racial prejudice occurred because Christians failed to speak up. In addition, while there were good products of the industrial revolution, there was also the growth of slums, the exploitation of women and children, and a sharp division between rich and poor classes when Christians failed to defend the true identity and value of human life. At least England had William Wilberforce.

These chapters were a little bit jumbled and I decided to make a sweeping summary of both instead of spending a great deal of time on the nitty gritties. Overall, Schaeffer gives us a pretty insightful and honest overview of the Reformation’s influence on culture despite a few far-fetched justifications of the reformers’ actions. Although I probably cared the least about this section of the book, I still greatly respect honest men such as Luther for furthering the kingdom in the best way he knew how.


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