Sunday, August 22, 2010

Starting Line-up for the Fall

Francis Schaeffer never described or viewed himself as a philosopher, historian, art critic, or even a theologian. He saw himself as a pastor. His primary text was the Bible. Repeatedly, he emphasized the doctrinal content of the Bible, the answers to the most basic questions found in the early chapters of Genesis, and the voice of the God who is there and is not silent speaking to us in truth.

Quite a few books grew out of his preaching, teaching, and lecturing. He really did not see himself as a writer and was 56 years old before the first of his publications hit the shelves. InterVarsity Press, previously a small and obscure publisher, achieved wealth and prominence in the publishing world, thanks to Schaeffer's writings.

Although Francis Schaeffer graduated to glory over a quarter of a century ago, he is one of our most esteemed faculty members. He will be teaching much of our Humanities: Modern World course during the first quarter.

How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture first came out in the critical year of 1976. Some viewed it as a Christian Western Civilization textbook. Some thought of it as a picture filled coffee table book. It was neither. Too brief and too random to be a textbook, it is also much more than a picture book. It does contain really good illustrations, including many works of art, but it is an apologetic for a Christian worldview. In many ways, it is a Christian answer to such books as Kenneth Clark's Civilization, a secular humanist survey of Western Civilization. I know of no other book that is as good an introductory survey of the key events, thinkers, writers, movements, artists, philosophers, cultural forces, and ideas found in Western Civilization.* The graduate student in philosophy may wince at Schaeffer's treatment of key philosophers, but that graduate student had to first learn the names and places somewhere, and this book is a great starting point.

*[Actually, I know of at least four other books that are great surveys of
Western Civilization from Christian starting points:
1. The One and the Many by R. J. Rushdoony is an outstanding analysis
of the philosophical and theological issues that have been debated in Western
Civilization. Published in 1973, the book should have been published with
illustrations and charts and a study guide. I wish Rushdoony had been on a
ten-part video describing Western Civilization and its dilemmas.
2. From Rationalism to Irrationalism: The Decline of the Western Mind from
the Renaissance to the Present
by C. Gregg Singer. I have only read
portions of this book, but Singer's
Theological Interpretation of American
was a life changer for me.
3. The Roots of Western Culture by Herman Dooyeweerd. This book
does not cover nearly enough of the people, events, and dates, but it is a
powerful critique of the philosophical issues the world has faced from the
4. Christianity and European Culture by Christopher Dawson. All
of Dawson's works examine Western Culture from a Christian angle, but this one
is especially good.]

A ten part video series was made with Francis Schaeffer (directed by his son Franky). We will be watching this outstanding series. It is dated and now humorous at points because of the passage of time and the changes in technology, but it still stands as a great series of videos. All students will also be blessed with complete sets of the Study Guide so we can learn the names of key people, tackle the really good discussion questions, and use the outlines to further our study.

[Question: What Christian thinker and writer bumped into Francis Schaeffer in a book store in St. Louis, Missouri and was profoundly moved to ask himself two questions: "Where did he get that haircut?" and "What's with the knickers?"]

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