I first read this book in 2002 and it was the primer that got me into apologetics and philosophy. From Schaeffer I moved to James Sire; from Sire to Douglas Groothuis, and from Groothuis to Cornelius Van Til. The book is quite exciting for the reader actually believes he will take these arguments and reclaim culture for Christ. Schaeffer offers a stirring vision on how the loss of God affects every area of life.
Unfortunately, the devil is in the details. Schaeffer fundamentally misrepresents every philosopher and group with whom he deals. There is no intellectual rigor whatsoever.
Schaeffer sees himself broadly within the tradition of Cornelius Van Til, but he is a watered down version of Van Til. For all of Van Til’s problems, Van Til knew if you were going to press the antithesis, you were going to press it in the right place. Schaeffer fails that because he thinks “The Greeks were okay who got reason right. It was Hegel who messed it up and introduced irrationality.”
Thesis: In giving up the hope of rationality, a rationality that is founded only in the revelation of God in Christ, man is plunged below the line of despair. This line of despair normally moves in the following historical pattern: philosophy → art → music → general culture → theology (Schaeffer 16). Above the line there is absolutes (whether they are sufficiently justified).
The Positive Case for Christian Theism
God is personal and in creating man in his own image, man is personal (87). Schaeffer proves this in the form of a disjunctive syllogism (A v B; ~B; therefore, A). “Either there is sa personal beginning to everything or one has what the impersonal throws up by chance out of the time sequence” (88).
God placed his revelation in history, and in doing so made it verifiable (92). God’s speaking in history is what makes unity possible between the upper and lower storeys, because God spoke to all areas.
The Nature of Proof (Epistemology)
(1) A theory must be non-contradictory and explain the phenomena in question.
(2) We have to be able to live consistently with our theory (109).
The Good Parts
It’s not hard to see why Schaeffer had the influence he did. The book was just “fun” to read. And he saw the current problems on transgenderism, transhumanism, and Cultural Marxism. His zeal for evangelism is contagious and he knew how important communication was (45).
While Schaeffer fundamentally misreads Hegel, he does get the dialectical methodology of Marx correct (46). While he doesn’t draw the specific connection, we now see that dialectical methodology is a tool the New Left uses today (and which most conservative culture warriors are unable to deal with).
He has some very good analyses of art history.
Schaeffer had a tendency to make sweeping surveys on philosophy. Sometimes they were misleading. Other times they were just false. His most notorious example is Hegel, and here I can only summarize Greg Bahnsen’s critique of Schaeffer.
Schaeffer writes, “Before his (Hegel’s) time truth was conceived on the basis of antithesis…. Truth, in the sense of antithesis, is related to the idea of cause and effect. Cause and effect produces a chain reaction which goes on in a horizontal line. With the coming of Hegel, all this changed…. (Hegel proposed) from now on let us think in this way; instead of thinking in terms of cause and effect, what we really have is a thesis, and opposite is an antithesis, and the answer to their relationship is not in the horizontal movement of cause and effect, but the answer is always synthesis…. (Thus) instead of antithesis we have, as modern man’s approach to truth, synthesis”.
Hegel never denigrated logic. He simply pointed out that the antithesis must always arise from the thesis because of man’s finite take on truth. Further, one can only be astonished at Schaeffer’s claim that the Greeks valued truth and the logical antithesis. Plato and Aristotle might have, but one doubts that Heraclitus or the Sophists did. Indeed, Schaeffer’s misconstrual of Hegel in favor of the Greeks seems to let the Greeks off the hook!
This book is rightly considered a 20th century classic. Despite its intellectual gaffes, it did get evangelicals thinking about worldview issues. Schaeffer was key in rallying evangelicals to the pro-life cause. For that we are grateful. But the apologist cannot stop with Schaeffer. Metaphysics and epistemology, which Schaeffer left undeveloped, have advanced light years.
6 thoughts on “Review: The God Who Is There (Schaeffer)”
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How can he have good analyses of art history if most of it is premised on a fundamental misreading of Hegel?
He has different strengths and weaknesses. He is fairly perceptive on 20th century figures. He doesn’t know much about history of philosophy before then.
But doesn’t he base most of his analysis of art in the twentieth century as an outworking of Hegel?
I see what you are saying now. He sort of does. I think historically he is wrong, but analytically he might have a point.
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