Preaching Festival 2012
1912 ~ The Centennials ~ 2012
Lottie Moon – William Booth – Francis Schaeffer – Jacques Ellel
This is the opening talk by Dr. Ralph Blair given at the 2012 Preaching Festival. The 2012 weekend focused on a group of centennial, historical Christians whose journeys and testimonies are an encouragement and inspiration to all. Sermons from the weekend are available here.
In the Year of Our Lord, 1912
We’re commemorating centenaries of the deaths of Lottie Moon, Baptist missionary to China, and William Booth, founder of The Salvation Army. We’re also commemorating the 100th anniversaries of the births of apologist Francis Schaeffer and French sociologist and legal scholar, Jacques Ellul.
The year is 1912. New Mexico and Arizona are admitted as our 47th and 48th states. In another 47 years, we’ll have Alaska and Hawaii, too. First Lady, Helen Taft, plants the first cherry trees around the Tidal Basin. In November, in a four-man Presidential race between William Howard Taft, Teddy Roosevelt, Eugene V. Debs and Woodrow Wilson, Wilson wins.
Times Square has a new attraction. It’s called the Automat. You get the food through little lift-up doors, for just nickels a serving. A new cookie’s come out in Hoboken. It’s called Oreo. It’ll one day be America’s favorite cookie. And, speaking of cookies, down in Savannah, Georgia, Juliette Gordon Low has started a girls’ club called Girl Guides. It’ll be known later as the Girl Scouts. And, the Girl Scouts are going to sell a lot of cookies.
Up in Maine, L. L. Bean starts a mail-order business, saying: “You can’t expect success hunting deer or moose if your feet aren’t properly dressed.” Other 1912 startups include Lockheed, Sterling Optical, Liberty Mutual, Gray Drug, Weis Markets, Diamond Foods, Sun-Maid, Universal Studios and Paramount Pictures.
The Republic of China ends 2,000 years of imperial rule while, in Russia, Pravda starts pushing its propaganda. In England, a so-called “missing link,” Piltdown man, is “discovered.” But, in 1953, it’ll prove to have been a hoax.
The First International Eugenics Conference meets in London to call for forced sterilization, abortion and breeding people so that “undesirables be got rid of and the desirables multiplied.” In support of this, Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger says: “More children from the fit, less from the unfit.” A “warless world” via a one-world government is proposed at The World Peace Foundation assembly. The title of the Unitarian clergyman’s keynote is: “International Good-Will as a Substitute for Armies and Navies.”
The bestselling authors of 1912 are Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, Joseph Conrad and Edgar Rice Burroughs. A Wellesley professor pens a new poem, “America the Beautiful.” Says The New York Times: “We intend no derogation to Miss Katharine Lee Bates when we say that she is a good minor poet.” Her poem becomes a kind of national anthem, second to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” inspired 100 years before in the War of 1812. By the way, Bates is in a “Boston marriage” with colleague, Katherine Coman.
1912 sees the silent film, Shakespeare’s Richard III, but it’s almost immediately misplaced, and so, lost for 84 years. Oliver Twist is our first film of over an hour’s length and D. W. Griffiths directs our first gangster movie, The Musketeers of Pig Alley. Other American film hits of 1912 are Pilgrim’s Progress, The Star of Bethlehem and Quo Vadis.
On Broadway, we can see Macbeth, Peter Pan and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Popular songs of the day are “When Irish Eyes are Smiling,” “Daddy Has A Sweetheart and Mother is Her Name,” “On Moonlight Bay” and everything by Irving Berlin. For the more sophisticated, there are the latest works from Elgar, Ravel, Debussy, Prokofiev and Charles Ives.
Christians are singing some new hymns. “In the Garden,” is by pharmacist Charles Miles, born just 25 miles south of Ocean Grove. Another is “The Old Rugged Cross” by George Bennard, one-time officer in The Salvation Army. Bennard was born in 1873 in Youngstown, Ohio. Here’s a vintage Rodeheaver recording of “The Old Rugged Cross” on the Victor label.
Out in the North Atlantic, it’s Sunday afternoon, April 14th. The largest movable thing ever made by man is racing towards New York City. While most Titanic passengers are indulging more worldly fare, some gather for worship. They’re singing The Navy Hymn to a tune named for the island of St. Paul’s shipwreck: “Eternal Father, strong to save, Whose arm hath bound the restless wave, Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep, Its own appointed limits keep, Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee, For those in peril on the sea!”
That night at 11:40, the ship scrapes an iceberg. By 2:20 a.m., as a little orchestra plays, “Nearer, My God, To Thee,” the “unsinkable” ship splits asunder and sinks to the ocean floor. 1,517 passengers and crew drown. Among them: John Jacob Astor IV, Macy’s Isidor and Ida Straus, Benjamin Guggenheim and W. T. Stead, London’s pioneer investigative journalist and William Booth’s ghostwriter for his book, In Darkest England.
Before they, too, drown, John Harper, pastor-elect of Chicago’s Moody Church, and Robert Bateman, a missionary doctor to the red-light district of Jacksonville, Florida, minister the Gospel’s comfort to the drowning.
Others who die in 1912: Clara Barton, Joseph Lister, Bram Stoker, Robert Browning, Will Carleton, August Strindberg and Wilbur Wright.
One of 1912’s newborns is Millvina Dean, the youngest survivor of the Titanic. Other newborns include: Bayard Rustin, Virgil Fox, May Sarton, Alan Turing, John Cheever, John Cage, Jackson Pollock, Charles Addams, Julia Child, Gene Kelly, Woody Guthrie, Doris Duke, Tip O’Neill, David Merrick, Burton Lane, Jean Harlow, Gordon Parks, Studs Terkel, Archibald Cox, Milton Friedman, Art Linkletter, Wernher von Braun, Eugene Ionesco, Jay (“Tonto”) Silverheels, Perry Como, Vivien Leigh, Pat Nixon and Frances Octavia Smith. She’ll become Dale Evans, “Queen of the Cowgirls” and co-writer of, “Happy Trails, to You, Until We Meet Again”!
* * *
December 12, 1840 – December 24, 1912
Lottie Moon’s name is familiar to all Southern Baptists. Every Christmas, Southern Baptists make missions contributions in her honor. The goal of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for 2012 is $175 million.
Not being a Southern Baptist, I missed out on buying a statuette of Lottie Moon. Hers was one in a set of statuettes offered by Beeson Divinity School almost 20 years ago. I bought all the others: Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Edwards, Carey, Spurgeon, Moody, Sankey. You’ve seen four of these here on other weekends. But, who was this Lottie Moon? I didn’t buy hers since I inferred, in ignorance, that she was simply another of many 19th-century missionaries and that she was included because the school had to have a Southern Baptist in the set. So, let me tell you what I didn’t know.
In 1840, Charlotte (“Lottie”) Moon was born to privilege on a 1,500-acre plantation at Charlottesville, Virginia. She was always bright, but she never grew taller than 4 feet 3 inches. This combination may have accounted for a lifelong streak of savvy defiance. She resisted conforming to expectations of place and privilege. She resisted her family’s Baptist heritage, too, tending, proudly, to wear her skepticism on her sleeves. But, by 21, she’d resolved her reservations about Christian faith sufficiently to be baptized. Completing studies at two colleges, she received one of the first master’s degrees earned by a woman in the Old South. Proficient in six languages, she went on to teach in female academies in Kentucky and, later, in Georgia.
Lottie Moon was soon envisioning herself going into foreign mission work. But, the Old South’s culture-mired Baptist mission board’s position on a woman’s role was at odds with Lottie Moon’s call. Unmarried women were not sent to the foreign field unless they were placed under supervision of a married man in his home and along with his wife.
Undeterred by these obstacles, as was her habit, Lottie Moon began to plot a way around them, recognizing that, of all the world’s religions, none affirmed women more than Christianity did. So, she began to express herself in Baptist periodicals – especially to other Baptist women. In effect, she was creating a rival source of support, independent of male bureaucracy.
In a piece she wrote in 1871, she explained that many poor women never enter a church building because they have nothing “decent” to wear. So, she argued: Who better than women to visit them in their homes and bring the Gospel to them there. Tactfully not disputing the board’s belief that, “Our Lord does not call on women to preach, or to pray in public,” she went on to point out: “But no less does he say to them than to men, ‘Go, work today in my vineyard’.”
Little by little she worked her way into an assignment in China. And, once there – on the other side of the world – she continued to innovate as she felt led of God to do.
So, in 1873, Lottie Moon, at 32, arrived in China. Here’s what she wrote: (And, instead of a-n-d for “and” she always used ampersands.) “The missionary comes in & [here she uses, as always, ampersands] settles down among the natives. His [sic] first object is to convince them that he is human & that he is their sincere friend. By patience & gentleness & unwearied love, he wins upon them until there begins to be a diversion in sentiment.” This shows real sensitivity to the indigenous. Somewhat ahead of her time, she sensed the importance of avoiding a paternalist approach in order to establish connection. Her great gift for languages was a real advantage in learning Chinese – probably the most difficult of all foreign languages for a Westerner. She mastered Chinese. And, she exchanged her Western wardrobe for indigenous clothing. This was all intrinsic to her experientially based philosophy as a working missionary. She learned that the more she could identify with the Chinese people and with their culture, the more opportunity she had for preaching the Gospel to them. This lesson is one that most evangelicals have not learned when it comes to reaching gay men and lesbians with the Gospel.
Her denomination’s gendered discrimination isn’t altogether revised even today, but the egalitarian Lottie Moon did not let it get in her way even back then. In her 1883 article called, “The Women’s Question Again,” she protested: “Can we wonder at the mortal weariness and disgust, the sense of wasted powers and the conviction that her life is a failure, that comes over a woman when, instead of the ever broadening activities that she had planned, she finds herself tied down to the petty work of teaching a few girls?” Well, of course she ministered to women and children, but she ministered to men, too. It would later be observed by a Southern Baptist minister: “Moon’s defiance of the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board when she moved alone from the established mission compound in Tengchow to [her] pioneer work as a single woman in Pingtu is a historical fact that cannot be ignored or rehabilitated to fit Victorian or contemporary notions of a woman’s ‘proper place’. … Had the Foreign Mission Board been prescient enough to anticipate Moon’s entrepreneurial approach to mission work, the board would never have appointed her.” (Chuck Warnock III)
In 1885, having moved, by herself, into Pingtu in China’s remote northern interior, she was reaching hundreds of Chinese with the Gospel. On the 10th of September, 1890, she wrote to the board back home: “When the gospel is allowed to grow naturally in China, without forcing processes of development, the ‘church in the house’ is usually its first form of organization.” And that house-church form today, over against the atheist Chinese government’s state-sanctioned churches, is still the most vibrant expression of Christianity in China. Moon went there with these words: “God grant us faith and courage to keep ‘hands off’ and allow this new garden of the Lord’s planting to ripen in the rays of the Divine Love, free from human interference!”
She preached in spite of China’s political rebellions, famines, plagues and her continuing financial needs. But, for all her independence and stamina for some forty years of service, so often spent where no one else spoke English, her life was hard. She scribbled this sentence, later found in her bankbook: “I pray that no missionary will ever be as lonely as I have been.”
She pleaded for the board to send more missionaries to help her, but the board could not afford to send them. So, she mobilized the Baptist women who thrilled to her reports, and, thus, the first of the many Lottie Moon Christmas Offerings was organized. That year, over three thousand dollars were raised – enough for three more missionaries. Since then, the Christmas appeal has raised over $1.5 billion for mission work on foreign fields.
Predictably, it’s been in the raising of those funds that Lottie lore emerged as a kind of guilt tripping into contributing. It was said, for example, that poor Lottie Moon starved herself to death to feed the starving Chinese. There’s no proof at all for this, but the story worked for fundraising. A typical fund raising slogan put it this way: “Lottie Moon is starving again!”
Well, she may not have literally starved herself to death, but Lottie Moon surely did spend herself for Christ’s cause in China. In 1912, her health took a sudden and dramatic turn for the worst. Perhaps it was a stroke with some related dementia, but she deteriorated rapidly. On December 14, with her nurse and her attending physician, a fellow missionary, she left for Shanghai, first leg of projected trip back to America. But, on Christmas Eve, at Kobe Harbor in Japan, Lottie Moon passed into the Presence of her Lord. Her body was cremated before the ship reached San Francisco.
On January 28, 1913, her ashes were buried in Virginia. These simple words are atop her grave marker’s crest: “Faithful Unto Death.”
* * *
April 10, 1829 – August 20, 1912
According to William Booth’s son, Bramwell, whom his father appointed his successor in The Salvation Army, “benevolence was the leading feature of his [father’s] character.” “Benevolence” certainly comes to mind when we think of the worldwide work of The Salvation Army – a great record of charity now approaching a century and a half. Today, that benevolence is expressed through homeless shelters, soup kitchens, prisoner rehab, drug and alcohol rehab, relief in natural disasters, parenting classes, elder services, youth camps, missing persons work and the countering of human trafficking in addition to the more explicit preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Benevolence can very often be a very good thing, but it also can have unintended consequences – beneficiaries’ habits of dependency and their loss of self-determination. Unfortunately, some alleged “benevolence” comes more from contempt and attempted control than from compassion and the aftereffects can be class warfare and even a cruel totalitarianism.
Social critic Roger Kimball argues: “It’s not that benevolence is a bad thing per se, on the contrary, it’s just that, like charity, it works best the more local are its aims. Enlarged,” Kimball cautions, it becomes like that “telescopic philanthropy” that Charles Dickens attributes to Mrs. Jellyby. Like other benefactors, “Mrs. Jellyby’s philanthropy is more ardent, the more abstract and distant its objects. Africa excites her benevolence. When it comes to her own family, however, she is indifferent to the point of callousness.”
This irony may be at least one good reason why the New Testament call to an agapic lifestyle is always aimed at benefiting whoever is at hand. We’re not to pick and choose those whom we’re to love. We’re not to sort through those we don’t like in order to zero in on “loving” those we like, those who like us, those like us. Christians are to love whoever happens to be at hand.
Moreover, we’re to determine how to love the one at hand by recognizing his or her needs on the basis of how we, ourselves, attend to our own sensed needs. How do we love ourselves in practical terms? That’s how we’re to love others in practical terms. This approach is as personal as self-interest, as pragmatic as what we actually do for ourselves and as local as home base.
Not unexpectedly, the Salvation Army has had many detractors throughout its history: jealous Anglicans and Methodists, anxious brewers, hostile whoremongers, disdainful elitists and a host of others with their agendas.
The Army’s founder, William Booth, was no doubt dictatorial and arrogant, often quite oblivious to the offense some among the ranks took to his imperious style, but his focus was always to do the most good for the most people in need. “Doing the Most Good” – that’s now a Salvation Army registered service mark. Those he took to be in far less real need, including his own adult children, would have to do with less of his attention and, if need be, little or – eventually – no attention at all. But the one exception to this single-minded labor was his ever-tender love and devotion to Catherine, his wife and brilliant co-founder of the Army.
According to Bramwell, his father “would often say what everyone thought to be impolitic.” Said Bramwell: “The fear of his occasional imprudence gave me bad half hours! There were interviews of great importance, for example, when it was certainly the part of worldly, if not of spiritual wisdom, to refrain from entering upon certain subjects so long as silence could be maintained with honor. In such circumstances he was never to be trusted, however much he might have been entreated beforehand!”
Bramwell spoke of his father’s “granite and superlative will. He was immovable, and therefore, in the passive sense, invincible.” Bramwell said that, “This led [the General] at times upon a line of conduct which may have appeared pedantic to those who did not understand [that] his determined and steadfast will was really the driving force of his other qualities.” Bramwell said his father’s “own benevolence made him impatient. … He was at times a hasty executioner, deaf to excuses until after the culprit’s head was off! … He was “irascible, and, when displeased, had great liberty of speech” – as it were. The son remembers that, when he was a child, “there were times when [his father] would arrive at the house like a hurricane, blowing, as it were, the children right and left – we used to call him the ‘Bishop’ in those early days, and sometimes, although we loved the very ground he trod upon, we were unanimously agreed on the advisability of keeping out of the way of his ‘visitations’ – but to [our mother], he would be like a lover of twenty come to visit his girl!”
General Booth asked social activist and novelist Rider Haggard to write a report on the Salvation Army’s work. He appended the report with “Impressions” of the General, himself. Haggard noted that, “nature endowed [Booth] with a striking presence that appeals to the popular mind.” Indeed, Booth was a prototype of today’s celebrity and made the most of this public persona to publicize and further the Army’s ministry. He granted: “He is an autocrat, whose word is law to thousands.” He meant this as a compliment, of course, for he added that, what some call “conceited” and “vain,” in the General, is “but the important and unconscious assertiveness of superior power based upon vision and accumulated knowledge.”
A socialist MP and biographer of the Booths, states: “If William Booth had not been willing to make enemies, he would not have created the only remnant of the hundred-year Wesleyan schism that will survive, independent and self-confident, into the twenty-first century – a new church which, within a dozen years of its inauguration, boasted 3,000 ‘corps,’ 10,000 full-time ‘officers’ and countless adherents in Great Britain alone, and had established outposts in Iceland and New Zealand, Argentina and Germany, the United States of America and South Africa.” He says: “William Booth’s success was built on single-minded certainty.” (Roy Hattersley)
Born into a religiously indifferent home in Nottingham in 1829, William Booth was apprenticed to a pawnbroker at 13, after his father died. At 15, he was converted to Christ in a Methodist chapel and wrote in his diary: “God shall have all there is of William Booth.”
Moving to London as a pawnbroker he was repulsed by what he saw of the pawnbroker trade’s ethics. He felt called to preach and became a Methodist minister. Pained by the desperate spiritual and material needs of the poor of London’s East End, he wanted to help. Hundreds of Christian social efforts were already at work among these people, but nothing much was helping. Booth was convinced that it was the clear preaching of the Good News that was missing from all the otherwise worthy social work being offered.
Not surprisingly chafing under the Methodist hierarchy, the independent Booth launched his own work, evangelizing in the crime-ridden streets to the poverty stricken, homeless and addicted. Catherine wrote that he’d “stumble home night after night haggard with fatigue, … clothes torn and bloody bandages swath[ing] his head.”
Still he kept going out, as he put it: “Going for souls and going for the worst!” He did that for almost half a century, all around the world. At the end of his life, he was still saying: “While women weep, as they do now, I’ll fight; while little children go hungry, I’ll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I’ll fight – while there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, where there remains one dark soul without the light of God—I’ll fight! I’ll fight to the very end!” He did.
On the 20th of August, 1912, and in terminology of the Salvation Army, the General was “promoted to glory.” England’s King and Queen and a dozen heads of state honored his memory while 150,000 mourners passed by his coffin and throngs more lined the route of the funeral procession to Abney Park Cemetery in north London. There, his son, Bramwell, led the crowds in a rousing celebration of his father’s Home-going, or, as it was phrased two years later by poet Vachel Lindsay and put to music by Charles Ives: “General William Booth Enters into Heaven.”
* * *
Francis A. Schaeffer
January 30, 1912 – May 15, 1984
Most of you have heard of my exchange with Sherwood Wirt in a round table debate on homosexuality some 30 years ago. Wirt was editor of Billy Graham’s Decision magazine. I was explaining that Paul’s reference to the arsenokoitai should not be assumed to be a reference to homosexuals. Wirt asked: “What was that word?” Arsenokoitai said I. He shot back: “Of course they’re homosexuals – arse, arse, they put the penis in the arse!” Wirt was conflating ancient Greek and British vulgarism. So, I told him he was etymologically incorrect. Besides, I said, they don’t all “put the penis in the arse” – especially, the lesbians!
John MacArthur, Fritz Ridenour, Troy Perry and Chris Glaser joined us around the table. The debate was intended for the first issue of Inspiration, a magazine from the Christian publishers of Popular Science. But, after the taping, producer Roger Elwood told me it couldn’t be used because “the wrong side won.” He asked if I’d be willing to debate Francis Schaeffer on the topic. I agreed. But, Inspiration got cancelled even before its first issue.
In 2007, John Whitehead, the lawyer who’d launched the legal arm of the early Religious Right, did an interview with Schaeffer’s son, Frank. By then, both men were disenchanted with the Religious Right. Whitehead recounted: Your father’s “views of homosexuality were quite different from those of today’s Christian Right, which is stridently antigay. But Francis Schaeffer didn’t see it that way. As you say in [your book, Crazy for God], he saw homosexuality as a serious matter. But he didn’t think they would stop being homosexuals if they became Christians. And he didn’t condemn them. Is that right?” Frank replied: “That is absolutely correct. My dad didn’t see it as a special problem to be singled out from everything else. He didn’t see it as threatening. We had quite a few gay people come through L’Abri.”
L’Abri, “The Shelter,” was Schaeffer’s home in the Swiss Alps. Young travelers resided there and experienced Christian life and intelligent defense of Christian faith. Referring to gay residents, Frank says: “As a child, I knew who they were and why. But my dad did not push them into programs where they were going to try to become straight based on special counseling. He didn’t see it that way. … We had a number of people who came to L’Abri who were not Christians or were Christians who were gay who never changed their orientation, and they didn’t become less friendly with my dad as a result. He didn’t make a big point of it one way or another.”
Frank says: “I grew up in a community where homosexuals (the term ‘gay’ was not in use) were not only welcomed but where my parents didn’t do anything to make them feel uncomfortable and regarded their ‘problem’ as no more serious (or sinful) than other problems, from spiritual pride – a ‘much more serious matter,’ according to Dad – to gluttony. And I never heard any of the nonsense so typical of American evangelicals.”
Frank recalls being with his father in Jerry Falwell’s office at Liberty University when his father was telling Falwell that antigay bigotry was wrong and he tried to explain how “complicated” issues of homosexuality really are. Falwell stepped out of the room for a moment, but blurted back: “If I had a dog that did what they do, I’d shoot him!” Schaeffer “growled” sotto voce to Frank: “That man is really disgusting.”
So, had Schaeffer been asked, he might very well have declined to debate me on homosexuality. Besides, when Inspiration folded, Schaeffer was beginning to battle the lymphoma that would finally kill him.
Francis Schaeffer was born in Germantown, Pennsylvanian on January 30, 1912. In 1938, he was the first graduate of Faith Seminary, Carl McIntyre’s latest Fundamentalist breakaway from other conservative Presbyterians. Schaeffer eventually joined what’s today’s Presbyterian Church in America. The PCA’s Covenant Seminary in St. Louis houses his papers.
He was an early and beloved mentor to Covenant’s first president, Bob Rayburn, who was a longtime friend to me and was EC’s very first encourager. When, in 1981, Bob told Schaeffer of his own cancer, Schaeffer wrote him: “Living this way has one advantage and that is we have had brought into sharp focus the reality of what is true for everybody from conception onward and that is that we are all mortal in this abnormal world.” He went on to note that, in the almost three years since learning of his own cancer, “there has been more that has been positive than negative.”
Schaeffer is remembered for the conversational style of his apologetics in which two of his popular phrases were these: “God is there and He is not silent” and “The infinite-personal God exists, and he may be known.”
Schaeffer was a Christian realist. In a letter he wrote in 1963, he said: “There are no such things as perfect bodies, perfect psychological balance, or perfect communication between [people] in this world. This must wait until that glad day when Jesus comes back again and our bodies are raised from the dead. But yet, just because there is no perfect balance in the present life, this does not mean that there cannot be substantial advance. What this means will be different in different individual cases. But how thankful I am, in my own problems and in dealing with the problems of so many others, that it is possible, on the basis of the finished work of Christ, not to either have to say foolishly and falsely that all is well (when all is anything but well), or else to simply plunge into the abyss of despair.”
As I’ve said about my work in campus ministry in the ‘60s, the time was ripe for challenging pop culture’s non sequitur: absolute relativism. Folks were so philosophically illiterate that they didn’t see through this nonsense that’s still widespread and for which there’s still little, if any, preparation. But, for a couple of decades there in the late 20th century, Schaeffer did his best to present what he termed, “true truth” over against the postured “truth” of relativism with its superficial shibboleths of something’s being “true for you but not true for me” and “let’s not be judgmental.” Obviously, “true for you but not true for me” is meant to be a statement of absolute truth for all, i.e.: There is no absolute truth except the absolute truth that there is no absolute truth. So, there! And, of course, “let’s not be judgmental” is judgmental. Relativity’s pretense is exposed by the dogmatism in its propaganda.
There’s no escaping the usefulness of truth’s corresponding to objective reality. Suppose that, on payday, when so-called “relativists” weren’t paid, they complained. But, the boss explains: “Hey, hold on, that’s your truth, not my truth. So, let’s not be judgmental!” Would they apologize?
While firmly opposing theocracy, Schaeffer affirmed America’s historic “Christian consensus” as vital and warned of the tragic stupidity of secular humanism’s dictums: “Man is the measure of all things” and “ultimate reality is nothing but material, energy and chance.” Sadly, that worldview, which is a “religion,” is now de rigueur among the self-styled elite.
Schaeffer’s books include The God Who is There, He is There and He is Not Silent, Genesis in Space and Time, How Should We Then Live? and Whatever Happened to the Human Race? That last is a book he co-authored with Surgeon General C. Everett Koop. No one did more than they to warn of the dreadful consequences of a society’s labeling some human beings as “non-persons,” undeserving of life. Ironically, Schaeffer’s centenary is also the centenary of that 1912 world assembly of the eugenics movement, given a big commemoration this year by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Time magazine called him the “missionary to intellectuals,” though some Christian philosophers and theologians noted that he oversimplified things. Specialists don’t like generalists – especially if their books don’t sell as well as Schaeffer’s did. And, of course, he was a generalist, as he acknowledged. He said: “I am not a professional, academic philosopher. … Basically I am an evangelist.” Still, to so many evangelicals, he was the “philosopher” to whom they listened and from whom they learned. And, as even a professor of philosophy at a secular university granted: “Francis Schaeffer was the instrument through whom hundreds of thousands of people became conscious of [the] intellectual dimension of the Christian faith, and of the importance of philosophy, … of the message that ideas have consequences.” (Ronald H. Nash) In this respect, Schaeffer was in the bright company of other technically “non-professionals” in philosophy, e.g., C. S. Lewis and Ravi Zacharias. But, no doubt, these men have a greater impact on far more people than all the formally “professional” in Christian philosophy.
In Schaeffer’s last few years, he and his wife, Edith (an accomplished author in her own right), divided their time between Switzerland and Rochester, Minnesota where he was being treated for cancer. Later, they relocated to Rochester, where Schaeffer died at home on May 15, 1984.
In his Eulogy for Schaeffer, Bob Rayburn said this: Here was a man who “grasped the reality of genuine Christian empathy. He could and did ‘rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep’.” And, he not only did that with Bob Rayburn, he did that with many he never met.
* * *
January 6, 1912 – May 19, 1994
The wide-ranging mind and work of Jacques Ellul was on display in the company that came together to celebrate his centenary at Wheaton College in July. Embodying his saying, “Think globally, act locally,” they came from here and abroad. There were sociologists, philosophers, legal scholars, economists, theologians, political scientists, international relations experts, historians, healthcare professionals and media specialists. They came from secular and Christian schools.
Jacques Ellul was born in Bordeaux, France, on January 6, 1912. He’d live in and around Bordeaux for the rest of his life. He was an only child. Jacques was a bright student and, at 15, was earning money for the family by tutoring in several languages.
Life at home wasn’t religious. To please her husband who was not receptive to religious discussion, his mother kept quiet on the subject. When still a teenager translating Faust, Jacques suddenly had an overwhelming sense of God’s presence. He tried to escape it on his bike.
Time passed and he became attracted to the fashionable Marxist thought of the day. But, in law school, he became disillusioned with Marxism.
Then, one day, he was reading the 8th chapter of Paul’s letter to Romans and he had another encounter with God. Here are his words: “In the Bible, I was led to discover an entire world that was very new to me because I was not accustomed to Christian discourse. It was a new world when I compared it with the realities of life and of my life experience.
I was converted – not by someone, nor can I say I converted myself…but I will say that it was a very brutal and very sudden conversion. I became a Christian and I was obliged to profess myself.” So, he told his mother: “I believe in Jesus Christ. I have converted.” Without looking up, she said: “I’m not surprised. I’ve been praying for that every night since you were born.”
At age 24, he finished his doctorate in law and he married Yvette, his sweetheart and wife for the next 54 years. During the French Resistance of the 1940s, he raised potatoes out in the countryside and recalled that this was as pleasurable a time as getting his doctorate.
Ellul continued his Christian discipleship, especially through the works of Soren Kierkegaard and Karl Barth. And, for the rest of his life he wrote prolifically on Christian faith as well as on law, politics, sociology, philosophy and the propaganda and cultural implications of technology.
“In the eyes of most of our contemporaries,” he wrote, “Christianity is a morality first of all.” He granted that some Christians were guilty of having created this misrepresentation with such heavy emphasis on right “actions and conduct.” But, as he argued in his book, The Subversion of Christianity: “God’s revelation has nothing whatever to do with morality.”
Ellul understood clearly that all idealism – whether revolutionary, pacifist or self-defined as “Christian” – involved rationalized violence. He saw that idealistic antiwar activists were “heroes and fools,” as they’re necessarily blind to the violence of the enemy. He said: “They close their eyes to what the enemy is really like, to his cruelty, his violence, his lies. They overlook his real intentions; they overlook the fact that he would use terrible violence if he won power. Poor young men, totally unknowing, uncomprehending, blind, perceiving only what is happening now!” He noted, too, that the naïve are not only the young. He saw that their elders also “side with the enemy and countenance the enemy’s violence.” He noted that, “In France, before the Second World War, a great many people sided with the Nazis. Hadn’t the Nazis, out of their generosity, protested against the violence done the Sudeten Germans, the Croats, the Germans of Danzig? Hadn’t they declared that they would defend the rights of the poor and the unemployed, the victims exploited by the capitalists?” Ellul lamented: “Their admiration of the Nazis cost those people dearly. Again, after the war, many French people sided with communism, ‘the party of the poor.’ A few years later they were stunned by the declarations of the Twentieth Communist Congress and by Moscow’s suppression of the Hungarian revolt.” He insisted: “This is the kind of idealism that must be combated and radically condemned.”
Of progressive “Christian” idealists, Ellul wrote: “In their idyllic world, harshness, torture, and war seem abnormal and almost incomprehensible. But it is only gross, highly visible, undeniable violence that evokes this scandalized reaction. They deny the existence of masked, secret, covert violence.” He argued against idolatrous confidence in either the Left or the Right. He urged that, “Christians must never identify themselves with this or that political or economic movement. Rather, they must bring to social movements what they alone can provide. Only so can they signalize the kingdom. So far as they act like the others – even to forward social justice, equality, etc. – I say that there is no sense and nothing specifically Christian in acting like the others. In fact, the political and revolutionary attitude proper to the Christian is radically different than the attitude of others; it is specifically Christian or else it is nothing.”
True to Christ’s prophetic voice, he writes: “Only God is able to establish justice and God alone will institute the kingdom at the end of time.” But, without belief in “God the Father,” he said, “love and the pursuit for justice become selective for the only relation left is the horizontal one.” Ellul was especially critical of that fashionably mid-century, allegedly liberal or progressive death-of-God theology. He said, it “mistakenly thought that socialism would assure justice when in fact it only pursues justice for the chosen and/or interesting poor whose condition (as a victim of capitalism or some other socialist enemy) is consistent with the socialist ideology.”
Ellul saw that: “Jesus Christ has not come to establish social justice any more than he has come to establish the power of the state or the reign of money or art. Jesus Christ has come to save people, and all that matters is that we may come to know him. We are adept at finding reasons – good theological, political, or practical reasons – for camouflaging this. But the real reason is that we let ourselves be impressed and dominated by the forces of the world, by the press, by public opinion, by the political game, by appeals to justice, liberty, peace, the poverty of the third world, and the Christian civilization of the west, all of which play on our inclinations and weaknesses.”
In one of his sharpest insights into the Christian’s calling to be quite intentionally unlike the world, Ellul improvised on a saying of Paul’s. The Apostle wrote that he’d “become all things to all men that by all means I might save some.” (I Cor 9:22) Ellul quipped: “Modern Protestants are mainly prepared to be ‘all things to all men,’ … not in order that they may ‘save some,’ but in order that they may be like all others.”
Ellul said: “Christians were never meant to be normal. We’ve always been holy troublemakers. We’ve always been creators of uncertainty, agents of what is incompatible with the status quo. We do not accept the world as it is. We insist that it must become what God wants it to be.”
He concluded against naïve theological universalism with its woefully superficial sense of sin. He said: “All the evil done on earth from Adam’s break with God undoubtedly has to be judged and punished.” However, he then went on to affirm: “But all our teaching about Jesus is there to remind us that the wrath of God fell entirely on him, on God in the person of the Son. God directs his justice upon himself; he has taken upon himself the condemnation of our wickedness. What would be the point, then, of a second condemnation of individuals? Was the judgment passed on Jesus insufficient? Was the price that was paid – the punishment of the Son of God – too low to meet the demands of God’s justice? This justice is satisfied in God and by God for us. From this point on, then,” he said, “we know only the face of the love of God.”
On May 19, 1994, Jacques Ellul saw, that Face of God’s Love, face to Face.
Sermons from the 2012 Preaching Festival: