Impatience with Fundamentalism and
Infatuation with Mysticism
Due to Studied Ignorance of the Protestant Reformation
While this is not a complete book review, just an examination of the Prologue which can be read for free on the internet, to Frank Schaeffer's latest book, some things are still a dead giveaway. Schaeffer still tells us what he thinks as bluntly as he used to in the old days when, as “Frankie”, an angry young evangelical, he wrote A Time for Anger, The Myth of Neutrality in 1982.
Now however, in his latest title of 2009, Patience with God: Faith for People Who Don't Like Religion (or Atheism), while Frank is beyond being crazy for God, he’s still crazy - as in irrational. (But that’s OK because it’s part of being both religious and experience oriented according to Frank.) His latest tells us of his irritation with and rejection of both evangelical and the secular “New Atheism” fundamentalism as opposed to his fascination with Kierkegaard’s philosophical existentialism, if not again Eastern Orthodoxy, which always hovers in the background.
Mr. Schaeffer is either genuinely ignorant of, if not that he deliberatively chooses to ignore, Biblical Christianity, at least as it was understood and confessed at the Protestant Reformation in the Reformed Faith by the Presbyterian and Reformed churches in concocting his rebuttal of fundamentalism. Of course, Mr. Schaeffer is entitled to his opinion on these matters; that is beyond question. That his arguments are new, of substance and persuasive is an entirely different matter. Consequently an examination and critique of both evangelical fundamentalism on the one hand and existentialism and Eastern Orthodoxy on the other is in order, as below and in contrast to Mr. Schaeffer's evasion of the orthodox and Biblical solution to the issues he raises.
I. The Protestant Reformation vs. Fundamentalism
Again, whatever the shortcomings of evangelical fundamentalism and regardless those of the secular variety, that Mr. Schaeffer makes no substantial mention of the previous answer at the time of the Protestant Reformation of a genuine Biblical Christianity which trumps the various errors of its anemic, if not anorexic, stepchild of fundamentalism, is damning. Those errors would include fundamentalism’s anti-intellectual/anti-doctrinal lowest common denominator repudiation of the whole counsel of God (contra Acts 20:27), its wooden and literal principle of biblical interpretation (but only perhaps on prophecy, Roman transubstantiation is still beyond the pale), much more its man centered arminian gospel (arguably contributing to the evangelical personality cults Mr. Schaeffer properly deplores), the politicization of the church and a premillenial dispensational view of the end times.
(A Politically Incorrect Aside)
Regarding the last, if Mr. Schaeffer seems unable to correctly define fundamentalism in other than largely sociological and political terms, it perhaps escapes him that the characteristic eschatology of evangelical fundamentalism seems to play right into a militaristic neo-conservative foreign policy in the Mid East, which he also abhors. The problem then is that it is also the same foreign policy which the recent recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize, George W. Obama so ably continues. Translation: “George Orwell, call your agent, please. The progressive Democrats have morphed into the Really New Religious Right and ala the liberal comedian Dave Chappell’s skit about a black Imperial Grand Dragon of the KKK, heads are exploding all across the political spectrum. Damage control is at emergency levels and your dialectical services and proven ability to spin are not only highly desired, but will be remunerated accordingly.” But we digress.
The Bare Minimum of Fundamentalism
Fundamentalism gets its name from the Fundamentals of the Faith, a twelve volume series of essays written to oppose Christian Modernism or Liberalism in 1910-1915. While presbyterian and reformed theologians and authors such as BB Warfield and J. Gresham Machen wrote for it, the movement largely became associated with separatist dispensational and premillenial Christians. As such, Fundamentalism boils down to the so called “Five Fundamentals” or the inerrancy of Scripture, the virgin birth of Christ, his miracles, substitutionary atonement and his bodily resurrection largely in part because these were the particular doctrines that the higher criticism and modernism/liberalism of the day were attacking.
While there is no question that these truths are taught in Scripture, the problem with these so called "Fundamentals" is that they do not contain enough of the fundamentals. Not only does the Scripture contain considerably more truths than just those five, important as they are regarding the doctrine of Scripture and the person of Christ, much more the apostle Paul told the elders of Ephesus that he was innocent of the blood of men, because his ministry had not shunned to teach the whole counsel of God (Act 20:27). For that matter, Christ himself instructed the apostles to teach the nations “all” that he had commanded them (Matt. 28:20). While the zeal of fundamentalism is to be commended, it has to be said that it falls short of being a genuinely thorough, never mind adequate theology. It is rather a reactionary and reductionist approach to God’s commandments and testimony, of which the Psalmist says, is exceedingly broad (Ps.119:96).
Only Five Points?
On the other hand and in opposition to fundamentalism, the so called Five Points of Calvinism concern the classic trinitarian reformed gospel in a nutshell: the total depravity of man, unconditional election by the Father, particular redemption by the Son, irresistible calling by the Holy Spirit resulting in the perseverance of the saints unto salvation. Even further, the battlecry of the Reformation was also summarized under five headings. Salvation was: by faith alone, in Christ alone, through (sovereign predestinating and electing) grace alone, to the glory of God alone, as revealed in the Scripture alone. Arguably the gospel of fundamentalism, only includes three of the last five: justification by faith alone, in Christ alone, as found in the Bible alone. Granted fundamentalism pays lip service to grace alone, but inasmuch as election and predestination are denied for all practical purposes and the power of man’s free will, albeit sinful, to make a decision for Christ, is affirmed, fundamentalism falls short of the Reformation gospel.
A Summary of the Whole Counsel of God
But again, we digress. If nowhere else again, the rebuttal of the doctrinal reductionism of evangelical fundamentalism in its five fundamentals of the faith, can be seen in the thirty three chapters of the Westminster Assembly’s Confession of Faith,. The same begins with the doctrine of Scripture, proceeds through the doctrines of God, man, Christ, salvation and the church and ends with the last judgement. It is this confession, along with the Larger and Shorter Catechism, as well as a Form of Presbyterial Church Government and a Directory for Public Worship, written by the largely Anglican divines meeting at Westminster Abbey 1643-48 in obedience to the call for religious uniformity in doctrine, worship and government in the British Isles in the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643, that defines historic presbyterianism. In other words, genuine historical presbyterianism is a far cry from fundamentalism.
All this to point out that regardless if Frank mentions it - which he most emphatically does not - while Frank’s father Francis, might largely have been viewed as a fundamentalist by most Christians or the secular world, he actually was an ordained Presbyterian minister and remained so all his adult life. Although originally associated with the admittedly separatist and fundamentalist Bible Presbyterian Church, Francis later joined the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod which then merged with the much larger Presbyterian Church of America. In both later denominations, the separatist and fundamentalist tendencies were more muted, if not that Francis Schaeffer’s ministry and interest in the world and all its fullness, whether philosophy, politics, culture, art or beauty was and is hardly typical of fundamentalism.
A Pale Shadow of Reformation Christianity
Neither does the abuse of truth, abolish the concept of truth, never mind the same being reduced to Frank’s existential or theological mysticism. That is to say again, at the very least, if the Westminster Confession and Catechisms are not the historical subordinate doctrinal standards that define classic presbyterianism, much more that they provide a clue as to what the Protestant Reformation really was all about. That as over and against the Reader’s Digest condensed version of Biblical Christianity according to and promoted by evangelical fundamentalism. And again, Mr. Schaeffer ought to know it, as well as forthrightly admit it.
II. The Despair of Ever Discovering Any Other Truth Than Despair
Or The Sacred Certainty of Uncertainty
In that generally, but not always, epigraphs give us the theme of what follows, a quote from Søren Kierkegaard’s Sickness Unto Death headlines the Prologue to Patience with God:
“So let others admire and extol him who claims to be able to comprehend Christianity. . . . I regard it then as a plain duty to admit that one neither can nor shall comprehend it” (emph. added).
This book is a search for that “something” to hold on to. I don’t know if my up-and-down, hot-then-cold-then-hot-again faith in God persists because I was conditioned by my parents to see everything in spiritual terms or if faith is a choice. Either way, whatever I believe or feel, or think I feel or think I believe, it’s flawed at best. Like most people, I’ve changed my mind before about the so-called Big Questions and will again. Opinion is a snapshot in time.
Previously Schaeffer has told us:
I offer no proofs. There are none. When talking about the unknowable, pretending to have the facts is about as useful as winning a medal from the Wizard of Oz. In this game—the meaning game—it’s all about intuition, hope, and the experience of life, a letting go of all concepts, words, and theologies because they can only be metaphors and hinder our experience of the truth as it is—not as we desire, believe, or hope it might or should be, but as it is.
Granted there is more to life than we can ever express in words. but to say that all attempts to understand and articulate what we understand about life are no more than metaphors is to pretty much say it is hopeless to even think we can attempt it. It is nothing more than a full fledged appeal to mysticism. We can never know anything, at best all we can do is experience it, if not “grok” it (i.e. a hopelessly dated reference to Heinlein’s science fiction classic of 1961, Stranger in a Strange Land.) True, the Bible tells us that this world is not our final home. Likewise existentialism. The difference is that Christianity teaches not only original sin, but the total depravity of man and his inability apart from grace to reform his nature, though the manifestation of that nature may be restrained by himself or others. Existentialism denies the existence of sin and at best pleads ignorance of anything above or beyond this world, whether heaven or hell. In other words, all that matters is be here now in the moment and don't try to explain or think about it.
The Unreasonable Attack on Reason
As J. Gresham Machen, of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, who Francis Schaeffer studied under at Westminster Seminary, before switching to Faith Theological Seminary aligned with the Bible Presbyterian Church, said in his book What is Faith? (1925), the
anti-intellectual tendency in the modern world is no trifling thing; it has its roots deep in the entire philosophical development of modern times. Modern philosophy... has had as its dominant note, certainly as its present day result, a depreciation of the reason and a skeptical answer to Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” This attack upon the intellect has been conducted by men of marked intellectual power; but an attack it has been all the same. And at last theological results of it, even in the sphere of practice, are beginning to appear.
Again, that fundamentalists of whatever persuasion might abuse the idea of truth is one thing, but as Mr. Schaeffer ought to know, the abuse of the truth is not a reasonable argument that categorically pre-empts such a thing as the truth. Yet that is precisely what Mr. Schaeffer spends his time and effort denying: that there can be any reasonable argument made in the defense of any kind of truth - other than the supreme truth of experience. At best all that can be said of life is that it is haphazard. It just happens. We must go with the flow and our experience of whatever, be it truth or no, is all the truth that matters.
If There is No Truth, There is No Error - Or At Least We Can’t Be Sure
But if we can know nothing for certain, how can we know this? Which is just the point, skepticism is unreasonable/irrational/arbitrary and it is inconsistent to attempt to argue for it, if not merely assert it. Which is pretty much what Schaeffer is up to in Patience With God. Perhaps he would have been more honest to call it Patience With Amateur and Confused Existential Propaganda that Irrationalism is God/Truth.
But no matter, Frank’s on the road again. Which one and what way seems to be an open question for him, but maybe not to everybody else. More power to him, but don’t bother telling us it’s the one with yellow bricks and everything is sure to come out alright in the end. It’s not and he’s already categorically in the ditch, if not going the wrong way, whatever Mr. Schaeffer’s un-rational opinion might be to the contrary. As we have said before, “experience” is, after all, a concept and an idea and we have already been told there are no such things as correct ideas. That should be enough said, but strangely enough Mr. Schaeffer keeps trying to smuggle the notion back into his argument against ‘em. Hmmm. Evidently inconsistency, if not hypocrisy, is not restricted to fundamentalism.
Factless Facts and Their Use and Abuse in Miscellaneous Propaganda
(Which is a good thing. We might just as well forget about appealing to facts in order to rebut the secular/religious liberal progressive Left and their version of garbage ideology spewed out in the mainstream media and press, if not the heart of the natural unregenerate man, which for some unknown(?) reason Mr. Schaeffer makes no mention of at all. Somehow we are to implicitly understand that global warming is necessarily manmade, national healthcare is not socialism, capitol punishment is not commanded by God, much more that God loves sodomites and sinners per se even if they don’t repent of their sins. I suppose it is some small consolation that these politically correct commonplaces are not “paranoid fanatasies accepted by a whole substratum” of liberals, as opposed to “Christians”, much more that Mr. Schaeffer can tell us that he is “no longer proselytizing” - for the Religious Right - but as regards the liberal progressive Left, we might be forgiven if we still have our doubts.)
III. Orthodoxy's Less Than Amusing Iconolatry
Further, to again propose that the liturgical and sacramental worship of the Orthodox Church is one of the answers to evangelical fundamentalism is only to compound the problem, not resolve it. For instance, Mr. Schaeffer criticizes fundamentalism as a giant commercial enterprise made up of an army of personality cults. While this in part, might be a valid charge, at least regarding television personalities and "evangelists", it is still a superficial, if not profoundly mistaken read of Neal Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death(1985) to conclude that:
The late Neil Postman, author, New York University professor, and prophet, predicted how and why people such as today’s members of the evangelical/fundamentalist movement and other right wingers would be living in a dream world cut off from reality.
The Real Thesis Ignored
While Postman does ask the question of which distopia will win out in the future if things continue going the way they are going; whether men will be ruled by pain and punishment ala Orwell’s 1984 or by sexual and narcotic pleasure in Huxley’s Brave New World? there is more to his book than that. He also notes the change and revolution in the modern era from essentially typography to television; from words, written or spoken to visual images. But this is to damn, without any praise at all, Schaeffer’s thesis, not only in Patience with God, but Dancing Alone; not only with existentialism, but also Eastern Orthodoxy.
While Postman does not mention it, the Protestant Reformation was the complete opposite to what Postman describes as taking place today in that it was a revolution from the visual images and idols of the Roman church to the word of God written, disseminated from both the pulpit and printing press. If Rome essentially considered images and idols to be books for the laity, Protestantism literally burned them on bonfires just as the firemen in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 torched libraries. One has to read no further than Eire’s War Against the Idols, The Reformation of Worship from Erasmus to Calvin (1986), to understand this. (The great axe that Eire, a member of the Roman Church, has to grind, is not iconoclasm per se, but that Calvinism is necessarily a violent political/revolutionary ideology.) The rise of the Protestant Reformation was accompanied by a great outburst of iconoclasm, however much that is either unknown or totally ignored these days. The churches, shrines, monasteries and cathedrals were all cleansed of their idols and images wherever the new faith took hold in Europe.
Further, the fall of Constantinople in 1453 brought the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament west, where between Erasmus’s translation, Luther’s exposition and Gutenburg’s invention, the Scriptures were preached and published through out Europe resulting in the re-organization and reform of Christ’s church, on the basis of Scripture alone, in doctrine, worship and government as over and against the deformed church headed by the Roman bishop. On the other hand, the closest Eastern Orthodoxy ever came to the Reformation was the protestant, if not Calvinist confession of Patriarch Cyril Lucaris who was assassinated by the Turks at the instigation of parties from both the Roman and Greek Orthodox churches. (See Hadjiantoniou's Protestant Patriarch, JKnox Press: Richmond, 1961.)
The Word of Christ
If Postman says ala McLuhan, that the medium is the message, for that matter and more to the point, saving faith comes not by pictures of Christ, but the preaching of Christ; by hearing and hearing by the Word of God and that preached (Rm. 10:14-17). By their very nature, pictures are opposed to rational exposition and explanation; much more they cannot sustain a religion, at least a religion such as Christianity, which has a written and propositional revelation for a foundation, let alone writing a book like Patience With God which necessarily involves something to do with propositional knowledge, even its abuse.
In short, Mr. Schaeffer is an author and he chose to write a book. As irrational as its theme may be, he at least did not descend to the point of merely giving us a bound colorplate picture book collection of icons to try to get his point across. Why not? Because nobody would have understood what he was trying to say, however mutely, with icons or pictures alone apart from a devout member of the Orthodox church previously indoctrinated into what said pictures or icons are all about.
Or the Confusion of Confucius?
Neither is it any real objection to the proposition to point out that the printed word is visually perceived. Apart from Chinese ideograms, the Western alphabet consists of symbols or signs that are representative of sounds. In combination they denote words, or again the sound of a particular word. And as Augustine told us in one of the great classics of the West, On Christian Doctrine, words are symbols or signs of things or actions, both material or immaterial. Again, neither the letters of the alphabet nor the words they spell out are miniature pictures or visual representations of the things they represent. If they were, we would be reduced to Chinese pictures or ideograms for spelling.
To repeat ourselves, in principle the sacramental and liturgical theology of Orthodoxy and its appeal to icons, if not mysticism, as representative of and in exposition of that theology is the real problem in the war on truth and meaning. As trivial and man-centered as fundamentalism is, there are other places to look closer to home for Mr. Schaeffer if he really wants to nip the situation in the bud. But perhaps, in light of Mr. Schaeffer’s previous track record along with his latest, he really doesn’t want to do that.
Images are Idolatrous, As Well As Inadequate
For our part, it is a small matter if one thinks the Roman church a bigger offender in this regard than the Orthodox, in that its lead can’t be by much. The material point, again, is that the theologies of both churches affirm, if not the primacy, at least the major place of visual images in the exposition of the sacred mysteries of the faith in Holy Mother Church, which is an inadequate method even before talking about its idolatrous nature. But one of the very things that the Protestant Reformation opposed tooth and nail with every ounce and fiber of its being and theology, in its preaching of that theology and its confessions of the same faith, was a visual gospel.
The Second Commandment
For Protestantism, the Second Commandment correctly understood, clarifies the nominal distinctions between idols, images and icons and their worship or veneration. As the Heidelberg Catechism has it in its exposition of the Second Commandment:
98. Q. But may not images be tolerated in the churches as books for the laity?
A. No; for we must not be wiser than God, who will not have his people taught by dumb images, but by the living preaching of his Word. (2 Tim. 3:16, 17; 2 Pet. 1:19; Jer. 10:8; Hab. 2:18-20).
But if the Catechism on the Second Commandment denies that it is lawful ‘to make an image of God in any way or to worship Him in any other manner than He has commanded in His Word’ (Deut. 4:15-19; Is. 40:18-25; Acts 17:29; Rom. 1:23, Lev. 10:1-7; Deut. 12:30; I Sam. 15:22, 23; Matt. 15:9; John 4:23, 24), it also asks:
97. Q. May we then not make any image at all?
A. God cannot and may not be visibly portrayed in any way. Creatures may be portrayed, but God forbids us to make or have any images of them in order to worship them or to serve God through them. (Ex. 34:13, 14, 17; Num. 33:52; II Kings 18:4, 5; Is. 40:25)
The Verbal Orthodox Explanation/Evasion of the Obvious
Of course, there are any number of explanations of the Orthodox position available. They generally state that since Christ came in the flesh and was visible to the naked eye in his day, icons are therefore an affirmation of that fact. Further, while images of God were forbidden in the Old Testament and the Second Commandment, God himself has canceled that out with the incarnation of Christ. But this is a non sequitur and assumes what needs to be proved. The real question is not whether Christ actually came in the flesh, but whether it is lawful to make representations of him, seeing that he is the second person in the Godhead.
Other explanations say it was not images, but idolatry that is forbidden, much more that since God commanded images of cherubim, palm trees, flowers and bulls to be made for the tabernacle and temple, likewise images are lawful now. This, regardless that the ceremonial worship of the temple has been abolished, much more fulfilled in Christ, never mind the even greater error of presuming what is lawful for God is lawful for us; that God’s prerogatives are ours in his worship, if not otherwise. While God may decide what and how his worship is to be instituted, it is another thing entirely to assume that mere man, however religious or Orthodox, may do the same.
The Patron Saint of Images And His Modern Imitators
Yet as Postman, we note that this emphasis or preference fails when it comes to exposition and concepts. While a picture as in a building blueprint or electrical wiring diagram has its place (consider the instructions in Exodus and Ezekiel for the building of the tabernacle and Temple - even the Geneva Bible at these points inserted diagrams into the text) Scripture and Christianity is primarily concerned with Christ “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory (1 Pet. 1:8)”. Again, the choice - if not between Confucius and Christ - is at least between St John of Damascus and St. John the Evangelist, the latter of whom tells us in his Gospel, not with pictures, but in words that ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, much more that as Christ told Thomas, “blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29).
Brueghel or the Bible?
If following Postman, we were then to essentially descend to Mr. Schaeffer’s real argument, however non verbal and irrational, we might well find that Brueghel’s famous painting of the Parable of the Blind leading the Blind found on the cover of Mr. Schaeffer’s Time for Anger, is just as suitable for the cover of Patience with God. We then might suppose that one could assume the six characters in the picture, represent in order of time from right to left, St. John of Damascus, Søren Kierkegaard, religious and secular fundamentalism and arguably Mr. Schaeffer himself (if not also St. John of Orlando?) We might suppose, but we can’t be sure unless Mr. Schaeffer were to explicitly tell us so by labeling the picture. Which again, is just the problem with pictures and icons. They can not even begin to replace the primacy of the Word of God in the exposition of that same Word and Christianity, nor can they replace Christ in his worship contra Greek Orthodoxy on both counts.
While there is no doubt that Orthodoxy has contributed for instance to the doctrine of the Trinity, as a whole, its theology fails. Again, the Orthodox Church never had a reformation like the West and the absence is telling. Mr. Schaeffer may essentially consider Orthodoxy a viable solution to the inconsistencies and contradictions of evangelical fundamentalism, but we consider the distinction between images, icons and idols, between worship and veneration, to be merely nominal and a distraction, however sincere, from the real issue. Which is why an appeal to theological mysticism, if not philosophical; to finding refuge in paradox and uncertainty is so appealing to Mr. Schaeffer. It gets rid of the real questions; the irrationality of using reason to attack reason and a studied ignorance of the whole counsel of God, which also includes the good and necessary inferences of Scripture, along with its explicit pronouncements that, in Christ and in Scripture, we can truly know some things, including God.
The Unknowable God
For instance, never mind Kierkegaard, Frank denies that Christianity or God is understandable in quoting the fourth century ascetic, Evagrius Ponticus, a “revered spiritual leader” according to Frank, “who led by example” (in this instance, obviously Mr. Schaeffer ), “Do not define the Deity: for it is only of things which are made or are composite that there can be definitions”. While we grant that God is simple and one, even though we technically contradict this when we delineate and define his attributes, much more no one can know God as he is in himself, if God does not define and reveal himself in Scripture and Christ, he does nothing however much he has to descend to our level of understanding do it.
Or was Paul mistaken, if not deluded, when he told the Athenians when he passed by and saw their altar to the unknown god, ‘Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him I declare unto you (cp. Acts 17:32)?’ We might as well throw the Bible away - which might be what Frank is getting around to eventually - and exalting icons in its place, which is pretty much what Orthodoxy does in principle. (Orthodoxy at the very least makes tradition part of the Word of God, as does Rome and denies the formal cause and fundamental doctrine of the Reformation, sola scriptura.) Scripture does say: “But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth (1 Jn. 2:20,21)”.
“Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free (John 8:31,32).”
Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men's hands. They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not: They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not: They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat. They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them. Psalms 115:4-8What else is one to make of the kind of reasoning and question begging that Schaeffer indulges in, if not St John of Damascus?
Christ is Seen in the Sacraments
Granted Protestantism acknowledges and observes the two sacraments commanded by Christ, baptism and the Lord’s Supper in the public worship of God. Both sacraments are seen and experienced, but only and always as accompanied with the exposition of Scripture. Without the word, they are nothing, in that the world washes, eats and drinks daily, unfortunately to its damnation. This as opposed to the sacramental and liturgical worship of the Vatican and Byzantium; not only the drama of the Roman mass which re-enacts, if not re-sacrifices Christ upon the cross, but also the candles, incense, images, icons and idols of both the Roman and Orthodox Church.
Postman and Protestantism
In short it does not take too much to overlay or apply Postman’s thesis on the conflict between visual images and the word, spoken or printed, to the Protestant Reformation’s emphasis upon the preaching and printing of Scripture and sound doctrine as over and against the Roman/Orthodox emphasis on the visual, whether two dimensional iconic paintings or three dimensional statues, the mass, Passion plays and the like. Orthodoxy’s fundamental appeal to the visual in the exposition of its theology, - for the icons are teaching tools for the holy life - necessarily leads to the dumbing down and general biblical illiteracy in such a church, just as we see a contemporary flight from and a dearth of rational discourse and reasonable exposition as a consequence of an emphasis on a visual medium like television for communication, information and entertainment in the larger secular culture.
The parallels are there for those who can look deeper than their inconsistent commitment to philosophical irrationalism and theological mysticism. For those for whom things just happen, ramble scramble what ever, if they can see it, they probably would deny it. For one, it’s not guaranteed to sell books and it might be inconvenient to have to repent of one’s addiction to mediocrity when it comes to invalid philosophical and theological arguments, much more repudiate their dual membership in the philosophical Church of Hopeful Uncertainty and theological Orthodoxy.
Mr. Schaeffer needs to connect the dots. Both Rome and Byzantium were on the medieval side of the divide at the Reformation and it is Protestantism that championed the pulpit over pictures of saints, Roman or Greek, two dimensional or three; the exposition of Scripture over the mythical and superstitious lives of the ascetics and faithful; the exposition of sound doctrine over the exaltation of the visual in images whether in liturgical icons, the sacraments or the theology of either the Roman church or that of Constantinople.
For that reason, we cannot wish either Mr. Schaeffer, his doctrine or his gospel godspeed. That would be to betray, not only the Protestant Reformation and rationality, but also, for those who remember him, his father, Francis Schaeffer and all he stood for regarding Christ, the Scriptures and historic Christianity as represented in the Protestant and Reformed faith. Yet however great that debt is which many owe to Francis Schaeffer and the charity they might be willing to extend to his son, Frank, sadly what Paul said of Demas, is still true (2Tim. 4:10). Frank has not only forsaken the testimony and witness of his father Francis, but also again - contra the icons of Greek Orthodoxy - the testimony of Christ who told Thomas, “blessed are they that have not seen me and yet have believed (Jn.20:29)”.
Further, Mr. Schaeffer may deplore fundamentalism, but he is only exchanging its errors for older ones, if not philosophical fallacies and theological heresy and idolatry. That of course, he will most likely deny, however inconsistently, but until he comes around and acknowledges it, his spiritual journey under the auspices of Kierkegaard and Orthodoxy will end as it has begun, in a dead end and a waste of time.
A Politically Incorrect and Scandalous Afterword
In his prologue, Mr. Schaeffer correctly objects to one of his correspondents putting politics before faith, in that man is fundamentally religious. From this, all else flows, political and cultural. And while we grant that our previous response to Mr. Schaeffer as he was interviewed by John Whitehead in April 7, 2009 at Whitehead’s “oldSpeak” website, wasn’t perhaps as cordial or gracious as his father, Francis Schaeffer’s might have been, even to somebody he strongly disagreed with, the substance our objections to Frank Schaeffer’s confusion then still remain. Consequently there are also a few political dots that Mr. Schaeffer has yet to connect.
The Alternative to Fundamentalist Personality Cults
One, there is no escape from impatient partisan politics in Mr. Schaeffer’s experiential universe. Eight years of a Republican version of a Stalinist personality cult of the Great Leader Who Cannot Be Criticized, is not a legitimate excuse for Frank to apologize, genuflect or shill for the Democrat Version we have now, regardless of the residual guilt Frank might feel for his part in instigating the “Religious Right”. Likewise that “Racism” can be added now to the previous charge of “UnPatriotic” to any who questioned the presidential status quo then. Not unless we fall into the trap of believing the bipartisan smears like we are supposed to as knee jerk little peons and brow beaten citizens of the New World Order. That Paul repented of being a Pharisee, did not mean he became a Sadducee. Tyranny and absolutism on the right is not negated or appeased by excusing it on the left - unless Mr. Schaeffer is Addicted to Mediocrity, if not also moral and political non sequiturs.
Impatience Aside, The Real Political Unity, If Not Idolatry
In reality and all spiritual paradoxes aside, the two parties are Siamese twins joined at the hip. While one advocates warfare, the other promotes welfare, but regardless both advocate More Big Government. In other words, more and more contemporary politics resembles Hobbes’s view that the State is Leviathan, if not Hegel’s view that the State was the highest embodiment of the Divine Idea or God on earth. As such in either case, such a State cannot help but become totalitarian all the while simplistic fundamentalism, irrational existentialism or Orthodox mysticism are either oblivious to the fact of the secular deification of the state, if they do not actively promote it, not to mention simply acquiescing in it even as they hypocritically ignore it.
In other words, the establishment is playing for the jackpot these days. All poker faces and stonewalling aside, ace high or ace low, a royal flush or the steel wheel, somebody is planning on ruling or rolling the American populace. The Patriot Act was too big to read and was a tremendous boost to the surveillance state. Likewise TARP or the bailout of the "too big to fail" banks aka grand theft robbery of the taxpayers, who ultimately are the ones who will bankroll the buyout. And just like TARP and the Patriot Act, the healthcare bill was also rushed through Congress, another "too big to read, so let's not bother" affair. Next up is Cap and Trade, which is similar to the home mortgage derivative bubble and scheme, only this time involving tax credits for pollution. Last, but not least is Amnesty or legislation to Buy More Votes from those who are in America illegally. In short, American government usurps even more power and control unto its self.
The Religion of Power
This is to say, so much for the practical, political and theological implications of Lord Acton’s comment that “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Both parties are Bad News for Modern Man in America., something Frank ought to know something about. That the Republicans tend toward the abuse of civil liberties, while the Democrats favor abuse of economic liberties, is small consolation. That we have had a fascist version of a socialist economic system ever since the New Deal of the 1930's, if not the imposition of the Federal Reserve in 1913 still evades the mental comprehension of both the right and the left. (For starters, the FR is neither federal nor a reserve, but a private cartel/monopoly that price fixes the interest rate and manipulates, if not expands the money supply, which necessarily leads to the hidden tax of inflation.)
Socialist Abuse of the Eight Commandment
This is hardly commendable or suitable consolation whatever old "Myth of Neutrality" might think. Different flavors of socialism are still in essence, just that. Socialist. And maybe the jury still out on "Is Capitalism Christian" which Frank edited, but all socialism means is that it’s OK to steal from my neighbor, if you are the government. Neither the Right or the Left complains about that. Still, however the Greek Orthodox Church might misconstrue the Second Commandment on idols, images and icons, the Eighth Commandment still plainly says what it says. Thou shalt not steal. Whether thou art the government or the taxpayer. Whether indirectly as a fascist or directly as a communist. In other words, the Eight Commandment implies not only the existence of private property, but also its legitimacy, however fundamentally socialism denies the same (See also the Tenth Commandment).
Racial Idolatry and the Apologies For
Mr. Schaeffer’s residual white liberal guilt might also seem to prevent him from even seeing, much less explaining - never mind criticizing - the fact that the current rabidly pro-abortion POTUS sat for twenty years in a the black version of a KKK church. While Pastor Jeremiah Wright’s legitimate excoriation, though couched in inflammatory terms, of American imperialism in a sermon or two at his Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago was the only thing that even raised an eyebrow in the lamestream media, any reference to Wright’s adherence to James Cone’s black liberation theology which posits America’s original sin as white enslavement of blacks met silence, if not implicit agreement.
For the modern liberal and New Atheist materialist, the historic orthodox Christian gospel that Christ died to free men from their sins which stem from the sinful human nature common to all men as imputed from Adam and not just restricted to white folks, is just so much invisible and irrelevant pie in the sky. But the history of black slavery in America is still a good stick to beat white people into the politically correct lineup and further promote the social gospel of a secular kingdom of heaven right here on earth ( since the old orthodox one in heaven doesn’t exist and never did), where all men can live as affirmative action brethren under the blue helmeted gaze of the UN troops. Or something like that.
Reformed Presbyterianism and Slavery
Although it is somewhat of an aside, in regard to American slavery, it bears mentioning that a Scotch immigrant presbyterian minister, George Bourne and his book, The Book and Slavery Irreconcilable (1816), was the unacknowledged inspiration and precedent for William Lloyd Garrison and American abolitionism. For his vocal and published comparison of American slaveholders to the “menstealers” of 1 Tim. 1:10, one of the proof texts for the Larger Catechism’s exposition of the Eighth Commandment in Q&A 142 and arguing for immediate emancipation versus gradualism, Bourne was deposed in 1618 by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States. While there were other Presbyterian opponents of slavery, along with the Quakers and Ben Franklin, Bourne was probably the most vocal and most ignored.
Of course, the black liberation theology of Cone doesn’t stoop to the level of Black Islam, which considers white people to be the degenerate spawn from the original black human race due to the experiments of an African Dr. Frankenstein, Dr. Yacub, but the Rev. Wright did find it within the ecumenical boundaries of good taste, to extend the right hand of fellowship to Louis Farrakhan, much more bestowing on him a lifetime achievement award named after Wright himself. Should we tell Wright, ‘well done thou good and faithful servant’? Does Wright think that there is more than one name given under heaven by which men might be saved? We know the prophet Mohammed inconsistently might think there is one other than the name of Jesus, despite the Koran’s nominal affirmation of the Torah, the Psalms and the Gospels. Granted, the drive- by media makes no profession of even what orthodox Christianity stands for, but the current occupant of the White House does and it might behoove people to do more than acquiesce in fawning press releases.
In other words, if Mr. Schaeffer would care to even begin to critize black liberation theology as he has criticized evangelical fundamentalism, we might be more inclined to receive his pronouncements, not only with less skepticism, but also less prejudice, regardless if he will try to duck the issue by only claiming to be able to talk about what he knows, because he has “existentially experienced” it, however that might sound like an “existential excuse” to some people. Granted black liberation theology is a minority viewpoint, primarily and numerically considered, apart from the racial aspect, but don’t look now. Brer Rabbit just jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire with the change in the political administration.
Original Sin and Its Political Implications
In other words, so much for either Geo. W. Bush or Geo. W. Obama and the respective religious baggage and clientele that either accompanies or votes for either of the two gentlemen. So much also for the historic Christian doctrine of original sin - which coincidentally again, both black liberation theology and Eastern Orthodoxy happen to deny - and the subsequent ramifications of it in secular, as well as ecclesiastical, political theory, better known as the separation of powers in American constitutional doctrine. All “Hail to the Chief” of whatever/either party. But what the ancients called a tyrant, when power was centralized in one man, nowadays we consider to be the Unitary Executive whether a neo-conservative Republican or a hip/cool progressive Democrat, even seen through the hazy filter of non judgemental existentialism and the smoke from Orthodox incense.
Further the Orthodox belief of salvation as deification of the individual has easily and historically been transferred in applying this to the deification of the state, if not caesaropapism/erastianism wherein the civil magistrate is the head of the church. In that Council of Chalcedon denied that the human and divine natures of Christ were confused or mixed together, as a consequence the individual sinner redeemed in Christ - much more the emperor or the pope, if not even the church or the nation as a collections of individuals - is never seen as partaking in Christ’s divine nature, thereby becoming either infallible or a mediator between Christ and his church or individual sinners. As above, Acton’s dictum was in regard to political and ecclesiastical tyranny. As he saw it, the divine right of kings and papal infallibility and supremacy went hand in hand. While the Orthodox might not acknowledge the authority of the pope, it does claim infallibility for the church.
War, What is It Good For?
Further, one might suppose genuine Christianity would oppose both the moral bankruptcy of pre-emptive war and torture - contra the long standing doctrine of a just war of defense going back to Augustine - and the medical war on the unborn as seen in the respective neo-conservative/progressive pro abortion party politics of the ‘08 election, whatever the Christian Right’s supposed responsibility for the former, rather than a Manichean dichotomy between one or the other. Both are examples of a war against innocents, albeit by different means and on different fronts. And both so far continue regardless of which party is in power.
In other words, Mr. Schaeffer’s political opinions are as bankrupt and irrational as his philosophical and theological opinions. His affirmation of the progressive liberal Democratic program of global warming and a socialized medical system in the name of and under the guise of “reform” is but the ying to the neo-conservative Republican Religious Right yang of a war on “terror” and abolition of habeas corpus, just as his yen for existentialism and eastern orthodoxy can be seen as the alter ego to evangelical fundamentalism. Needless to say we are not impressed though, nor is the theological, philosophical and political impasse that Mr. Schaeffer finds himself in, resolved by any of his proposed answers, however vociferously they are proposed and however much he denies proselytizing. We might wish him all the best, but respectfully, he seems to be out of his league and over his head in all this, regardless that he plays the stout champion of his cause.