Saturday, December 12, 2009

Book Study "True Spirituality" Dr. Fr...

True Spirituality
Dr. Francis Schaeffer

A Book Study by Dan Guinn
Edited by Laura Muckerman

Author: Dr. Francis Schaeffer
It is possible that most people taking this class have a general familiarity with Francis Schaeffer and his work. If, however, you have not yet been introduced to Francis Schaeffer, perhaps the best place to begin is with a brief survey of his life struggles just prior writing True Spirituality. Out of these struggles would come one of his most important works. This is not just my opinion, but the opinion of Francis Schaeffer himself.

While most who are familiar with Francis Schaeffer are acquainted with his powerful social apologetic work in the How Shall We Then Live video series and book, some might have missed True Spirituality. Perhaps you have already read one of Schaeffer's earlier hallmark books, such as The God Who Is There, Escape from Reason, or He Is There and He Is Not Silent, which now form his famous Trilogy. Yet it might surprise you to know that Dr. Schaeffer viewed True Spirituality to be his most important and foundational work. It can be argued that if you don't know True Spirituality, you really might not know Schaeffer. I have to admit that I have read and utilized many of Schaeffer's books as a springboard for my studies in philosophy and theology but have only recently read True Spirituality. I believe the spirituality Francis Schaeffer suggests in True Spirituality may have more weight than all of these books. For True Spirituality is the intersection of Dr. Schaeffer's belief system and the true heart of Christian apologetics, the result of which is a changed human heart immersed with the heart of God. In True Spirituality Schaeffer walks us through the concept of redemption in such a way that, if we are honest, will move us to take a valid inventory of our relationship with the sovereign God who is there--who has spoken into our lives from all eternity.

The Crisis

The catalyst for this book was a crisis of epic proportions in Schaeffer's life, a crisis encountered after he had already served for over ten years in the ministry, and served with some distinction. He had pastored. He and his wife, Edith, had founded "Children for Christ." He had previously been appointed American Secretary, Foreign Relations Department of the American Council of Christian Churches, and he had toured Europe after WW II, later speaking throughout America on the state of the church in Europe and the dangers of liberalism and modernism. So Schaeffer was neither untried in his faith, nor lacking in his understanding of his faith: but He needed something more.

Many notable experiences factored into Francis Schaeffer's crisis, all of which happened in the context of the highs and lows and strains of his life prior to the time. He had toured Europe relentlessly in the summer of 1948, a time which he recounted as "the great spiritual experience of my life."1 At the end of the three-month tour, Schaeffer experienced a life-threatening crisis when the aircraft on which he was traveling nearly plummeted into the sea. He was spared by the grace of God, but the demands of the tour and the strain of his brush with death were extensive. Upon his return home, he suffered a physical collapse; he was "mentally and bodily exhausted."2 At times thereafter he struggled with depression. When he recovered, his position as moderator of the Bible Presbyterian Church placed extensive demands on his time. He was also still serving as a pastor and board member, the latter a position from which he would soon resign. He then continued an aggressive six-month speaking schedule that took him away from his family. Finally, he moved his family abroad as missionaries during that same year. They would live temporarily in Holland before finally settling in Switzerland. However, the family moved yet again during their time in Switzerland.

All of these event--combined with the new intense formulation of ideas about life, art and culture spawned during this time in Schaeffer's life--created an overwhelming need in his spirit and intellect.

Although Dr. Schaeffer writes in True Spirituality that the crisis was in 1951 and 52, his wife, Edith, wrote that Schaeffer was actually referring to 1948 - 1950.3 According to Colin Duriez, author of Francis Schaeffer an Authentic Life, "Both sets of dates, the original and Edith's amendment, point to the period of crisis being extensive, It strongly seems that the onset of their exposure to the life in Europe, leaving behind the 'parochialism' (Edith's words) of their prior American experience, is a major context of the crisis."

This onslaught of change in Schaeffer's life was increased by his involvement in the very core of discussion on Karl Barth's New Modernism (Neo-Orthodoxy) and in August of 1950 Schaeffer and four others would meet with Barth personally. Although the meeting was cordial, Schaeffer's resulting address to the Second Plenary Congress of the International Council of Christian Churches was met with a negative letter from Barth. [Interestingly enough, in this letter Barth accused Schaeffer of responding to Barth's views with the "same kind" of critical response as that of Cornelius VanTil (Schaeffer's former professor at Westminster Theological Seminary.)]4

As the final trigger of the deeper crisis, Edith came to believe that a significant article Dr. Schaeffer wrote marked a point of "radical self-questioning."5 While she sites a specific article at the beginning of this period, there were likely other influencing non-public writings he also produced at this time. In my personal correspondence with Francis Schaeffer's nephew Dr. Richard Krejcir, Krejcir recalled that Dr. Schaeffer mentioned he had written numerous letters to an agnostic doctor in Switzerland. In an effort to evangelize this man, Schaeffer found himself challenged again as a former agnostic. The notes generated from these discussions apparently later became the source of the Bible studies given in a Bible Camp Barn in 1952 (mentioned in the preface). These of course became True Spirituality 15 years later.

Dr. Schaeffer begins the book's preface with these words:

"This book is being published after a number of others, but in a certain sense it should have been my first. Without the material in this book there would be no L'Abri."

Considering that L'Abri is the spiritual community for thought and study in which much of Schaeffer's work grew and flourished, this statement is rather fantastic. Yet this viewpoint is echoed in other accounts as well.

"Schaeffer always believed that without this deep struggle to find reality in the Christian and thus human life, the work of L'Abri would have never started."6

In the preface of True Spirituality, Schaeffer goes on to recount how his spiritual crisis stemmed from the problem of "reality." For Schaeffer the struggle with "reality" embodied a disconnect between his personal life and the truth:  It was not enough simply to believe in the truth, Schaeffer desired to have the truth permeate the whole of his life. His autobiographer Duriez comments on Schaeffer's "Unshakable Realism."

Defining True Spirituality

"He is concerned" wrote Duriez, "with living authentically as the key to effective Christian apologetics, which meets people both in their need and at the point of the inconsistency--whether this involves their large scale 'cheating,' as he bluntly calls it, or being willing to be consistent enough to contemplate suicide as a consequence of their non-Christian worldview. Placing this authenticity at the center of apologetics soon led Schaeffer into his own crisis period, when he felt forced to lay his own faith on the table in a necessarily reckless realism. Unknown to him, he was halfway through his life--it seems now, as we look at the whole of his life, that this was a very appropriate moment for him to reflect upon his faith in this radical way. He was familiar with Plato's dictum, 'Know thyself, ' and the opening of the Shorter Westminster Confession, 'The chief end of man is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.' He was following Calvin's footsteps in associating the knowledge of oneself with knowing God."7
In an interview with Colin Duriez, Schaeffer said that there are many misconceptions about true spirituality. In the same interview he commented, "I would say if Christianity is truth, it ought to touch on the whole of life. The modern drift in some evangelical circles toward being emotionally and experientially based is really very, very weak. The other side of the coin, though, is that Christianity must never be reduced to an intellectual system."8

Lastly, this introduction would not be complete without Dr. Schaeffer's own definition of this concept.

"To believe Him not just when I accept Christ as savior, but every moment, one moment at a time: this is the Christian life, and this is True Spirituality" --Schaeffer, True Spirituality, pg 98

This summary statement might seem like a spoiler to the book, but it is not. Rather, it is but a wonderful signpost. For as you read and understand how Schaeffer describes this concept, and discover the path to your own true spirituality, you will see that "moment-by-moment" is a journey on a road of consistency and faith. The way is fraught with hardship, and few travel there, but our reward is all-sufficient and glorious.

Dan Guinn
Footnotes from Francis Schaeffer an Authentic Life by Colin Duriez, pages 70 (1), 71 (2), 89 (3), 99 (4), 90 (5), 105 (6), 89 (7), and 106 (8).

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