Say Francis Schaeffer's name and the informed Christian will straighten his armor of righteousness and stand erect with his Sword of Truth, or the Word of God. "Schaeffer [is] the great prophet of our age," is how Charles Colson describes him. Schaeffer's seminal work, "The God Who Is There," is an explanation of the despair that wracks modern man to his core and explains that the only logical response is "The God Who Is There."
God is There (or Here) because he tells us he is. How? Through His Word, the book of his words and deeds. He brought the world into existence through his Word, then he gave himself through his Word, Jesus Christ. The Bible is of utmost importance because God shows us himself through his Word.
However, modern man took words and made them into a twisted form of themselves, making meaning nil or ineffectual. The informed follower of Christ should learn the ways of the modern world and its nihilistic meanings. Only then can he combat its destructiveness. This is one of Schaeffer's main themes.
Schaeffer outlines the new world order and its debilitating effects. This new outlook developed between 1913 and 1935 in the United States with the rise of Humanism. Prior to that time, man had absolutes on which to rely. If there is evil, then its antithesis is good. Christians had a sound basis on which to live in the world. (Their moral code, of course, comes from the Bible.)
Then Julian Huxley edited The Humanist Frame The Modern Humanist Vision of Life" in which he emphasizes man as the source of all meaning, knowledge, and value. (Huxley is cited only as a humanist of Schaeffer's time as an example.) The man who originally drew this line of despair was Hegel, making truth the result of cause and effect, not absolutes.
According to Schaeffer, Kierkegaard is "the father of all modern thinking" by creating the concept of existential thought, both secular and theological. By its nature, existential thinking cannot be communicated. The informed Christian can counteract this lack by talking about God and Christ, who CAN be communicated. Since God's Word is written, it therefore can be communicated.
Sartre and Camus added to existentialism by saying that only an act of will can authenticate one's life, still placing man below the line of despair. Huxley played with evolutionary humanism, making it a religious substitute without a god. The other "authentic" experience comes through the use of drugs, which Schaeffer seriously debunks. The major proponent of this use to bring about a "first-order" experience was Timothy McLeary, a Harvard professor at the time (1960's). On the other hand, the Christian has a real external world which God created (as outlined in his Word).
Art was the next step in modern man's attempt to live in a world not made of despair. Van Gogh and Gauguin tried to connect through their paintings. Each experienced failure in their set goals and died in despair. Picasso, through his cubism, illustrates that communication is not even possible because people are no long human, but monsters.
The meaning of despair in music began with musique concrete, in which notes could be distorted enough that your ears began to distrust what they heard. In the end, whether art, music, philosophy, the public came to understand that what they face is alienation, corruption, lostness, chance, randomness.
Schaeffer discusses a number of other disciplines which have fallen to the slipperiness of a truth without an opposite. What is a Christian to do in such a world? He devotes the first half of his book to laying out the new truth and its consequences of despair.
In the second half Schaeffer examines the Christian counter point to this despair: "[T]he answer of the historic and Reformation Christian position which states that there is a personal God, that man is made in his image, that he has communicated to his creatures...."(106).
Schaeffer insists that the only way man can live in an uncertain world is to have an antithesis to truth. Death is not the end of our lives. The most important communication from God to man was the work of Christ on the cross. "John 3:16--He that believeth on the Son has everlasting life and he that believeth not in the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him" (164).
Space dictates an end to this review. This book deserves much more. Schaeffer very neatly and clearly shows how modern thinking has gone wrong and how man can get back to an accessible truth--that God is who He says he is, that Jesus lived in time and space, and that we can depend on the God who is there. A riveting book!