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A student of J. Gresham Machen (Document 20), Schaeffer (1912–1984) was among the most forceful voices in late twentieth century American Christianity to speak against the social and political repercussions of the materialist and evolutionary view of human nature (see E.L. Youmans and G. Stanley Hall). This view—in which man and man alone is the apex and standard of all things—was characteristic of the modern philosophy of Humanism (sometimes referred to as Secular Humanism, to differentiate it from the Christian Humanism of the Renaissance). In this sermon, delivered on several occasions in the 1980s, and in his earlier book of the same title, Schaeffer tackled the problem of such humanist philosophy directly by attempting to instigate a religious revival that would take seriously the traditional Christian proposition that all things—temporal as well as spiritual, and political as well as moral or religious—are the gifts of a Creator God, and thus, subject to His sovereignty.
It was this theistic understanding of the nature of the world—insurgent at the time of the Reformation, and again during the American founding—that provided the only solid foundation for human flourishing, Schaeffer argued. Yet Americans had allowed scientific materialism—and its philosophical variant of “humanism”—to supplant their traditional theistic understanding of the nature of reality, and in doing so, untethered themselves from the sense of ultimate accountability. Without it, Schaeffer argued that the nation’s inherited political principles of liberty and consent were devolving into licentiousness and arbitrary majoritarianism. Schaeffer urged American Christians to remember that they were part of a heritage of cultural revolution and transformation stretching back to the Reformation and to prepare themselves for actions of civil disobedience in the name of Christ if necessary. While Schaeffer’s rhetoric is more aggressive than that of many of the others in this collection, his message is in keeping with the tradition of American exceptionalism and millennialism we see in Winthrop’s, Adams‘, and Beecher’s documents. It is also worth comparing this sermon to Ronald Reagan’s address to the National Association of Evangelicals (See Reagan).
[There has been] a change in our society, a change in our country, a change in the Western world from a Judeo‐Christian consensus to a Humanistic one. That is, instead of the final reality that exists being the infinite creator God … now largely, all else is seen as only material or energy which has existed forever in some form, shaped into its present complex form only by pure chance.
…The word Humanism should be carefully defined.… Humanism means that the man is the measure of all things.… If this other final reality of material or energy shaped by pure chance is the final reality, it gives no meaning to life. It gives no value system. It gives no basis for law, and therefore, in this case, man must be the measure of all things.… If, indeed, the final reality is silent about these values, man must generate them from himself.
So, Humanism is the absolute certain result, if we choose this other final reality and say that is what it is. You must realize that when we speak of man being the measure of all things under the Humanist label, the first thing is that man has only knowledge from himself. That he, being finite, limited, very faulty in his observation in many things, yet nevertheless, has no possible source of knowledge except what man, beginning from himself, can find out by his own observation. Specifically, in this view, there is no place for any knowledge from God.
But it is not only that man must start from himself in the area of knowledge and learning, but any value system must come arbitrarily from man himself by arbitrary choice. More frightening still, in our country, at our own moment of h