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 Documents 14, 16). 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 Documents 1, 7, and 9. It is also worth comparing this sermon to Ronald Reagan’s address to the National Association of Evangelicals (Document 24).
…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 history, is the fact that any basis of law then becomes arbitrary—merely certain people making decisions as to what is for the good of society at the given moment.
Now this is the real reason for the breakdown in morals in our country. It’s the real reason for the breakdown in values in our country, and it is the reason that our Supreme Court now functions so thoroughly upon the fact of arbitrary law. They have no basis for law that is fixed, therefore, like the young person who decides to live hedonistically upon their own chosen arbitrary values, society is now doing the same thing legally. Certain few people come together and decide what they arbitrarily believe is for the good of society at the given moment, and that becomes law.
…It should be noticed that this new dominant world view is a view which is exactly opposite from that of the founding fathers who founded this country. Now, not all the founding fathers were individually, personally, Christians. That certainly is true. But, nevertheless, they founded the country on the base that there is a God who is the Creator … who gave the inalienable rights.
We must understand something very thoroughly. If society—if the state gives the rights, it can take them away—they’re not inalienable. If the states give the rights, they can change them and manipulate them. But this was not the view of the founding fathers of this country. They believed (although not all of them were individual Christians) that there was a Creator and that this Creator gave the inalienable rights: it is this upon which our country was founded and which has given us the freedoms which we still have—even the freedoms which are being used now to destroy the freedoms.
The reason that these freedoms were there is because they believed there was somebody who gave the inalienable rights, which indeed, therefore, limited the power of the state and the government specifically by these inalienable rights. But if we have the view that the final reality is material or energy which has existed forever in some form, we must understand that this view never, never, never would have given the rights which we now know and which, unhappily, I say to you (those of you who are Christians) that too often you take all too much for granted. You forget that the freedoms which we have had in northern Europe after the Reformation (and the United States is an extension of that, as would be Australia or Canada, New Zealand, and so on) are absolutely unique in the world. Occasionally, some of you who have gone to universities have been taught that these freedoms are rooted in the Greek city‐states. That is not true. All you have to do is read Plato’s Republic and you understand that the Greek city‐states never had any concept of the freedoms that we have. Go back into history. The freedoms which we have (the form / freedom balance of government) are unique in history and they are also unique in the world at this day.
…We are now losing those freedoms and we can expect to continue to lose them if this other world view continues to take increased force and power in our county. We can be sure of this.…
A good illustration is in the public schools. This view is taught in our public schools exclusively—by law. There is no other view that can be taught.… There is only one view of reality that can be taught, and that is that the final reality is only material or energy shaped by pure chance.
It is the same with the television programs. Public television gives us many things that many of us like culturally, but is also completely committed to a propaganda position that the last reality is only material/energy shaped by pure chance.…
The abortion ruling is a very clear one. The abortion ruling, of course, is also a natural result of this other world view because with this other world view, human life—your individual life—has no intrinsic value. You are a wart upon the face of an absolutely impersonal universe. Your aspirations have no fulfillment in the “what‐isness” of what is. Your aspirations damn you.… The universe cannot fulfill anything that you say when you say, “It is beautiful”; “I love”; “It is right”; “It is wrong.” These words are meaningless words against the backdrop of this other world view.…
In this case, human life has no distinct value whatsoever, and we find this Supreme Court in one ruling overthrew the abortion laws of all 50 states, and they made this form of killing human life (because that’s what it is) the law. The law declared that this form of killing human life was to be accepted, and for many people, because they had no set ethic, when the Supreme Court said that it was legal … it [became] ethical.
The courts of this country have forced this view and its results on the total population. What we find is that as the courts have done this, without any longer that which the founding fathers comprehended of law … that there is a law of God which gives foundation. It becomes quite natural then, that they would also cut themselves loose from a strict constructionism concerning the Constitution.
Everything is relative. So as you cut yourself loose from the Law of God, in any concept whatsoever, you also soon are cutting yourself loose from a strict constructionism and each ruling is to be seen as an arbitrary choice by a group of people as to what they may honestly think is for the sociological good of the community, of the country, for the given moment.
Now, along with that is the fact that the courts are increasingly making law and thus we find that the legislatures’ powers are increasingly diminished in relationship to the power of the courts. Now the pro‐abortion people have been very wise about this in the last, say, 10 years, and Christians very silly\ … because the courts are not subject to the people’s thinking, nor their will, either by election nor by a re‐election. Consequently, the courts have been the vehicle used to bring this whole view and to force it on our total population. It has not been largely the legislatures. It has been rather, the courts.
The result is a relativistic value system. A lack of a final meaning to life—that’s first. Why does human life have any value at all, if that is all that reality is? Not only are you going to die individually, but the whole human race is going to die, someday. It may not take the falling of the atom bombs, but someday the world will grow too hot, too cold.… Someday all you people not only will be individually dead, but the whole conscious life on this world will be dead, and nobody will see the birds fly. And there’s no meaning to life.
…It was this view that opened the door to all that followed in Germany prior to Hitler. It’s an interesting fact here that the only Supreme Court in the Western World that has ruled against easy abortion is the West German Court. The reason they did it is because they knew … that this view of human life in the medical profession and the legal profession combined, before Hitler came on the scene, is what opened the way for everything that happened in Hitler’s Germany. And so, the German Supreme Court has voted against easy abortion because they know very well where it leads.
…Abortion itself would be worth spending much of our lifetimes to fight against, because it is the killing of human life, but it’s only a symptom of the total. What we are facing is Humanism: Man, the measure of all things—viewing final reality being only material or energy shaped by chance; therefore, human life having no intrinsic value; therefore, the keeping of any individual life or any groups of human life, being purely an arbitrary choice by society at the given moment.…
I have a question to ask you, and that is: Where have the Bible‐believing Christians been in the last 40 years? … This country is almost lost because the Bible‐believing Christians, in the last 40 years, who have said that they know that the final reality is this infinite‐personal God who is the Creator and all the rest, have done nothing about it as the consensus has changed. There has been a vast silence!
Christians of this country have simply been silent.… It’s not only the Christian leaders. Where have the Christian lawyers been? Why haven’t they been challenging this change in the view of what the First Amendment means, which I’ll deal with in a second. Where have the Christian doctors been—speaking out against the rise of the abortion clinics and all the other things? Where have the Christian businessmen been—to put their lives and their work on the line concerning these things which they would say as Christians are central to them? Where have the Christian educators been—as we have lost our educational system? Where have we been? Where have each of you been? What’s happened in the last 40 years?…
Now I want to say something with great force, right here. What I have been talking about, whether you know it or not, is true spirituality. This is true spirituality. Spirituality, after you are a Christian and have accepted Christ as your Savior, means that Christ is the Lord of ALL your life—not just your religious life, and if you make a dichotomy in these things, you are denying your Lord His proper place.… All of life is spiritual and all of life is equally spiritual. That includes (as our forefathers did) standing for these things of freedom and standing for these things of human life and all these other matters that are so crucial, if indeed, this living God does exist as we know that He does exist.
We have forgotten our heritage. A lot of the evangelical complex like to talk about the old revivals and they tell us we ought to have another revival. We need another revival—you and I need revival. We need another revival in our hearts. But they have forgotten something.… That is the factor that every single revival that has ever been a real revival, whether it was the great awakening before the American Revolution; whether it was the great revivals of Scandinavia; whether it was Wesley and Whitefield; wherever you have found a great revival, it’s always had three parts. First, it has called for the individual to accept Christ as Savior, and thankfully, in all of these that I have named, thousands have been saved. Then, it has called upon the Christians to bow their hearts to God and really let the Holy Spirit have His place in fullness in their life. But there has always been, in every revival, a third element. It has always brought social change!
…It was the Great Awakening, that great revival prior to the founding of the United States, that opened the way and prepared for the founding of the United States. Every one of the great revivals had tremendous social implications. What I am saying is, that I am afraid that we have forgotten our heritage.…
…When the government negates the law of God, it abrogates its authority. God has given certain offices to restrain chaos in this fallen world, but it does not mean that these offices are autonomous, and when a government commands that which is contrary to the Law of God, it abrogates its authority.…
…At a certain point, it is not only the privilege but it is the duty of the Christian to disobey the government. Now that’s what the founding fathers did when they founded this country. That’s what the early Church did. That’s what Peter said. You heard it from the Scripture: “Should we obey man? … rather than God?” That’s what the early Christians did.
…The people of the Reformation, the founding fathers of this country, faced and acted in the realization that if there is no place for disobeying the government, that government has been put in the place of the living God. In such a case, the government has been made a false god. If there is no place for disobeying a human government, that government has been made GOD. Caesar, under some name, thinking of the early Church, has been put upon the final throne. The Bible’s answer is NO! Caesar is not to be put in the place of God and we as Christians, in the name of the Lordship of Christ, and all of life, must so think and act on the appropriate level. It should always be on the appropriate level. We have lots of room to move yet with our court cases, with the people we elect—all the things that we can do in this country. If, unhappily, we come to that place, the appropriate level must also include a disobedience to the state.
If you are not doing that, you haven’t thought it through. Jesus is not really on the throne. God is not central. You have made a false god central. Christ must be the final Lord and not society and not Caesar.
A. What is Schaeffer’s “manifesto” – that is, to what course of action is he calling American Christians? What does Schaeffer mean by “Humanism” and why does he see it as such a threat?
B. Is Schaeffer’s understanding of civil disobedience similar to or different from that presented by Mayhew (Document 4)? How would Schaeffer respond to Palmer (Document 11) or Hall (Document 16)?