When history repeats itself, it’s not necessarily caused by the foibles and frailties of humankind. Our susceptibilities to temptation are certainly in play when trouble gets stirred up, but a deadlier and larger game is in play today. The political havoc in our country since the beginning of the 2016 election campaign has much in common with the late 1960s. This is not just a natural cycle that occurs every 50 years.
Francis A. Schaeffer was a philosopher, theologian, pastor, and author whose Biblical worldview lit up his understanding of the cultural and political trends of the 20th century. His book The Church at the End of the Twentieth Centurywas first published in 1970, but he edited it a bit with some updated insights when he published his Complete Works in 1982. In this essay I summarize the key points of chapter 2 of the book, entitled “The International Student Revolution.” See if you agree with me that Satan is employing the same playbook now as he did 50 years ago, to destroy souls and undermine freedom in our country.
Student revolts boiled up in 1964 at UC Berkeley in two forms, as Schaeffer analyzed it. First, the free speech movement enabled students of diverse points of view to engage politically on their own campus. The other element, though, the hippie movement, demanded autonomous freedom. Anyone in authority was labeled ‘fascist’ . . . sound familiar? Some of these students dropped out of society, as long as their allowances kept coming.
Schaeffer also cites a smaller, short-lived third stream, the filthy speech movement, which featured grabbing the microphone and shouting four-letter words. These idiots succeeded in mainstreaming foul-mouthed comedy and the relaxation of standards in TV and movies.
How did the evangelical church respond? Christian leaders tried to plead with the young people to maintain conservative standards and traditions of decency. We see that today, too. Instead of standing on Biblical principles, Christians who engage in political debate invoke traditions in 1 man / 1 woman marriage or traditions in modest dress or decent language or public prayer or whatever. In effect they have stepped off their foundation and engaged with the God-hating left by leaving God entirely out of the debate. When you do that you default to your feelings vs. their feelings, and your traditions vs. theirs. Who’s to say who is right, whatever that means?
The issue is always, Is God there and is the Bible the revelation of God to man? If God is there then we have a sure foundation for every topic from abortion to tax policy. Abortion: Every individual is made in God’s image (Gen 1:27) and God-given human life worthy of protection is already there in the womb (Ps 139:13-16, Jer 1:5, Lk 1:44). Tax policy: God means for us to enjoy the fruits of our labor, not for government to confiscate our earnings to build political power (Eccl 5:18, Prov 31:15-16 and many others). Welfare policy: Charity is the responsibility of individuals and churches (Prov 31:20, Lk 10:29-37, Acts 4:34-35, 5:4, 1 Cor 16:1-3). Border policy and law and order: God ordains nations to protect the innocent from criminals (Romans 13:1-7).
The Christian must start with God’s words and apply God’s principles for all things in this life (2 Pe 1:3-4). Most Christians don’t do this. They get involved in debates on the Devil’s terms, invoking feelings and traditions and some vague morality without foundations.
The secular conservative is not our friend, fellow believers. He may be a co-belligerent on some issues, as Schaeffer would say, opposing abortion or confiscatory tax policies. But he’s not on the same team! There are only two teams, the Lord’s and the Devil’s. The secular conservative debates a bit more in touch with reality than the deluded liberal does, but he denies the foundation for all TRUTH, just like the liberal. The Christian conservative gets enamored with secular conservative pundits and thereby forgets what life is all about.
Jerry Falwell Jr. was recently interviewed on a Fox News morning show. He had about five full minutes on camera and opined about several political issues of the day. Not once did he invoke a Biblical principle to gird his opinion! He argued just like a secular conservative, as if God doesn’t exist.
Schaeffer calls the Christian to be revolutionary, “as Jesus was revolutionary against both Sadducees and Pharisees” . . . namely, the establishment. True Christians are extremely rare in America today. Only a fraction of the membership of evangelical or fundamentalist churches are actually born again, and only a very small fraction of them act like it. Most are content with modern church life, content to show up, shut up, and pay up. Who is contending anymore? Who will follow the prophet Isaiah? “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.” (Is 58:1) You can hardly find any American Christians who will knock on their neighbors’ doors or strike up conversations on the sidewalk to share the Gospel. God’s call to Isaiah goes well beyond that. But Christians won’t even follow Jesus in the Great Commission. How can they not?
Schaeffer reports on a notable debate in his time, in which hippie guru Timothy Leary spoke warmly on the virtues of psychedelic drugs and the great future ahead in which everyone is abolutely free. Allen Ginsberg shrewdly replied, “But Tim, somebody must make the posters.” And then there’s laundry, and plumbing, and agriculture . . . reality gets in the way.
In the political realm the movements of the 1960s led inevitably toward an establishment totalitarianism. Schaeffer: “Please repeat the term establishment elite in your mind until the term is permanently stuck there.” It doesn’t matter whether today’s deep state is populated by Democrats or Republicans. Government grows, taxes rise, morals decay, and politicians pander to their constituents with words, but govern by another agenda, an agenda in sync with globalism and the coming rule of the antichrist.
The anarchists of the 1960s were happy to blow everything up because they imagined that things couldn’t get worse. Many of those radicals became university professors in later years.
Today’s anarchists are just as violent and just as determined. Schaeffer cites radical events at the U of Wisconsin, Columbia U, and the Sorbonne in Paris. One of the French student leaders spoke over French radio. Another student called in to make a comment, asking for a chance to speak in opposition, pleading, “Give me a chance to speak.” The answer: “No, just shut up – I’ll never give you a chance to speak.”
And so today the conservative voices on campuses are silenced. Conservative speakers are refused opportunities to speak even when invited by students – notably at UC Berkeley. Conservative student leaders are stalked and beaten. A recent editorial in the Princeton U student newspaper opined that free speech should not be available to conservatives.
Hey, Satan’s first choice is always totalitarianism. He will foster corruption when he needs to, but his preference is always the control the North Koreans have over their people, torturing or killing anyone in opposition.
So, do news reports about the suppression of conservative speech make you angry? Why aren’t you rather distressed about how rare a Gospel witness is on these campuses? Why not take a group from your church and, instead of going bowling, grab a handful of tracts, walk onto a local campus, and give some students a chance to be saved?
Schaeffer observes that many college students live in a halfway house, so to speak. They don’t believe what their parents believed and would not defend their parents’ views to their peers, but neither do they have a foundation for their own beliefs, which are malleable, subject to peer and cultural pressure.
I recently had a somewhat contentious conversation with a 30 year-old born again Christian whom I’ve known for many years, but only with occasional contact. He came through the public school and state university system and is committed to the evangelical church culture.
Having bought into the so-called ‘social justice’ narrative of the left, he sees racism everywhere, and overwhelmingly interprets the problem as white racism against blacks. It was fruitless for me to argue that the left’s narrative is hyper-exaggerated in order to stir up trouble for political reasons, so I eventually asked him why racism is wrong. He just felt that it was, finally insisting that racism is hatred. So why is hatred wrong? Well, it makes people miserable and causes trouble.
I pointed out that racists, whether white or black or whatever, are typically quite happy and self-righteous in their hatred. So what is the young fellow’s solution? In particular, what is he going to do to help? Well, he talks to people to point out the problem. But why should they change their opinions, their feelings? Aren’t their feelings as good as his? Who can judge?
I eventually suggested that he was arguing just like an atheist and / or a postmodernist would. He’s got no foundation and that’s an abysmal shame because he claims to be a born again Christian. For example, how many races are there from a Biblical point of view? Somewhat sheepishly, he agreed that there is only one (Acts 17:26). And the only hope for man, individually and collectively, is regeneration by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the second Adam, the Savior of all descended from the first Adam (1 Cor 15:45) . . . that’s all of us.
I exhorted my young friend that if he really wants to help someone, he must share the Gospel. Sharing his opinions and his feelings apart from the Gospel is worthless. Convert the soul and the Holy Spirit will convert the heart. To my friend’s credit, he accepted the rebuke. He knows that Christians should share the Gospel, but had never connected the Great Commission to the issues of society. But there is nothing about life that makes sense without a Biblical foundation.
So when a race debate starts, don’t jump in on one political side or another. Don’t rely on the panel of conservative pundits who don’t have a clue about the reality of spiritual warfare. Rather, cry aloud, spare not, declare the truth that there is only one race and all of us need the Savior. (Paul expands on this issue in Romans 5.) All Christians are supposed to know this stuff, but few Christians are boldly vocal . . . in the public square! The Sunday School class and the pulpit don’t count!
Schaeffer warns that the campus movements are meant to be a pattern for society. “What we have going on is a war, and those who are being attacked are often oblivious.” The end of this game: “Whether it is a left-wing elite or an establishment elite, the result is exactly the same. There are no real absolutes controlling either. In both cases, one is left with only arbitrary absolutes set by an authoritarian society or state, or some elite, with all the modern means of manipulation under its control.”
What freedoms we have left can disappear rapidly. Hey, Christian, what are you doing with your freedom to speak?
Schaeffer sees three alternatives for a nation to take when it rejects the Gospel. The first is hedonism, which works all right as long as you have just one man. But two hedonists who meet each other on a log above a swift stream have trouble. With everyone working to maximize his self-esteem and his personal pleasure, we see an explanation for much of the tumult in America today.
The second alternative, if you deny absolute truth and absolute morality, is the dictatorship of the 51 percent. If the majority rules, constitutions and laws are no real help. Whoever is voted into power can do what he likes. Schaeffer: “The courts are making sociological law.” Nothing has changed since Schaeffer’s time. Judges decide what they like and use cultural trends as justification.
Where does this lead? If Hitler had a majority mandate from the German people, did he have a right to kill Jews? Is it ok today to kill unborn babies as long as a majority, or a majority of judges, say it’s ok? The checks and balances designed into the founding of the United States, along with a Constitution that is difficult to change, were a deliberate strategy to defuse the tyranny of a majority. See Isaiah 33:22, which speaks to the foundation of tripartite government.
The third alternative is an elite or a dictator, “some form of authoritarianism wherein a minority, the elite, or one man tells the society what to do.” The U.S. courts have embraced this approach, along with President Obama, whose executive orders often went beyond what the Constitution and the laws allowed.
In the 1970s Schaeffer saw a huge block of people that many called the “silent majority,” which was, and still is the most powerful voting block. But it consists of two unequal parts. It includes Christians who live by the absolutes of a Biblical worldview, but the far larger portion consists of those who want to coast on the practical, peaceful, orderly advantages of a Christian culture, yet have no basis for their desires. Most churchgoers fit this majority within the silent majority. Within evangelical and fundamentalist churches a very small minority, in my view less than 5%, orient their lives, day by day, in a deliberate intent to follow Biblical principles.
The values of this majority, according to Schaeffer, are affluence and peace at any price. They will compromise liberty if affluence is threatened. “They are no closer to the true Christian than was the hippie community and the New Left. In fact, they are probably further away, for they have no values that deserve the name values. Affluence and personal peace at any price as the controlling factors of life are as ugly as anything could be.”
Votes may easily swing back and forth between liberal and conservative based on promises of more or less personal peace and affluence. “The danger is that the evangelical, being so committed to middle-class norms and often even elevating these norms to an equal place with God’s absolutes, will slide without thought into accepting some form of an establishment elite.”
And that’s where we are today. Consider the enormous and vitriolic attention paid over the last year to government policies on health care and taxes. Sure, it’s important enough to get it right. But whether we take home a few bucks more or less, to make that the ultimate issue in American hearts and minds is to lose sight of everything important in life. For example, amidst all the daily energy expended on such topics, about 3,000 babies get murdered every day, gangs murder each other along with innocents in America’s cities, and moral scandals erupt again and again. And the Christians let their neighbors go to Hell without a warning. It’s the Devil’s game to distract Christians from what’s important by enticing us into political competitions between competing elites.
But you’ve got to take a side on these issues, right? No, you can favor the same outcome that the secular conservative favors, but you’re not on the same team. In despising Biblical principles, your favorite pundits seduce you into playing their game, one man’s opinion vs. another. Isaiah 58:1 never comes to mind. And then your sons and daughters, never grounded on Biblical truth, will aspire to join either a leftist or a conservative elite when they grow up. Your children must see you . . . repeatedly . . . invoke Biblical principles at the start of all serious discussions.
Schaeffer: “We must act upon, witness, and preach this fact: What is contrary to God’s revealed propositional truth is not true, whether it is couched in Hindu terms or traditional Christian terms with new meanings.” The 1st century Christians paid a price for speaking about the true God and proclaiming sin and judgment and repentance and faith in a literally resurrected Christ. Today, evangelicals use a lot of ‘god’ words and ‘love’ words, while avoiding words about sin and judgment, but what they mean never gets them into trouble, because they are going with the cultural flow, not against it.
Schaeffer concludes his chapter with a plea for the churches to be real communities where truth is made clear and relationships are real, deep, and loving. He and his wife, Edith, made that work in a practical way at L’Abri, their Swiss home that functioned much like the house churches of the 1st century. I heartily recommend Edith Schaeffer’s book, L’Abri, on how they got started and what God did with them in Switzerland. You will be blessed as you read their story.
Francis Schaeffer pleads for the churches to exhibit such community, but they have designed their programs to prevent it! Watching the weekly show and engaging in an occasional group activity, like most evangelicals and fundamentalists do, doesn’t come close to God’s design for the New Testament church. You can read my ‘church’ essays in the Discipleship section of this site if you haven’t thought about whether modern churches are churches at all.
Schaeffer was still optimistic in his day. “We do not need 51 percent of the people to begin to have an influence. If 20 percent of the population were really regenerate Christians, clear about their doctrines, beliefs, and values, taking truth seriously, taking a consistent position, we could begin . . . to have a vital voice again in the midst of our community.” Since the Christian foundation has been removed from our culture, Schaeffer warned that either the left or the conservative establishment will dominate, “in order to give at least an illusion of what the people want concerning material well-being.”
Schaeffer warns the Christian to avoid taking sides in the keep-God-out-of-it political debates. “We must not opt for one as against the other just because it seems to give a little peace for a little time. That is an enormous mistake, because both are equally non-Christian and eventually both will be equal in smashing out the freedoms we have had.”
Schaeffer’s dream of a 20 percent regenerate population may have seemed within reach once upon a time. I’m convinced that less than 2 percent of Americans are born again and less than 1 percent of those actually work practically and diligently at living by Biblical principles. But any one of us, any Christian, can make a difference in the lives of both the lost and the saved in his community. It always gets back to the mandate of the Great Commission. Give the lost a chance by speaking a clear Gospel message and encourage the Christians around you to do the same, and to live in a way that correlates with their witness.
It’s not complicated. You can do it today. Speak some truth. Give a tract. Call a Christian and tell her you’re praying for her. Tell someone else how you thank God for the blessing she’s been in your life. Make the day count in several ways. Just do it.
[Printed with permission]