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Death In The City

The Universe And Two Chairs

By Francis A. Schaeffer

In the course of this book we have focused attention on the way God looks at the culture of our day, and at both the men with the Bible and the men without the Bible who have turned away. In this final chapter we will examine the way God looks at those who have the Bible and have responded by believing in the God who is there and are relying on the finished work of Christ in space-time history for the removal of their guilt before a holy God.

As we have seen, Paul says in Romans 1:17 that the just shall live by faith. That is, they shall not only be initially justified by faith, but they shall live existentially by reliance on God and faith in Him. We turn now to see what living by faith means in our twentieth-century world.

First let us note that we who live in the second half of the twentieth century live in an increasingly complicated universe Ė much more complicated for us than for men just a few years ago. Our telescopes see further and we speak of light years running up into great numbers; the very magnitude of these numbers confuses us. On the other hand, our physicists deal with smaller and smaller particles, and as mass retreats into energy and energy into formulae, reality seems to slip through our fingers. As we look at those light years, we shrink away. And as we look at the tiny particles, we grow like Alice in Wonderland. But our size here does not really help us because we tend to become uncomfortable as we see material reality reduced to sets of mathematical formulae and energy particles dashing about at furious speed. Yet we must understand, if we are going to live as Christians, that while these things indeed are complicated and confusing, nevertheless from the biblical viewpoint the universe is simple.

Let me illustrate this. Imagine a room, the curtains pulled and the doors locked. Let us suppose that this room is the only universe that God has made. Now that would be possible. God could have made such a universe. So let us say that the only universe that exists is this room with the doors locked and the curtains pulled. There is nothing outside at all, absolutely nothing. We are in a universe that can be seen with one look around the room.

Now let us go further. Suppose we have two chairs in this room and that sitting on these two chairs are two men, the only two men in the universe. As we consider them, we find that they differ. One is a totally consistent materialist. As far as he is concerned, the universe is made up of nothing but mass, energy and motion; that is all there is to it. On the other chair sits a Christian who lives in the light of the teaching of the Bible as the propositional revelation of God. And these two sit facing each other in a universe in which they sit alone. After they have looked at each other for a while, the materialist says, "Now, Iím going to explore our universe." And the Christian replies, "Thatís fine." So the materialist begins to analyse the universe, and it takes him a long time. He goes through all the scientific processes that we now use to examine our own universe. He uses the sciences of chemistry, biology, physics, etc.. He goes back to the periodic table, and behind the periodic table into the atom and examines it. He examines everything from the paint on the wall to the more basic particles. All this takes him a long time.

Finally as an older man, he comes to the Bible-believing Christian and brings him a big set of books, and he says, "Now hereís a set of books, theyíre nicely bound, and they give in great detail a description of our universe." So the Christian takes a number of months, even years, to study these books with care. Finally the Christian turns to the materialist and says, "Well, this is a tremendous work. You have really told me a great deal about my universe that I wouldnít otherwise have known. However, my friend, this is all very fine, but itís drastically incomplete."

And you can imagine this man, who has spent his lifetime pouring out his heart to do his measuring and his weighing, suddenly taken aback. He turns and says to the Christian, "Well, now, Iím shocked that you tell me itís not all here. What have I missed?" And then the Christian responds something like this: "I have a book here, the Bible, and it tells me things that you do not know. It tells me the origin of the universe. Your scientific investigation by its very nature cannot do that. And it also says nothing about where you and I as men came from. You have examined us because we, like the paint on the wall, are phenomena in the universe. Youíve studied something of our psychology and even given me several volumes on it, but you have not told me how we came to be here. In short, you donít know the origin of either the universe or us."

"Furthermore," the Christian continues, "I know from this book that there is more to the universe than you have described. There is an unseen portion as well as a seen portion. And there is a cause-and-effect relationship between them. They are not mutually exclusive, but are parts of one reality. Itís as if you had taken an orange, sliced it in half, and only concerned yourself with one of the halves. To understand reality in our universe properly, you have to consider both halves Ė both the seen and the unseen."

In this sense "supernatural" is not a good word to describe the unseen portion. We must understand that the unseen portion of the universe is just as natural and as real as is the seen portion. Furthermore, the seen and the unseen are not totally separated. When we do certain things, it makes a difference in the unseen world and things in the unseen world make a difference in the seen world. The Christian would say to the materialist, "Your volume on the philosophy of history just does not hang together. The reason is that you are only looking at half of whatís there: you are only looking at half of history; you do not take into account the unseen portion. Consequently, your philosophy of history will never be sound." He is right: nobody has ever produced a satisfactory philosophy of history beginning with the materialistic viewpoint. There is too much in the seen world that does not make sense when taken as if it were all there is. One cannot produce a philosophy of history based on only half of history.

Now what happens next? These two men look at each other rather askance because their two primary views of the universe are set one against the other. The materialist replies: "Youíre crazy. Youíre talking about things you canít see." And the consistent Christian responds, "Well, you may say I am crazy because Iím talking about things I cannot see, but you are completely unbalanced. You only know half of your own universe."

Let us notice something extremely important: these two views can never be brought into synthesis. One man is not a little right and the other a little right and a synthesis better than both. These are two mutually exclusive views Ė one is right and one is wrong. If you say less than this, then you reduce Christianity to a psychological crutch, a glorified aspirin. That does not mean that the Christian cannot glean much detail from the materialistís observation. But as far as the comprehensive view of the universe is concerned, there can be no synthesis. Either this man is right and that man is wrong, or that man is right and this man is wrong. It is a total antithesis.

Pursue their situation further. Suppose that on the wall of their room there is a large clock. All of a sudden it stops. And these two men turn around and say, "What a pity! The clock has stopped." The materialist says, "That will never do, and because there are only you and I in this universe, one of us must clamber up the wall and start the clock. Thereís nobody else to do it." The Christian replies, "Now wait a moment. Yes, itís possible for one of us to climb up and start the clock, but there is another possibility. I may talk to the one who made this universe (one who is not in the universe in the sense of it merely being an extension of his essence) and he can start the clock."

Here is a tremendous difference in attitude. You can imagine the materialistís reaction. "Now I know youíre crazy. Youíre talking about someone we canít see starting a material clock." Anyone who has been doing modern twentieth-century thinking will realize the relevance of this. And I also think we may here see why so many Christians have no reality. They are not certain that it is possible for the God who made the universe to start the clock when a Christian talks to Him.

Let me give you an illustration from experience. Once I was flying at night over the North Atlantic. It was in 1947, and I was coming back from my first visit to Europe. Our plane, one of those old DC4ís with two engines on each wing, was within two or three minutes of the middle of the Atlantic. Suddenly two engines on one wing stopped. I had already flown a lot, and so I could feel the engines going wrong. I remember thinking, if Iím going to go down into the ocean, Iíd better get my coat. When I did, I said to the hostess, "Thereís something wrong with the engines." She was a bit snappy and said, "You people always think thereís something wrong with the engines." So I shrugged my shoulders, but I took my coat. I had no sooner sat down, than the lights came on and a very agitated co-pilot came out. "Weíre in trouble," he said. "Hurry and put on your life jackets."

So down we went, and we fell and fell, until in the middle of the night with no moon we could actually see the water breaking under us in the darkness. And as we were coming down, I prayed. Interestingly enough, a radio message had gone out, an SOS that was picked up and broadcast immediately all over the United States in a flash news announcement: "There is a plane falling in the middle of the Atlantic." My wife heard about this and at once she gathered our three little girls together and they knelt down and began to pray. They were praying in St Louis, Missouri, and I was praying on the plane. And we were going down and down.

Then, while we could see the waves breaking beneath us and everybody was ready for the crash, suddenly the two motors started, and we went on into Gander. When we got down I found the pilot and asked what happened. "Well," he said, "itís a strange thing, something we canít explain. Only rarely do two motors stop on one wing, but you can make an absolute rule that when they do, they donít start again. We donít understand it." So I turned to him and I said, "I can explain it." He looked at me: "How?" And I said, "My Father in heaven started it because I was praying." That man had the strangest look on his face and he turned away. Iím sure he was the man sitting in the materialistís chair.

But here is the point: there is no distinction between the clock starting and those motors starting. Is it or is it not possible for the God who made the mechanistic portion of the universe to start the clock or start the motors? Is it or isnít it? The materialist must say no; the Bible-believing Christian, at least in theory, says yes.

We are not dealing with God as though He were a machine. He is personal, and as we pray He does not respond mechanically, but as the Personal-Infinite God. The point is that He is there and He can, and does, act into the universe He has made.

Now then, let us get away from our small universe and suddenly throw wide the curtains, open the doors, push out the walls, the ceiling, and the floor, and have the universe as it is in its full size, as it has been created by God. Instead of two men, there are many men in the universe, but still represented by these two. What we must see is that no matter how deeply we get into the particles of matter or how much we learn by our telescopes and radio telescopes about the vastness of the created universe, in reality the universe is no more complicated than the room we have been talking about. It is only larger. Looking at the bigger universe, we either see it as the materialist sees it or as the Christian sees it: We see it with the one set of presuppositions or the other.

However, what one must realize is that seeing the world as a Christian does not mean just saying, "I am a Christian. I believe in the supernatural world," and then stopping. It is possible to be saved through faith in Christ and then spend much of our lives in the materialistís chair. We can say we believe in a supernatural world, and yet live as though there were no supernatural in the universe at all. It is not enough merely to say, "I believe in a supernatural world." We must ask, "Which chair am I sitting in at this given existential moment?" We must live in the present: "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof " Ė "Give us this day our daily bread." What counts is the chair I am sitting in at any one existential moment.

Christianity is not just a mental assent that certain doctrines are true. This is only the beginning. This would be rather like a starving man sitting in front of great heaps of food and saying, "I believe the food exists; I believe it is real," and yet never eating it. It is not enough merely to say, "I am a Christian", and then in practice to live as if present contact with the supernatural were something far off and strange. Many Christians I know seem to act as though they come in contact with the supernatural just twice Ė once when they are justified and become a Christian and once when they die. The rest of the time they act as though they were sitting in the materialistís chair.

The difference between a Christian who is being supernatural in practice and one who says he is a Christian but lives like a materialist can be illustrated by the difference between a storage battery and a light plug. Some Christians seem to think that when they are born again, they become a self-contained unit like a storage battery. From that time on they have to go on their own pep and their own power until they die. But this is wrong. After we are justified, once for all through faith in Christ, we are to live in supernatural communion with the Lord every moment; we are to be like lights plugged into an electric socket.

The Bible makes it plain that our joy and spiritual power depend on a continuing relation to God. If we do not love the Lord as we should, the plug gets pulled out and the spiritual power and the spiritual joy stop. Recall Paulís statement in the benediction, ĎThe communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.í In French the word is Ďcommunicationí. The reality of the communication of the Holy Spirit who lives within us and who is the agent of the whole Trinity is to be a continuing reality in the Christianís life.

Let us be more specific. The Bible says that Christ rose physically from the dead, that if you had been there that day you would have seen Christ stand up and walk away in a space-time, observable situation of true history. The materialist says, "No, I donít believe it. Christ is not raised from the dead." That is unbelief. The new theology is also unbelief because it says either that Jesus was not raised from the dead in history or that maybe He was and maybe He wasnít because who knows whatís going to happen in this world in which you canít be sure of anything. The historic resurrection of Christ doesnít really matter, says the new theology; what matters is that the church got a big push from thinking He was raised in history. They see the importance of the resurrection as psychological, even though they say they leave open the door to actual resurrection since we live in a universe that we cannot be very sure of. The old liberalism, the new liberalism and materialism are basically the same. To all of them finally the same word applies: unbelief.

But now, here we are Bible-believing Christians. We stand and say, "No, Iím not going to accept that. Iím going to speak out against the materialist, and Iím going to speak out against the old and the new liberalism. Christ was raised from the dead, and He did ascend with the same body the disciples saw and touched. Between His resurrection and His ascension He appeared and disappeared many times. He went back and forth between the seen and the unseen world often in those forty days. And then, finally, He took an official departure at the Mount of Olives." But the Bible says that if Christ is raised from the dead we are supposed to act upon it in our moment-by-moment lives. Its importance is not just in past history.

So the Bible-believing Christian says, "Well, I believe it!" The materialist says, "I donít believe it!" and he sits in unbelief. But what shall we say about the man who says, "I believe it. I believe it", but then does not act upon this in faith in his daily life? I have made up a word for it. I call it unfaith.

The Bible tells us plainly that Christ promises to bear His fruit through us. In Romans 7:4 Paul says a very striking thing: "Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; in order that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, in order that we should bring forth fruit unto God." This verse speaks of each Christian as feminine. At conversion we are married to Christ, who is the bridegroom, and as we put ourselves in His arms, moment by moment, He will produce His fruit through us into the external world. That is beautiful and overwhelming. The bride cannot just stand with the bridegroom at the wedding ceremony. She must give herself to him existentially, regularly, for children to be born to him, through her body, into the external world.

As an example think of Mary and Christís birth. When Mary heard the annunciation, she did not say to the angel, "I wonít give myself to God in order that the Messiah may be born. What would Joseph think?" It would have been reasonable to say that because we know Joseph was indeed later disturbed. On the other hand, she did not say, "Now youíve told me what is to happen, I can do it on my own." Mary herself could no more bring forth that baby than any other girl can will a virgin birth. She said the one thing she could say that could be right: "I am your servant. I give my body into your hands. Do with it as you will." This was an active passivity. She was passive in that God brought forth the baby. But she was not passive in her will. One can say it this way (and I say it with great care): God would not have raped Mary. She put herself into His hands, and He was the One who produced this marvel of the virgin birth. Of course the virgin birth of Christ to Mary is totally unique, but it can be a profound example to us.

In a very different way the same situation holds with each of us as Christians. Christ wants to bring forth His fruit through me into this poor external world. And if I am not acting upon that, I am sitting in the chair of unfaith.

You will notice in Romans 6 (a very sober chapter to the Christian if he reads it with any delicacy of comprehension and feeling) in verses 13, 16 and 19, these words in the present tense: "Neither yield ye your members as instruments (weapons or tools) of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments (weapons or tools) of righteousness unto God." You continue to be significant after you become a Christian; and either you can yield yourself at any one moment into the hands of Christ for Him to use you as a tool or weapon in this world, or you can yield yourself in that moment as an instrument of unrighteousness even though you are a Christian.

Verse 16 says it again: "Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?" Sitting in the believerís chair, am I yielding myself to Christ for Him to bear fruit through me, or am I yielding myself to be the servant of my old ruler Satan, in which case I am bringing forth death into the external world? The sober thing is that something great is at stake: the whole question of bearing the fruit of the Spirit into the external world, of being an exhibition of the existence of God and His character. The significance of man continues. You are not a programmed computer. Are you going to yield yourself to your bridegroom or are you not? The 19th verse repeats the point: ĎI speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members as servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members as servants to righteousness unto holiness.í

The unbelieving man says, "Well, the resurrection Ė I really donít believe it." The Christian says, "I do believe it." But surely shouldnít we call it unfaith if I am not acting upon it and letting Christ, whom I say is raised from the dead, bring forth His fruit through me?

With this in mind, look at prayer. I feel that the determinism of our own generation has infiltrated us as evangelical Christians so that we do not tend to be praying people. We must understand what prayer is. Prayer, according to the Bible, is speaking to God. The reason why we can speak to God is that He exists, He is personal, and we are made in His image. Since we are made in His image, it should not be surprising that we can be in communication with Him, even though He is infinite and we are finite.

When our guilt is removed through the finished work of Christ, communication with God is to be expected. We communicate in a horizontal direction with each other through verbalization. In fact, modern anthropologists say that verbalization more than anything else distinguishes man from non-man. God too communicates to us in verbalization in Scripture, and we communicate to God in verbalization by prayer. It is as simple and as profound as that.

How then does prayer fit into the biblical view of the universe? God made the universe. It is external to Himself, not spatially, but in the sense that it is not an extension of His essence. There is, of course, a machine portion of the universe, but neither God nor man is caught in the machine.

There is a uniformity of natural causes, but not in a closed system. The course of nature can be changed Ė can be reordered Ė just as when I through a choice of the will interrupt something, for example by reaching over and turning off a light. This act of my will reorders the natural flow of cause and effect. It is in this setting that the Bible sets forth its teaching about prayer.

To return, therefore, to the aircraft: I prayed and God started the aircraftís engines. This is prayer, this is what it is supposed to be. God as well as man can start the motors in the space-time world. Without the true orthodox doctrine of God and man, prayer is just nonsense. You have to understand that there is a personal God and that He has created the universe, which is then not an extension of His essence. If it were, we would have a pantheistic system in which prayer is finally meaningless. At this point there is little difference between the pantheism of the East and many of the New Theologians of the West.

But let us notice that this emphasis must not be just a matter of doctrine. We must really sit in the supernaturalistís chair and pray. If a Christian does not pray, if he does not live in an attitude of prayer, then no matter what he says about his doctrine, no matter how many naughty names he calls the unbelieving materialist, the Christian has moved over and is sitting in the materialistís chair. He is living in unfaith if he is afraid to act upon the supernatural in the present life.

Unfaith turns Christianity into no more than a philosophy. Of course, Christianity is a philosophy Ė though not a rationalistic one because we have not worked it out beginning from ourselves. Rather, God has told us the answers. In this sense it is the true philosophy, for it gives the right answers to manís philosophic and intellectual questions. However, while it is the true philosophy, our Father in heaven did not mean it to be only theoretical or abstract. He meant it to tell us about Himself Ė how we can get to heaven, but, equally, how we can live right now in the universe as it is with both the seen and the unseen standing in equal reality.

If Christians just use Christianity as a matter of mental assent between conversion and death, if they use it only to answer intellectual questions, it is like using a silver spoon for a screw-driver. I can believe that a silver spoon makes a good screw-driver at certain times. But it is made for something else. It is silly to take the silver spoon that is meant to feed you, moment by moment, and keep it in your tool box to use only as a screw-driver.

But let us look further at the Christian living in unfaith. If the Bible-believing Christian has moved over and is in practice sitting in the materialistís chair, he is living as though the universe were something different from what it is. He is out of step with the universe and is in practice living as though he is more ignorant than a pagan in a jungle.

Suppose three men were sitting together in a jet airliner, one against the window, one against the aisle, and one in the middle. The one at the window is a pagan who hasnít a clue how the airplane flies; heís terrified as the airplane goes up. The man on the aisle knows every nut and bolt in this airplane; he designed it. But he doesnít believe in any supernatural at all. Imagine that you as a Christian are sitting in the middle. Which of these two men on either side of you would best understand the universe? The pagan doesnít have a clue about the airplane, but he knows that there is a seen and an unseen in the universe because he worships demons. The other man knows all about the airplane and he doesnít worship demons, but he also doesnít know that there is an unseen at all. The pagan is less ignorant of reality than the engineer, for the latter is living in only half of the universe. But what about you as the Christian? If you say that the universe has a spiritual dimension and yet do not live like it, you are acting as though you know less than the pagan.

Maybe now we will begin to see why in the evangelical church we often have a feeling of dustiness, unreality and abstraction. I think the reason is that many are functioning as though they knew less about the universe than the pagan knows. They have moved over in unfaith and are living as though the universe is naturalistic. No wonder there is a dustiness! In such a case the evangelical church is a museum of dead artefacts representing what once was a living practice of the doctrine we still say we believe.

If the courses we are giving as teachers are given as though we are sitting in the materialistís chair, is it any wonder that there is unreality? It is possible to teach our subjects that way. We can carry on our church life that way. We can carry on our evangelism that way. And our children then look at us and shake their heads: ĎWell, certainly thereís something very unreal in what I see in my teacherís, my pastorís and my parentsí Christian lives.í If we sit in the chair of unfaith, that is the result we should expect.

But let us take note: there are only two chairs, not three. And at this present moment we are either sitting in one or the other. Unfaith is just the Christian sitting in the materialistís chair. At every moment, existentially, there are before us as Christians the two chairs. After I am a Christian, I do not lose my significance. I am either yielding my life to the living Christ at a given moment or I am not. I am either in one chair or the other.

Which chair are we in? How do we live our lives? What is the set of the way we live? None of us is perfect, this is true. All of us sometimes find ourselves in the materialistís chair. But is this where we habitually sit? Is this how we usually teach our subjects? Is this the way we usually study? Is it even the way we do what we call Ďthe Lordís workí? Are we sitting in the chair of unfaith while we are trying to present the doctrines of belief?

Being a Bible-believing Christian, then, not only means believing with our heads, but in this present moment acting through faith on that belief: True spirituality is acting at the given moment upon the doctrines which one as a Christian says he believes.

We must fight the Lordís battles with the Lordís weapons in faith Ė sitting in the chair of belief: Only then can we have any part in the real battle. If we fight the Lordís battles merely by duplicating the way the world does its work, we are like little boys playing with wooden swords pretending they are in the battle while their big brothers are away at war in some distant and bloody land. The Lord will never honour with power the way of unfaith in His children because it does not give Him the honour. That is true in Christian activities, in missionary work, in evangelism, in anything you name. Living supernaturally does not mean doing less work; nor does it mean less work getting done, but more.

Who can do more? We with our own energy and wisdom, or the God who created heaven and earth and who can work in space-time history with a power which none of us has? God exists. And if we through faith stay in the Bible-believing chair moment by moment in practice, and do not move into the chair of unfaith, we and the world will see God act. Christ will bring forth His fruit through us. As I began this book I brought together the concepts of reformation and revival Ė the return to pure doctrine and the return of individuals and groups to a proper relationship to the Holy Spirit.

At the conclusion of our study of Jeremiah and his message we said that if there is to be a constructive revolution in the orthodox, evangelical church, then like Jeremiah we must speak of Godís judgment of individual men, great and small, and His judgment of the church, the state and the culture, all of which have known the truth of God and have turned away from Him and His propositional revelation. God exists, He is a holy God, and we must know that there will be judgment. Like Jeremiah we must keep on so speaking regardless of the cost to ourselves.

At the conclusion of our study of Romans we added this: if there is to be a constructive revolution in the orthodox, evangelical church, we must comprehend and speak of the lostness of the lost, including the man without the Bible. As with Paul this must not be done with a cold orthodoxy but with deep compassion for our own kind. Finally we must add that these things cannot be done once for all, nor in our own humanistic effort; we must be in the believerís chair moment by moment.

Reformation and revival are related to Godís people sitting moment by moment in the believerís chair. And with such reformation-revival will come constructive revolution in the evangelical, orthodox church. Even in the midst of death in the city, the evangelical church can have a really constructive revolution, a revolution that will shake it in all its parts and make it live before God, before the unseen world, and before the observing eyes of our post-Christian world.

Reference: Death In The City, Francis A. Schaeffer - chapter 9.

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