Posted by: Billy Marsh | September 29, 2007

Reflections On True Spirituality: Session 5

Francis Schaeffer

Schaeffer begins chapter 5, “The Supernatural Universe,” declaring, “Our generation is overwhelmingly naturalistic (54).”

What do you think? I’d like some feedback on this statement. Of course, these lectures were given back in the 1960s and the book was first published in 1971, but do you think that this assertion is true for our generation now in the new millennium? I proposed that this has in fact changed since Schaeffer’s time and that our generation has moved away from strict naturalism, and is now willing to live in a supernatural world, just not the one that the Bible sets forth. However, another professor from The College at Southwestern disagreed with me and said that our culture is full of spiritualists not supernaturalists. The former has to do with the innerman, while the latter has to do with what goes on outside of man. What do you think? I would be interested to know because how one answers this question has a lot of bearings on how he or she would read and understand this chapter in True Spirituality.

Why is the reality of a supernatural universe so important for the everyday Christian? Why can’t a Christian be a naturalist? Schaeffer says that Christian spirituality is fundamentally “related to the unity of the Bible’s view of the universe (54).” In other words, our spirituality is linked to how we view the world around us. Do we affirm a supernatural world while living as naturalists? Or, do we see the Bible’s teaching of a supernatural universe as a practical reality? For Schaeffer, we must fight off the temptation of letting the naturalistic tendencies of our culture dominate how we approach our daily Christian walk. He uses the example of the cross event to underscore his point. Schaeffer posits, “We have also considered Christ’s redemptive death, which has no meaning whatsoever outside the relationship of a supernatural world (55).” I will explain this illustration more later.

As for now, in the same vein as the topic above, Schaeffer delivers a powerful passage arguing for true spirituality to be defined as a Christian whose doctrine includes the natural and supernatural world and whose practical living plays this doctrine out in reality. He declares:

The true Bible-believing Christian is the one who lives in practice in this supernatural world. I am not saying that no one can be saved and go to heaven unless he lives in practice in this supernatural world. . . . What I am saying is that the true Bible-believing Christian is one who does so. I am not a Bible-believing Christian in the fullest sense simply by believing the right doctrines, but as I live in practice in this supernatural world (56).

For Schaeffer, a Christian cannot have one without the other, that is, the natural and supernatural world. The natural world is what we see everyday; the supernatural is simply the unseen world. Schaeffer says, “The supernatural is really no more unusual in the universe, from the biblical viewpoint, than what we normally call the natural (56). This point is what I’ve been trying for years to get people to understand. In fact, I think I’ve even stated it this way almost word for word to others in the past. Schaeffer comes close to saying it outright in this chapter, but truthfully, what he is arguing for is not two worlds, but rather a biblical view of one, total universe. Just as there is “one Lord, one faith, and one baptism (Eph 4:5)”, so also is there one universe which in its makeup includes a spiritual reality and natural reality that has not always been (pre-Fall creation) and inevitably will not always be (post-2nd Coming).

One of the main reasons for Christians to live in light of a real supernatural universe is that there is a “cause-and-effect” relationship between the two. Often, what happens in the one, affects the other. In the words of Maximus, “Brothers, what we do here in life, echoes in eternity (Gladiator).” Now, back to the illustration of the cross event and redemption having meaning only in a supernatural universe. Ultimately, if there is only naturalism, then how could the physical death of Christ on the cross have any affect on the spiritual aspects of all creation without there being a supernatural world? If there is no supernatural universe, then in the cross event, there can be no atonement for sins. Other biblical passages that Schaeffer used to support this point were 2 Kings 6:16-17 (Elisha and the young man) and 1 Cor 4:9 (being observed by angels and men). The Christian must affirm both realities under the umbrella of one, unified universe of which there is “one God and Father of all (Eph 4:6).” He must have right doctrine and then put it into practice. For Schaeffer, this is what constitutes a true Bible-believing Christian.

In closing, I wanted to give an indicting response of Schaeffer with regards to the “gruff” that he received at times concerning his approach to explaining the faith using an intellectual apologetic. He noted that some people only want a “simple” gospel. In his response he argues, 

. . . and by the simple preaching of the gospel they may mean the simple refusal to consider the questions of our own generation, and a simple refusal to wrestle with them (61).

Let us not fall into this trap. Yes, the gospel can be simple. Paul teaches us that in 1 Cor 15:3-4; however, in his letter to the Romans and in the letter to the Hebrews, we can quickly realize just how complex and deep the gospel really is. And, one of those aspects of the gospel is that there is a supernatural universe, a completely unseen reality that includes the invisible God, an ascended Christ, and the indwelling Holy Spirit. Thus, to live ignorantly of a supernatural universe is in essence to deny the ultimate reality of the existence of God and his sovereign, redemptive work in his universe.

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