Posted by: Billy Marsh | January 20, 2008

Reflections On True Spirituality: Session 12 (Part I)

Francis Schaeffer

In Part II of Francis Schaeffer’s True Spirituality, many of the themes overlap in the last remaining chapters. So, in order to keep from highlighting the same ideas, I’m going to try and sift through chapter 12, “Substantial Healing in Personal Relationships,” and find the profound and insightful thoughts that perhaps have not been covered so far. As usual, Schaeffer does not disappoint in this chapter. For me, this was actually the topic that I was the least expectant to read due to the fact that when I think about a Christian book addressing the issue of personal relationships, I imagine a lot of psycho-babble, flakey illustrations and content, and plenty of subjectivity. However, Schaeffer brought this topic into new light for me, that is, the light of the gospel and the great effect that the Word and theology ought to have in determining the nature of our personal relationships and critiquing our lack of involvement thereof.

In essence, the “healing” aspect of Schaeffer’s teaching in chapter 12 has more to do with the given nature of man in his post-Fall existence. The natural consequences of sin that place a heavy load on personal relations, can be substantially healed and made right in this life due to the redemptive work of Christ. Schaeffer is absolutely right when he states later in the chapter that, “Christianity is the only answer to the problem of man (142).”

However, some of Schaeffer’s most intriguing thoughts towards the “healing” of relationships were focused upon a solid understanding of man made in God’s image, and thus, allowing that doctrine to influence and dictate how we treat others. Needless to say, this chapter was very convicting and humbling for me. At the outset, Schaeffer begins with this premise in mind: A personal God entails personal relationships (my paraphrase). This fact alone ought to prevent us from thinking that, as Christians, we are capable of ministering to God’s kingdom without becoming deeply involved in people’s lives. Schaeffer writes, “We also find that God’s dealing with men is never mechanical. There are no mechanical elements to it. His dealing with man is also not primarily legal, though there are proper legal aspects to it which are founded and rooted in God’s own character (131).” Just as the doctrines of justification and sanctification ought not to be seen merely as mechanical and legal actions that God takes in effecting salvation in the lives of people, neither should we treat others with such robotic tendencies. Even God is functioning in a very personal way when he declares us righteous in Christ; hence, the great Pauline metaphor of adoption as a part of salvation.

Why do we treat people in a mechanical way when we don’t see our relationship with God as impersonal? Schaeffer states, “Our relationship with God after we have become a Christian must always be centrally a person-to-person relationship (132).” This point is something that I found myself driving home to many of my friends and fellow church members this past year, namely, that we need to recapture the truth that Jesus is a person, not just a doctrine, or a man who is talked about in Scripture. Having a very personal relationship with Christ is what being a Christian is all about. Now of course, that is a huge statement and needs a lot of unpacking, but in whatever way the details of a relationship with the Lord is worked out, it is dead unless it is personal. Thus, the nature of our relationship with God ought to determine the nature of our relationship with others. Schaeffer holds nothing back when he exclaims:

Every man is my neighbor and is to be treated in a proper human, man-to-man relationship. Every time we act in a machinelike way towards another man we deny the central teaching of the Word of God–that there is a personal God who has created man in his own image (133).

I find that some of the harshest words spoken of the church are normally those who are not daily and deeply involved in the lives of its members. How can a person, who is truly functioning as a part of the body of Christ, speak so disspassionately and unmercifully of it and towards it? It is often clearly obvious that these people have little to do with real people in real relationships; for when you are striving together with others, things are rarely black and white and relatively simple. These next words from Schaeffer have a very relevant meaning and application for today’s Christian along these same lines:

One of the problems with humanists is that they tend to “love” humanity as a whole–Man with a capital M, Man as an idea–but forget about man as an individual, as a person. Christianity is to be exactly the opposite. Christianity is not to love in abstraction, but to love the individual who stands before me in a person-to-person relationship. He must never be faceless to me or I am denying everything I say I believe. This concept will always involve some cost. It is not a cheap thing, because we live in a fallen world, and we ourselves are fallen (138-139).

When I first read this passage, I immediately asked myself: How often do I “love” the church as whole–Church with a capital C, Church as an idea, but forget about the Christian as an individual, as a person? It is easy to love in abstraction, disconnected from all that is real and concrete. It is easy to pray out loud for the “Church” and churches. But, it is extremely harder to be personally involved and active in the lives of its members daily rebuking, encouraging, reproving, sharpening, and loving one another. Whenever we treat Christians or non-Christians in the abstract, we are virtually dehumanizing them and are not emulating the type of relationship that we have with God. Therefore, as imitators of God, our relationships ought to be representative of the way that God deals so lovingly and graciously, and above all, personally with us.


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