Posted by: Billy Marsh | January 22, 2008

Reflections On True Spirituality: Session 12 (Part II)

Towards the end of Part I of my thoughts on chapter 12, “Substantial Healing in Personal Relationships,” in Francis Schaeffer’s True Spirituality, I brought up the idea of dehumanization. I wholeheartedly agree with Schaeffer’s critique that we are too quick to love in abstraction. And personally, in some of today’s current church movements and models of evangelism, we are seeing the generational reaction to the mechanical and legal type of relationships that the church fostered in the mid-to late 20th century. The great cry of the Emergent and Emerging church for the recovery of community in the local body of believers is not misguided or unreasonable. Today, people are starving for real, personal relationships, and most of all, a real, personal God.

But somehow, somewhere down the line, we (Christians) seemed to forget that God made man in his image. As Schaeffer says, “My fellowman is not unimportant: he is God’s image-bearer. That is true of the non-Christian man as well as of the Christian. He is lost, but he is still a man (139).” As I was reading this chapter, I was waiting for Schaeffer to make this point. In the past, especially in terms of certain modes of personal evangelism, I felt as if I was dehumanizing my neighbor by only choosing to become involved in his or her life, purely for the sake of getting a foot in the door for the entrance of the gospel. If it wasn’t for the mandate to witness to the lost, would I have any desire to speak or get to know any of them? Every lost person was only a potential receiver of my gospel presentation, no more or less. Yes, he is lost and is headed down a path of destruction and eternal condemnation; but even the Bible testifies that there is an element to man as God’s image bearer in which the Father still holds his special creation with a value of some kind or another that is reflected in statements from both the OT and NT as such:

  • Ezekiel 18:32 ~ “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the LORD GOD; so turn, and live.”
  • 2 Peter 3:9 ~ “The Lord is slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

If post-Fall man was completely devoid of what Schaeffer calls in some of his other works, “nobility” or “value”, then it would seem to follow that God would be utterly indifferent towards the death of unrepentant sinners as well to the salvation of those who have been found in Christ. Now, please do not misread what I am saying. The worth of man was not the motivation for God to create nor to have a plan of redemption. All I am saying, and all that I perceive Schaeffer to be saying, is that whether saved or not, man is made in God’s image and thus, ought to be treated with love, respect, and personably just as God has done to us and all of creation for that matter. And it is upon this basis that Schaeffer is able to appreciate and have regard for the artistic creativity of Christians and non-Christians alike (see Escape from Reason and Art and the Bible).

The dehumanization of man by Christians contributes to the great inability of some believers to maintain healthy and meaningful Kingdom relationships. Instead of coupling our desire to see our friends and family members equip themselves with sound theology and pure doctrine with an equal longing to invest in their lives in a manner that would be a means to those ends, we often become nothing more than the local heresy hunters and dreaded Bible thumpers. In essence, that type of behavior is in itself false teaching and blatant disobedience to God’s Word. Schaeffer sees a need for the Christian to recover a proper understanding of love and communication. A failure to do so leads the world to “conclude that orthodox Christian doctrine is nothing but dead, cold words (141).” Elsewhere, Schaeffer illuminates another area that is affected by this approach to personal relationships by stating, “We cannot just trample human relationships and expect our relationship to God to be lovely, beautiful, and open (139).”

Francis Schaeffer

Christians must fight to continually cultivate and sustain vibrant and gospel-centered personal relationships that not only reflect who we are in Christ, but also demonstrate the mercy God has shown us as we recognize that the believer and unbeliever alike bear the image of our Triune God.

Another area of concern that has been mentioned a few different times in past chapters is the need for a sufficient, infinite-reference point in order for man to have meaning and purpose. Schaeffer brings chapter 12 to a close by showing that no earthly relationship can bear the burden that only a personal relationship with God was meant to carry. When we place unattainable expectations and stipulations on finite personal relationships, we are already headed down a path that will leave everyone scarred and damaged. Thus, please take into consideration the sage wisdom and biblical truth of Schaeffer’s words concerning this issue in this passage:

If man tries to find everything in a man-woman or a friend-to-friend relationship, he destroys the very thing he wants and destroys the ones he loves. He sucks them dry, he eats them up, and they as well as the relationship are destroyed. But as Christians we do not have to do that. Our sufficiency of relationship is in that which God made it to be, in the infinite-personal God, on the basis of the work of Christ in communication and love (142).

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Responses

  1. Good stuff! We must not be like the proverbial car salesman trying to establish a false relationship to serve his purpose and then when the sale is over the person is forgotten. We must care for others needs as our own, be willing to get close enough to bear another’s burdens.


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