Posted by: Billy Marsh | September 19, 2008

Ugly Christian Orthodoxy

Francis Schaeffer always labors to embolden Christians to be evangelistic towards aspects of society that we would not normally engage, but also does so by posing the question as to why we’re not already taking the love of Christ into those places and to those people. In The God Who Is There, Schaeffer traces the major shift in the thought for modern man through areas such as philsophy, science, and music. He also analyzes how art portrays the hopelessness of man and how he struggles with worldviews that won’t hold any water. In the final paragraph of the chapter on art, I think that his terminology is very poignant with respect to its paradoxical nature.

His words leave a lasting impression insofar as typically art is perceived as beautiful, but often times the implications of what it is meant to portray, or rather communicate, is not very pretty at all. In fact, most of the major artists that he mentions in this chapter all either attempted or succeeded at suicide. On the other hand, Christianity can come across very ugly, which is quite disturbing, especially in light of the fact that the gospel is the most glorious and magnificent masterpiece in all the universe. And what Schaeffer means here by describing it as “ugly” is not in reference to the world’s reception of the offense of the cross. It is the failure of Christians to be proper ambassadors of Christ to a lost and dying world in desperate need of reconciliation. A good question to ask yourself is do you treat the unbelieving world with a type of Christian snobbery, hording the gospel to yourself, or do you carry in your body a broken spirit for the people in this world who are searching for meaning in this life, but keep coming up empty and without a lasting hope?

Here’s the final paragraph to Schaeffer’s chapter on art in The God Who Is There. It is very sobering:

These paintings, these poems, and these demonstrations which we have been talking about are the expression of men who are struggling with their appalling lostness. Dare we laugh at such things? Dare we feel superior when we view their tortured expressions in their art? Christians should stop laughing and take such men seriously. Then we shall have the right to speak again to our generation. These men are dying while they live; yet where is our compassion for them? There is nothing more ugly than a Christian orthodoxy without understanding or without compassion (54).


  1. So many Mormons live beutiful lives, are kind and otherwise virtuous. What does beauty really tell us about truth?

  2. Moz,

    I’m not sure exactly what you’re trying to say. But, I think a better way to ask your question would be to say, “What does truth tell us about beauty?” Truth is above beauty, which is the point that Schaeffer is making in his chapter on art. Though some of these men’s artwork were great and beautiful, the worldview behind their work was hopeless, and for many, led to suicide attempts.

    The point of the post was simply to encourage Christians to be compassionate and loving, which is the right reflection of the beauty of the gospel in Christ. We’re not just talking about kind and virtuous lives; we are talking about living in light of having the truth of the gospel and a hope that will not disappoint. Schaeffer is talking about something that is relational. Thus, the truth that Christians have and believe should produce beautiful lives, not the kind that makes the world see us as stuck up towards their state of being, but rather ready servants waiting to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to them when their fallen pursuits of meaning leave them in the dark.

    In essence, beauty can’t be the sole determinant of truth because it doesn’t always give us the full picture of what it is representing. Too often what we call beauty is only what we see on the outside, all the while on the inside there is decay and rotting and death.

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