Posted by: Billy Marsh | December 2, 2008

Schaeffer On The Reasonableness Of The Incarnation

A man from Israel who was an atheist wrote and asked me, “What sense does it make for a man to give his son to the ants, to be killed by ants, in order to save the ants?” I replied that it makes no sense at all for a man to give his son to the ants, to be killed by the ants, in order to save the ants, because man as a personality is totally separated from the ants. Man’s only relation to the ants is in the areas of Being and creaturehood. However, in the area of personality man’s relationship is upward to God, and therefore the incarnation and death of the Son of God for the sake of man’s salvation are sensible.

The reasonableness of the incarnation and the reasonableness of communication between God and man turn on this point–that man, as man, is created in the image of God (122).

This selection is from a chapter called “Verifiable Facts & Knowing” from Francis Schaeffer’s book, The God Who is There. In this passage, Schaeffer brings up a point that I’ve never seen presented before as an apologetic for the incarnation and the substitutionary atonement. What Schaeffer is basically saying, is that at least in some regard, it is not completely unbelievable (maybe a word that would better fit the context would be “irrational”) that Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God, would die for humans because they are made in the image of God, and therefore, there is a personal relationship at work. Speaking of the ants, man’s only connection to them is in the area of existence and creaturehood; however, between man and God there is a personal tie.

Don’t misread Schaeffer here, as it seems many do in general, and suppose that he is presenting Christiantiy as a form of rationalism. He’s not even trying to detract from the wonder and mystery of the Incarnation and Jesus’ work of subsitutionary atonement. All that Schaeffer is trying to communicate is that when we tell someone to believe in the gospel, we’re not asking them to check their brains at the door. The gospel message is not some irrational system of belief that goes against the logic and reason of man. It definitely goes beyond reason, but not against it. Yes, it is unbelievable that God would send his only Son to die for sinners, thereby paying the penalty for sin not his own. But what Schaeffer is showing is that the heart of Christianity makes sense, and isn’t some out of mind commitment.

I guess my interest in this section of Schaeffer’s chapter really stems from the fact that in sermons and in Sunday school lessons I used to use the analogy that Christ dying for people was equal to people dying for cockroaches. I had read that comparison in a book a long time ago, and though it sounded weird to me, it always seemed dramatic enough to be reduplicated. According to Schaeffer, however, this analogy breaks down because there is no real relationship between man and cockroaches, which makes it completely absurd. On the other hand, despite the fact that God dying on behalf of fallen man is an incredible and unspeakable reality, because man is made in God’s image and that there is a real, personal relationship between the two, both the Incarnation and Christ’s atoning work is sensible and reasonable for belief.

Have you ever given this line of thinking any thought? Do you agree with Schaeffer or do you think the point he is making isn’t valid? I think this is an interesting position, but I’d like to hear your thoughts on this matter.

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