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Escape from Reason
Author: Frances Schaeffer
Publisher:  interVarsity Press
 
The period of Protestant Church history, from the late sixties until around 1980 ,could be authentically titled, "The Age of Schaeffer."  Frances Schaeffer, a scholar, theologian, pastor, preacher and evangelist, came into literary prominence in the Christian world in 1968 with this little book based on talks he gave at his Swiss Chalet turned commune, L'Abri.  Escape from Reason became the foundation of most of Schaeffer's subsequent books and his official answer to Eric Fromm's iconic Escape from Freedom.  

Schaffer's argument was that society and culture was descending from an age of rational thought and reason which influenced every thing from art, media, politics and government to the nuclear family, to a time of existential irrationality based on a secular humanistic which sought to build meaning, values and moral universals from humanity alone.  In his view of cultural history, the dominiant Judeo-Christian view stemmed from a historic belief in the revelation of the word of God through the Bible.  In Schaeffer's belief system, the Bible offers the one direct source for rationality, reason, beauty and ethics.  Once this  was culturally severed, the downward slide began toward irrationality and relativism based on subjective experience rather than an unchangeable eternal and absolute truth.  Prior to this divorce of faith and reason, humanity had an infinite reference point to build a worldview based on absolutes so that the particulars added up to the greater whole. Without this, man is left with only particulars with no reference point beyond himself.  In Schaeffer's view and its at times hard to argue with many of his examples, this leads ultimately to failure and despair.  

During the intervening years, Dr. Schaeffer's thesis of the separation of faith from nature, what he has called the 'upper and the lower story' has come into question because his example, used in this book, is that of none other than St. Thomas Aquinas.  Schaeffer leaves the entire responsibility for the button pushed that brought on the onslaught of secular humanism on Aquinas.  This has been argued to be at best too simple, a claim to which Schaeffer admits, or just plain wrong, as many inside and outside of Schaffer's own camp argues.  But what is hard to argue against is the outcome of the continuous slide into a radical subjective relativism that has contributed to so much despair in the church, the world, culture, government and on and on....  Even those who may oppose Shaeffer's distinctly Protestant Calvinistic Christianity, use an absolute standard by which to gauge their arguments for social, political and moral reform, liberals and conservatives alike.  In this sense, when Escape from Reason was first published amidst America's involvement in Vietnam, college campus unrest, and the dominance of existential philosophy, Escape from Reason made relevant arguments of ideas the counter-culture thought to be absurd and outdated.  
 
In re-reading Escape from Reason, it is clear that while he may not have accurately or convincingly found the cause of the rise of secular humanism, he certainly has identified the results over the last three hundred years. Today, the book still holds true and in many ways serves as a prophetic work as we see the continuation of the very duality and division between grace and reason Schaeffer warned against nearly a half century ago.  In hind site, it may have been more relevant to directly address the ideas Erick Fromm presented in Escape from Freedom rather than building a case against one of the greatest thinkers of Christian church history, Thomas Aquinas.  However elusive the cause may be, the results are certainly verifiable.  

Probably most important, and as a tribute and memorial to Frances Schaeffer, he was among the first populist theologians who helped to equip the average Christian with the tools to present the faith to a world who had counted a rational Christian thought  as an oxymorn.   In this sense, in this writer's opinion, his greatest accomplishment may have been enlarging the definition of Chrisitan evangelism beyond manipulative sales tactics and into the realm of a committed engagement with the world in which we live and, as Schaeffer was fond of teaching, overwhich Jesus Christ is also Lord.  

Terry Roland 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
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