Get Your Feet Out of Death’s Path and Live

Be Salt and Light

First, let us remember what is the hallmark of the present generation of humanistic thinking. It is the acceptance of the dichotomy, the separation of optimism about meaning and values from the area of reason. Once this separation is accepted, what an individual puts in the area of non-reason is incidental. The mark of the present form of humanistic thinking is this existential methodology. As Christians, we must not slip into our own form of existential methodology.

We do this if we try to keep hold of the value system, the meaning system, and the “religious matters” given in the Bible, while playing down what the Bible affirms about the cosmos, history, and specific commands in morals. We are following our own form of existential methodology if we put what the Bible says about the cosmos, history, and absolute commands in morals in the realm of the culturally oriented. If we do this, the generation which follows will certainly be undercut as far as historic Christianity is concerned. But also, if we ourselves bear the central mark of our generation, we cannot at this moment in history be the voice we should be to our poor and fractured generation; we cannot be the restorative salt which Christians are supposed to be to their generation and their culture if in regard to the Scriptures we too are marked by the existential methodology. If we are so marked, we then have no real absolute by which to help, or by which to judge, the culture, state, and society.

How Should We Then Live?

Francis A. Schaeffer

In this repackaged edition of How Should We Then Live?, Francis A. Schaeffer analyzes the reasons for modern society’s state of affairs and presents the solution: living by the Christian ethic, fully accepting God’s revelation, and affirming the morals, values, and meaning of the Bible.

Know, Act, and Speak

Second, as Christians we are not only to know the right worldview, the worldview that tells us the truth of what is, but consciously to act upon that worldview so as to influence society in all its parts and facets across the whole spectrum of life, as much as we can to the extent of our individual and collective ability.

Third, as we look back to the time of slavery and the time after the Industrial Revolution, we are thankful for Christians such as Elizabeth Fry, Lord Shaftesbury, William Wilberforce, and John Wesley who spoke out and acted publicly against slavery and against the noncompassionate use of accumulated wealth. I wonder if Christians of the future will be thankful that in our day we spoke out and acted against abuses in the areas of race and the non-compassionate use of wealth, yet simultaneously and equally balanced this in speaking out and acting also against the special sickness and threat of our age—the rise of authoritarian government? That is, will we resist authoritarian government in all its forms regardless of the label it carries and regardless of its origin? The danger in regard to the rise of authoritarian government is that Christians will be still as long as their own religious activities, evangelism, and lifestyles are not disturbed.

Christians do not need to be in the majority in order to influence society.

We are not excused from speaking, just because the culture and society no longer rests as much as they once did on Christian thinking. Moreover, Christians do not need to be in the majority in order to influence society.

But we must be realistic. John the Baptist raised his voice, on the basis of the biblical absolutes, against the personification of power in the person of Herod, and it cost him his head. In the Roman Empire the Christians refused to worship Caesar along with Christ, and this was seen by those in power as disrupting the unity of the Empire; for many this was costly.

But let us be realistic in another way too. If we as Christians do not speak out as authoritarian governments grow from within or come from outside, eventually we or our children will be the enemy of society and the state. No truly authoritarian government can tolerate those who have a real absolute by which to judge its arbitrary absolutes and who speak out and act upon that absolute. This was the issue with the early church in regard to the Roman Empire, and though the specific issue will in all probability take a different form than Caesar-worship, the basic issue of having an absolute by which to judge the state and society will be the same.

Here is a sentence to memorize: To make no decision in regard to the growth of authoritarian government is already a decision for it. The title of the book [from which this article is adapted] How Should We Then Live? comes from the watchman passage in Ezekiel 33:1–11, 19. The title is contained in verse 10.

Again the word of the Lord came unto me, saying,
      Son of man, speak to the children of thy people, and say unto them, When I bring the sword upon a land, if the people of the land take a man of their coasts, and set him for their watchman:
      If when he seeth the sword come upon the land, he blow the trumpet, and warn the people;
Then whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet, and taketh not warning; if the sword come, and take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head.
      He heard the sound of the trumpet, and took not warning; his blood shall be upon him. But he that taketh warning shall deliver his soul.
      But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman’s hand.
      So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me.
      When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.
      Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.
      Therefore, O thou son of man, speak unto the house of Israel; Thus ye speak, saying, If our transgressions and our sins be upon us, and we pine away in them, how should we then live?
      Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?
      . . . But if the wicked turn from his wickedness, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall live thereby.

[The book from which this article is adapted] is written in the hope that this generation may turn from the greatest of wickednesses, the placing of any created thing in the place of the Creator, and that this generation may get its feet out of the paths of death and may live.

This article is adapted from How Then Shall We Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture by Francis A. Schaeffer.

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