He is (still) there, and He is not silent
Francis Schaeffer’s classic defense of Christian truth turns 50
One of my personal eccentricities has to do with the way I remember books that have changed my life. I remember them chronologically and spatially. I remember where I was when I first read the book, and when I read it. I also write that information on the inside back cover of the book, just in case I need a prompt to memory.
When it comes to Francis Schaeffer’s book He Is There and He Is Not Silent, I need no reminder. It was 1976, I was 16 years old, and this was the first of Schaeffer’s books that I read. More accurately, tried to read. Even with my limited understanding of his argument, Schaeffer’s book changed my life.
I was too young to visit L’Abri, the hostel for young people that Francis and Edith Schaeffer founded in 1955, at its prime, but I read Schaeffer’s books at just the right time. I needed help, and in a hurry. I was a teenage Christian thrown into spiritual trouble by a succession of the awful educational, moral, and cultural experiments of the 1970s. I was in an intellectual crisis. I needed to know that God is real and that the Bible is trustworthy. I had a couple of atheist teachers who were undermining every theistic argument and I was surrounded by a moral revolution that directly contradicted the Bible. I needed help. My pastor and youth pastor offered help, but I needed a lot more. I needed a stalwart defense of Christian theism and biblical truth.
By God’s providence I was introduced to D. James Kennedy, pastor of Fort Lauderdale’s Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, which was right down the street. Over time, Dr. Kennedy ministered to me both by his writings and by personal conversation. Kennedy was the first Christian intellectual I met, and he was very generous with a young Baptist with big questions. It was Dr. Kennedy who suggested that I read one book in particular, Schaeffer’s He Is There and He Is Not Silent.
The book didn’t start out as a book, but as a series of talks to inquisitive and anxious young adults at L’Abri. Schaeffer understood that the modern spiritual crisis is an intellectual crisis, and that the intellectual crisis is a spiritual crisis. At the center of this crisis is a denial of God, and that denial of God produces an intellectual crisis that quickly translates into a cultural and moral catastrophe. The one central point that Schaeffer drove home was that the existence of the God of the Bible changes everything.
There is only one truth, one worldview, that is sufficient to explain the world around us and the world within us. “Only one fills the philosophical need of existence, of being, and it is the Judeo-Christian God—not just an abstract concept, but rather that this God is really there,” Schaeffer argued. “He really exists. There is no other answer, and orthodox Christians ought to be ashamed of having been defensive for so long. It is not a time to be defensive. There is no other answer.” The key to understanding the entire cosmos, Schaeffer asserted, is knowing that He is there.
And yet, we would be left lost in the cosmos but for God’s initiative in speaking to us. Our Christian dependence upon the Bible is total. We know the truth only because the God who is there is not silent. God speaks. He gives us multiple testimonies to Himself and glimpses of His glory in nature, but He reveals himself authoritatively and verbally in the Holy Scriptures. Ultimately, God reveals Himself savingly in the Son, the Word become flesh.
Schaeffer understood that young people have huge questions, and he threw himself into those questions for the sake of witness to Christ and the gospel. He was an evangelist at heart, and he knew that the intellectual crises of the 1960s and 1970s presented Christians with a massive challenge. He was certain that Christianity was fully up to the challenge. “As a Christian,” he wrote, “I have the epistemology that enables me not to get confused between what I think and what is objectively real. The modern generation does not have this, and this is the reason why some youngsters are all torn up in these areas. But Christians should not be torn up here.”
Schaeffer was my first introduction to words like epistemology, metaphysics, and worldview. To be honest, at age 16 I did not understand most of Schaeffer’s philosophical and ideological references. But, I was learning, and fast. I was not learning out of mere interest, but out of desperation. I was filled with dread that the answers to the biggest questions of life were unknowable and that perhaps Christianity was intellectually indefensible.
He Is There and He Is Not Silent was the third book in what Francis Schaeffer called his “trilogy.” I read the last first and then backfilled with the first two titles, The God Who Is There, and Escape from Reason. According to my note in the book, it was the 57th book I bought with my own money. It was money well spent. I trace my vocation as theologian, preacher, and apologist, at least in part, back to my reading of this one book. I honored Francis Schaeffer, and this specific book, in the titles of two of my own books, He Is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World and We Cannot Be Silent: Speaking Truth to a Culture Redefining Sex Marriage, and the Very Meaning of Right and Wrong.
Schaeffer’s book came out in 1972, 50 years ago. I did not want the year to pass without expressing my gratitude to Francis Schaeffer for this influence on my life. As a 16-year-old boy, I did not understand so much of what he wrote. But I did understand this, and it remains foundational to my faith and worldview:
If He is there, and if He is not silent, I am saved, and I am safe—and I have eternal truth to tell.
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