The second entry in Francis Schaeffer’s famed “Trilogy,” Escape
From Reason examines man’s historical pursuit of knowledge and truth
in the areas of philosophy, theology, sciences and arts. It’s a short, yet
compact work that remains up-to-date in the 21st century ever since it
was first published in 1968.
Starting from the philosophical views of Thomas Aquinas, renowned theologian and apologist Francis A. Schaeffer scans the centuries of philosophical developments that have led to today’s relativism and flight from objectivity. He is critical of Thomism’s distinction between grace and nature, which separates heavenly and spiritual things (like the “soul”) from the earthly and material ones (like the “body”). Schaeffer also blames Thomism’s perception of self-sufficient human intellect – where reason stands apart from the faith – for unwittingly birthing a natural theology completely independent from divine revelation, which would subsequently develop into full-fledged humanism (although he acknowledges that Thomas Aquinas believed that human reason and divine revelation were perpetually bound to agree upon each other).
As the autonomous natural theology brought about a renewed interest in Neo-Platonism during the Renaissance, a new movement within Christianity sought to bring back unity between the realms of nature and grace: the Protestant Reformation. Schaeffer states that the Reformed Churches’ theology, as spearheaded by Calvin’s Institutes, brought about the unifying knowledge that natural theology has yearned for since Thomas Aquinas. Schaeffer goes on to explain how the Reformed theology has succeeded in its ordeal of providing unifying (albeit incomplete) knowledge, as it presents a personal and infinite God as autonomous instead of a finite man, and binds grace and nature in the reality of man – a creature made in the image of God yet corrupted by the original sin of the Fall – with Christ being sovereign over all man, and therefore, over both grace and nature themselves.
From then on Schaeffer proceeds to examine the downward spiral of natural theology apart from divine revelation: the Enlightenment philosophy of Kant, Rousseau and others exhausted rationalism, claims the author, and Hegelianism was the dying breath of natural theology’s search for unifying knowledge. Kierkegaard’s existentialism, drowning in the despair brought about by the loss of hope in a solely rational knowledge that can unify the verifiable with the unverifiable, gives up on rationality altogether, according to Schaeffer, and relegates truth and purpose to the individual’s subjectivity.
This eventually boils down to the modern man in Schaeffer’s view: a man who no longer aspires to have unifying knowledge – even if incomplete – and whose dilemma is no longer between grace and nature, but between the rational and the non-rational. Schaeffer concludes that there is today an enormous philosophical chasm between the Church and modern man and that the Church ought to recognize exactly that in order to better understand the modern man himself, though he alerts for signs of the modern duality creeping into the unifying theology of the body of Christ.
Don’t let the size of the book fool you; Escape From Reason is nothing short of thought-provoking, and it proves to be one of those few works that, in the words of Sir Francis Bacon, are meant “to be chewed and digested.” Such a detailed study of the development of Western epistemology throughout history is to be cherished by every reader who wants to obtain a solid grasp on the foundations of modern philosophy.
BY DANIEL GOMES
SCHAEFFER’S PREDICTIONS HOLD TRUE?
Perhaps the book’s greatest stroke of
Schaeffer’s genius is not what the author
states about the past, but what he predicts
to be the future. In Escape From Reason,
Schaeffer warns us about the “philosophy
of definitions” – what he claims to
be an anti-philosophic approach to philosophical
questions by means of linguistic
analysis. Nothing could be more evident
today, as the existentialist view and Derrida’s
deconstruction of language work together
to shape the meaning of language
according to the demands of today. In essence,
certain words and terms are being
given new definitions that squash the
old, long-standing notions surrounding
those words. For example, “marriage” no
longer stands for “a lifelong commitment
between a man and a woman”; instead, it
can be defined as a “socially or ritually recognized
union between spouses that establishes
rights and obligations between
those spouses” (Wikipedia), where gender
and term of union are no longer defined.
Cultural and moral relativism is now the
dominant position in philosophy and
anthropological studies, and it is determined
to do away with the absolutes of
bygone eras – including the absolutes of
the Christian faith, without which there
would be no “adequate basis for law,” (p.
90) according to Schaeffer. Therefore it is
paramount that believers embrace and
protect the values of the Scriptures in a
secular age that prizes subjectivity over