The genuine Christian will be seen as a radical:
Back in my wild youth I was a revolutionary, as were many of my contemporaries. Steeped in the writings of Marx and others, we believed we needed to be revolutionaries in order to bring about a more humane future. We had to tear down the existing society in order to make a better, fairer and more equal one.
Of course based as we were on sinking sand – and ignorant of the actual history of Marxism and its dismal track record – we were doomed to failure from the start. Paradise would NOT be brought in via violent revolution. Indeed, a Marxist paradise has never come about anywhere on planet earth.
And then during the height of the radical counter culture and the New Left rage, I became a Christian in 1971. I soon realised that seeking to be a revolutionary – as in leftist political revolt – was just not an option for a Christian. But as time went on I learned that the true Christian always will be a revolutionary.
I have been writing a lot of late about how Christians are the real rebels, the real resistance fighters, and the real revolutionaries. That is because this world is NOT our home, and its values and principles and beliefs and goals are not those of the believer. So of necessity we will always find ourselves to be at odds with the culture around us.
See this recent piece for example on the need to join the resistance: billmuehlenberg.com/2022/05/28/are-you-a-rebel/
Here I want to speak a bit more about being a Christian revolutionary. And I do it in part because of some recent exchanges found online. A bit of a debate has been happening on the social media concerning a post by Tim Keller, and the replies of others, including Robert Gagnon.
This led me to go back and find the quote being discussed. The tweet that Keller had put up was this: “One of the greatest injustices we do to our young people is to ask them to be conservative. Christianity is not conservative, but revolutionary. — Francis Schaeffer”.
The actual quote comes from Schaeffer’s The Church at the End of the 20th Century (p. 81), and is only slightly different: “One of the greatest injustices we do to our young people is to ask them to be conservative. Christianity today is not conservative, but revolutionary.”
The one word Keller left out was “today”. And that is important as we seek to understand what Schaeffer was trying to say. As to the online debate, it had to do with whether we should regard Schaeffer as a conservative or not, since he here seems to want nothing to do with conservatism. But several things need to be said.
First, bear in mind that this book was penned in 1970 when the counterculture and the hippy movement were in full swing. If we read the rest of the quote we will find that Schaeffer was saying that Christians in the present Western climate are the true revolutionaries. They are not of the radical left, but neither are they of a sleepy, establishment middle-class cultural Christianity. He went on to say this in his book:
“To be conservative today is to miss the whole point, for conservatism means standing in the flow of the status quo, and the status quo no longer belongs to us. Today we are an absolute minority. If we want to be fair, we must teach the young to be revolutionaries, revolutionaries against the status quo.”
And he goes on to speak of this very comfortable cultural Christianity which in so many ways had become the norm in America. That was the sort of Christianity he wanted nothing to do with: a soft and safe Christianity which never dirtied its hands and never took a stand when needed.
He contrasts this with his own ministry in Switzerland: L’Abri. He speaks of how kids from evangelical homes in America were looking for something more, and they could find it at L’Abri. And many non-Christians, hippies and religious seekers were also trying to find the answers to life.
There they could come bare foot, in blue jeans, with long hair, and ask hard questions and experience genuine Christian community in action. The Swiss chalets allowed these seekers to come and find answers to their deepest questions, even while not exactly treating the place with respect. Says Schaeffer:
In about the first three years of L’Abri all our wedding presents were wiped out. Our sheets were torn. Holes were burned in our rugs. Indeed once a whole curtain almost burned up from somebody smoking in our living room. Blacks came to our table. Orientals came to our table. Everybody came to our table. It couldn’t happen any other way. Drugs came to our place. People vomited in our rooms, in the rooms of Chalet Les Melezes which was our home, and now in the rest of the chalets of L’Abri.
How many times has this happened to you? You see, you don’t need a big program. You don’t have to convince your session or board. All you have to do is open your home and begin. And there is no place in God’s world where there are no people who will come and share a home as long as it is a real home.
This was the contrast that he was making when he said young people do not need conservatism. The American middle-class suburban lifestyle so often did NOT exhibit what biblical Christianity was all about. That is why so many young people travelled to Switzerland to see what Schaeffer and his community were all about. So yes, in that sense, Schaeffer was not a conservative. In that sense he certainly did oppose the status quo.
That anaemic and lifeless religion was the sort of Establishment that he rejected, It was in that sense that the church was wrong to equate Christianity with the Establishment, and how church and nation should not be equated: “There are not two equal loyalties – Caesar a second to God. It must be preached and taught in sermons, Sunday school classes and young people’s groups.”
To be against the world’s system – even a comfortable church that has bought into the world’s system – that is the kind of rebellion Schaeffer expected of true believers. And that has always been the hallmark of genuine disciples of Christ. They have always been against the world while seeking to reach the world.
Schaeffer was certainly no leftist. That he was theologically conservative is so very obvious that I need not belabour that point. But on most social and cultural matters, he was also quite conservative, being strongly prolife and being opposed to the various radical sexual agendas, and so on. At the very least, we can call him a cultural conservative.
But if the heart of political conservatism is an emphasis on limited government, and concern about the ever-expanding State, then we can safely say that Schaeffer was also a political conservative. One quote from an article by R. C. Sproul which I have often shared can be again mentioned here:
“A number of years ago I shared a taxi with Francis Schaeffer in St. Louis. During our cab ride I asked Dr. Schaeffer: ‘What is your greatest concern for the future of America?’ Without hesitation or interval given to ponder the question, Schaeffer replied simply, ‘Statism’.”
Of course whether he was a card-carrying member of the Republican party I have no idea. One can have conservative principles and values while being critical of all sorts of things – including conservative political parties. Again, the point of the book we have been referring to – and his other books – is clear: Christians are called to be counter-cultural. Christians are the real revolutionaries.
In that sense I am happy to say that I am a rebel. I am happy to say that I am a Christian revolutionary – a radical for Jesus. We all should be – in the proper understanding of that concept. Schaeffer certainly was. We too need to offer the world a clear alternative.
And sometime that will mean we need to offer people a clear alternative to much of what we find in our comfortable, safe and rather antiseptic Western Christianity.