Arts & Culture & Theology 101

Francis Schaeffer’s Call to End the Sacred-Secular Divide

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In the Alps of Switzerland, a wise man once lived out his religion as faithfully as he knew how. He was not a hermit who sought isolation, but an evangelist who invited many people into his home to converse and try to think God’s thoughts after him.

That man was Francis Schaeffer. That home was called L’Abri. Schaeffer’s vision for Christians was faith that brings the gospel to bear on every aspect of life.

For Schaeffer, confronting the ills of culture was not simply done through direct proclamation. It was also accomplished by contributing to the world in a way that reflects the moral order of the universe. Creation is meant to be true—that is, the work people do is meant to point back to God.

In True Spirituality, Schaeffer argues that everything we do is a reflection of who we are. Thus,

It is impossible for men not to create things constantly and truly… Although we do not produce an extension of our essence, there is a revelation of ourselves, just as God did not create by an extension of His essence, but what He has created is a revelation of Himself.

It is human nature to be creative. Just as God demonstrated his characteristics by creating everything in this grand universe, so we demonstrate our nature by being sub-creators. This is true in the prosaic work of administration as well as through art, though Schaeffer highlights this possibility specifically in discussions focused on art.

For the Christian, there are unique possibilities of expressing the deep message of the gospel. However, Schaeffer cautions against Christians making everything only about immediate evangelism through our work. Instead, the great theme of the gospel should permeate everything a Christian produces. The absence of a Bible reference does not undermine the centrality of the gospel within our monthly expense reports.

Schaeffer speaks directly to the Christian artist in Art and the Bible:

If you are a Christian artist, therefore, you must not freeze up just because you can’t do everything at once. Don’t be afraid to write a love poem simply because you cannot put into it everything of the Christian message. Yet, if a man is to be an artist, his goal should be in a lifetime to produce a wide and deep body of work from which his world-view will show forth.

That worldview should always point the observer toward the truth of the gospel and the hope of the restoration of all things. Schaeffer’s call to engage with culture is framed by this holistic emphasis on interweaving the grand narrative of the world into everything a Christian does:

In this sense, the Christian’s life is to be an art work. The Christian’s life is to be a thing of truth and also a thing of beauty in the midst of a lost and despairing world.

The artist tells the four-chapter gospel story through her canvas or camera lens. The office worker tells the story through the integrity of his financial reporting and daily diligence.

All of this points to the great reality for Schaeffer that Christ is Lord of every aspect of our lives. There is no dividing wall between the sacred and the secular. As Schaeffer notes in the book, Whatever Happened to the Human Race?,  Jesus “is Lord not just in religious things and not just in cultural things such as art and music, but in our intellectual lives and in business and our attitude toward the devaluation of people’s humanness in our culture.”

The realization of the all-encompassing Lordship of Christ entails radical obedience inside and outside the walls of the church. A doctor may have certain practices closed to her because she won’t perform certain procedures. Or, the businessman may “know he is forfeiting advancement in his company because he will not go along with some inhuman practice of his company.”

Thus for Schaeffer, true Christianity impacts the totality of our lives and proclaims the gospel more fully than mere words. It points toward our efforts to transform the world around us and bring every square inch under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Editor’s note: Read more about why every part of our lives matters to God in How Then Should We Work?

On “Flashback Friday,” we take a look at some of IFWE’s former posts that are worth revisiting. This article was previously published on Apr. 22, 2016.

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