NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, September 4th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.
Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. This is the first Tuesday in September, and that means Emily Whitten joins us today for our Classic Book of the Month.
Good morning, Emily!
EMILY WHITTEN, BOOK REVIEWER: Good morning to you, too!
REICHARD: What’s our book for this month?
WHITTEN: It’s a fun one! The God Who is There by Francis Schaeffer. You might be able to hear the crunchy old tape on the cover rustling. I don’t know how many people I loaned this to over the years, but it’s well-loved.
REICHARD: Books can become old friends, can’t they? It’s hard for me to part with my favorites. What makes you like this one so much?
WHITTEN: In my years at a secular university, my childhood Christian faith really took a beating. In Schaeffer, I found someone who read the books I read in my literature classes. He grappled with the same philosophers I faced. And he showed how Christ and His Word applied to the writers I studied. To show you what I mean, here’s a clip from one of his movies:
SCHAEFFER: Take Samuel Beckett, the playwright. He can say words do not convey anything. And he can say that everything including language is absurd. But he must use words to write his plays, including his plays about meaninglessness.
WHITTEN: So, Mary, some professors taught me to be skeptical of language. Schaeffer explained that my professors and their f avorite authors all used language to pass on their skepticism. So, clearly, language did work. That discovery really strengthened my faith in the God who, Schaeffer would say, is there and is NOT silent.
REICHARD: That’s interesting. I know you aren’t the only college student helped by Schaeffer. How was it that he came to write this book?
WHITTEN: Schaeffer began his ministry during the 1930s, around the time J. Gresham Machen and other conservatives split from liberal churches. He saw a lot of unloving behavior which really unsettled him. Then after World War 2, he moved to Switzerland to help European churches decimated by the war. He and his wife Edith based their ministry in the Swiss Alps, but they were very isolated. These challenges led to a crisis of faith for Schaeffer, which you can hear in this film documentary by Day of Discovery:
AUDIO: And he said, Edith, I want you to pray for me, but I know this is going to be hard on you. I want to go back to the beginning. I want to question the truth of whether the Bible is truly the Word of God. Whether Christ is in fact the son of God. I want to question the basics… We had a hayloft at that time above our chalet, and for hours I walked, I don’t know how many days, and I would pace and fight through: What’s wrong? Where’s the reality?
WHITTEN: When Schaeffer finished walking, he ended up convinced that God’s Word was really true…or “true truth” as he called it. The Schaeffers opened their home, called L’Abri, to students and others struggling with the kinds of questions he struggled with. Thousands came to know Christ over the years.
As for how the book came to be, in 1965, Schaeffer came back to the states and gave a ten-part address at Wheaton College. Three years later, Schaeffer presented those in book form as The God Who is There.
REICHARD: I imagine he must have drawn on his experience talking with young people at L’Abri for this book.
WHITTEN: Exactly. And you can hear that in the way he writes. He’s very conversational—he often repeats important phrases like a college professor. I get the sense he’s used to talking with young people who already understand a lot about philosophy, concepts like existentialism or materialism. For general readers, though, apologists like Os Guinness and Nancy Pearcey who studied under Schaeffer may be more accessible.
REICHARD: I think our editor in chief, Marvin Olasky, mentioned Schaeffer in his interview with Nancy Pearcey last May.
WHITTEN: Yes, indeed. And I’m glad you brought that up, Mary. It’s a great resource to hear how Schaeffer’s ideas apply today. In that interview about her book Love Thy Body, Pearcey begins with Schaeffer’s metaphor of a building with an upper and lower story. Each level represents a different kind of truth. I’ll let her explain:
PEARCEY: In secular academia, it’s called the fact/values split. And I thought wait a minute, this is what Schaeffer was talking about. This is how secular people talk about that divided concept of truth. They say on the one hand in the lower story, we have facts. What is scientifically knowable. What is objective. What is testable. And then values are just whatever you value. It comes from the verb. And it means whatever is important to you. Values are reduced to subjective private opinions.
WHITTEN: Pearcey goes on to show that this separation of facts from values undergirds a lot of hot-button issues today. Issues like homosexuality or abortion. And I really hope folks will listen to the rest of that interview on YouTube. As Pearcey says, our ideas of truth are so foundational…we often need to address these wrong ideas of truth to present the gospel clearly.
REICHARD: Sounds like good stuff. One final question: with so many apologists out there today, why read Schaeffer?
WHITTEN: Let me just say he lived through a huge transition in America during his life span from 1912 to 1984. He was among that first generation of apologists to face head on modern challenges to Christianity.
He didn’t just repeat old answers to old questions. He listened to the real questions young people asked him. And he prayed and wrestled to give them honest, full-throated Biblical answers. Fifty years after his first book, we need those answers more than ever.
REICHARD: No argument there. Thanks for the recommendation today, Emily.
WHITTEN: You’re so welcome, Mary.