This review appeared in Perspectives of Science and Christian Faith 59 (3) (Sept 2007): 239.
ESCAPE FROM REASON: A Penetrating Analysis of Trends in Modern Thought by Francis A. Schaeffer. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2006. 123 pages. Paperback; $8.00. ISBN: 10: 0 8308 3405 2.
Schaeffer is incredibly difficult to pin down. He has been described as a (compassionate, inconsistent and modified) presuppositionalist , an inconsistent empiricist and a verificationist– this is, I suspect, because he is more an evangelist and apologist than an academic philosopher. Schaeffer's books have been incredibly influential, not least his trilogy of which Escape from Reason (EfR) is the second part – the first being The God Who is There and the final part He is There and He is not Silent. EfR is the shortest of the two and has sometimes been mistaken for the introduction to the trilogy.
Reading Schaeffer is a bitter sweet experience. I rejoice at his desire to see the lordship of Christ expressed over every area of life, but get frustrated at his broad brush strokes that often over-simplify. Schaeffer is rarely subtle!
The villain of this piece is Aquinas. It’s perhaps an understatement to say that Schaeffer is a little hard on Aquinas; a better Reformed analysis of Aquinas is found in Arvin Vos’s Aquinas, Calvin, and Contemporary Protestant Thought. Nevertheless, Schaeffer does highlight the problems scholastic dualism has caused Christianity.
He sees the most crucial problem facing Christians today as being rooted in the Middle Ages and in Aquinas in particular. It was Aquinas that opened the way for autonomous rationality. According to Schaeffer, Aquinas claimed that the human will but not human intellect is fallen. This assumption, once popularised, provided the fertile soil for the belief that humans could become independent, autonomous.
In EfR Schaeffer he examines the relationship between ‘grace’ and ‘nature’. He argues that nature has slowly been ‘eating up’ grace. Yet a ‘line’ or ‘gap’ exists between the supposed upper realm of grace and the lower realm of nature. Western society has gone below this line and it has led to despair. This despair is revealed first in philosophy; subsequently, it spreads to art, then music and general culture, before reaching theology.
Schaeffer had a way of communicating Christianity to modern culture – we need more like him today. He awoke his generation to the presence of secular humanism and showed that it was possible to think and be a Christian at the same time. This book provides an excellent introduction to his ideas, though it shows its origin in the lecture format: there are few footnotes and references. His analysis is often derivative of the Dutch Christian philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd. Schaeffer's close friend Hans Rookmaaker once remarked that ‘Escape from Reason is Schaeffer's version of what Dooyeweerd develops in [In the Twilight of Western Thought].'1
It is a shame that this book is not illustrated, for Schaeffer makes some excellent points regarding grace and nature using descriptions of art works and having them illustrated would have greatly enriched the reading experience.
1 ‘A Dutch view of Christian philosophy’ in The Complete Works of Hans Rookmaaker edited by Marleen Hengelaar-Rookmaaker Vol 6 Part III The L'Abri Lectures. (Piquant, 2005).