Francis A. Schaeffer, The Great Evangelical Disaster (Crossway Books, 1984).
This is a relatively short book (approximately 150 pages for introduction/body/conclusion proper). However, it is supplemented by an additional 28-page Appendix, an article titled “The Mark of the Christian” which was originally published by Inter-Varsity Press in booklet form.
The Great Evangelical Disaster = Accommodation
Schaeffer writes with clarity and singularity of purpose — he is writing about the “great evangelical disaster.” But what is that? Schaeffer identifies this disaster by the modern attempt of Evangelicals to accommodate Scripture to secular society (see page 37). So, how disastrous is this exactly? Very (according to Schaeffer). He writes in the Preface that this disaster is “the greatest problem Christians face in this generation” (13). A strong claim, that. The main thrust of his book is that Evangelicalism is at a watershed moment, and, that being the case, Evangelicals must “draw a line” and take a full view of Scripture, which implies personal obedience in response to Scripture. So, the watershed issue is this: a high view (a “full view” — Schaefferian shorthand for the non-accommodation of Scripture to secular society) of Scripture, and obeying Scripture.
Schaeffer frames the argument with a history lesson: The Protestant Reformation put into force the mechanisms of personal responsibility which eventuated in the “Titanic freedoms” enjoyed throughout the Western Hemisphere. These freedoms were the result (the fruit) of widespread-cultural “Christian consensus” (see page 48).
Schaeffer is essentially arguing that the many and rich freedoms that all of us enjoy in the West exist because they were founded upon our shared “Christian consensus” (it is important to note that Schaeffer believes this “Christian consensus” is only a secondary blessing of the Reformation’s primary goal to purify worship and restore Biblical faithfulness within the institutional structures of the visible church). However, Schaeffer argues that as liberalism has crept into the church (specifically in America), circa 1850–1930, the very bedrock and foundation of our “Titanic freedoms” are now under threat — all as a result of the foundation of our shared meta-structure/”Christian consensus” having become eroded.
How, then, do we stop the erosion of our religious and moral foundations? That, Schaeffer says, must be accomplished by confrontation by/with/of truth (see page 64), that is, Christians must practice truth. Christians must be “Bible believing Christians” — this requires 1) purity of the visible Church and 2) observable love between all Christians. This is not confrontation for the sake of confrontation, rather, it is confrontation because of the principle of antithesis — a holy and loving visible Church that is committed to the truth and obedient response to the revelation of Scripture are necessarily going to be confrontational in the evil world around them.
Confrontational Truth with Love
What is so refreshing about Schaeffer’s book is his repeated call for Christians to practice this way of confrontation with 1) love and 2) by the model of prayer. In fact, those are Schaeffer’s parting words in the conclusion: he says that the response needed today, the response required of Evangelicals who realize the watershed moment, the response required of those who acknowledge the great evangelical disaster of accommodation, is for a younger, radical generation to emerge and stand in loving confrontation to not only forces outside the visible church but within the visible church:
We need a young generation and others who will be willing to stand in loving confrontation, but real confrontation, in contrast to the mentality of constant accommodation with the current forms of the world spirit as they surround us today, and in contrast with the way in which so much of evangelicalism has developed the automatic mentality of accommodation at each successive point (150).
I call for Christian radicals, and especially young Christian radicals, to stand up in loving confrontation, but confrontation — looking to the living Christ moment by moment for strength — in loving confrontation with all that is wrong and destructive in the church, our culture, and the state (151).
Nearly 30 years in print, however, this book’s argument and charge are still relevant. One need only to read through a few of the chapters of a recent survey on Christian theology to come away with the realization that accommodation is still alive and well within Evangelicalism.