Ryan Lizza’s piece from The New Yorker a couple of weeks ago gets another critique—this time from Ross Douthat. In a follow-up piece to Douthat’s article in today’s New York Times, Douthat goes to his blog to challenge Ryan Lizza’s misrepresentation of Francis Schaeffer. Douthat is charitable, but tough. Here’s the conclusion:
Overall, the casual reader who knows little or nothing about Schaeffer (i.e., most New Yorker readers) would come away from Lizza’s piece with the sense that the L’Abri founder’s worldview was almost indistinguishable from the genuinely theocratic views of a more marginal figure like the Christian Reconstructionist guru R.J. Rushdoony. (Lizza subtly conflates the two later in the piece, when he notes that while Bachmann attended law school at Oral Roberts University, the law review “published essays by Schaeffer and Rousas John Rushdoony, a prominent Dominionist who has called for a pure Christian theocracy in which Old Testament law—execution for adulterers and homosexuals, for example—would be instituted.”) This is simply wrong: Rushdoony’s interpretation of the American founding may have had some influence on Schaeffer, but the latter explicitly repudiated the broader reconstructionist worldview, dismissing it as bad theology and bad politics alike.
Schaeffer’s major contribution to American public life wasn’t any sort of sinister “dominionist” master plan, but rather a much more defensible blueprint for Christian political action: He argued that Christian values were under assault in contemporary American life, that the idea of secular “neutrality” was something of a sham, and that believers had an obligation to be 1) engaged with the culture rather than bunkered against it, and 2) engaged politically on issues (abortion, especially) where fundamental moral truths were at stake. One can dislike this blueprint and disagree with its premises, but its perspective on American politics is no more illiberal than the perspective of, say, the civil rights movement. And the fact that Schaeffer influenced a prominent evangelical politician like Bachmann isn’t nearly as surprising, strange or scary as Lizza’s piece often makes it sound.
Read the rest here.
Francis Schaeffer was one of the smartest men that American Christianity ever produced. He is one of the few who deserves to be called a Christian philosopher. Ryan Lizza apparently does not know much about him. I remember waiting anxiously as each of his new books emerged. Younger Christians should read those books.