Book Review – A Christian Manifesto

Francis Schaeffer wrote A Christian Manifesto in 1981 in response to a growing decline of morality in almost all spheres of life in the west, and especially in America. The premise of the book is that Christians have been largely asleep at the wheel while secular humanists have taken over the public square, and in doing so the control of all government and laws related to morality and right living. This occurred, he says, by Christians taking a myopic view of one issue at a time rather than seeing the broad picture of secular humanist philosophy which had it been seen from the start would have been vigorously opposed. The incremental approach taken by those opposed to God lulled Christians into a slumber that only the stark reality of where we are now can disturb.

My general impressions of the book are twofold. First of all, it is a really well researched and written text. It is short – only 138 pages – but covers a tremendous amount of ground. Much of the historical content is material I had heard before, namely that the founding fathers were generally committed Christians and had set up the United States with that mindset. I already knew that the founding fathers wanted the first amendment not to prevent religion from influencing the state, but to prevent the state from controlling religion as it did in much of Europe throughout the fourteenth thru nineteenth centuries. The detail Schaeffer presents to support this history is quite good, especially in such a little book. Did you know that while the federal government was prohibited from establishing an official religion, individual states DID have state religions and that was not deemed in conflict with the first amendment? In fact, Massachusetts used tax monies to support the state church until 1853.

My second impression is tremendous surprise at how little Scripture is actually in the book that promotes itself to be “A Christian Manifesto”. In the whole book I saw only one reference to how a believer should react to the government expounded from the Bible, namely how David responded to King Saul when he was wrongfully pursued. He ran rather than fought because he saw Saul as God’s anointed king. (of course he also ran from his son Absalom when he stole the throne from David but that was different). It isn’t that Schaeffer doesn’t make logical arguments from the character of God or the history of God’s people, he just doesn’t cite any actual Scripture to support his points. In a general sense I’m okay with that because we know we are to be salt and light to the world while we’re here. Salt is both a source of flavor and a preservative and Christians should take on both roles in the world. It just seems really odd to me that he’d go through all the effort to write this book and spend an inordinately great amount of time on the history of what preachers believed and taught in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries without providing a basis. This is especially true given he pretty much slams the secular humanists for not having a basis for anything they believe about government and law (which is correct).

As I mentioned in a previous post, I kept waiting for him to explain why something like the American Revolution was justified in light of the fact that Rome was certainly worse to Christians under Nero than King George was to the colonists and yet the first century Christians did not revolt. Romans 13 is also pretty clear that we should be praying for and submissive to our government BECAUSE no authority exists except that which God himself has ordained. He does do a very good job of explaining the options a Christian under governmental persecution has available and promotes the idea of taking the least aggressive action that will permit obedience to God, but I’m not sure he ever convinced me that revolution is the way to please God in the case of an extremely ungodly government. He repeatedly goes to the concept of Lex Rex by the Scottish 17th century preacher Samuel Rutherford that claimed the law is greater than the king. Rutherford actually based that on Romans 13 in that kings can only make laws because they are given permission by the great Law Giver, God. Therefore, anything that would violate God’s revealed will must be opposed.

To buy into his argument for revolution, you first have to accept his presupposition (actually not his but Samuel Rutherford’s) that there is a difference between government’s oppression of an individual verses a corporate body. For example in current affairs it would be one thing for the government to force a Christian to have an abortion and another thing to force the State of Georgia to violate its own constitution in some way. This is the basic argument he extends to the colonial fight for independence, namely that England was trying to force unjust laws on the colonies as entities. In such cases, individuals who organize under lesser authorities (for example the Governor of Georgia) have the right and in many cases the duty to resist. That’s his point anyway.

I’ll close with this provocative quote from the last page before Schaeffer’s closing remarks.

If there is no final place for civil disobedience, then the government has been made autonomous, and as such, it has been put in place of the Living God.

What can I say? I’m still not convinced but I know that after reading about a sneaky way some in Washington wanted to try to force government control of healthcare on the states who believe it is wrong to do it my reaction was “there will be a revolution if they do that”. Still, even with my uncertainty I recommend this book. Given the current times and polar political climate it was a helpful text to prompt questions in my own mind about the role of civil disobedience and even resistance by force by professing Christians.

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One thought on “Book Review – A Christian Manifesto

  1. pat September 26, 2009 / 3:08 am

    I certainly think that it is right in some cases to act on behalf of another in a way that would be improper for yourself. Slander, for example, should be opposed when directed at another, but suffered when directed at oneself. By extension, I do find it reasonable that government acting unjustly towards its people can be resisted more vigorously than government merely acting unjustly towards me.

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