When I first saw the title of He Is There and He Is Not Silent by Francis Schaeffer, I thought it sounded like something from the Psalms, a response to a deep heart-cry of someone who needed God and found Him.
It’s not that, at least not like the Psalmist’s expressions. It’s a book of philosophy and apologetics. It’s actually the third book in a trilogy, The God Who Is There and Escape From Reason being the first two.
Elisabeth Elliot once said of some of C. S. Lewis’s writing that she could follow it, but it took several careful rereadings to grasp it well enough to be able to express what he said to someone else. That’s how I feel about this book. I could follow the thread of his arguments, but I couldn’t possibly reproduce any of them for you. You can get a brief overview of one chapter at Wikipedia and probably other places. Wikipedia’s overview sums it up nicely: “He Is There and He Is Not Silent is divided into four chapters, followed by two appendices. The first of these chapters deals with metaphysics; the second, morals; and the third and fourth, epistemology. The first appendix concerns revelation and the second the concept of faith.”
Honestly, reading sentences like, “The reason for the modern dilemma is that men have moved from uniformity of natural causes in an open system — open to reordering by God and man — into the uniformity of natural causes in a closed system” makes my head feels like it is about to explode (and some of the comments on Goodreads reassure me that others felt the same way). But it is good to stretch one’s brain sometimes, and I am glad for such masterfully written books because I do know people who think like this about these things, and it is good to know that Christianity not only stands up to scrutiny, but, as Schaeffer shows, it is the only reasonable answer to the many issues that he brings up. He and his wife hosted a lot of people, many of them students, in the 60s and 70s, and I am sure these kinds of things came up in their discussions.
I admit I am an intensely practical person, so when someone asks, “How do we know we are really here?” I am liable to think, “Maybe look in the mirror? Or pinch yourself. Hard.” This was written in 1972, well before The Matrix, but I guess some people really do wonder if reality is close to that kind of scenario.
It wasn’t until the fourth chapter, “The Epistemological Necessity: The Answer,” that the clouds began to clear. It’s the only chapter where I marked any quotes. Here are a couple:
The Bible teaches in two different ways: first, it teaches things in didactic statements, in verbalizations, in propositions…Second, the Bible teaches by showing how God works in the world that He Himself made. We should read the Bible for various reasons. It should be read for facts, and it should also be read devotionally. But reading the Bible every day of one’s life does something else — it gives one a different mentality…Do not minimize the fact that in reading the Bible we are living in a mentality which is the right one, opposed to the great wall of this other mentality which is forced upon us on every side — in education, in literature, in the arts, and in the mass media.
When I read the Bible, I find that when the infinite-personal God Himself works in history and in the cosmos, He works in a way which confirms what He has said about the external world (p. 78).
The strength of the Christian system — the acid test of it — is that everything fits under the apex of the existent, infinite-personal God, and it is the only system in the world where this is true. No other system has an apex under which everything fits.That is why I am a Christian and no longer an agnostic. In all the other systems, something “sticks out,” something cannot be included; and it has to be mutilated or ignored. But without losing his own integrity, the Christian can see everything fitting into place beneath the Christian apex of the existence of the infinite-personal God who is there (p. 81).
The Christian should be the man with the flaming imagination and the beauty of creation (p. 87).
I’ve had this book on my shelf for something like 30 years. I am thankful for the TBR Challenge, which encouraged me to scour my shelves for unread books and finally get to them. If you like philosophizing, this book is for you.
(This review will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)