Published in 1981, A Christian Manifesto reads like a forty-year-old prophecy come true. In it, Francis Schaeffer exposes the underlying issue of a society and a church that is adrift: “The basic problem of the Christians in this country . . . is that they have seen things in bits and pieces instead of totals” (17). To rephrase, Christians believe in bits and pieces of Christian truth, like the death and resurrection of Christ, but they fail to integrate that truth into a total view of life. With no worldview foundation, the church is left wandering and paralyzed in this chaotic age, unable to make sense of the larger picture.
The data on Christians and worldview thinking is striking. Recently, one study found only 37% of professing Christian pastors (!) have a biblical worldview. Such a finding is like learning only 37% percent of math teachers know the basics of multiplication. If you don’t know it, you’re not qualified for the job.
Such an alarming revelation should become a rallying cry to recapture a biblical worldview both in the pulpit and the pew. Sadly, the response is one of general apathy. For many Christian leaders, worldview training is optional because they misunderstand what it is.
Many Christians reduce worldview training to apologetics or dealing with various –isms. Such a task can seem overwhelming with endless arguments, facts, and thinkers to know. Such details are needful, but the discipline is much simpler. The biblical worldview simply integrates the doctrines of the faith to build a total view of reality. The biblical worldview is a synonym for the Christian faith.
Worldview thinking calls believers to live and think biblically throughout all of life. The framework of the Christian worldview is the storyline of Scripture—creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. The heart of the Christian worldview is the supremacy of Christ displayed in his universal Lordship (Col. 1:15–20). When rightly understood, worldview formation is vital and inescapable for Christian ministry.
How, then, did so many in the church lose the biblical worldview? Schaeffer demonstrates the problem by pointing to our inability to think in totals. Christians are concerned about isolated issues, but we fail to capture the heart of the problem. Schaeffer lists common concerns from the 1980s—pornography, abortion, the breakdown of the family (17). These are the bits and pieces that consumed his time and ours. Sadly, such issues remain critical today. Only we must add to his list—gender theory, LGBTQ issues, critical race theory, and a resurgent Marxism. These issues are merely symptoms of a deeper conflict between worldviews. But why are we stuck thinking in bits and pieces?
Two Culprits: Humanism and Pietism
A Christian Manifesto offers a Christian philosophy of government. Schaeffer uses the realm of government to make his point about how fragmented our thinking has become. Unlike any other part of life, to bring religion into the realms of government is off-limits. If someone dares to do so, let alone a pastor, they will be met with disgust from both inside and outside of the church. Today, such arguments will be written off as “Christian nationalism,” whatever that means. Yet, Scripture addresses all of life, including the political realm. Schaeffer identifies two culprits that direct us to think in bits and pieces—humanism and pietism.
The first culprit undermining a Christian worldview is humanism. Schaeffer offers an intentionally broad definition, “Humanism is the placing of Man at the center of all things and making him the measure of all things” (23). There is always a standard and foundation for every system. Without God, humanity often fills the void with itself. Removing God from the equation, especially from politics, comes under the name of secularism. Religion has no claim on the public sphere, and thus man is left only with himself as a standard. With no unifying truth, life is measured by the dictates of cultural relativism.
In such a worldview there is no final basis for right or wrong. Morality is abolished. With no morality and universal standard, there is no such thing as human rights. If humanism is correct, then critical theory logically follows—everything is reduced to power. Whoever has the might determines what is right. If you have the power, then you can do as you please. The consequences of such a worldview directing government are both obvious and horrifying. If man is the standard, then anything goes. For all the fearmongering about “Christian nationalism,” it is nothing compared to the horrors of secular nationalism from the last century.
The second culprit driving this “bits and pieces” thinking is Pietism. Schaeffer writes, “Christianity and spirituality were shut up to a small, isolated part of life. The totality of reality was ignored by pietistic thinking…the poor side of Pietism and its resulting platonic outlook has really been a tragedy not only in many people’s individual lives but in our culture” (19). Pietism, by swallowing the platonic dualism that labels physical as inferior and spiritual as superior, limits Christianity to the private realm of personal experience. It reinforces secularism by asserting Christianity has nothing to do with this world and must keep its hands clean by focusing only on spiritual (i.e., non-physical) things.
Thus Christianity is reduced to individual, spiritual truths instead of a total Truth (19–20). Pietism divides reality up into bits and pieces by pitting the spiritual against the physical. Christians then can safely affirm an individual truth like Christ’s atoning death while denying the Bible’s assertion that Christ is Lord over everything. The total, unifying truth of Scripture is sacrificed on the altar of secular humanism.
Schaeffer warns, “When I say Christianity is true I mean it is true to total reality…Christianity is not just a series of truths but Truth—Truth about all of reality” (20). Without a total truth, truth is functionally abolished, and relativism reigns. Once we recognize that Christianity is total truth concerning all of reality, then we see how perilous it is to neglect worldview formation. Without a total worldview, Christianity slowly kills itself and it takes society with it.
What’s at Stake?
As society struggles with the uncertainty created by our current moment, Christians have the solution of a unified, total view of reality rooted in Christ. How we begin determines where we will end, as Schaeffer warns, Christianity and humanism will “inevitably produce totally different results. The operative word here is inevitably. It is not just they happen to bring forth different results, but it is absolutely inevitable that they will bring forth different results” (18).
Christianity, when faithfully applied, brings human flourishing and freedom to society. Humanism brings suffering and tyranny. “Humanism, with its lack of any final base for values or law, always leads to chaos. It then naturally leads to some form of authoritarianism to control the chaos” (29–30). With no foundation for truth and morality, anything goes. The ensuing chaos invites tyranny to restore “order.” If Christians insist on exiling truth from government, they will be governed by the lies of tyrants.
The stakes couldn’t be higher for our neighbors, colleagues, and children. Christians can either help or, in the name of false piety, claim to be above the fray. The church must declare, as Scripture does, the total lordship of Christ who is the King of kings (Rev. 1:5). To deny this is to neuter the person and work of Christ. It is to neuter the good news. We must read Schaeffer because he calls us back to biblical faithfulness and a cultural engagement rooted in worldview formation.
Schaffer’s solution to our fragmented thinking is to see the totality of Christ’s lordship. He writes, “True spirituality covers all of reality…the Lordship of Christ covers all of life and all of life equally… it covers all parts of the spectrum of life equally. In this sense there is nothing concerning reality that is not spiritual” (19). What is needed is Christ over all, even the Christ who is over all governments—including ours.