Schaeffer begins this chapter with a brief discussion of Hegel, whom he sees as being the gateway to the new modern perspective on truth and morals. He points to Hegel’s conception of truth as synthesis as being the point of departure from the objective epistemology rooted in causality. However, while describing Hegel as the door, it is to Kierkegaard that Schaeffer designates the title of “first modern man”. For it is Kierkegaard’s rejection of reason as an instrument for arriving at synthesis, and his adoption of the non-rational “leap of faith” that makes him the father of existentialism (and other “anti-philosophies, as Schaeffer calls them), both secular and religious.
Schaeffer then attempts a rapid fire description of the varieties of modern philosophical thought, both Continental and Analytic, and finds a common thread that runs through them all, that being their grounding in the non-rational and the failure to propose a unified rationalistic explanation for the human experience. Schaeffer also notes that these attributes are shared with non-European philosophies as well, and concludes that Eastern mystical philosophy is equally grounded in non-rational and incommunicable experience. Having run the gamut of major modern philosophical strains, Schaeffer has at last arrived at what he sees as the only consistent position, that of Christianity, which he sees as able to supply the critical element he finds missing in other perspectives, a unified and rational explanation in which to ground our experience, namely in the propositional truths of the Christian bible, from which we can then confidently assert an objective external world as well as the realness of our experiences in that world.
I confess to having significantly more difficulty making my way through this chapter than the previous one. I suspect the reason for this is that it was easier to allow Schaeffer’s states to pass when he persisted in generalities, but that as he became more specific in his arguments in this chapter, the heightened clarity brought out the controversial nature of his narrative as well. First, it seems almost inconceivable to me that he would start his discussion of the philosophical shift with Hegel and the departure from causality when it is so glaringly obvious that the critical shift in thought regarding cause and effect began, not with Hegel, but rather Hume, and just how important Kant’s response to this challenge was in shaping modern philosophy. Which isn’t to deny significance to Hegel, but he is clearly not the starting point in this discussion. Schaeffer does refer his reader to another of his works, Escape from Reason, for a more detailed exposition on the matter, but it still seems to me to be a significant oversight to not have introduced the reader to the important influence these men had on Hegel and the reasons that motivated him to pursue this new line of thought.
Second, his criticisms of Kierkegaard, and specifically Kierkegaard’s use of the Abrahamic account to illustrate the leap of faith as an epistemological foundation, seem to me to demonstrate a certain degree of naivety, both in his estimation of Kierkegaard’s knowledge of the biblical text, as well as the literary nature of the text in question. It should not be simply granted that what we are reading in the Abrahamic account is in any way objectively factual, as though we have before us the unfiltered notes of an objective historian observing the events in the life of a certain nomadic pastoralist. Again, his view obstructed by this literalist reading, Schaeffer fails to notice, or comprehend, the more sophisticated and contextually human interpretation that Kierkegaard brings to the passage. Far more than Schaeffer, it is Kierkegaard that seems capable of empathetically placing himself in the position of the literary figure of Abraham.
Next, while I do not feel qualified to critique his description of the various philosophical schools, his ability to link them all together within the confines of his historical and philosophical narrative seems stretched to the point of breaking at times. This including his attempts at linking together the foundations of Continental and Analytic philosophy, as well as the overly broad and simplistic representation of non-European thought. He finds it necessary at both of these junctions to shift the narrative so as to achieve the inclusion of these entries within the same vein as existentialism (which is clearly his primary target of criticism).
Additionally, the reader is constantly confronted with what can only be described as the continued blindness to Schaeffer’s own philosophical context. Not only thoroughly Eurocentric in its perspective, it can be accurately described as being narrowly bound within the confines of that strain of Protestantism known as Reformed. Schaeffer seems incapable of realizing that his incessant drive toward a unified system of rationality has much more to do with the attitudes of the age of rationalism and scientific revolution that emerged from the Renaissance than it does with historical Christianity (a quick read of Francis Bacon’s Novum Organum is sufficient to demonstrate the mindset of the period). One can easily observe precisely the same sorts of experientalist perspectives prominently displayed in both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, as well as more modern Christian traditions, like Methodism and Pentecostalism. There is, in fact, nothing particularly Christian about his philosophical position of insistent rationality, although it seems certain that Schaeffer is more than willing to deny the Christian nature of his fellow religionists in so far as they diverge from his own beliefs.
Finally, Schaeffer has yet to successfully withdraw his own philosophical position from the net of his own objections, since anyone reading his criticisms will naturally want to ask him how is it he has rationally arrived at the bible as his philosophical foundation. It seems to me that arguing that it holds a position of an unquestionable criterion by which all else is judged is no different than the role experience plays for the existentialist, and fails to move the discussion forward. Schaeffer appears to be intent on convincing his reader that his criterion works where others do not. It is not clear to me, however, that his opponents have failed as utterly in this task as he portray them, nor that his own position is as thoroughly successful as he wishes it to be. Regardless, from the philosophical ground that Schaeffer has sought to stake out, I would think the entire endeavor hinges upon whether one believes we can confidently know that there is in fact a god as Christianity proposes. In the absence of this reality, his position is not significantly different from what he attributes to Julian Huxley, a position he describes as being unreasonably based upon a lie. It will be necessary for Schaeffer to overcome this obstacle if he is to advance his own position in a consistent and unhypocritical fashion. Until then, his offer is the equivalent of trading contents of an unopened box for something else of value, with only the promise of its holder that it is of equal or greater value and the condition that the deal be void should the box be opened before the transaction is complete. It is a tall order to demand this of even those who are inclined to believe you, nevermind the more skeptically inclined.