Toward the end of "How Should We Then Live?" Francis Schaffer tried to predict where the most serious threats to Human political freedom in a secular age would come from. He did not claim to be a prophet and he was limited by the conditions of his time to be perfectly accurate.
Schaffer died while the Cold War was still being waged; the Berlin Wall came down almost a decade after his death. When he wrote "How Should We Then Live?", it seemed that Communism would be the government of choice in the Third World and that Europe would eventually be dominated by the Soviet Union. At that time, especially with Jimmy Carter in the White House, it appeared that the United States was spiraling into permanent economic decline and was unable and unwilling to defend itself. Western Europe was thought to be further down the spiral than the U.S. Even if Schaeffer could anticipate Reagan's policy of not only asserting Western resolve toward the Soviets but working to overthrow the Communist regime through peaceful means, I do not think Schaffer would have expected public support for such an undertaking. Conservatives have a tendency toward pessimism, and some of this rubbed off on Schaeffer. Pessimists have little faith in the general population to withstand challenges if their peace and security are threatened. It appears that Schaeffer not only underestimated Americans, but Western Europeans as well. Sometimes Conservatives underestimate ourselves and overestimate the strength of the enemy and the stability of the enemy's society. Schaeffer did not live to see Central and South America throw off the chains of Leftist and Right wing dictatorships and institute democracies. He would have been happily surprised at the sight of Iraqis dodging bullets and bombs on their way to vote. I am not one who minimizes the current terrorist threat, but I don't want to make the same mistake of viewing al queda is an invincible foe, or Islam as the unstoppable wave of the future. Al queda has been crippled and Muslin terrorists are not the savviest operators in the world. In fact, they seem to be their own worst enemy. Their own brutality loses potential allies, as it happened in Iraq. No people has ever voluntarily wanted to adopt Islam, Islam has only spread by force. Christianity is gaining much ground in the Third World and true Christianity is more than a match for a legalistic rival. We must not allow pessimism to get the better of us, as it sometimes did with Schaffer.
Schaffer lived during a time when the prevailing wisdom was that Government was the source of all economic decision making. Many people have forgotten just how bad the economy was in the 1970's. (We may get an unwelcome reminder of that before Obama is through.) Schaffer predicted that if Western Democracies could not find a way to tame inflation without producing a recession, the West would abandon democracy for some other form of government that promised to provide for all its needs. Schaffer did not live to see the West solve this problem under the leadership of Reagan. Under Carter, inflation and unemployment was in the double digits. Reagan's policies brought inflation under control and the recessions we have had since then have been mild. Even the current recession has not seen a return to high inflation. It is interesting to me that Schaffer's economic analysis seems to ignore the pernicious effects of the welfare state and what it has done to families. If Schaffer were living in the age of Obama, he would be rightly alarmed at where his policies may lead us. But partly because of Schaffer, there is now a viable opposition that can challenge Obama and mold public opinion. (This is one reason some within the Evangelical fold attack Schaffer's legacy. More about that in a future article.)
In challenging governments and institutions with the claims of the Gospel, where is the next big fight for the Church? Schaffer believed that the next big fight for the Church would be against the increasing power of unelected elites in the government, media and the scientific world to control the lives of its citizens. As these elites seek power to determine not only the birth rate but who may even be born and when they will die, Schaffer seems to be right on target. But there is one aspect of this challenge that Schaffer ignored. Before the advent of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, private charities and churches plus local governments were primarily responsible for the care of the down trodden. These agencies were more than adequate to feed, house and clothe the poor. Not only that, they were able to distinguish between the truly needy and those who were merely trying to sponge off of others. The truly needy were not only encouraged to find work, but they were taught productive habits. (The history behind these statements may be found in Marvin Olasky's "The Tragedy Of American Compassion.") When the Church allowed the government to take over this responsibility, the Church lost much of its prophetic voice. To regain this responsibility is the other big challenge facing the Church. The Church may not have been ready for 9-11, but was ready to meet the needs of those whose lives were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Even the press could not help notice and report on the successful efforts of Church groups as opposed to the bungling of state and Federal governments.
This concludes my review of "How Should We Then Live?" Tomorrow or the next day I will post an article comparing the legacies of Schaffer and C.S. Lewis.