Us vs. Them, Or Schaeffer vs. Kierkegaard Revisited

My friend Raymond, a history professor, believes religion is at the heart of all human misery and turmoil. He ought to read How Should We Then Live?

In a few hundred pagesFrancis Schaeffer analyses the history of western philosophy, art, and politics, and argues that Judeo Christian ethics essentially civilized our world, until the reemergence of Greco-Roman thought instigated a downturn. The case he presents might at least prompt Raymond to reconsider.

The history prefaces Schaeffer’s theme, that the future of humanity is in dire jeopardy, thanks to our culture having accepted a world-view he calls the “existential methodology.” Under this system, he contends, we must base all decisions either exclusively upon “reason” or  “non-reason.” He argues that reason, strictly employed, insists we conclude that humans are machines, ruled by deterministic principles. And reliance on “non-reason,” by which he means feelings and impulses, delivers us into the postmodern realm of value-relativity from which the concepts of good and evil have been expelled in favor of “if it feels good, do it.”

Schaeffer traces the “existential methodology” back to Soren Kierkegaard. Without attempting to probe Kierkegaard’s thought, he asserts that the philosopher opened the gateway to relativism.

Since the book offers no evidence that Schaeffer read Kierkegaard, I suppose he is relying on the common misconception that Kierkegaard, often labeled the father of existentialism, was advocating for the death of critical thinking at the hands of a culture ruled by philosophical libertines.

Anyone who holds that opinion of Kierkegaard, please read Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing.

Schaeffer proposes that a return to Judeo Christian values is the only antidote to the collapse of Western civilization.  On this point, I tend to agree.  But I have to ask, “So, does this fellow mean we should believe in God simply because the faith is practical? ”

I prefer to think we are challenged to find what is true.

I’m no authority on Francis Schaeffer. But after one book, I fear the man is a prime example of the us vs. them attitude that has sent many bright, honest, and creative minds fleeing in dismay from the church and which may prove to be even more evil and dangerous than relativism.

by Ken Kuhlken, who now means to turn from defending Kierkegaard to reflecting upon the philosopher’s ideas.


  1. Thanks for saying something about this – I read a blogger yesterday who seemed to have swallowed Schaeffer’s phony analysis of Kierkegaard’s link to cultural relativity, and I was wondering why anyone still reads Schaeffer.

    I can’t remember the title of the Schaeffer book I read about 10 years ago, but it had the ring of a college undergraduate paper. He’s maybe a preacher but no scholar in my opinion, though I understand he was popular among Southern Baptists 40 years ago.

    1. John,

      Thanks for the comment. I wonder if Schaeffer’s appraisal of Kierkegaard has had a wider effect than only upon Southern Baptists years ago. If people still put together the condemnation of his work on account of it supposedly leading to postmodern relativism with the fact that he is hardly easy reading, they feel quite justified in dismissing him, which I think is a tragic mistake.


  2. I’m starting to question the notion of “Judeo-Christian” values. What values or beliefs do Jews and Christians actually agree upon?

  3. Ken,

    Well conceived. You may be interested in reading about Frankie Schaeffer’s rejection of the religious right. He is the son of the late Francis Schaeffer and now considers most of his father’s work not only questionable, but dangerous:



    1. Joshua,

      I went to the link and browsed, and will for sure pick up at least one of his books. What a trip this discussion is taking me on.

      Thanks, Ken

    1. Charlie, This discussion is getting quite interesting, at least to me. It’s making me think, read, and think again. I’m glad you’re with me it. Ken

  4. Very good stuff. Just before Schaeffer died, he was asked if he had any regrets academically and about his thinking. He said, “Yes,” and went on to say that he should have read Kierkegaard better. I’m sorry to say–if there are any Schaeffer fans out there–he was only a middle tier thinker. As a brand new Christian I showed up in L’Abri in the Fall of ’72, spent one week and wanted to leave. I stayed on for a month only because I was quite taken will Oz Guinness. Ken, can’t wait to read more.

  5. Greg,

    That’s a great thing to know, about Schaeffer and Kierkegaard. Thanks a million for sending it. Do you know of any source where I could find a mention of somebody witnessing that?

    Also, I would love to hear more about your time at L’Abri. Maybe you could at some point write up an account and we could make it available somewhere.


  6. Ken, if you are still here you may want to check out “Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America”

    On page 99-100, which can be read for free on Google Books, it speaks of Schaeffer backing away somewhat from his harsh views on SK, though not nearly enough.

    1. Jenny,

      Thank you. I would like to think as positively as I can about Schaeffer, as I’m quite intrigued by L’Abri. I will either get the book you mention or at least read that section.