Francis A. Schaeffer’s ‘A Christian Manifesto’ was published in America in 1982. Schaeffer writes to an American audience in the wake of the landmark Roe V Wade Supreme Court ruling in 1973. Yet this text remains just as much of a wake-up call to a UK reader in 2023.
Schaeffer seeks to show how two opposing realities manifest in our society and how if Christians do not enter the political sphere, it will have devastating consequences for our religious freedom. Schaeffer critically looks at some of the broken parts of our society (i.e., porn, family breakdown and abortion), and shows how the crumbling of societies values is a consequence of a rapidly changing worldview. We must, therefore, make the case for the Judean-Christian values that helped create Western freedom.
Schaeffer begins by pressing home the central teaching that is the Lordship of Christ. There has been a trend in Christian circles to limit the sovereignty of Christ to the purely spiritual realm often leading to Christian being unconcerned and unaware about the politics of today. However, Christ’s Lordship has many implications for government. The centrality of Christ requires us to recognise humanity’s limitations, and has formed a basis for freedom in Western societies in limiting the state.
Schaeffer then presents the opposing reality: “a world view that is based upon the idea that the final reality is impersonal matter or energy shaped into its present form by impersonal chance” (p18). Schaeffer contends that though secularists advocate freedom, they ultimately have "no intrinsic reason to be interested in the individual" (p30) and so humans become subordinate to the state. The humanist reality must remain silent on values and principles, since under humanism man is reduced to collection of molecules, created through chance.
On abortion Schaeffer brilliantly challenges our often too narrow thinking “it is not only the babies who are being killed; it is humanness which the humanist worldview is beating to death” (p70). It is easy for us Christians to be appalled at what is being taught in schools or the disregard for the unborn child, but Schaeffer argues that we need to look at these developments collectively as a consequence of the broken and false worldview that has taken over.
This way of framing the problem presents a compelling case for Schaeffer’s call to action, for if we limit Christ’s Lordship to the spiritual, the humanist religion will start to impede on our freedom to assert Christ’s control of our personal lives. Schaeffer successfully maintains that as Christians we must engage politically because first, Christ is supreme over all things (Colossians 1) and His Lordship is not constrained to the church or family life, and second, if we fail to engage, our religious freedoms will eventually be under attack. Inaction and political apathy will only lead to a growth of the humanist religion.
After putting forward his take on the state of his country, Schaeffer moves the focus to how we as Christians should respond. He draws on revival efforts by John Wesley and William Wilberforce’s opposition to the slave trade to show how Christians can witness and advance the Lord’s Kingdom through social action. But Schaeffer’s work is not primarily designed to inspired us into political action, but to call us out for our political inaction. Schaeffer early on in this book condemns the complacency and often ignorance of evangelicals (whether lawyers or theologians) as they fail to realise and act upon the changing worldview. After reading, the Christian is left needing to give a response.
Controversially, Schaeffer pushes us further. By drawing from Romans 13:1-4 and 1 Peter 2:13-17 to maintain that the state forfeits its legitimate God-given authority when it fails to be an agent of justice (p.91). He further argues that citizens have a duty to disobey in certain circumstances due to the command to honour God (p.101). This opens the way for a discussion into appropriate civil disobedience. Schaeffer discusses and justifies the use of force but suggests that this is most constructively done in the form of protest.
The strength of Schaeffer’s work does not lie in his view on what form our action should take. No – these issues are far too nuanced to be addressed briefly at the end of the book. Its strength lies in how Schaeffer proactively expects a response. He delicately formulates the problem in such a way that it feels straight forward to agree with him up to his chapter on civil disobedience.
We can all recognise that there is a new dominant worldview that cannot place intrinsic value on human life, inevitably leading to a state that does not serve its subjects interests. We can acknowledge that Christ is Lord of all creation and so as believers we have the right and responsibility to enter the political sphere and proclaim His Lordship. Yet many readers will feel uncomfortable at Schaeffer’s comments on protest or refusing to pay tax. If the reader agrees with everything up to this point, they are left forced to propose an alternative. The reader is left reflecting on whether they are doing enough politically, and whether political action is part of their call to obedience and witness.