The Church Before the Watching World (by Francis Schaeffer)

Francis Schaeffer was a popular Christian writer in the mid twentieth century. He was also a Presbyterian pastor in the US, who stood up strongly for Protestant Christianity and Biblical theology. This was quite probably helpful and positive in the 1960s and 70s, when people seemed to be floundering in their faith and woolly liberalism was on the rise. Unfortunately he has since been credited with the rise of the so-called 'Christian right' in America, who apparently took his views on board in extreme measures.

'The Church Before the Watching World' is a long title for short book written in the 1970s. It gives a little of the history of the rise of liberalism in the Christian Church in both the US and Europe since around 1900. He looks at some of the history of his denomination and others in the US (quoting people I had never heard of), but as he seems to assume that the incidents he describes are well-known, he says little about the actual dangers he perceived, or what he considered the real problem to be in practical terms.

He also quotes Scripture fairly extensively, from the point of view of an evangelical of the time. He stresses the need to balance love with holiness, something which appears to be missing in some of those today who based their thinking on his writings.

Unfortunately, I found that much of his thinking seemed rather vague and general. I like abstract thought and concepts, but it was not easy to grasp what he was writing about since he did not give many examples. He seemed to assume that most of his readers would agree with him, and that there was no need to be specific. Perhaps he never intended the book to be read forty years later. Perhaps this is why it is long out of print!

In the final section, which I felt to be the most useful of the whole book, Schaeffer gives some pointers to dangers into which we can fall in two possible directions if veering away from orthodox Christian belief. He also acknowledges that there is a wide circle of acceptable diversity on specific beliefs about many topics.

However the overall tone seems dated and rather judgemental; I felt that it was more like a rant than a useful indication of the problems within the worldwide church. Not a bad book, and there wasn't anything I disagreed with - but I'm not sure I would read it again.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 13th April 2012

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