Sunday, April 6, 2008

Episode One: The Roman Age

What are your responses to episode one, "The Roman Age?"

1. Do you think Schaeffer is accurate in his description?
2. What do you make of his theological assessment of the Roman gods?
3. How is American culture like Roman culture?
4. What can contemporary Christians learn from how the Roman Christians responded to their social and political situation?


Clint said...

1. I think that Schaeffer's description of the Roman world, while simple (of necessity), was a helpful way to build his case for both the contrast and superiority of the Christian worldview.

2. I thought that his bridge analogy was ingenious. It is a very helpful way to communicate that a worldview's ethics, policies, beliefs, etc. are only as strong as their metaphysical grounding. If the system is based in an "authoritarian," yet, finite being, then it will crash down under the demands of any culture that looks and longs for something more transcendant (which all do). Only an absolute being can provide sufficient grounding for, and a proper explanation of, how we ought to live.

3. The American culture also wallows in a pit of apathy. This is true even of American Xtians. It does not take a thoughtful xtian long to realize that much xtian art, music, etc. is really just aesthetically poor at best (though there are a few exceptions). Moreover, Americans in general work from a fideistic perspective insofar as the absoluteness of pluralism goes unquestioned. It would have been more acceptable for a 1st cent. Xtian to say "Jesus is Lord" as long as he was part of the Pantheon. It was when they stated "Jesus alone is Lord" that the persecution came.
4. We can learn from and model the critical perspective many early Christians had of culture. Moreover, like Paul with the unknown God, we can affirm and use as a platform those elements of popular culture which can build bridges for the gospel to be heard and accepted. Further, we must realize that Christianity as a worldview has a timeless ability to incarnationally critique culture. Because it flows from a transcendant, personal God, Xty can effectively stand both above and in culture. In this way, Jesus is both the message and the transformative agent, as he was in the Roman culture.

Ralph said...

I'm looking forward to this blog and the comments. I'm rereading this amazing book for the 3rd or 4th time and am always amazed at the prescience and durability of Schaeffer's work. No doubt it will open some eyes. I thank God that during my college years when I was "into" philosophy I was able to read so much Schaeffer. Probably saved me from some pretty hideous errors.

Daniel said...


Regarding the Christian art comment in number 3, that made me think about something:

Maybe I'm getting ahead of the study, for which I apologize, but in the chapter on the Renaissance (Yes, I've read ahead) Schaeffer says how so many tourists (especially Christian tourists) flock to see Michelangelo's "David". They think (as I also assumed up to this point) that the statue David was a rendering of the Biblical King David. But it's not, just a random guy named David.

Apparently I and so many other Christian tourists who have stood in a crowded hallway to get a mere glimpse of the infamous statue...were wrong! In fact, at the time of constructing the David, Michelangelo was influenced by Renaissance Humanism (but later on in life got serious about Faith).

I say this long-winded preamble to ask this question: Do you think that much Christian art today serves the purpose of a subjective experience rather than being theologically sound and even provocative? In other words, does the purpose of Christian art today, differing from the Christian art of yore, make it less significant? Or is it just a moot point?

...that question can be for anyone.

Clint said...

Hey Daniel,

I definitely think that the pervasive value of subjective beauty in our culture has skewed the nature of contemporary art, music, etc. In other words, when objectivity is undermined by subjective relativity, beauty can be whatever the subject desires. No doubt you have heard the phrase, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." This is just false.
Good art is good precisely because it corresponds in greater value than bad art to objective goodness. Now there are some who deny that (what some philosophers call) "universals" exist. For a good argument for their existence, see J. P. Morelands short text entitled "Universals." But good art is good because its properties are particular instances (in varying degrees) of the universal of what might be called goodness. But if there is no universal of goodness, then beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder and there are no criterion for judging art beyond subjective opinions.
Now bad art can still be "signficant" art, to get at your question. But significance is not equivocable to goodness.

Dr. Groothuis may want to correct some of my philosophical language or points (seeing that I am a NT guy and he is the philosopher). But I think that this gets at some of your question.

Clint said...

Just to qualify...when i said,

"It does not take a thoughtful xtian long to realize that much xtian art, music, etc. is really just aesthetically poor at best "

I meant this in reference to more modern Christian expressions of art. In general, prior to the present age Christians outperformed secular artists.

Daniel said...


I agree about the Universals, good point. And we'll get more into this idea of Universals and Particulars next time with the Middle Ages chapter, so I'll pause for now.

You said: "Now bad art can still be "signficant" art, to get at your question. But significance is not equivocable to goodness."

But can objectively "good" art also be significant? Maybe not a one-to-one correspondence all the time, but sometimes? I'm thinking specifically of something like Michelangelo's David again.

We can all agree that it's objectively "good" (in that Ultimates sense you were talking about) but I think it is also significant. It seemed to be a staple and "trend setter" of the day, that of the triumph of man on our own (humanism).

Doug Groothuis said...

Some responses to Clint and Daniel and Ralph.

1. I read much of Schaeffer while in college, too. While I probably never quoted him in a paper (I was a philosophy major), he gave me needed confidence that Christianity was true, rational and pertinent to life.

2. Cultures are only as strong as their worldviews. Think of Africa. Countries such as Rhowda considered Christianized. Their "Christians" begin killing each other in the hundreds of thousands. Why? Their Christianity was a mile wide and inch thick. Tribalism went deeper than Christian brotherhood. The missionaries did not teach theology, ethics, and critical thinking! Africa does not lack natural resources. If liberated from false beliefs--Islam and animism--it could work wonders.

And what happens when the crunch comes to America? Will our worldview keep us from descending into barbarism after the next terrorist attack or plague of some kind?

3. The categories in Schaeffer's "Art and the Bible" are a very helpful supplement to the film series. A piece of art may exhibit aesthetic goodness even though it supports a false worldview. For example (to go back to Schaeffer's day), the films of Igmar Bergmann are cinematically ingenius, but he was advocating Existentialism or perhaps Nihilism. Or, a piece of art may have a theologically or morally correct message, but be terrible art. Or, something may be bad art and have a bad message (much of rap), but be signficant culturally because it reveals something about the culture's approach to life.

4. Many Christians don't understand art because this takes time and effort to gain such knowledge. They tend to be aesthetic relativists. If so, "I know what I like." But that does equal: "I know that is good art and bad art."

Enough for now! I'm glad the blog has kicked in.

Peter Rajesh said...

hi all

I have some basic doubts after seeing/reading the Schaeffer's view on Romans life.. Please note I'm very new to theology . The chapter talks about Romans and Christians but If you are issuing a passport to them you will give them a single one "ROMAN CITIZEN" .I'm afraid Christians did not fully perform their responsibility at least they must have bothered to tell the fellow citizens their foundation was on a wrong platform the reason I bring this up is due fact that apathy which was origin of roman failure was seen when Christianity is legal and state religion

Why they did not spread gospel on the free world they had after their persecution was ended by emperor?

there is one more contradiction here if Christianity was the state religion that means the ruler Constantine did not bother his citizen to worship them. Schaeffer's view of finite God "worshiping king" is obsolete here
So the people who practiced apathy and caused the destruction did not have any God/King to worship so what was the original reason for roman empire to collapse..can we assume they where atheist?
or am I missing something basic here

Doug Groothuis said...


Thank you for participating.

I think the answer is that Roman society was too far gone at that point to be redeemed, humanly speaking. Of course, not everyone became a Christian, even when it became the state religion. And the Christians, despite their tenacity under persecution, could have done more once they got freedom. Often freedom brings complacency.

The persecuted Chinese Christians do not pray for an end to persecution. They don't pray for a lighter load but for a stronger back. See the book "The Heavenly Man" for the amazing story of Brother Yun.