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179 of 235 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Schaeffer evidently didn't read primary sources, September 10, 2001
This review is from: Escape From Reason: A Penetrating Analysis Of Trends In Modern Thought (Paperback)
First, I have to express appreciation for Schaeffer. When I was in high school, I read through all of his books with great interest and avidity. He (along with C. S. Lewis) was a great example to me that you could be a Christian and still have a brain. I thought. Unfortunately, his books led to actually read the individuals he discussed. I went on to attend Yale University and the University of Chicago, studying theology and philosophy at both places. At Yale I met several Christian grad students who, like me, initially became interested in philosophy through reading Schaeffer. Every single one of us was grateful to Schaeffer. Every single one of us agreed: Schaeffer probably never read any of the people he discusses.
If you have just a little background in philosophy or the history of theology, and you look carefully through the footnotes of any of Schaeffer's books, it becomes fairly obvious that his reading was restricted almost entirely to secondary sources. He didn't read Aquinas so much as books about Aquinas. He seems to have been especially indebted to books by Dutch Reformed scholars. Most of his discussions of the great figures in the history of the church are travesties of their actual thought.
An example: Kierkegaard. Most of my graduate work both at Yale and Chicago was on Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard is a widely misunderstood scholar, but virtually everyone who has studied his work at any length will acknowledge that he was not a theological innovator, that he in no sense was trying to undermine Christian faith, and that he was utterly orthodox in his thought. It is impossible to find a single orthodox Christian doctrine that Kierkegaard attacks. In no sense is Kierkegaard an opponent of Christianity. Being as generous as possible, I think the most I can say is that Kierkegaard was a puzzlement to Schaeffer. The tragedy is that there are a very large number of excellent scholars, even Dutch Reformed scholars, who could have helped Schaeffer in his misunderstandings.
We can contrast this with C. S. Lewis. Lewis was not perfect as a thinker, but Lewis at least read the people he discusses. Had Lewis ever read Schaeffer, he would have been angered and disgusted at Schaeffer persistent misreadings of people like Aquinas (who I would also disagree with, but for very, very different reasons). Lewis was a perceptive and penetrating reader, and to discuss at length anyone without having studied their work at length would have been anathema to him.
Folks, Schaeffer's understanding of philosophy is not even up to the level of a good undergraduate. I am grateful to Schaeffer for having introduced me to the world of philosophical thought. Hopefully others go on to read the figures he discusses. If so, they also will see that Schaeffer is guilty of profoundly misrepresenting their thought. But I profoundly regret that others do not go to read any of the figures that he critiques. I regret this. I regret it as a Christian, and I regret it as a philosophy.
I especially regret it as a Christian because Christ and the Christian faith is not served by the distortion of the truth.
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Tracked by 4 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 29 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 7, 2007 6:27:08 PM PDT
D. Larkin says:
All due respect to Mr. Moore, I don't think the fact that he attended Yale Divinity and University of Chicago gives him the right to slander Francis Schaeffer, i.e., stating that Schaeffer didn't read the philosophers that he wrote about. Anyone who wants to claim that there is an interpretation of Kierkegaard such that failure to agree with it leads to the conclusion that you haven't read Kierkegaard, means that although you may have read Kierkegaard, you didn't understand him. I too went to Yale on a scholarship as an undergraduate in 1966. Let's see Mr. Moore's published works. He may be able to write a review, and give one star to a deceased Christian scholar, but he was not able to finish his own dissertation.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 15, 2007 5:09:27 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 15, 2007 6:40:11 PM PDT
Robert Moore says:
Wow, that was a pretty mean-spirited comment. Anytime you make it personal, you've gotten mean. I would have enjoyed a debate on the merits, but instead it became about me. But let me address what D. Larkin says here.

First, what I was or was not able to do in finishing my doctoral dissertation really is irrelevant to whether Schaeffer read the philosophers he wrote about. Larkin attempts to confuse issues about Schaeffer with issues about me. Whether I did or did not finish my dissertation is utterly irrelevant to anything concerning Francis Schaeffer. (For the record, the reason I did not finish my doctoral dissertation was that I had to quit grad school in order to be a fulltime single dad. I found the challenge of working on my dissertation, working fulltime, and caring for my daughter to be more of a challenge than I could handle. And I'm not ashamed of this. I decided to priortize my daughter rather than my prefered career.)

Now, about Schaeffer on Kierkegaard. Schaeffer did not offer an interpretation of Kierkegaard. Why not? Because his description of Kierkegaard's positions is so extraordinarily at odds with what Kierkegaard wrote as to, at most, represent a misunderstanding. If you have read Kierkegaard at any length you simply will not recognize anything that Schaeffer says about Kierkegaard. When I was in high school I heard someone attempt to do a review of Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum," but what he actually reviewed was the Vincent Price movie. The gap between what Schaeffer writes about Kierkegaard and what Kierkegaard actually wrote is enormous. As I said, other conservative theologians have been able to read Kierkegaard with comprehension. E. J. Carnell worked, like Schaeffer, in the Reformed tradition, but he was an excellent reader of Kierkegaard.

Now, I want to address one last thing. The word "slander." Did I "slander" Francis Schaeffer? I don't believe I did. My belief that he did not read many of the people he wrote about stems partly from his extraordinary misunderstanding of the writings of many of the people he wrote about, but also from the rather spare documentation that he offers in his lamentably negligible footnotes. Anyone who has read even moderately in any of the philosophers he discusses will know at least a few of the major figures who talk about the major philosophers. Yet Schaeffer cites remarkably minor secondary works and never displays a first hand knowledge of the primary sources.

And for the record, this was the opinion of several other philosophy students at Yale, several of whom completed their doctoral dissertations.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 15, 2007 10:47:28 AM PST
Robert,

What book would you suggest on this topic?

Thanks

Posted on Mar 28, 2008 11:34:51 AM PDT
M McVey says:
Robert Moore nails it here!

Coming out of a Christian upbringing and having intellectual aspirations, in my late teens I looked to Schaeffer as a sort of world-ordering Christian guru whose example I could follow only to realize that his influence and esteem (as great as it is among evangelicals) among people who actually read the many writers and philosophers Schaeffer evaluates is negligible. Moore's argument that Schaeffer mostly based his generally faulty and oversimplifying critiques on secondary sources is extremely plausible. I only wish that, at that vulnerable time in my life, I was actually reading Sartre, Hegel, Aquinas, Plato, et.al. rather than thinking I already knew all about them because of what Schaeffer had to say.

Posted on Mar 30, 2008 11:21:23 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 31, 2008 6:55:21 PM PDT
M. Hyon says:
i just have one or two comments regarding the review. first, it may be true that schaeffer never read one single primary source in his life. i personally do not believe this but, for the sake of argument, let's say he never read a primary source. all he read were secondary sources that were trustworthy and reliable--i.e. the authors of the works were generally regarded as distinguished scholars. it is well known that in any field of study where divergent camps appear whose ideas are often in conflict with each other that there is much disagreement as to which distinguished author from which distinguished university has the authority to speak to the rest of the world as to what their particular field of study is all about. we see this in philosophy and theology. it is no small secret that theology, in particular, has within it conservative and liberal camps which instruct and guide those within each camp on who is a trustworthy author and who is not. from within a reformed orthodox ilk i see nothing unscholarly about reading copleston or gilson or any other reliable historian of philosphy or theology or scholar of kierkegaard or scholar of aquinas. it is true that going to the primary source to read it in its original language and to interpret it with a clear unbiased hermeneutical lens is the gold standard. but, it is not necessary for "scholarly" work. i believe that some secondary sources from distinguished scholars can be read and you can get a pretty good picture as to what augustine or kafka wanted us to think and believe while reading their works. i just don't think you can say schaeffer was unscholarly because he never read a primary source, which by the way i believe to be false. schaeffer did read the bible everyday, which is something some "christian" scholars almost never do; instead, they rely on kierkegaard or bultmann to explain to them how to interpret the bible.

second, reading primary sources is not sufficient for one to be engaged in scholarly activity. a chimpanzee can learn to read kant but fail to do scholarly work. i believe that robert moore in his review may not be faulting schaeffer for not reading primary sources. instead, i believe moore is implying that schaeffer fails to be a scholar because schaeffer's understanding of kierkegard is not harmonious with accepted scholarship, which i have shown does not need intimate knowledge of primary sources. moore's argument may be that schaeffer is not a scholar because true scholars, are those that moore trusts and moore does not trust schaeffer. this is just begging the question. what evidence does he have that schaeffer is not a scholar? it cannot be merely because schaeffer's interpretation or understanding of kierkegaard conflicts with moore's or liberal theology's understanding of kierkegaard. moore's review is confused. i don't know if he is faulting schaeffer for not reading the primary sources or for just being, according to moore, mistaken about his beliefs concerning kierkegard, aquinas, etc. anyway, i agree with moore that robust scholarship is more than just reading the daily paper. but, i disagree with moore that you have to read primary sources to drive home a point. i don't have to read one single book by a logical postivist to know that logical postivism is bankrupt as a theory. you do not read schaeffer to know what sartre, hegel, aquinas, plato wrote and thought. you read schaeffer to see a bigger picture of philosphical and theological trends.

scholars often disagree about kierkegaard or aquinas. but the mere fact of disagreement is insufficient to call one scholar a true scholar and the other a false scholar. if you want to be a kierkegaard scholar then you may wish to read his works in the original language. if you just want to survey recent theological thinkers then primary sources is not necessary. i don't have to read plato to get the point of a calvin and hobbes cartoon that has references of plato in it. and more importantly, the author of calvin and hobbes does not have to read plato to put a reference of plato in it. moore's review is basically saying schaeffer is wrong about moore's view of kierkegaard. and since he is wrong, he is not a true scholar.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 5, 2008 8:21:07 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 5, 2008 8:22:01 PM PDT
Labarum says:
M. Hyon,

It appears you are a little confused on what or what does not account as scholarship. If Schaeffer were merely mentioning some point of Aquinas in passing or dealing with it at a superficial level, then reading secondary source material from noted scholars on Aquinas would be entirely appropriate. But when one makes Aquinas into some cosmic bogeyman who altered the path of civilization for the worst (as Schaeffer does in "Escape from Reason"), one would have hoped he did actually go ahead and read the guy. From Schaeffer's assessment of Aquinas, I think Mr. Moore was correct in assuming he did not - particularly since his negative view more or less parrots a similar opinion by his former mentor Cornelius Van Til. Moreover, none of those he consulted on Aquinas would have been considered either reliable on that subject, so your premise fails as well. The fact is that things Schaeffer accused Aquinas of supporting are demonstrably false and he simply has little or no understanding of Aquinas or any other key philosophers of the Western tradition.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 21, 2009 11:37:17 AM PST
A. Keiser says:
Mr. Moore, I was introduced to Schaeffer by an evangelical Protestant who held all he said as gospel. I'd already had some philosophy and history and immediately came to the same conclusion you did: he didn't read the sources he talked about. In fact, he seldom, if ever, references them save in the most general way possible and it's not difficult to find the primary texts directly contradicting what he has to say about them. I'm upset that work as poorly done as his exists because it makes Christians look like idiotic philistines.

Posted on Feb 4, 2009 7:08:24 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Sep 7, 2011 3:52:41 PM PDT
T. Borden says:
Robert Moore's review is spot on. I also read Schaeffer as a teenager, and his books spurred my interest in philosophy and theology, for which I am still grateful. My present appraisal of Schaeffer is that he actively cultivated an image as an intellectual heavyweight, with his beard and knickers, his seclusion in Switzerland, and his incessant namedropping. Sadly, once you start reading the names he drops, Schaeffer starts to look more and more like an intellectual fraud, who just put a flimsy intellectual veneer on standard-issue evangelical apologetics. Schaeffer was a popularizer along the lines of Will Durant, with all of the attendant shortcomings.

Posted on Feb 18, 2009 8:20:43 PM PST
Rudy says:
Mr Moore with all due respect this is the modern day argument against anyone who holds a conservative view point (conservative in regards to Protestant theology). It is a very popular argument made and it always starts with one telling us about his or her credentials. But in all honesty if one just steps back for a second and not get intimidated by "credentials" and take a closer look at this argument it fails.

It is pure speculation! You and your Yale friends are doing noting more than just speculating Schaeffer did not read first had sources and you are undermining his credibility. Your example was not an example at all you just speculated that Schaeffer was puzzled by Kierkegaard. How do you know he was puzzled? let me guess by reading Schaeffer writing on Kierkegaard? are you not then doing exactly what you are accusing Schaeffer of doing?

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 23, 2009 2:12:24 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Nov 11, 2010 8:46:12 PM PST
T. Borden says:
Rudy,

Robert's review is not about persecuting conservatives or about scholarly credentials. It is about accurately representing the arguments and ideas of others. Schaeffer does not do this. Schaeffer presents pale caricatures of many philosophers, and if one is ever inspired to read the primary sources, this fact is readily apparent. I urge you to pick up a copy of Kierkegaard's "Fear and Trembling" for yourself and to see if Schaeffer did it justice.
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Robert Moore
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