Frank Schaeffer, the son of well known evangelical missionaries and founders of L’Abri in Switzerland, Francis and Edith Schaeffer, recently discussed his view on America’s status as a “Christocentric” nation with Patheos blogger Phil Shepherd. Schaeffer said he does not believe America is or has ever been a “Christocentric” country, and that such a description would be too exclusive and insensitive to the pluralistic nature of the American population.
Schaeffer said “we want a language of inclusivity, and to me that is the language of Christ.” Further, he claimed countries “like Sweden and Denmark actually have born the kind of Christocentric social fruit that you’d think would be the bare minimum prerequisite” for anyone claiming to inhabit a Christian nation, because “the poor get health care, the schools are good, the crime is low, people are cared for, there’s a social safety net.”
He believes “Christianity in America has a lot more to do with the political culture of empire and power both within and without, who’s in and who’s out, than it has to do with the language of Christ.” Schaeffer also referred to missionaries raising financial support as “ripping off” their donors.
He described a (commonly portrayed) caricature of Christians who send out missionaries and proclaim their faith out of an arrogant desire to fashion the world in their own image. Schaeffer said he considers himself a Christian in the sense of following Jesus as an example, and that he views “Jesus’ life and work as the best path to follow to find the quickest route to a world that works, relationships that work, and a relationship with God that works. But I don’t see it as an exclusive path in the sense that doctrine is important or theology or philosophy is important.”
What motivates Christians to become missionaries, share their faith, or express their convictions in the public square? Is it what Schaeffer asserts, a condescending attitude of “‘I’m saved and you’re lost, I’m the chosen person, you’re not,’” or something more?
Of course there are some (I would link to Westboro Baptist’s site, but I don’t want to give them any more web traffic) who call themselves Christians who fit into Schaeffer’s description, and by no means do all Christians always have the purest thoughts and motivations. But surely he knows that most Christians share their faith not out of a twisted power complex, but because they believe it is the Truth, and with eternity at stake, it is not something to keep quiet. In all my experience with evangelical Christians who share their faith at every opportunity, I have never encountered one who did so out of judgment and coercion.
Would such base attitudes really be enough to motivate the countless faithful over the centuries who have devoted their lives to missions? I don’t believe so. Whether Schaeffer believes it or not, the real motivations is the deep conviction that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is true and provides the only way to full and eternal life. For Christians, to not share their faith would be unloving.
Further, Schaeffer’s image of Jesus ignores where he says: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), or declares “the way is narrow that leads to life” (Matthew 7:14). But Schaeffer asserted Jesus’ teaching “overthrows” all ideas of one exclusive path to salvation. “I just don’t see how this kind of an exclusive black or white, lost or saved approach to life suddenly got this label ‘Christian,’” he said. For those who take Jesus’ words seriously, the most loving thing to do is follow his command to “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).