God, Red Robin, and Me

Many years ago I read a book that, I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say, altered the trajectory of my life.  It was by the Reformed apologist and theologian, Francis Schaeffer, and the title is The God Who is There.  In this book, Schaeffer distinguishes between what he refers to as the “upstairs” and the “downstairs”, or the “upper story” and the “lower story”, and it looks something like this:

Faith = No rationality; i.e., no contact with the cosmos (science) or history                        All rationality – including scientific evidence and history

The above diagram is a short hand way of saying that, on one level are those things that we can actually “know” and that are empirically verifiable.  They are facts and belong the realm of knowledge and can be discovered in disciplines such as science and history.  On another level are things that cannot be proven and so can only be believed on the basis of faith, which is defined as belief in things opposed to, or despite, reason.  Since science and history seem to disprove the existence of God, you have to go the “upper story” and make a choice to believe in things like God, angels, the existence of souls and spirits despite all evidence to the contrary.  Disciplines such as art, literature, and theology belong to this realm because they merely express the human longing for meaning and value which the natural sciences tell us doesn’t exist.  This creates a dichotomy, one which is false and misleading, but which has been present in various forms throughout history. 1  The end result is often the following dichotomy:

NOUMENAL WORLD-the concepts of meaning and value                             PHENOMENAL WORLD-the world which can be weighed and measured, the external world, the world of science

The bottom line is that there are good reasons for arguing that this way of viewing the world is false.  In fact, it requires more faith to believe that God, or at least some transcendent form of Ultimate Reality, doesn’t exist than does exist.  Everything from the fine-tuning of cosmological constants (such as the law of gravity) to the human need for moral laws point in the direction of a higher power.  And while it may be the case that one cannot prove the existence of God on the basis of empirical sciences, it is also the case that they are unable to prove that God doesn’t exist, if for no other reason than that one cannot prove a negative.  (For instance, I can’t prove that the universe isn’t just some elaborate holodeck program, but if it is it sure isn’t responding to my command to “End program”.)  At any rate, my goal is not to provide apologetic arguments for the existence of God.  Rather, my goal is to explore the way in which this nightmarish split of the human being, between head/heart and body/soul, has infected our churches.

One of the primary ways this happens is when we split reality into the categories of sacred and secular, with what is sacred belonging to the upper story and the secular belonging to the lower story.  We tend to view only those things as having meaning that pertain to religion or spirituality while God, or whatever view of Ultimate Reality we have, is unconcerned with those things that are secular or mundane. Some examples of this follows: Attending church is sacred; going to your place of work is secular.  Singing worship music is sacred; listening to country music is secular.  Giving money to Christian non-profits is sacred; improving the lives of others through economic development is secular.  Engaging in theology or biblical studies is sacred; studying just about anything else is secular. This is what many think, and I adopted this to a large degree in unconcious ways for many years until I really began to understand and digest Schaeffer’s thinking that reality is not split in this way.

I was first exposed to Schaeffer’s writings in my last year of high school.  At the time, I thought his views were needlessly heady and abstract when true faith was about the heart.  Although I had a natural bent toward apologetics, I found worldview studies dull and somewhat confusing. 2  About a year later, while in college, I attended a Worldviews class at church, where I was re-introduced to Schaeffer.  This time, after having been exposed to the hostility of evolutionary psychology toward faith, I began to pay more attention. And after having read some books by Francis Schaeffer and James Sire, I was sitting at a Red Robin with a group of friends when I had a strange experience.  It was like sensing God’s presence at Red Robin the way one might experience Him in a church service.  I wrote about this experience in a spiritual formation class I took this last year.  Allow me to share some of what I wrote in the paper:

I was looking around and suddenly it hit me how truly speciall that moment was, despite how mundane it was.  I had a strong sense of God’s presence even though I wasn’t doing anything spiritual.  Just the creativity of the place…was glorifying to God.  I realized that such aesthetics and sense of community was just as important to God as sitting in a Bible study, even if nothing at that moment was explicitly “Christian”.  So I think Schaeffer’s insight is important for overcoming a false dichotomy that only sees explicitly Christian things as valuable, while also providing a more firm foundation for belief itself.

In that moment, it occurred to me that God cared about our time together, and that our time at that restaurant was no less significant in God’s eyes than taking Communion at church.  The food, the fellowship, the decor and atmosphere of the restaurant: all reflected the glory of God, whether others were aware of it or not.  That moment was not secular or mundane, but was in a way unseen (and probably unnoticed by the others gathered at that booth) charged with the grandeur of God. At the beginning of this post, I made the claim that Francis Schaeffer’s writing altered the trajectory of my life.  That moment at Red Robin was the first step on this new journey as I began to have my view of reality transformed.  I explore that claim more fully in relation to having my view of truth transformed in the next post, “Why I Didn’t Go to Seminary”. __________________________________________________________________________ 1 The first dichotomy is taken from Francis Schaeffer, The God Who is There (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 103.  The second comes from Francis Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005), 160.  The latter title also uses the upper story and the lower story as an interpretive framework of the history of Western society’s culture, art, and philosophy.  One need not agree with all his points to see that this perspective has had a pervasive influence.

2 The term “apologetics” comes from the Greek word, apologia, which means to give a word or response, usually in defense of something.  While one can provide an apologetic on many things, Christian apologetics is the defense of the Christian faith.

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2 thoughts on “God, Red Robin, and Me

  1. Thanks for this, Tim. Knowing God is present in all the moments in our lives – not just those inside a church building – is a great comfort.

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