Whatever Happened To The Human Race? – Revisited
The British (revised edition), 1980,
The current US edition, 1983, Crossway Books, Wheaton IL. ISBN 0891072918
This year is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the publication of Whatever Happened To The Human Race? It is a most remarkable book. In a list of ‘the books that changed me’, this unquestionably ranks in my top five. I have just re-read it, with unexpected profit.
The entire project
Whatever Happened To The Human Race? was more than just a book written by a theologian and a doctor, namely, Francis Schaeffer and C Everett Koop. It was an ambitious project that included the book, a series of five films, plus a study guide. The book was first published in the US in 1979, with a British version the following year. The project was launched in the UK in 1980, with a tour of major cities by Schaeffer and Koop. Later that year, we in Aberystwyth, were among the first in the UK to show the films publicly – at the university, over three consecutive Friday evenings.
Cinematographically, they were not great films. While they were technically a vast improvement on Schaeffer’s predecessor, How Should We Then Live?, gaffes and bloomers remained. There were the rather twee shots of Schaeffer in a car junkyard, representing the ugliness of materialistic thinking, and there were the all too healthy-looking ‘slaves’ trudging up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, depicting the atrocities of slavery. Yet one haunting image did hit the spot – everyone remembers the hundreds of plastic dolls washed up on the shores of the Dead Sea, portraying the horrors of mass abortion.
As literature, the book was never destined to be a classic. It was full of Schaeffer’s jerky style with Koop’s medical addenda all a little too obviously interleaved. Indeed, the two men were not great presenters, either in print, or in public. In fact, they were a genuinely odd couple. Schaeffer was the non-establishment theologian, with a goatee beard, dressed in mountain gear, and founder of a study centre for hippies and others in Switzerland. For this he was vilified and largely ignored by some, while others regarded him as the greatest Christian thinker of the twentieth century. On the other hand, the dapper Koop, with his austere Dutch-style beard and neat bow tie, was straight from the American establishment, a paediatrician of international renown, who was later to become the Surgeon General of the United States under President Reagan. What an unlikely pair!
The message of the project
So, you may ask, what was so impressive about Whatever Happened To The Human Race? Why is it regarded as a landmark in evangelical endeavour? The answer is quite simple – first, it identified a dreadful problem (rampant abortion, covert infanticide and threatening euthanasia), second, it explained the origin of that problem (the advance of secular humanism coupled with the decline of biblical Christianity) and third, it outlined the solution (Christians must believe that the Bible is true and live and act upon its teachings). In other words, it was a total package that was both entirely believable for the brain, and fully satisfying for the heart. And that was Schaeffer’s great gift. He would take you back into history, often to Genesis, to show the development of an argument, and then he would take you forward to show the logical consequences of that argument, whether it was existentialism, or the resurrection, or genetic engineering. Once he had systematically shown you the entirety of the problem, you felt much more obligated to respond. So, forget the weird garb, the squeaky voice and the unpolished prose, it was his rigorously-argued and (usually) convincing content that was king. Here was the man committed to true truth. Like no other Christian leader in the twentieth century, Schaeffer had grasped the zeitgeist and he equipped ordinary Christians to engage with the big issues, as well as with unbelieving men and women.
The opening three chapters of Whatever Happened To The Human Race? deal with abortion, infanticide and euthanasia. Twenty-five years ago, this exposé came as a bombshell to many evangelical Christians – we had no idea what was going on in our local hospitals and clinics. The sheer logic of Schaeffer and Koop’s argument – that once a society has accepted abortion of the unborn (as we had in 1967), then it would soon be infanticide for the newborn, and finally euthanasia for the elderly –- was appalling. Yet, twenty-five years on, who can gainsay their prophetic analysis?
The legacy of the project
Furthermore, Whatever Happened To The Human Race? had a credenda and an agenda. Schaeffer and Koop would never be satisfied with us merely tut-tutting and sitting on our hands. They wanted us up and doing. ‘Let those of us who share a high view of people use wisely these days when we have influence and the freedom to strike a great blow for the humanity, dignity, and sanctity of individuals’ (p. 90). Their chapter 6 was entitled ‘Our Personal Response and Social Action’ and it galvanised evangelicals throughout the UK into action, like never before. As a result many of us got involved with pro-life organisations. I co-founded Evangelicals for LIFE, in order to encourage believers into the educational, political and caring work of LIFE, which was generally regarded suspiciously as an admirable, but largely Roman Catholic, organisation. Soon evangelical Christians were becoming local LIFE group treasurers, speakers, carers, chairmen, and so on. Throughout the 1980s we blossomed and LIFE’s approach and expertise became the paradigm for many newly-formed Christian pro-life groups.
This, above all, was the impact of Whatever Happened To The Human Race? It got evangelicals informed and then responding in practical ways. And that legacy is still alive today – look at the proliferation of pro-life publications, pregnancy crisis centres, political lobbying, and so on since 1979. OK, it is still patchy, still insufficient, but without Whatever Happened To The Human Race?, it would be significantly less.
The importance of chapters 4 and 5
Twenty-five years on, re-reading Whatever Happened To The Human Race? I was struck not by the rehearsal of the bioethical issues – they have dominated and changed the course of my life since 1979 – but what I found refreshingly gripping were chapters 4 and 5, ‘The Basis for Human Dignity’ and ‘Truth and History’. I had forgotten them. In these, modern philosophy, and secular humanism in particular, are given a ‘right old kicking’. Schaeffer and Koop demonstrate just how irrational and bankrupt they are, and how they inevitably produce the ghastly dehumanisation that surrounds us today. And twenty-five years on, we have to admit that their thesis was spot on – we do still think that man is nothing more than a machine, we do view ourselves as mere accidents of the universe. One of their grand sweeping, but entirely accurate, assertions is, ‘Suddenly we find ourselves in a more consistent but uglier world – more consistent because people are taking their low view of man to its natural conclusion, and uglier because humanity is drastically dehumanised’ (p. 9).
After their devastating critique of secular humanism, comes the cavalry – the absolutes of historic, biblical Christianity. What a puny, limping thing secular humanism is alongside the robustness of true truth. ‘Where all humanistic systems of thought are unable to give an adequate explanation of things, the Bible as God’s statement is adequate’ (p. 124), and (this is sweet!), ‘God gives the pages, and thus God gives the answers’ (p. 125). Here is evangelism – engaging with modern men and women to show them the paucity of their worldview, and then the genius of Christianity.
The other rousing chapter, entitled ‘Truth and History’ asserts the historicity of the Bible, that is, how Christianity is rooted in history. If you think that Schaeffer was always entangled with abstruse philosophy, then read this. It starts with Abraham (the historicity of Adam and Eve has been established in the previous chapter) and ends with Thomas’ declaration, ‘My Lord and my God!’ In between is an exegesis of ‘… all truth finally rests upon the fact that the infinite-personal God exists …’ (p. 135). Yes, it is heavy-duty apologetic, but also heart-warming exposition.
Whatever Happened To The Human Race?
was a great Christian book. It still is. And a revised US version is currently
available, as a paperback, from Crossway Books [ISBN 0-89107-291-8]. No other
Christian book, published before or after, has attempted, and succeeded, in
developing such a fundamental biblical approach to bioethical issues. My meagre
contribution, Responding to the Culture of Death, draws heavily on the
Schaeffer and Koop approach, and I gladly acknowledge my indebtedness.
In conclusion ...
Whatever Happened To The Human Race? was also a wake-up call to unaware and lethargic Christians. Who would dare say, a generation on, that we do not still need its message? Human life is still cheap, and becoming still cheaper – created in the image of God, destroyed at our convenience.
Let Schaeffer and Koop have the last words. ‘We challenge you to be a person in this impersonal age … put the people in your life first … come to your senses … you and those around you are people, made in the image of the personal God who created all people in His image.’ (p. 89). ‘The only thing that can stem this tide [of abortion, infanticide and euthanasia] is the certainty of the absolute uniqueness and value of people. And the only thing which gives us this is the knowledge that people are made in the image of God.’ (p. 148). ‘In the end we must realise that the tide of humanism, with its loss of humanness, is not merely a cultural ill, but a spiritual ill that Christ alone can cure’ (p. 157).