Can We Learn A Lesson From Schweitzer

By Daniel H. King

Albert Schweitzer is a perfect example of the intellectual, philosophical and practical progression which takes place when the Bible is sold down the river to liberalism. I do not mean to cast any reflection upon Schweitzer’s intellect, scholarly ability, love for his fellow man, or put in question the genuineness or sincerity of the beloved doctor and his contribution to the fight against human suffering. Schweitzer was a brilliant man. Furthermore, he was enterprising and philanthropic. He would have succeeded in any field of endeavor for these reasons. Unknown to many is the fact that before he won acclaim in the fields of theological studies and humanitarianism, young Schweitzer was internationally recognized as an organ player, organ-builder, and student of Bach. In 1906, he published a volume on German and French Art in Organ-Building and Organ-Playing, and later the same year he set forth a monograph on Johann Sebastian Bach which remains to this day the seminal work in the field. His organ recitals were so popular that he later supported his medical hospital in Africa by them.

While still young, however, Schweitzer turned to the pious and meditative life of the scholar and cleric. This in spite of his conspicuous ability in the area of music. His deep faith in God and desire to do Him service motivated his decision. He was the eldest son of an Evangelical Lutheran pastor, and the earlier formative years under the influence of one inspired by faith in the Bible had left its imprint.

But in the process of his preparative studies in theology and philosophy at the University of Strassburg, young Albert began to formulate and express radical views-views that now would be very much in vogue in most intellectual circles, but which then were known to be heretical and destructive to biblical faith and doctrine. Nevertheless, Schweitzer’s brilliance was not to be denied its due honor, even though his views were unorthodox, and he was presented the Doctor of Philosophy degree upon the receipt of his dissertation, “The Religious Philosophy of Kant.” Schweitzer served as an unsalaried lecturer at the University after his graduation, worked as an administrator and teacher, and preached for the Strassburg church. He authored numerous books on New Testament themes forwarding his liberal ideas and building his reputation. In 1906 he wrote The Quest of the Historical Jesus, wherein he interpreted Jesus not as a timeless figure whose message is as significant today as it was in his time, but as a Jew concerned with problems pertinent to his own particular time and place. But preaching and theologizing did not provide fulfillment for the young theologian and philosopher. Could it have been that somewhere along the way he lost the only thing that was worth preaching, as well as the only thing that made preaching worthwhile – his faith? I think the answer to this question ties in the direction which his life took afterward. He worked toward and earned a degree as a Medical Doctor and gave his life in service to the sick and suffering of the human race, particularly in French Equatorial Africa. In other words, the emphasis of his life and work turned from the intended business of saving human souls to that of saving human lives, from spiritual to physical service and from that which he once esteemed as eternal in consequence to that that he knew to be only temporal.

Is there a progression here that we may determine to he usual and characteristic and that can be seen in the religious leaders and movements about us? I think there is. When [hey lose their faith in the Bible and take their eyes off heaven, then they are left with only one level upon which to view things, the earthly, physical, temporal plane. Mari becomes the apple of their eye and the orchard the extent of their vision. We may compliment Schweitzer that he did not choose to waste his life in the extreme sensuality of hedonism, but we must not lose sight of the fact that his was a form of carnality-no less earthly, no less physical, and no less lemporal. We do not challenge the worthiness of the great doctor. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952 for his activities as a medical missionary in the Congo, and though we spurn his theology as despicable, yet his philanthropy was certainly meritorious. His personal sacrifice and selfless service is a noteworthy example of humanitarian principles in application. But Schweitzer’s retreat from the spiritual to the physical sphere of service is also exemplary. The esteemed physician threw out the baby and kept the bath water. Increasingly, ministers and churches have turned their attention from the commission of Christ to prepare men and women for heaven by conversion, baptism, and instruction (Matt. 28:18f f) to a “Christian Humanitarianism” suited only to making their lot a little easier while occupying this doomed planet. A lack of respect for the Bible comparable to the “Anschauung” of Dr. Schweitzer is the common denominator in it all. When it is conceded that man is lacking that spark of eternality which the Bible guarantees him, then what is there left to preach, and what to prepare for?

T. B. Larimore once wrote to a young preaching student, “The way to preach is to preach. Just get full of spirit and truth and turn yourself loose. As a good old brother once expressed it, ‘Just fill the barrel full, knock the bung out, and let ‘er come? That’s the way to preach.” A preacher who has sold the Bible down the river to liberalism is an empty barrel. Can we learn an unwitting lesson from Schweitzer?

Truth Magazine XX: 50, pp. 789-790
December 16, 1976