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When someone I respect repeatedly refers to some writing that’s helped them, I take note.

Such is the case with Francis A. Schaeffer’s “Two Contents, Two Realities,” first published by Crossway in 1974. I’ve seen Ray Ortlund, Jr. mention it a few times.

Schaeffer proposes four qualities that should characterize a good church in the face of an increasingly secular and ungodly culture:

  • Content # 1: Sound Doctrine
  • Content # 2: Honest Answers to Honest Questions
  • Reality # 1: True Spirituality
  • Reality # 2: The Beauty of Human Relationships

In terms of content, there must be no compromise: no shifting with the winds of culture, no downplaying of the importance of doctrine, no “communication without content.” “The first content is clear doctrinal content concerning the central elements of Christianity.” As culture drifts, we need greater clarity about the truth of Scripture, not less, and more boldness to proclaim it.

But we also need another emphasis in our content: honest answers to honest questions. Christianity is truth; if it is truth, Schaeffer, argues, it can answer questions. “Christianity demands that we have enough compassion to learn the questions of our generation.” We’re not answering the questions of previous generations; we must answer the questions and challenges of today. That means we must speak to the issues of the day and the belief structures that people hold in opposition to Christianity, both outside and inside the church.

Content is necessary, but it’s not enough. We also need churches where two realities are true. First, they must be characterized by true spirituality. “There must be something real of the work of Christ, something real in Christ’s bearing his fruit through me through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. There is nothing more ugly in all the world, nothing which more turns people aside, than a dead orthodoxy.” It’s one thing for a church to teach sound doctrine. It’s another thing altogether for that church to teach sound doctrine and exhibit the marks of love and worship for our Saviour.

One more reality must be present: the beauty of human relationships. “True Christianity produces beauty as well as truth. If we do not show beauty in the way we treat each other, then in the eyes of the world and in the eyes of our own children, we are destroying the truth we proclaim.” Genuine faith should result in genuine love among believers. “We need two orthodoxies: first, an orthodoxy of doctrine and, second, an orthodoxy of community.”

“There are four things which I think are absolutely necessary if we as Christians are going to meet the need of our age and the overwhelming pressure we are increasingly facing,” Schaeffer wrote. “When there are the two contents and the two realities, we will begin to see something profound happen in our generation.”

I remember being asked to write a philosophy of ministry in seminary. I struggled to do so. Everything seemed either too abstract or too programmatic.

Schaeffer has succeeded where I failed. A lot of things don’t matter much in ministry, but these four things matter a lot: sound doctrine, the ability to answer the questions of the day, true spirituality, and the beauty of human relationships.