Monday, March 19, 2007

Fischer on Schaeffer

John Fischer, musician and author, has written a piece on Francis Schaeffer for Christianity Today. I have mixed reactions to it, and may comment more later. Nevertheless, it is worth reading for its basic thesis: Schaeffer had compassion for lost people and a lost culture. Do we?


Tom said...

I'm curious about why your reactions to Fisher's article are mixed. Care to say more?

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

It was disrespectful to refer to Schaeffer's speaking as "Elmer Fud on speed." That may be clever, but it is not proper. I have recently been listening to some of his tapes, and this is not true. He mispronounced some words and names and was not a highly polished speakier, but so what? The content was solid and timely and delivered with passion and compassion.

Further, Schaeffer's tears would be meaningless if not for the ideas behind the tears. Schaeffer's analysis of the despair of modern culture was, in the main, on target. His assessement of the challenge to the church to live out the truth was and is cogent. I would not put his compassion above his intellection.

Now we know, as professional philosophers, that Schaeffer's work lacked nuance and elaboration. But he never claimed to be a scholar, per se. He was an intellectually engaged evangelist and prophet. He also understood the deep and broad themes of Scripture very well. This was at the very heart of his ministry.

terryd said...

"Schaeffer's tears would be meaningless if not for the ideas behind the tears."

This is an accurate statement pointing to what I found most unsatisfying in Fischer's article. Schaeffer's ministry to intellectually and spiritually adrift youth was first about truth itself, then the truth of scripture and then life-transforming faith.

His message to the church consistently addressed compromise and concession to dominant culture—confronted with tears, to be sure.

I recently re-read The Great Evangelical Disaster. In it he pleads with us to "draw a line," "take a stand," but to do so with humility and even tears, so as not to repeat the unnecessarily rancorous divide in the liberal/fundamentalist battles of the early 1900s.

Recasting him in (dare I say?) a somewhat emergent mold does his legacy a disservice.

Tom said...

Thanks for explaining your reaction. I'm not sure I agree with you that the "Fudd" comment was not proper. While the attitude of Fischer in the piece was respectful, it wasn't reverent. And that seems appropriate to me. But different strokes....

More substantially, I don't think Fischer is suggesting that the ideas and understanding behind Schaeffer's tears are unimportant or even not *very* important. What Fischer is doing, I take it, is trying to draw a contrast between Schaeffer's response to contemporary culture and that of a good many current conservative evangelical leaders. Fischer is saying that whereas Schaeffer stressed the importance of understanding your cultural foes and feeling compassion for a world gone wrong, many of those on today's Christian right more often express (self) righteous anger and judgment rather than compassion and understanding.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...


I think Fischer understated the value of Schaeffer's ideas, but didn't ignore them.

Yes, the point that we must have compassion on the lost (even left-wingers!) needs to be emphasized. Schaeffer was never triumphalistic or arrogant in his approach to culture or the state, as some of his followers tend to be.

This is why I was outraged when an Harper's artcle a few months ago linked Schaeffer to theonomy and referred to L'Abri as a fundamentalist "madrassa" (indoctrination centers for Islamic terrorists). I wrote a letter to the editor on this, but it was not published.

Mark Pike said...


There are two writers that I read in the 1970s who have deeply influenced my ministry today: C. S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer. I know that both seem to be in disfavor among some professional theologians and philosophers, but I think those folks are missing the point about each author. For me Lewis and Schaeffer understood the root of our cultural ills and had a vision for the gospel transforming that culture. I had never been exposed to that kind of thinking until I was an undergraduate and it was a breath of fresh air.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...


Lewis was very instrumental in my intellectual growth as well, and I continue to reread his book also. The most helpful to me in college were:

1. The Abolition of Man
2. Miracles
3. Mere Christianity
4. Screwtape Letters

I was stunned last year when two of my grad students found The Abolition of Man too difficult to read. They dropped out of the class and the program. Selah. I read it when I was 19 or 20 and ate it up. I have read it probably 4-5 times after that as well.