Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Lessons from Francis A. Schaeffer (1912-1984)

Having recently reread many of the works of Francis Schaeffer, it seems right to list several lessons he can teach Bible-believing Christians (and others) today. Schaeffer was a prophetic generalist, pastor, apologist, and primarily an evangelist. That latter is how he typically explained himself.

1. Schaeffer had a deep passion for God and for truth. This came out of his intellectual conversion as a teenager, after he read both classical Greek literature and the Bible, as well as from his intellectual crisis that hit him after over a decade of ministry. Having not see the reality of Christian love and the work of the Spirit, he questioned everything for several months, yet returned stronger, spiritually and mentally to the task.

2. Schaeffer cared deeply about the lostness of modern people. NonChristians were not "objects" for this man of God, but image-bearers of God who were hopeless apart from the gospel of Jesus Christ. When Schaeffer exegeted culture, he did so with an angle on how so much of culture reveals a lack of hope and meaning. In his apologetic conversations, Schaeffer would not cognitively spare with opponents, but try to lead souls to truth through love and reason--and not without tears, as he often said.

3. Schaeffer was an unapologetic generalist for the cause of Christ. He studied the areas he thought pertinent to ministry and the calling of the church in his day. While some wrongly took his judgments as the last word, they were almost always a vital first word and call to further study and prophetic engagement with the world under Christ.

4. Schaeffer was not a self-promoter, but sought God for life and ministry. The L'Abri ministry of apologetics, evangelism, and study in the Swiss Alps developed as Francis and Edit responded to the needs of questioning students. Later in his ministry, Schaeffer was sometimes promoted too heavily. This may have been the fault of his son, Franky, who produced the film series, "How Shall We Then Live?" and "Whatever Happened to the Human Race?" (Franky is a sad story. He went on to leave Protestantism for Orthodoxy and to write series of not-so-thinly disguised autobiographical/fictional works criticizing his parents and their religion.) Schaeffer never even planned to write books, but wrote when his lectures and discussion were so well received that books were requested.

5. Schaeffer loved the arts, could recognize aesthetic goodness even in nonChristian (or anti-Christian) art, and gave Christian artists permission and vision for artistic endeavor. On all of this see Art and the Bible, recently republished with a foreword by musician and author Michael Caird. He often spoke of bringing "beauty" into the Christian life.

6. Schaeffer had a deep knowledge of and love for Scripture. The Bible was a living reality for his man. He said in The God Who is There that we must be studying the Scriptures daily in order to present the truth to unbelievers. He himself read at least three chapters from the OT and one from the NT each day. His writings exude biblical truth and wisdom. Let us do likewise (Acts 17:11).

7. Schaeffer was "a man of the Reformation," who, nevertheless, was not doctrinaire or haughty about his Calvinism. Schaeffer realized that the Reformation was necessary and that we must remain "a reformed church always reforming." The Reformers, while hardly perfect, brought the Scripture back to its rightful centrality and also opened up social and cultural wonders for the West, as Schaeffer pointed out in How Shall We Then Live? and A Christian Manifesto. While Schaeffer believed in and taught The Westminster Standards, his appeal radiated far wider than Reformed and Presbyterian circles.

In a time when some, such as emergent author Brian McLaren, are calling us to be "post-Protestant," this means needs to be heard and headed. The Five Solas of the Reformation are not optional for Christianity, but are its life blood. Nevertheless, those who hold to the Five Points of Calvinism (the TULIP), as I do, should do so with conviction, but also humility. Five Pointers can and should work with Christians of other persuasions so long as the essential gospel is not compromised. (I believe some forms of Arminianism do this, however.) I worked with a committed Arminian for over three years of campus ministry.

Therefore, let read and reread Francis Schaeffer. I suggest you purchase The Collected Works and work your way through them--for the glory of God, for the good of his church, and for the furtherance of the Kingdom. If you think you have "no time" to read, then make time. Eliminate distractions and immerse yourself in these books.


Vasile said...

Schaeffer is one ot the men who influenced my beginnings in the Chtistianity, though I have not read all his books, but two of them.

I have no TV (as I suppose you too), but still I have not too much time for lectures. Maybe it is the junger for words and ideas that makes time, as I started yesterday your book, Truth Decay, and it seems will be a quick read, in the sense that I am not bored with it, au contraire.

Papa Giorgio said...

I am a big fan of Francis Schaeffer, especially his Christian Manifesto and How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture. Great insights on how to defend the faith by contrasting it with fallacious worldviews.

As always Doc Groothuis, very enjoyable.

Papa Giorgio

Craig Fletcher said...

I am inspired by this post and appreciate the thought and time you put into it. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Cheers, cheers for the post. I own the collected works and periodically savor a portion of them. You are so right about Schaeffer being biblically minded and some of my favorite sections to read are his sermons (which comprise No Little People. I think we often forget how good of a preacher Schaeffer was, being overshadowed by his apologetics.

One other thing we might learn from F.S. regards apologetic methodology. Though often labeled a presuppositionalist, he certainly wasn't a purest and many in the solidly presuppositional camp would not accept him in their ranks. But perhaps Schaeffer was prophetic in this realm, too. There have been several recent publications that show that these various methodologies might be closer than we realize (consider Cowan's Five Views of Apologetics or Boa's Faith Has It's Reasons among others).

Though Schaeffer spoke often of presuppositions, it is clear that he had some sympathy, perhaps limited, with other views in regard to apologetic method. Without being naive, there is an ongoing need among apologists to clarify those issues so that we might build a more consolidated defense of the Christian faith. There is no reason to disagree in unnecessary areas.

MJ said...

I find his writings err presuppositional as well.

I know this is like swinging at a bee hive, but briefly, perhaps a Denver Seminarian can tell what is wrong with presupp. apologetics?

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

The book, Truth With Love, does about the best job of explaining Schaeffer's entire apologetic. I reviewed it at Denver Journal.

Anonymous said...

When I was a junior in college in 1972, I majored in psychology (don't ask me why) and was bombarded by my professors who said I was "wasting" my intellect and gifts by going into ministry. They were mostly agnostics who would tolerate Christianity, but felt sorry for the poor souls who took it too seriously.

At one point in this journey, I was almost convinced to chuck it all and follow the counsel of these "wise" doctors. I took a week away from college, went to the woods, with my Bible and a copy of "The God Who Is There" and "He Is There & He Is Not Silent." Schaeffer helped me get my bearing again and I finished college and moved on to seminary. I am so very thankful for the print ministry of Francis Schaeffer.

Daniel said...

Regarding point 4: One shouldn't say that leaving Protestantism for the Orthodox church is a bad thing. We're all Christians and there are bigger fish to fry than "family squabbles" between sects.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...


Read Gordon Lewis's chapter on C. Van Til in Testing Christianity's Truth Claims.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post about one of my heroes. As a Junior High kid, I sat through a short class where they viewed "How Shall We Then Live?", and was profoundly affected by the teachings of the little man with the goatee and wierd pants. I attempt to follow his example in my nonconformist youth/student ministry in an otherwise traditionalist church.

Mr. Guthrie said...

What were Schaeffer's accomplishments? For one, he turned many seminarians from a humanistic approach to life to a truly biblical one. Two, he taught the Church as a whole to acquire a biblical world view. Three, he almost single-handedly jump-started the Protestant pro-life movement. In an age when Christian involvement in political issues is under attack within the Church itself, his writings are the best antedote to their arguements. What I have always wondered is why he has been overshadowed by C.S. Lewis? I have always thought that Schaeffer's accomplishments made him far more influential in the twentieth century.

Anonymous said...

Francis Schaeffer is one of my all-time favorite authors. He was also a great speaker. For those who wish to hear his words from beyond the grave, so to speak, you can access a sermon of his online at http://www.coralridge.org. Just go to the media library and do a search for Francis Schaeffer and you can hear his famous "Christian Manifesto" sermon he delivered at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in the early 80's right before he died. It is an immensely powerful and eloquent message. Similar to the book, but in many ways building upon it too.

Anonymous said...

Which work of his would your recommend to someone who hasn't read anything by him yet? I have heard of the "The God Who Is There" -- is this a good starting point for understanding his thought?