Sunday, April 06, 2008

Lessons from Francis A. Schaeffer (1912-1984)--updated and corrected

Having recently reread many of the works of Francis A. Schaeffer, I am compelled to list several lessons he can teach Bible-believing Christians (and others) today. Schaeffer was a pastor, prolific writer, prophetic generalist, apologist, and primarily an evangelist. That latter is how he typically described himself. Schaeffer inspired a generation of evangelicals--including me—to honor the Lordship of Christ over all of life and to reclaim the mind and culture for Kingdom causes.

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 seen 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. True Spirituality is the fruit of this crisis and renewal.

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. Schaeffer wrote of the primacy of love for the Christian life and mission in The Mark of the Christian.

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 his wife Edith 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?" 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. Schaeffer 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 Should 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.)

Therefore, let read and reread the works of Francis A. 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 please make time. Eliminate distractions and immerse yourself in these books.


Schaeffer wrote over twenty books from 1968 until his death in 1984. I recommend you procure The Complete Works, if possible. If not, here are some of his more noteworthy works to get you started:

1. The God Who is There. InterVarsity Press. Originally published in 1968, this apologetic masterpiece gave Christians a way to view culture and history that challenged them to speak historic Christianity into the modern world. The most recent edition is the 30th anniversary edition (1998), which I endorsed on the back cover.

2. He is There, He is Not Silent. Tyndale, 1972. This succinct, but profound volume argues that the Christian God is the best explanation for epistemology, morality, and the nature of the cosmos and human beings.

3. Christian Manifesto. Crossway, 1981. This is warning and a call to action in light of the decline of the Judeo-Christian perspective on law and culture. It was a key document in calling Christians to be informed activists.

4. The Mark of the Christian. InterVarsity. A compelling meditation on the meaning of Christian love as central for all Christian endeavors.

5. True Spirituality. Tyndale, 1972. Explains the basic of Christian living doctrinally and practically. These are truths that revived Schaeffer’s ministry after a burnout experience. A modern classic

6. How Should We Then Live? Fleming-Revell, 1976. A wide-ranging history and critique of Western civilization from a Christian viewpoint. A motivation for Christians to understand their history and to live accordingly under the Lordship of Christ.


Craig Fletcher said...

Great timing on this post, because just yesterday I recieved a "shipment" of three Schaeffer books, and have begun to read "The God Who is There," which I know is an endeavor long overdue.

Your post is motivating, I will make time to read these in a world where I so often seem to have much less time than I need to read.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this! I agree with Fletcher-- it is indeed motivating.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...


Come to my class! We had 24 people tonight. Not bad.

Ron said...

I agree, excellent timing! I'm in the middle of The God who is There right now and am finding it to be quite relevant, even to this post-modern culture. Plus with the none to flattering article on Christianity Today, this is a healthy reminder of the man Schaeffer really was.

Steve said...

It is good timing. Thanks. With the CT article and his sons new book, it is so good to read more people recomending Scaheffer. Thanks!


Corner Creature said...

As a (current) geezer who spent his 18th summer at L'Abri in Huemoz, I agree with the Constructive Curmudgeon's take on Schaeffer. First word is a good thumbnail analysis of Schaeffer's contributions. Too often people stopped with Schaeffer's analyses. The smart ones took advantage of Schaeffer's widely ranging engagement of culture to do further more specialized work.

Too bad that it now seems "chic" to be condescending towards Fran & Edith. Would that I could be as faithful, generous and loving as they!

Anonymous said...

This is from a book about Schaeffer and C.S. Lewis. I've always been moved by this little anecdote:

Jerry Jenkins, former editor of Moody Magazine, tells of a time when he heard Francis Schaeffer speak in Chicago. He fielded questions from an audience of more than 4000. One gentleman began a question in a halting, nearly incoherent growl. Clearly he suffered from cerebral palsy. Schaeffer pressed his eyes firmly shut and listened intently as the questioner offered a lengthy, garbled inquiry. Jenkins admits to grasping only a quarter of the question, but Schaeffer discerned all but the final three words, which the man reiterated. Schaeffer responded, “Forgive me…the last word again, please.” With the full question grasped, Schaeffer verbalized a summary and responded with the time and dignity he had accorded all the other questions. The same man followed up with another tedious question, Schaeffer repeated the process, being sure he understood every word and answered fully. While many in the audience were frustrated by this, Schaeffer displayed remarkable patience and compassion—vintage Francis Schaeffer, the pastor.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...


I have read this before. Thank God for that man's example of love.

Jonathan said...

I'm currently working my way through Schaeffer's 'The God Who Is There' and 'Escape From Reason' for a YWAM course. I'm hit by how timely these books still are, and how much we still have to learn. The more I learn about Schaeffer the more I am impressed by a consistent man full of love and with a great depth of character.

Jeff Burton said...

Jeram Barrs' fantastic seminary lectures on the life and work of the Schaeffers are available online. If you have a spare thirty or forty hours, it is well worth the investment. here and here.

Donna Chua said...

Thanks for this helpful summary. I find myself strangely energized and inspired whenever I hear about Francis Schaeffer, perhaps because he seems so... real. I have just ordered some Schaeffer books and will definitely read them as soon as possible!

Thanks again!