Francis Schaeffer (1912-84)
Francis A. Schaeffer was the mentor I never met. He was born on January 30, 1912, in Germantown, Pennsylvania. The best biography of this pastor, evangelist, apologist, theologian, and activist is by Colin Duriez, Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life. I will consider a few ways he influenced my life and contributed to the Christian world.
After converting in the summer of 1976, I was intellectually adrift. I knew Christ was real and that I must follow him. However, after a year of studying at the secular university and getting interested in philosophy, I had no theology of the mind or sense of apologetics. That changed in the fall of 1976 when I bought a copy of Schaeffer’s seminal book, The God Who is There, at the University of Oregon Bookstore. Schaeffer showed me that Christianity was not only true, but rational and that it applied to the whole intellectual and cultural life. He helped take away any intellectual fear of other philosophies or religions. Since then I have studied and written on all the major secular philosophies and non-Christian worldviews, often quoting Schaeffer along the way. (Look at the index to Christian Apologetics and see how many times he is mentioned.)
I proceeded to read all of Schaeffer’s books and to listen to as many of his tapes as I could. My intellectual world was also strengthened by reading Os Guinness (The Dust of Death and In Two Minds) who learned much from Schaeffer and ministered with him for several years at L’Abri, a study center in the Swiss Alps. I never went to L’Abri, since I saw it as a place for non-Christians to ask honest questions and receive honest answers. I was already a Christian.
Schaeffer was one-of-a-kind—a non-academic who understood apologetics and engaged the history of ideas with insight (if not perfection); a pastor who left his denomination to start a study-retreat center; a man of deep faith who had a profound crisis of faith fifteen years into his ministry; a man who loved the church, but challenged it. He never planned to write a book, and who did not publish his first book until he was fifty-six and then wrote about twenty more books until his death at age seventy-two. He could forcefully address the intellectual problems of unbelief, but was known for his kindness and tender heart. Os Guinness says Schaeffer was the best one-on-one evangelist-apologist he had ever seen.
It was Schaeffer and C. Everett Koop’s 1979 book, Whatever Happened to the Human Race? that awoken me to the evils of abortion and related issues, such as infanticide and euthanasia. I have been ardently pro-life ever since.
Schaeffer also highly valued the arts, not just to use as illustrations of the implications of non-Christian worldviews (something he did with brilliance), but as expressions of the uniqueness of human beings, made in God’s image and likeness. I often cite and use his little book, Art and the Bible in my classes at Denver Seminary. This book was pivotal for many young Christian artists in the 1970s, who found in it the encouragement to use their artistic gifts for the glory of God and the good of culture.
I could go on, but will close with a personal note. I have read The God Who is There more than any other book, with the exception of The Abolition of Man, by C. S. Lewis (which I teach often). It is not the best book I have ever read or the best written. However, it always encourages me in my philosophy of ministry and reminds me how to communicate truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) while doing apologetics and contributing to the cultural good in general.
There is nothing dated about the work of Francis Schaeffer. I commend his books to all of you. Here is a partial list.
Apologetics: The God Who is There, He is There and He is Not Silent, Escape from Reason, How Should We Then Live?
The church: The Church Before the Watching World, The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century, The Great Evangelical Disaster.
Spirituality: True Spirituality, The Mark of the Christian, The Finished Work of Christ.
Politics and Culture: Whatever Happened to the Human Race? A Christian Manifesto, Art and the Bible. Pollution and the Death of Man.
Bible: Genesis in Space and Time, Joshua and the Flow of Biblical History.