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Notable Christians: Francis Schaeffer

Oct 14, 2009

This pastor, apologist and writer had a profound impact on evangelicalism in the second half of the twentieth century, and his impact is still very much felt today. Although he has been dead now for a quarter of a century (he died in 1984), this great Christian continues to influence believers around the world.

Born in 1912, he studied under Cornelius Van Til and J. Gresham Machen at Westminster Theological Seminary. He became a Presbyterian pastor in the US. But his global impact took off when he went to Europe in 1948.

In Holland he met art historian Hans Rookmaaker, and was introduced to the thinking of Abraham Kuyper and Dutch neo-Calvinism. Thus the presuppositional apologetics and worldview thinking he learned at Westminster was further augmented in Europe.

Image of The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview (5 Volume Set)
The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview (5 Volume Set) by Francis A. Schaeffer Amazon logo

He and his wife Edith soon settled in Switzerland, and established a ministry which would influence millions of people. In 1955 they started L’Abri (French for ‘shelter’) in the Swiss Alps. There he taught Christian truths to anyone who would listen, and soon travellers worldwide were coming to the Swiss chalets to hear and learn and work.

This ministry became especially vital during the counterculture of the 60s. Westerners seeking truth and gurus in the East would often travel along the “hippy trail”. From London and Amsterdam, Western young people would travel through Europe to India, Nepal and other exotic locations hoping to find truth in the wisdom of the East.

As they often stopped at L’Abri along the way, they were exposed to the truth about Jesus Christ and biblical Christianity. The routine there was fairly simple. They could stay at the chalets, do some work during the day, and study and listen to lectures by Schaeffer, Rookmaaker, Os Guinness and others during evenings and weekends.

Edith Schaeffer especially developed a hospitality ministry (which she wrote up in Hidden Art and L’Abri). Sure, people would throw up on the carpets and cause other headaches for the Schaeffers, but they loved these young people and were intent on reaching them with the Gospel of Christ.

The evening lectures and debates were the highlight of life at L’Abri. Many young intellectuals and seekers were warmly yet forthrightly confronted with the logical contradictions of their own non-Christian thought systems, and the coherence and beauty of the Christian worldview. Many people were saved through this ministry, and countless others were strongly influenced by it.

The core of his thought appeared in his first three works: Escape from Reason (1968), The God Who is There (1968), and He is There and He is Not Silent (1972). This trilogy serves as the basis of all his other thought. In it he lays out the case for the biblical worldview, and offers penetrating critiques of non-Christian philosophies and worldviews.

His apologetic method was full-orbed, with many discussions of art, film, literature, culture, sociology, philosophy, theology and history along the way. He firmly believed that Christianity spoke to every area of life, and that believers must love God with their minds as well as the rest of their being.

He insisted that Christians develop a complete biblical worldview, and see how their faith impacts on all aspects of life. He said, “The basic problem of the Christians in this country in the last eighty years or so is that they have seen things in bits and pieces instead of totals.”

And his apologetics was not just about right thinking. He was a pastor, and he knew that right behaviour was also critical. This was a constant theme in his writings, especially in his The Mark of the Christian (1970) and True Spirituality (1971). He insisted that we not only defend the truthfulness of the Gospel, but that we live the truth of the Gospel as well.

As he said in his important 1976 volume How Should We Then Live?, “As Christians we are not only to know the right worldview, the worldview that tells us the truth of what is, but consciously to act upon that worldview so as to influence society in all its parts and facets across the whole spectrum of life, as much as we can.”

He was certainly no mere egghead. All his learning and brilliance was aimed only at one thing: to help people come to know Christ, and to make Christianity known as the sole answer to mankind’s problems. He engaged with all the important thinkers and philosophers of the day, not as a simple academic exercise, but so that he could effectively speak to them and their followers about the truth claims of Christianity.

Consider an illustration of his real heart on this: after delivering a learned lecture on a deep philosophical and apologetic topic, he said in the ensuing question time that he was ‘just a plain old evangelist’. The audience broke into laughter, trying to square this with his eloquent discourse. But deep down that was what Schaeffer was all about: an evangelist.

Schaeffer was greatly concerned that the church was just not doing its job in terms of having a holistic witness to the surrounding culture: “Our culture, society, government, and law are in the condition they are in, not because of a conspiracy, but because the church has forsaken its duty to be the salt of the culture.”

Thus he wrote books on a wide variety of themes, including Art and the Bible (1973), and Pollution and the Death of Man: The Christian View of Ecology (1970).  Toward the latter part of his career he made two important series of videos dealing with contemporary issues: How Should We Then Live? and Whatever Happened to the Human Race?

His concerns especially moved in the direction of the life issues, and he became an outspoken critic of the culture of death, taking a strong stand against abortion and euthanasia at a time when few other evangelicals were concerned about such matters.

Indeed, he became increasingly concerned about the state of evangelical Christianity, and how it had in so many ways simply followed the dead-end paths of the surrounding culture. His last book, The Great Evangelical Disaster, written the year he died (1984), was a clarion call for the church to rouse from its slumbers, and become a true beacon of hope, truth and light in a dark and broken world.

He was greatly concerned about the erosion of truth and the collapse of moral absolutes, and offered a genuine prophetic voice to a dying world. His works and influence were enormous, and he was one of the great Christian apologists and activists of last century.

No committed Christian should be ignorant of his life and work. For those who want to go further with Schaeffer, his twenty or so books can still be found, but a 5-volume Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer came out in 1985 and is still widely available. It is well worth getting if you don’t have his original volumes.

Also, helpful works about Schaeffer include:

Scott Burson and Jerry Walls, CS Lewis & Francis Schaeffer (IVP, 1998).
Colin Duriez, Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life (IVP, 2008).
Bryan Follis, Truth and Love: The Apologetics of Francis Schaeffer. (Crossway, 2006).
Barry Hankins, Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America. (Eerdmans, 2008).

Schaeffer was a prophetic voice, both to the non-Christian culture around him, and to the church as well. He took his faith seriously, and wanted all believers to engage with their culture in order to reach it for Christ and his Kingdom. We will all benefit greatly by reading – or re-reading – the works of this great Christian thinker, pastor, evangelist and apologist.

(All the books mentioned here can be obtained in Australia at Koorong Books.)

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31 Responses to Notable Christians: Francis Schaeffer

  • We need people like Francis Schaeffer nowadays, as the church does seem to be in a slumber. The likes of Andrew Bolt, although doing a good job, should not be so alone. The views of church leaders should be expressed loud, clearly and often.
    Lawrie Mcnamara

  • Quite right Lawrie.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks Bill.
    I have listened to a couple of Shaeffer’s apologetic talks, which are available here.

    http://bethinking.org/search/author/Francis%20Schaeffer

    Both talks, on Faith and Intellectual Proof, and on Possible Answers to Philosophic Questions, are worth the time.

    I think you’re right – he is a very important figure, and his concern for the “erosion of truth, and the collapse of moral absolutes” is particularly significant, especially because of the intellectual climate he worked in.

    Simon Kennedy, Victoria

  • Hi Lawrie,

    You make a good point. Is there anyone who could be said to have taken the baton from Schaeffer who is alive and active today?

    Such a person would have to be a Christian, have a thoroughly integrated Biblical world view, and have an apologetic ministry engaging with the political and philosophical issues of today.

    Can you think of any contenders Bill?

    Mansel Rogerson

  • Thanks Simon

    Thanks for the tip about the link. There would be thousands of hours of audio recordings of his many lectures, discussions and talks floating around. Presumably they would be available at various websites. In fact, I just did a quick search, and this would be a good place to start: http://www.labri.org/resources.html

    I used to order his audio tapes back in the 70s. I suppose I would have ordered them from L’Abri at the time.

    I heard Schaeffer speak in Chicago not long before his death. He had a huge impact on me, especially as a new Christian back in the early 70s. A friend introduced Schaeffer and C.S. Lewis to me, and I bought and read everything I could find by these two great Christians. Every believer should take a similar interest in these two remarkable apologists and thinkers.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks Mansel

    But modesty would require that I don’t take your bait! (And of course if that is not what you had in mind, then I am really embarrassed.)

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi Bill,

    I must admit I didn’t actually think of you, but you are right, your ministry does fit those criteria! Now I’m embarrassed for missing the obvious!
    What I was originally angling for was someone who is as internationally renowned as Schaeffer. But I see now that as it takes decades to achieve this renown, anyone not at the end of their ministry would be precluded.

    Mansel Rogerson

  • Thanks Mansel

    OK now I am the one who is quite embarrassed!

    But a number or worthy contenders come to mind, who are active in public Christian work, but are also concerned about the biblical worldview and apologetics. Charles Colson would be one, for example. Or Albert Mohler. Many others might be mentioned.

    And how far do you go? Many Christian who are mainly academics but who are also concerned about such things can be mentioned, whether Peter Kreeft, or Ravi Zacharias, or a host of others.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks Bill,

    It’s helpful to draw on your extensive reading to get an idea of some of the contemporary authors I should also take a look at if I ever get the time.

    Mansel Rogerson

  • Thanks heaps Bill and Simon for the links. What a treasure to be able to access great Christian minds like Schaeffer and others with such ease, particularly for someone like me who can’t sit still long enough to give a book the due it deserves at times.
    Anthony McGregor

  • My wife and I went to L’Abri in 1973 and had a great time. FAS was filming at that time, What Ever Happened To The Human Race?…and would pop in from time to time. I caught up with him at a couple of other conferences later on as well. A HUGE influence in my life.

    Scott Kroeger

  • I had the opportunity to hear Schaeffer lecture at the Vrije Universiteit/Free University in Amsterdam in 1978. Very scintillating and inspiring. Good article!
    Ronald Archer, USA

  • Thanks guys. While I only heard him speak once I think, when I was living in Europe I often went to the Dutch L’Abri, where we picked apples in the orchard during the day, had a nice meal, and then sat in on evening lectures and discussions. Those times offer fond memories for me. And my wife and I once made it to the Swiss L’Abri as well, which was quite special.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • The fact of the matter is that without his great mind and heart we would be ill-equipped to cope with the anti-Christian Tsunami that is about to break on us. He foresaw clearly what was going to happen and though at the time it all seemed far-fetched, it has all panned out exactly as he said it would. I am not sure we need more prophets; what we need now are christians who can mobilise us. We are at war.

    David Skinner, UK

  • I just again started to read CS Lewis “The problem of pain” – great writers and thinkers, I am in total agreement Bill. I think you introduced me to CS Lewis and his wealth and depth back at college all those years ago.

    While I used Schaeffer’s books at college back in 1997/98, I must profess I have had no money to invest in some of his books for my home library…will change that I think, as he seems to echo a lot of what I have been preaching in the past year. I look forward to reading some more. Thanks for the timely reminder Bill, as usual I can trust your comment.
    Blessings to you.

    Ashley Biermann

  • Many thanks indeed Ashley. I am glad to learn that my lecturing has had a bit of positive influence over the years. And I have already started my third article in the Notable Christians series – you guessed it: C. S. Lewis.
    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • After spending some time (too much) reading books by Brian McLaren and Steve Chalke and others of that ilk, I was so grateful to pick up and read once again the Trilogy by Francis A Schaeffer.
    Also delighted that my 18 year old daughter has discovered this brilliant thinker.
    Iain Duncan, UK

  • Bill the L’Abri resource Centre in NSW may still be a place to get dvd or tapes, but not all by Scaheffer. His son-in-law Ranald McAuley did an excellent series on the stuarts and cromwell. I have 15 books of Schaeffer’s including THE GREAT EVANGELICAL DISASTER and the excellnt collection of sermons NO SMALL PEOPLE.
    Wayne Pelling

  • Thanks Iain

    Yes I am with you on your preferred reading lists!

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks Wayne

    Yes, here is their Australian website: http://www.labri.org/australia/index.html

    And yes, No Little People is a great collection of 16 of his sermons.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Many thanks Bill, This is the address for those in the UK:

    L’Abri Fellowship
    The Manor House
    Greatham, Liss
    Hants GU33 6HF
    United Kingdom
    01420-538436

    David Skinner, UK

  • Thanks David

    And given that this is the Internet age, their website as well!: http://www.labri.org/england/index.html

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • David (Skinner) – Your words are sobering, but I don’t think unrealistic. But “war” can sometimes throw up some unexpected benefits – it will cause many nominal Christians (church leaders, and church denominations) to have to decide which side they are on. For us in the UK this has particular relevance of course, since secular-culture-compliant denominations and church leaders (you know who these are) will have to choose, then having chosen, actually do something. If they have chosen for Christ, this may mean suffering – did the Lord ever offer us/ask of us anything else?; if they thought He did, they will be in for a shock.
    John Thomas, UK

  • Dear Bill
    I bookmarked your site some time ago. You fill a niche and you fill it well. I just listened to a CD of your message in Perth on December 13, 09. “Where have all the prophets gone?”
    I liked your message. You quoted challenging writings by 20th Century heroes of faith and I found these sayings well chosen and inspiring. I am a prophetic writer/preacher/teacher and you encourage me. I liked your choice of prophetic people of the 20th Century: Tozer, Ravenhill, Schaeffer, David Wilkinson and Keith Green.
    BUT why did you not mention any CONTEMPORARY prophetic voices? Why did you not mention at least some of these: Rick Joyner, Bob Jones, Cindy Jacobs, Wendy Alec, Kathie Walters, Loren Cunningham, Bill Hamon, Chuck Pierce, John Mulinde or Kim Clement? If we also include people with a more Apostolic gifting, we could include Dutch Sheets, Heidi Baker, Bill Johnson, Reinhard Bonnke and Ed Silvoso. Sure, all of these are controversial, but all true prophets (as well as some false ones) have been controversial.

    If you don’t agree with my list, maybe you could suggest some other names. However, if you suggest that there are no contemporary prophetic ministries worthy to compare with the past legends you mentioned, then I think that might indicate that something is missing in your view of the church.
    It is easy to honour past heroes but it takes faith and discernment to identify true contemporary prophets. It also requires courage to publicly praise contemporary prophets because they are always controversial.
    This is not a small matter because it is through contemporary prophets that God speaks to His people NOW.
    God bless you from Bill Derham in Perth, Australia.

  • Thanks Bill

    But where in my talk did I say “there are no contemporary prophetic ministries”? Just because I listed a few does not mean I believe there are no others!

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Dear Bill
    I DID like your talk and I might have been too critical in my response. I have read Schaeffer but not some of the others. Francis Schaeffer wrote one of my most treasured books: ART and the BIBLE.
    Tozer is on my short list of must-reads. Thank you for replying so promptly and being gracious to publish my comment. As a matter of interest, which contemporary prophetic ministries do you like?
    I also find it interesting that your definition of PROPHETIC seems to be broader than that used by many Pentecostal, Charismatic or Third Wave people. I know many people appreciate your ministry but many of those who value your work might not necessarily call you a prophet.
    Rick Joyner is sometimes prophetic in the narrower sense of the word, reporting supernatural revelations. At other times he is more like an inspired thinker or spiritual philosopher. I think we need both. Is it stretching the boundaries of the prophetic too much to call CS Lewis prophetic? What about Martin Luther King?
    I was interested in what you said about Keith Green. Would you perhaps consider Larry Norman (I WISH WE’D ALL BEEN READY) and Robin Mark (Days of Elijah)? I have been meditating on the song DAYS OF ELIJAH and I have reached the conclusion that it may be one of the most significant prophetic messages from God in the last 15 years or so. It is sad that so many people just sing it but it doesn’t necessarily change the direction of the churches where it is sung.
    God bless you from
    Bill Derham

  • Thanks Bill

    I don’t really claim to be fully aware of all that is happening in the Christian world today, nor am I up on all the various prophetic-type ministries. My talk simply sought to give a few illustrations, not provide an exhaustive list. I am sure there are many other suitable candidates that could be mentioned.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Dear Bill
    There was a time when I might have argued and criticised you for what you don’t know or say but God has taught me something. We know in part and we prophesy in part and WE includes ALL of us. It would be mean spirited of me to criticise you for what you do not do when you are doing so much good. You challenge lukewarm Christianity and mindless belief. You challenge and interact with people ignored by so many Christians. You seriously study and write about contemporary culture in such a way that people way outside of Christianity want to talk to you, even if they do not agree with you. A wide range of people are drawn into dialogue, from Pentecostal revivalists to hard core homosexual humanists. Keep up the great work. You carry on some of the work pioneered by Francis Schaeffer and Os Guinness. In due season we will reap a harvest if we do not lose heart. I pray God’s riches blessing on you!
    Love in Jesus from Bill Derham in Perth Aus.

  • I’ve just read the discussion between Bill and Bill.
    My husband and I were there that day when you preached December 13, 2009 in Perth. The message title – “Where have all the prophets gone?” We know of not many, just a few really, but we were certain that day that our little list had just grown by one.

    Annette Nestor, Perth

  • It’s now Sept. 2018, but FS’s books are timeless, and I’m so happy to see you’ve reposted this on FB for a generation who may well know nothing of this great Christian teacher’s books. FS helped me to understand so many things. Prior to finding his works, I’d only been exposed to touchy-feely Christianity and had reached a point where that would not suffice. I needed roots that ran deep and steady. He, along with the Bible, provided them. True, his books initially made my brain sweat, but it was well worth it. Thank you for introducing him to the next generation. One day you’ll meet those who followed your advice to read his books, and you’ll see the fruition of your work. Never give up….

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