Francis Schaeffer and Abortion

There is no question about it: Francis Schaeffer was a prophet. Clear indicators of being a prophet of God include the following traits:
-speaking boldly and uncompromisingly about biblical truth;
-going against the grain and challenging convention;
-speaking truths well ahead of the time, and leading the people of God to where they must be;
-proclaiming unpleasant but necessary truths, etc.

Francis Schaeffer did all this and more. He had such a vitally important ministry, and millions have been impacted by him, including myself. Such an important figure as this deserves all the promotion and endorsement that we can give him. Indeed, I wrote about him in more detail earlier:

In many of his books, talks, lectures and articles he hammered home the need for believers to stand strong and loud for the unborn. Many in the evangelical world were simply sleeping through the abortion holocaust, which was especially unleashed with the 1973 Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision.

Here I just want to summarise some of his many words on the issue of abortion. Let me begin with his very important 1981 volume, A Christian Manifesto. In his chapter on “Revival, Revolution, and Reform” he begins this way: “As we turn to the evangelical leadership of this country in the last decades, unhappily, we must come to the conclusion that often it has not been much help. It has shown the mark of the platonic, overly spiritualized Christianity. Spirituality to the evangelical leadership often has not included the Lordship of Christ over the whole spectrum of life.”

He looks at how previous leadership did indeed get involved in the pressing battles of the day. For example, the revivals of Wesley and Whitefield impacted the whole nation, not just the spiritual landscape. The work of Wilberforce and Shaftesbury was not just about saving souls, but transforming society.

“Our evangelical leadership seems to have forgotten its heritage” he says. “Many of the evangelical leadership either were totally silent about abortion, or qualified what they did say about abortion to such an extent that they really said nothing, or less than nothing, as far as the battle for human life was concerned.”

He goes on to write: “We must understand that the question of the dignity of human life is not something on the periphery of Judeo-Christian thinking, but almost in the center of it (though not the center because the center is the existence of God Himself). But the dignity of human life is unbreakably linked to the existence of the personal-infinite God.”

And of course he rightly argued that abortion was just one part of the bigger battle we have with secular humanism: “Certainly every Christian ought to be praying and working to nullify the abominable abortion law. But as we work and pray, we should have in mind not only this important issue as though it stood alone. Rather, we should be struggling and praying that this whole other total entity – the material-energy chance worldview – can be rolled back with all its results across all of life.”

In his earlier 1976 volume, How Should We Then Live (and the 10-part film series that went with it), he looked at the 1973 ruling in some detail. He talked about the decline of absolutes in American law, and how this decision was completely arbitrary. First, it was medically arbitrary, denying the clear understanding of biology and science.

Second, it was legally arbitrary, “disregarding the intent of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution.” And third, it was at “complete variance with the past Christian consensus. In the pagan Roman Empire, abortion was freely practiced, but Christians took a stand against it. In 314 the Council of Ancyra barred from the taking of the Lord’s Supper for ten years all who procured abortions or made drugs to further abortions.”

If this arbitrary law is accepted by “most modern people, bred with the concept of no absolutes but rather relativity, why wouldn’t arbitrary absolutes in regard to such matters as authoritarian limitations on freedom be equally accepted as long as they were thought to be sociologically helpful? We are left to sociological law without any certainty of limitation.”

Yes he certainly got that right. It was a prophetic insight into where things would lead, and we have certainly arrived, with euthanasia legalised in various places, and academics arguing for the acceptability of infanticide. Indeed, he made the warning quite clear back then: “The door is open. In regard to the fetus, the courts have arbitrarily separated ‘aliveness’ from ‘personhood,’ and if this is so, why not arbitrarily do the same with the aged? So the steps move along, and euthanasia may well become increasingly acceptable.”

In 1979 his book and film series, Whatever Happened to the Human Race?, co-authored with C. Everett Koop, appeared. It looked at the issues of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia, and sounded a clear alarm for evangelicals to wake up to their social responsibilities. It also argued that abortion rights logically lead to euthanasia and infanticide rights.

In The Great Evangelical Disaster written in 1984 he continues these themes. As he had done elsewhere, he warned about the dangers of accommodation. He said “we must ask where we as evangelicals have been in the battle for truth and morality in our culture. Have we as evangelicals been on the front lines contending for the faith and confronting the moral breakdown over the last forty to sixty years?

Have we been aware that there is a battle going on – not just a heavenly battle, but a life-and-death struggle over what will happen to men and women and children in both this life and the next? . . .Truth demands confrontation. It must be loving confrontation, but there must be confrontation nonetheless.

“Sadly we must say that this has seldom happened. Most of the evangelical world has not been active in the battle, or even been able to see that we are in a battle. And when it comes to the issues of the day the evangelical world most often has said nothing; or worse has said nothing different from what the world would say.

“Here is the great evangelical disaster – the failure of the evangelical world to stand for truth as truth. There is only one word for this – namely accommodation: the evangelical church has accommodated to the world spirit of the age.”

Quite so. And he was fully aware that to win some of these battles we will need to get out of our evangelical ghettoes and start working together with others wherever possible. Some of these battles are just too big and too important to simply lose by default because we are so concerned about our ecclesiastical or theological purity.

Thus Schaeffer saw no problem whatsoever in working with, say, Catholics on the abortion issue, even though he of course had theological differences with them. As he told two British journalists, “I have two words which I would recommend to anybody . . . and they are ‘ally’ and ‘co-belligerent.’ An ally is a person who is a born-again Christian with whom I can go a long way down the road . . . now I don’t say to the very end, because I’m a Presbyterian and I might not be able to form a church with a strong Baptist . . . but we can go a long way down the road – and that’s an ally.

“A co-belligerent is a person who may not have any sufficient basis for taking the right position but takes the right position on a single issue. And I can join with him without any danger as long as I realize that he is not an ally and all we’re talking about is a single issue.”

Those who find this to be a radical, novel, or alarming concept are urged to look here where I develop this concept in much more detail:

Perhaps more than any other individual Schaeffer helped to put the abortion issue (and its wider implications) on the map of the evangelical world. He stirred a generation of believers to see their faith must extend beyond pietism and privatism into other areas where it really matters.

In closing, I repeat part of the quote I cited above: “We must understand that the question of the dignity of human life is not something on the periphery of Judeo-Christian thinking”. He understood that 35 years ago. Do we?

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8 Replies to “Francis Schaeffer and Abortion”

  1. Having studied under Francis Schaeffer at L’Abri in 1974 I endorse your remarks completely.
    His teaching has influenced the evangelical world as well my wife & I.
    We have been involved in many areas such as education, media and government. I doubt if we would have participated in many of these areas over the last 38 years, if it were not for Schaeffer’s teaching on the false dichotomy we Christians seem to happily coexist with in this world!
    Graham McLennan

  2. Thanks also Bill for this. I still have Schaeffer’s HOW THEN SHOULD WE LIVE and WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE HUMAN RACE, as part of my library, and in my briefcase I have NO LITTLE PEOPLE. What comes out of all of these books and what has influenced me is summed up in one phrase that the modern world is about “personal peace and affluence and the non compassionate use of wealth”, and that Christians are to be the very opposite as they walk and trust in the Risen Lord.
    Wayne Pelling

  3. I was still a searching agnostic back when Francis Schaeffer put out a 10 part television series on “How Then Should We Live” (and I had never heard of him, back then, either). Luckily, today, we can still order this wonderful series in DVD, and/or watch it online in various venues. We can see that nothing is new under the sun (Ecc. 1:9), with economic and societal collapse in motion, today…with the “barbarians waiting at the gate”.

    Monica Craver

  4. Hi Bill,
    I’m planning to do a unit on Bioethics for Philosophy at UWA next semester. Could you recommend a book or two on abortion and euthanasia that I could read during my holidays to help me prepare for it?
    Liam Dekker

  5. Thanks Liam

    I would say my new book, but it is not out yet – maybe early next year however. My recommended reading on abortion is here:

    See especially Alcorn and Beckwith. For euthanasia see this:

    See especially Eareckson Tada, Ling or Pitcher. For bioethics see here:

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  6. Thanks Bill. I’ll get started!
    I look forward to reading your book as well.
    Liam Dekker

  7. I am by no means an educated person by world standards but I know with certainty that abortion is human sacrifice and when its implemented by those in charge its all down hill from that point. Rejection of Jesus Christ is on you personally. To accept the abortion holocaust is the second worst decision you can make because it can damn society as a whole. All the conflict, obstruction, civil unrest and current rebellion spin off of the offence and violation of Gods Word. Nuff said.

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