The very first book Schaeffer penned is worth revisiting:
I admit: my title is a bit misleading. Given that I have nearly 140 articles on this site that refer to, quote from, or are about Francis Schaeffer, I am not really introducing him to you here. Indeed, in my “Notable Christians” series I wrote an introductory piece about him back in 2009: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2009/10/14/notable-christians-francis-schaeffer/
But a few days ago I penned a piece looking at the last book he published before his death in 1984. In that article I said this:
Anyone who is familiar with his life and work knows that this volume very much followed in the same vein as his previous 21 books. It continued the basic themes he had always preached on and written about, which include: an infinite personal God exists; he has revealed himself to us; Scripture is his inspired and infallible word; we can come to this holy God based on the finished work of Christ; Christians are called to model the truth and beauty of God in our relations with others; and the church must refuse to compromise and accommodate with the surrounding culture. https://billmuehlenberg.com/2022/01/24/francis-schaeffer-and-warnings-ignored/
So here I want to briefly look at the very first book he wrote, Escape From Reason (IVP, 1968). While it deals with intellectual thought and history, literature and the arts, philosophy and science, it is really all about reaching modern man with the gospel.
And this was true of all his books, all his preaching and teaching, and all his life. Let me expand upon that: I used to order some of his teaching tapes from his L’Abri ministry in the Swiss Alps. At the chalets there many seekers would come and stay and hear lectures and have discussions.
I recall in one tape featuring a Q&A session, he was going into deep and heavy philosophy and apologetics, but then he said ‘I’m just a simple evangelist’ or words to that effect. The audience laughed at that, having just heard his learned and meaningful analyses of human thought and culture.
But that was who he was: his ultimate aim was to show the love and truth and beauty of God and the gospel to seeking men and women. He really cared about people. All this was not just head knowledge for him, or intellectual gamesmanship. He studied modern thought and culture deeply because he wanted to reach modern man.
So way back in his 1968 volume we see the core themes that always stayed with him, as he sought to present the Christian gospel to a broken and needy world. Here I just want to offer a few quotes from the book. In the Foreword he said this: “Every generation of Christians has this problem of learning how to speak meaningfully to its own age.”
That is what Schaeffer tried very carefully to do. Two further quotes which are much more lengthy will suffice as a way of showing something of the man and his thought. The first one appears early on in the book where he stresses the importance of seeing people the way God sees them.
Only the Christian view of man is able to help us to see who we really are, what our problem is, and what is the way out. And we must express biblical truths to others not just with our words but with our heart. Here is what Schaeffer says:
I was recently lecturing in Santa Barbara, and was introduced to a boy who had been on drugs. He had a good-looking, sensitive face, long curly hair, sandals on his feet and was wearing blue jeans. He came to hear my lecture and said, ‘This is brand new, I’ve never heard anything like this.’ So he was brought along the next afternoon, and I greeted him. He looked me in the eyes and said, ‘Sir, that was a beautiful greeting. Why did you greet me like that?’ I said, ‘Because I know who you are – I know you are made in the image of God.’ We then had a tremendous conversation. We cannot deal with people like human beings, we cannot deal with them on the high level of true humanity, unless we really know their origin – who they are. God tells man who he is. God tells us that He created man in His image. So man is something wonderful.
But God tells us something else about man – He tells us about the Fall. This introduces the other element which we need to know in order to understand man. Why is he so wonderful and yet so flawed? Who is man? Who am I? Why can man do these things that make man so unique, and yet why is man so horrible? Why is it?
The Bible says that you are wonderful because you are made in the image of God, but that you are flawed because at a space-time point of history man fell. The Reformation man knew that man was going to hell because of revolt against God. But the Reformation man and the people who, following the Reformation, built the culture of Northern Europe knew that, while man is morally guilty before the God who exists, he is not nothing. Modern man tends to think that he is nothing. These people knew that they were the very opposite of nothing because they knew that they were made in the image of God. Even though they were fallen, and, without the non-humanistic solution of Christ and his substitutionary death, would go to hell, this still did not mean that they were nothing. When the Word of God, the Bible, was listened to, the Reformation had tremendous results, both in people individually becoming Christians, and in general culture.
My second quote is found toward the end of the book. Schaeffer looks at the consequences of putting Christianity in a place divorced from the real world and real problems. He notes how the Christian faith must speak to every area of life. He writes:
Christianity has the opportunity, therefore, to speak clearly of the fact that its answer has the very thing that modern man has despaired of—the unity of thought. It provides a unified answer for the whole of life. It is true that man will have to renounce his rationalism, but then, on the basis of what can be discussed, he has the possibility of recovering his rationality. You may now see why I stressed so strongly, earlier, the difference between rationalism and rationality. Modern man has lost the latter. But he can have it again with a unified answer to life on the basis of what is open to verification and discussion.
Let Christians remember, then, that if we fall into the trap against which I have been warning, what we have done, amongst other things, is to put ourselves in the position where in reality we are only saying with evangelical words what the unbeliever is saying with his words. In order to confront modern man truly you must not have the dichotomy. You must have the Scriptures speaking true truth both about God himself and about the area where the Bible touches history and the cosmos. This is what our forefathers in the Reformation grasped so well.
On the side of infinity, as we saw before, we are separated from God entirely, but on the side of personality we are made in the image of God. So God can speak and tell us about Himself—not exhaustively, but truly. (We could not, after all, know anything exhaustively as finite creatures.) Then He has told us about things in the finite created realm, too. He has told us true things about the cosmos and history. Thus, we are not adrift.
But you cannot have this answer unless you hold to the Reformation view of the Scriptures. It is not a question of God revealing Himself in Jesus Christ only, because there is not enough content in this if it is separated from the Scriptures. It then becomes only another contentless banner, for all we know of what that revelation of Christ was comes from the Scriptures. Jesus himself did not make a distinction between His authority and the authority of the written Scriptures. He acted upon the unity of His authority and the content of the Scriptures.
There is a personal element involved in all this. Christ is Lord of all – over every aspect of life. It is no use saying He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the Lord of all things, if He is not the Lord of my whole unified intellectual life. I am false or confused if I sing about Christ’s Lordship and contrive to retain areas of my own life that are autonomous. This is true if it is my sexual life that is autonomous, but it is at least equally true if it is my intellectual life that is autonomous – or even my intellectual life in a highly selective area. Any autonomy is wrong.
It is possible that some of my readers may still not have heard of Francis Schaeffer – up until now. Well, then we can consider this to be an introductory piece. And this man and his ministry are well worth being aware. So many people became Christians because of being at L’Abri, or reading his books, or listening to his talks.
And so many believers were strengthened in their walk with the Lord, not just intellectually but spiritually as well. We all owe so much to this great Christ-follower.