Francis Schaeffer and Revolutionary Christians
The genuine Christian will be seen as a radical:
Back in my wild youth I was a revolutionary, as were many of my contemporaries. Steeped in the writings of Marx and others, we believed we needed to be revolutionaries in order to bring about a more humane future. We had to tear down the existing society in order to make a better, fairer and more equal one.
Of course based as we were on sinking sand – and ignorant of the actual history of Marxism and its dismal track record – we were doomed to failure from the start. Paradise would NOT be brought in via violent revolution. Indeed, a Marxist paradise has never come about anywhere on planet earth.
And then during the height of the radical counter culture and the New Left rage, I became a Christian in 1971. I soon realised that seeking to be a revolutionary – as in leftist political revolt – was just not an option for a Christian. But as time went on I learned that the true Christian always will be a revolutionary.
I have been writing a lot of late about how Christians are the real rebels, the real resistance fighters, and the real revolutionaries. That is because this world is NOT our home, and its values and principles and beliefs and goals are not those of the believer. So of necessity we will always find ourselves to be at odds with the culture around us.
See this recent piece for example on the need to join the resistance: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2022/05/28/are-you-a-rebel/
Here I want to speak a bit more about being a Christian revolutionary. And I do it in part because of some recent exchanges found online. A bit of a debate has been happening on the social media concerning a post by Tim Keller, and the replies of others, including Robert Gagnon.
This led me to go back and find the quote being discussed. The tweet that Keller had put up was this: “One of the greatest injustices we do to our young people is to ask them to be conservative. Christianity is not conservative, but revolutionary. — Francis Schaeffer”.
The actual quote comes from Schaeffer’s The Church at the End of the 20th Century (p. 81), and is only slightly different: “One of the greatest injustices we do to our young people is to ask them to be conservative. Christianity today is not conservative, but revolutionary.”
The one word Keller left out was “today”. And that is important as we seek to understand what Schaeffer was trying to say. As to the online debate, it had to do with whether we should regard Schaeffer as a conservative or not, since he here seems to want nothing to do with conservatism. But several things need to be said.
First, bear in mind that this book was penned in 1970 when the counterculture and the hippy movement were in full swing. If we read the rest of the quote we will find that Schaeffer was saying that Christians in the present Western climate are the true revolutionaries. They are not of the radical left, but neither are they of a sleepy, establishment middle-class cultural Christianity. He went on to say this in his book:
“To be conservative today is to miss the whole point, for conservatism means standing in the flow of the status quo, and the status quo no longer belongs to us. Today we are an absolute minority. If we want to be fair, we must teach the young to be revolutionaries, revolutionaries against the status quo.”
And he goes on to speak of this very comfortable cultural Christianity which in so many ways had become the norm in America. That was the sort of Christianity he wanted nothing to do with: a soft and safe Christianity which never dirtied its hands and never took a stand when needed.
He contrasts this with his own ministry in Switzerland: L’Abri. He speaks of how kids from evangelical homes in America were looking for something more, and they could find it at L’Abri. And many non-Christians, hippies and religious seekers were also trying to find the answers to life.
There they could come bare foot, in blue jeans, with long hair, and ask hard questions and experience genuine Christian community in action. The Swiss chalets allowed these seekers to come and find answers to their deepest questions, even while not exactly treating the place with respect. Says Schaeffer:
In about the first three years of L’Abri all our wedding presents were wiped out. Our sheets were torn. Holes were burned in our rugs. Indeed once a whole curtain almost burned up from somebody smoking in our living room. Blacks came to our table. Orientals came to our table. Everybody came to our table. It couldn’t happen any other way. Drugs came to our place. People vomited in our rooms, in the rooms of Chalet Les Melezes which was our home, and now in the rest of the chalets of L’Abri.
How many times has this happened to you? You see, you don’t need a big program. You don’t have to convince your session or board. All you have to do is open your home and begin. And there is no place in God’s world where there are no people who will come and share a home as long as it is a real home.
This was the contrast that he was making when he said young people do not need conservatism. The American middle-class suburban lifestyle so often did NOT exhibit what biblical Christianity was all about. That is why so many young people travelled to Switzerland to see what Schaeffer and his community were all about. So yes, in that sense, Schaeffer was not a conservative. In that sense he certainly did oppose the status quo.
That anaemic and lifeless religion was the sort of Establishment that he rejected, It was in that sense that the church was wrong to equate Christianity with the Establishment, and how church and nation should not be equated: “There are not two equal loyalties – Caesar a second to God. It must be preached and taught in sermons, Sunday school classes and young people’s groups.”
To be against the world’s system – even a comfortable church that has bought into the world’s system – that is the kind of rebellion Schaeffer expected of true believers. And that has always been the hallmark of genuine disciples of Christ. They have always been against the world while seeking to reach the world.
Schaeffer was certainly no leftist. That he was theologically conservative is so very obvious that I need not belabour that point. But on most social and cultural matters, he was also quite conservative, being strongly prolife and being opposed to the various radical sexual agendas, and so on. At the very least, we can call him a cultural conservative.
But if the heart of political conservatism is an emphasis on limited government, and concern about the ever-expanding State, then we can safely say that Schaeffer was also a political conservative. One quote from an article by R. C. Sproul which I have often shared can be again mentioned here:
“A number of years ago I shared a taxi with Francis Schaeffer in St. Louis. During our cab ride I asked Dr. Schaeffer: ‘What is your greatest concern for the future of America?’ Without hesitation or interval given to ponder the question, Schaeffer replied simply, ‘Statism’.”
Of course whether he was a card-carrying member of the Republican party I have no idea. One can have conservative principles and values while being critical of all sorts of things – including conservative political parties. Again, the point of the book we have been referring to – and his other books – is clear: Christians are called to be counter-cultural. Christians are the real revolutionaries.
In that sense I am happy to say that I am a rebel. I am happy to say that I am a Christian revolutionary – a radical for Jesus. We all should be – in the proper understanding of that concept. Schaeffer certainly was. We too need to offer the world a clear alternative.
And sometime that will mean we need to offer people a clear alternative to much of what we find in our comfortable, safe and rather antiseptic Western Christianity.
16 Replies to “Francis Schaeffer and Revolutionary Christians”
Thanks Bill for sharing some of the inside story of Francis Shaffeur’s outreach at L’Abri. As a young traveller and seeker I set out for Calcutta in 1972, thinking The East had all the answers but after 2 months I was ‘born again’ – I found the answers were in the Bible and in Christ. I wondered after that why I missed the message of how to be be born again back in Melbourne. I had been to a church as a child and youth but missed the truth of the Bible and Christ’s invitation and searched through yoga, then Buddhism, then Krishnamurti to find truth. God allowed me to go to India to seek answers and to meet a very keen street evangelist who asked why I was in India and if I had read the Bible.
I asked myself after, why did I need to go all that way to be challenged to read the word of God and to be born again?
I think the answer was that by the 1970’s the Eastern thought had permeated our culture so deeply with swamis and Gurus, so much that we in that generation in Australia were very gullible and wanting ‘peace and harmony’ with the universe and freedom. Somehow the Eastern thought offered peace within (by meditating and becoming enlightened) and a new way to become ‘God conscious and finally enlightened.’
At the same time Communism had come in a decade earlier and permeated the society with throughs of ‘rebellion’ against all authority and a sub culture was taught to question all those institutions and to rebel against them if they were middle class (I was an Arts student at Monash Uni at that time and very much caught up in the quest to find truth, genuine love and freedom and to rebel against anything that was ‘stayed’ or middle class. My history lecturer and tutor were openly communist so I was under their influence as well. On top of that I was studying French and Russian history and the revolutions against the ‘Bourgeoise’ middle class in France and the Russian emperor system.
I came out of all that as an existentialist who didn’t believe in any god and wondered if the final solution was suicide (as Sartre and Camus hinted at in ‘The Outsider’ and other books – since life meant nothing).
Five years on, the fact I found meaning to life in the Bible and Christ’s death on the cross and believed in His death atoned for my sins; and believed in His mighty resurrection. It was a sheer miracle, not only because God opened my spiritual eyes through His word, but also because I had by then imbibed many false thought systems
I returned to The West and had a real sense of culture shock. I wondered why no one seemed as ardent as the Indian Christians and teachers I met during the 15 months I spent in India, and while living with 20 Indian students at Bible college in Bangalore.
It was only when I met those later on like John Smith who began ‘Gods squad’ to reach bikies and the u ones who would never step through a church door), and read Francis Shaffeur’s books (e.g. How shall we then live?’) , and heard of those like Kurt Koch addressing the occult issues the church needed to face, that I realised that there was a counter culture emerging in the Western church that was trying to reach out tot he ones who had questions and the ones who came from broken homes and were trying the hippie road and or marihuana, or even communism.
The Charismatic movement came soon after and much of that was refreshing but there was with that, some imitations of the Holy Spirit’s work, that didn’t bring people full truth and was merged in part with New Age beliefs and the spirit world, so we stepped into another era.
As I look back on that era and what has occurred in-between, there has been a torrent of beliefs merging with the Christian beliefs and often, as I see it, a tolerance of New Age beliefs in the church. This has gone on under the radar as its so much a part of our culture now that yoga and meditation is in most schools, and used by psychologists and counsellors as ‘the answer to find inner peace.’ While that has occurred there has been a subtle acceptance of reincarnation even within the church culture and the false belief of ‘universalism’ has come in with it, falsely assuring people that all go to heaven in the end.
In looking at those trends and how its impacted the church, as well as materialism, I think we have still a real need to ‘cull out’ the eastern cultural aspects that have crept into churches unawares. The gradual neglect of the whole counsel of God being declared, means that people forget there is a God we are accountable to, that we only have one life then comes the judgement (Romans 6) and that Jesus alone is The way, the truth and the Life (John 14.6) and none come to the father but by Him…
The result can be a lulling to sleep of the church, if we don’t hear enough about the Book of Revelation and End times plan God has, or if we don’t hear more about heaven and hell we wont understand how to fear God in His state of pure His Holiness, nor shall we revere Him and His word, unless we are reminded what we have been delivered from and by whom.
I am not sure what can be done but perhaps pray strongholds of false teaching are brought down in schools, homes and the church and institutions; perhaps some overt teaching on the dangers of eastern thought including yoga, mediation involving eastern thought cleansing, (since we can’t cleanse out thoughts we need the word of God in us and the Holy Spirit empower us), expose the wrong belief in reincarnation and the false concepts of ‘peace within’ (since only Jesus Christ gives us true peace which is ‘not of this world’ and ‘that passes understanding.’) if there is a cleansing of these errors and misunderstandings about the gospel, then there will be room for the full counsel of God which will include repentance, baptism, the cost of discipleship, traditional marriage, and how to use the word of God as a two edged sword in prayer and through the word, as a weapon against evil and to expose Satan and his footholds.
Overall this is a way to combat the false teachings that rage around us, any materialism that have come into our lives, or to expose the lure of of the woke culture (to help youth)…then we will have radical Christianity and living faith at work, which is what Francis Shaffeur and John Smith and other pastors felt called to.
In many ways they were ahead of their time and breaking through in new wineskins. They realised the old wineskins had burst and many people were not being reached effectively. They were moved by God and saw that the new wine was needed, thus allowing the Holy Spirit to do His work in them.
That may well be our call too.
Many thanks Gail.
Spot on. How radical are We? #thechristianradical
Dear Bill and readers, regards to you all. Here’s to the rebels, the first of which was the one and only Lord Jesus Christ. It is ideological warfare right now. Need to know where you stand, politically conservative or otherwise doesn’t cut it. As I understand it, to conserve is to preserve but if what was, was no good, why preserve it? Everything will be tested.
Statism – how rightly prophetic he was!
And the Covid “pandemic” has demonstrated just how much we have accepted the principles of Statism. How many Victorians, Australians, Westerners have accepted the massive impositions of unelected bureaucrats attempting to do the impossible – eradicate a virus?
Quite right John.
Great article Bill. I recently read L’Abri and I long for the hippy days when young people were on a quest for truth… I was saved in 69, by 71 I was a member of the Children of God which were The Book of Acts Church of the day…there I remained for many, many years as the organisation went off the rails. We need another outpouring like the Jesus Revolution around the globe, hopefully we don’t have enough time before The End to go “off the rails” God help us all!
Lord pour out Your Spirit upon all flesh, send labourers into the harvest Oh Lord of the harvest..let Your sheep hear Your Voice and follow You….as Christian soldiers “marching as to war…with the Cross of Jesus going on before”, Lord help us keep our hand on the plough and never look back in Jesus Name Amen.
My father Francis Schaeffer would weep to have his name connected to the so called christian conservatives or to Donald Trump who the marvellous Jan6 committee show his guilt. He is a traitor. What careful work they have done, uncovering the True Truth of Jan6. May God have mercy on the many who have tied God’s name to a lawless lie.
Thanks Deborah. But given that I nowhere said a word about Trump here, let alone Jan. 6, your comment is rather bizarre – even more of a rant. I simply quoted Schaeffer and made it clear that he did not want us to just be a part of the comfortable Establishment. Those who have actually read it carefully will see that my main point was that Christians are called to be counter-culturalists. But he was clearly no card-carrying leftist. Whether some of his children today are however was not the point of my article.
Thanks Bill, I hadn’t realized that it is best to be a God fearing revolutionary than a comfortable conservative.
One example that I’ve had playing in my head as a good idea or revolutionary is Riccardo Bosi’s strategy of a 2% expenditure tax only. As the leader of the Australia One Party if he gets into power one day, he wants to do away with all taxes like income tax, GST, fringe benefit, etc and bring in a 2% expenditure tax for each non-cash transaction as a banker has worked out that the govt’s expenditure is greater than the revenue (especially during covid) but if you just put a 2% tax on groceries, fuel and products/services we buy/use everyday etc the number of the transactions and their value at 2%tax will bring in more revenue for the govt than the taxes we have now. There may be some fine tuning on this such as Australia would have to stop giving money to agendas its signed up to overseas so we get our sovereignty back plus our currency may have to be backed by gold and silver but at least its a way of saving our country by letting more people keep their money so that wives don’t have to go to work anymore but can raise their children as in the old days.
Thanks Lynette. Yes, we are to be radicals for Jesus. As to the best way forward regarding things like fiscal policy and related matters, there can be some room to move. Some policies might be better than others.
Bill, I think you honored the memory of Francis Schaeffer and showed in your article what a complete radical he was…the quotes from his book showed what he and his wife took on when they opened their door to all people- hippies, seekers, those addicted or those who might misuse the premises.
I think he was a wonderful man and listened to God and lived out his faith in a very radical way.
You showed that in your article too- it was very inspirational. I was challenged by it and wondered how many people today would open their doors in that way- now that the world is so much more violent and uncertain, it would take a great move of God to do this and act by faith.
Thank you for sharing the way he acted in such a radical manner and the way he challenged the conservative church to step outside of the mold and be there for the seekers of truth, or the curious or the confused.
By naming his house L’Abri, he offered a shelter from the world system and the world’s ways…I understand back then the word meant ‘shelter’. I now look back at L’Abri as a shelter from the materialistic and disillusionment of the 19760-70’s which has created a storm of New age and Eastern knowledge and the hippie freedom era (as a reaction to the post WW2 era)
When Francis Schaeffer asked the question and wrote the book ‘How shall we then live?’ he also demonstrated the answer, in a unique and telling way!
Jesus Christ or Lord and master, and His Lord, was the One he sort to follow, which made him a faith revolutionary in that decade and thereafter.
The saddest fallout of Labri is that of Frank Schaeffer, Francis’ son. He is not a Happy camper. I would think you are aware of Frank’s stand these days.
Thanks John. Yes I am aware, and I discuss him here:
Appreciate that you insist on writing about Schaeffer – he is obviously still relevant in 2022
Unfortunately, Nordiska L’Abri does not exist, ceased to exist about 8-10 years ago…
RÖ – Sweden
Thanks for that Rolf.