An Introduction to Francis Schaeffer

Posted: September 20, 2011 in culture, evangelicalism, history, philosophy, schaeffer, secularism

Anyone involved with American evangelicalism for any stretch of time (especially within a more Reformed strand) has probably heard the name “Francis Schaeffer” thrown about at least once or twice.

If you’re one such person, but didn’t know who was being talked about, this post is for you.  I thought I might pass along a helpful article summarizing the life and impact of Schaeffer.  For a more detailed treatment, check out Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life.

Owen Strachan:

First things first: Schaeffer is unparalleled in evangelical history. There is no one who prefigures him and no one who now perfectly emulates him. Born in 1912, Schaeffer was raised in a Protestant home and came to faith in 1930. He studied and moved in fundamentalist circles in the 1930s and 40s and was influenced early on by famed controversialist Carl McIntire. Schaeffer moved to Europe in 1948 to conduct missionary work among children. Warming quickly to the physical beauty and intellectual spirit of Switzerland, Schaeffer and his wife, Edith, established L’Abri, a shelter-turned-community-turned-waystation, in 1955.

Through a variety of unusual encounters with spiritual pilgrims, Schaeffer soon earned a reputation as an evangelical guru, one to whom skeptics or struggling Christians could go for all-night conversation that led in many cases to personal transformation…

In the mid-50s, Schaeffer began venturing back across the pond to lecture in the United States at schools like Harvard, MIT, Wheaton, Calvin, and many more, electrifying his audiences even as he provoked them. His talks ranged over Western philosophy and theology and held his audiences spellbound. The apologist knew how not to over-conclude, to leave his hearers on the edge of a rhetorical precipice…

Hankins suggests that the two major tenets of Schaeffer’s speaking (and his broader program) were these: (1) Christianity is logically non-contradictory and (2) a system in which one can live consistently. Perhaps we could add a third: the living God reached out to a suffering world to offer it hope and salvation. Amid generous and wide-ranging engagement with major intellectual and cultural voices, Schaeffer propounded these themes in texts like He Is There and Is Not SilentThe God Who Is There, and Escape from Reason. His apologetic approach was presuppositional, but Schaeffer did not believe that this view abnegated understanding of and even affection for the non-Christian world. He practiced a rough-and-ready brand of cultural engagement but famously said that a Christian studies the world “with tears.” For Schaeffer, the intellectual life of the public Christian had intrinsic value even as it was, of necessity, missiological. One studied to understand, then set out to engage and persuade…

Schaeffer’s effect on evangelicalism, whether academic or popular, extends widely enough that it is difficult in the final analysis to quantify his influence. The number of pastors, scholars, missionaries, and other leaders affected by Francis Schaeffer number in the thousands, to be sure. Many of them frequent this site; some of them owe their love for theology and cultural engagement to Schaeffer, and others may credit their very salvation to him.


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