Francis Schaeffer, An Authentic Life, by Colin Duriez ★★★★
I haven’t thought much about Francis Schaeffer recently, but realized through conversations with younger Christians that Francis Schaeffer is no longer a recognizable name. This is to the shame of the church that he and his thinking aren’t occasionally brought back to mind. For many of us that became Christians in the 60’s and 70’s, especially during the era of the Jesus movement, he was quite influential at shaping our thinking and world view. I have read or listened to other biographies of Francis Schaeffer and his work, including the Tapestry and L’Abri, written by Edith Schaeffer, listened to the Covenant Seminary course on Francis Schaeffer, by Jerram Barrs, and have met and spoke at length with Edith Schaeffer and Francis’ son-in-law Udo Middelman, have read his complete works at least twice and watched both of his film series several times, but have never met Francis Schaeffer personally. I also have many friends who have spent time at L’Abri, all of whom would say that their contact with Dr. Schaeffer was heavily influential at affecting the remainder of their life course. My own pastor had spent many hours as a child with Francis, being that his father was president of Covenant Seminary. With that in mind, I review this book.
Colin Duriez, who has spent a number of years at L’Abri and much time with the Schaeffers, is a most capable person to be writing Schaeffer’s biography, and can include personal anecdotes, as well as the result of an interview with Schaeffer toward the end of Schaeffer’s life, in 1980, and this interview is contained in the appendix of the book. The biography is short, and thus is going to be missing in some important details. Specifically, other biographies suggest that Schaeffer was more of a churchman than is presented in this book. He was quite involved up to the end with his Presbyterian denomination, which eventually became the Presbyterian Church in America. His books such as The Church before the Watching World and others witness Schaeffer’s true concern for the Christian church as found in denominations, even though Schaeffer felt as much at home in a Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Orthodox or Pentecostal church as he did in his native Presbyterian church environment. Duriez speaks often and peripherally about Schaeffer’s philosophy, yet doesn’t develop it systematically. True, Schaeffer would identify himself as an eclectic mix of evidentialist, presuppositionalist, etc., and yet there is meaning to Schaeffer’s madness over and above trying to create a philosophy that was primarily evangelical in it’s intent. Words and thinkers (like Dooyeweerd) are thrown out without offering the reader at least some explanation as to why these people are being mentioned in the context of Schaeffer’s life. I loved the story of Schaeffer visiting Karl Barth, and wish that could have been further elaborated.
Duriez mentions frequently Schaeffer’s love for art museums, with an affection for modern art. Schaeffer appreciated some of the contemporary filmography, but tended to be highly selective in what he considered worthy of review. Duriez also mentions Schaeffer’s love for contemporary rock music, and knowing the words to many songs for the big rock groups of the 60’s and 70’s. Oddly, Schaeffer had a particular distaste for much music such as that of Wagner, and many 20th century musicians. Schaeffer rarely ever mentions Bach’s music as formative of a broader Reformed Christian community. This selection of particular appreciation for the arts has permeated Schaeffer’s disciples, almost to the point that they view Schaeffer as their cultural pope. I find that to be a touch disingenuous.
Outside of my criticisms, the book was an enjoyable read. Schaeffer is sadly being forgotten by the Christian world, and it is to our detriment. Nobody within Christianity has yet risen that was as capable as Schaeffer at providing both a philosophical justification for Christianity while demonstrating the need for Christians to be obedient to the word of God. His was not an ethereal philosophy, but very practical, since it emphasized the need to never divorce religion from experience or history.
Francis Schaeffer, A Mind and Heart for God, edited by Bruce Little ★★★★
This short book was taken from a conference given in 2008 in Wake Forest, NC, which included five talks. I’ll briefly mention each talk.
Francis A. Schaeffer: The Man, by Udo Middelmann. This is a very brief but delightful summary of the life and thinking of Schaeffer.
Francis A. Schaeffer: His Apologetics, by Jerram Barrs. Jerram surveys the apologetic methodology of Schaeffer, concluding that Schaeffer was most interested in evangelism, and never ever thought of himself as an apologist for the faith. Thus, Schaeffer avoided debates, and avoided fixing himself within any apologetic category.
Francis Schaeffer in the Twenty-first Century, by Ronald Macaulay. This talk addresses the question as to whether Schaeffer was a prophet in foreseeing future troubles in the world. Schaeffer would have vigorously denied being a prophet, yet his cultural predictions have essentially become true. Schaeffer was particularly sensitive to a culture that advocated freedom without a Christian basis for it, or a Christian church based on religious sentiment rather than a dynamic belief in the word of God. Macaulay hits hard on Schaeffer’s war against contemporary pietism, which I appreciated. This was a delightful chapter to read, but am left wondering what Schaeffer would have been saying in today’s world. It is different than 50 years ago, in that, now that truth is universally accepted as unknowable, people no longer ask questions. The solution to any crisis in life is now resolved not by seeking philosophical consistency, but by seeking a hedonistic resolution for the moment without concern for future consequences. I would wonder regarding Schaeffer’s approach to the current political scene, now in a truly post-Christian scenario. “Speaking the truth in love” is going to take a different form than Schaeffer manifested throughout his life, perhaps being more pointed such as found in Christ’s, or perhaps Jeremiah’s ministry. What would Schaeffer say to a culture now overrun by the anti-Christian culture of the Muslim faith? I don’t believe that we could predict his response, and even if we could would still wish to defer to guidance from Scripture. Again, Schaeffer should not be treated as the political-cultural pope of our age, and he would agree with that if he could speak from the dead.
Francis Schaeffer: His Legacy and His Influence on Evangelicalism, by Jerram Barrs. Much of this talk focused on Schaeffer’s evangelistic method as it affected Jerram Barrs himself, as he became a Christian under the influence of Schaeffer. Barrs offers 8 points that characterize the nature and style of Schaeffer’s evangelistic methodology.
Sentimentality: Significance for Apologetics, by Dick Keyes. This talk has come under criticism from Amazon.com reviewers as being only peripherally related to Schaeffer, and not directly about him. Yet, I really enjoyed this talk, and felt that because it so heavily reflected Schaeffer’s thinking, that it was a worthy inclusion in this text. Sentimentality is displaced emotion that is directed toward the self. It denies a world that is not fallen, and does not result in appropriate responses. Though not mentioned in this chapter, my first thought was the outpouring of emotion when one watched Mel Gibson’s The Passion, yet I’ve to hear of even one life changed from this emotional Sintflut. Keyes discusses the result of Christians controlled by sentimentality, and how to deal with the sentimental person, by bringing them back to reality through some point of contact with reality.
I wonder how many more Francis Schaeffer conferences will be seen in the future, especially as those who lived in the 60’s and 70’s and were influenced by Schaeffer now are becoming a dying breed. Hopefully, his thinking will live on through such institutions such as Jerram Barr’s Francis Schaeffer Institute at Covenant Seminary. The history of institutions devoted to a good cause seem to be rather sad. Just look at such institutions as the YMCA, which is now neither young, doesn’t know the difference between a man or woman, is definitely not Christian, but sadly remains an Association. Schaeffer’s books will live on, and hopefully will be read by our children’s children for many more generations. I pray that someone in a future generation will rise and capably question the culture, and be able to confront the culture as Schaeffer was able to do a half century ago.