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Francis Schaeffer

Francis Schaeffer

Francis August Schaeffer (30 January 191215 May 1984) was an American Evangelical Christian theologian, philosopher, and Presbyterian pastor. He is most famous for his writings and his establishment of the L'Abri community in Switzerland. Opposed to theological modernism, Schaeffer promoted a more traditional Protestant faith and a presuppositional approach to Christian apologetics, which he believed would answer the questions of the age. A number of scholars credit Schaeffer's ideas with helping spark the rise of the Christian Right in the United States. Schaeffer's wife, Edith (Seville) Schaeffer has become a prolific author in her own right. Schaeffer is also the father of author, filmmaker and painter Frank Schaeffer.

Education and early career

Schaeffer grew up in Germantown, Pennsylvania.

In 1935, Schaeffer graduated magna cum laude from Hampden-Sydney College. The same year he married Edith Seville, the daughter of missionary parents who had been with China Inland Mission founded by Hudson Taylor. Schaeffer then enrolled at Westminster Theological Seminary in the fall and studied under Cornelius Van Til (presuppositional apologetics) and J. Gresham Machen (doctrine of inerrancy).

In 1937, Schaeffer transferred to Faith Theological Seminary, graduating in 1938. This seminary was newly formed as a result of a split in the Presbyterian Church of America (now the Orthodox Presbyterian Church) and the Bible Presbyterian Church, a Presbyterian denomination more identified with Fundamentalist Christianity and premillennialism. Schaeffer was the first student to graduate and the first to be ordained in the Bible Presbyterian Church. He served pastorates in Pennsylvania (Grove City and Chester) and St. Louis, Missouri. He later left the BPC and joined the less-radical Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod, a forerunner of the Presbyterian Church in America.

In 1948, the Schaeffer family moved to Switzerland and in 1955 established the community called L'Abri (French for "the shelter").

In 1954, Schaeffer was awarded the honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Highland College in Long Beach, California; following the receipt of this honorary Doctorate of Divinity he took the unusual step of calling himself and having others call him "Dr. Schaeffer" - this is customarily not done and is most often considered disingenuous.

In 1971, Schaeffer received the honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts.

In 1982, John Warwick Montgomery nominated Schaeffer for an honorary Doctor of Laws degree, which was conferred in 1983 by the Simon Greenleaf School of Law, Anaheim, California in recognition of his apologetic writings and ministry.

Family relationships

In Crazy for God Schaeffer's son Frank presents a very negative portrait of his father, who he says had frequent bouts with depression and a verbally and physically abusive relationship with his wife, Edith. In brief, the book depicts the elder Schaeffer as a duplicitous con man. Those in the inner circle at L'Abri challenge Frank's account. Os Guinness, who lived with the Schaeffers and was a close friend of both the younger and elder Schaeffer, described Crazy for God as a "scurrilous caricature" and said, "[N]o one should take Frank's allegations at face value.

Apologetics

Schaeffer's approach to Christian apologetics was primarily influenced by Herman Dooyeweerd, Edward John Carnell, and Cornelius Van Til, but he was not known to be a strict presuppositionalist in the Van Tillian tradition. In a 1948 article in The Bible Today, Schaeffer explained his own apologetics and how he walked a middle path between evidentialism and presuppositionalism. J. Budziszewski summarizes the article about this middle path approach by writing:

Presuppositionalists, he held, are right to assert that the ultimate premises of Christian and anti–Christian systems of thought are utterly at odds. On the other hand, evidentialists are right to assert that between Christian and anti–Christian systems of thought there is always a point of contact. The reason for this point of contact, he argued, is that nonbelievers cannot bring themselves to be completely consistent with their own presuppositions, and this inconsistency is a result of common grace. "Thus, illogically," he wrote, "men have in their accepted worldviews various amounts of that which is ours. But, illogical though it may be, it is there and we can appeal to it.

Schaeffer came to use this middle path as the basis for his method of evangelism which he called Taking the roof off. An example of Taking the roof off in written form can be found in Schaeffer's work entitled Death in the City. Nancy Pearcey also describes two books by Schaeffer, Escape From Reason and The God Who Is There in this way:

In these books, Schaeffer explains the history of the two-story division of knowledge, often referred to as the fact/value split. He also describes his highly effective apologetics method, which combined elements of both evidentialism and presuppositionalism.

Legacy

Today, more than twenty years after his death, his teachings continue in the same informal setting at The Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation in Gryon, Switzerland. It is led by one of his daughters and sons-in-law as a small scale alternative to the original L'Abri Fellowship International which is still operating in nearby Huemoz-sur-Ollon and other places in the world. On the other hand, Schaeffer's son Frank Schaeffer initially supported his father's ideas and political program, but has since distanced himself from many of those views and has converted to the Greek Orthodox Church.

Covenant Theological Seminary has established the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute directed by a former English L'Abri member, Jerram Barrs. The purpose of the school is to train Christians to demonstrate compassionately and defend reasonably what they see as the claims of Christ on all of life.

Schaeffer popularized, in the modern context, a conservative Puritan and Reformed perspective.

Political activism

Francis Schaeffer is credited with helping spark a return to political activism among Protestant evangelicals and fundamentalists in the late 1970s and early 1980s, especially in relation to the issue of abortion. Schaeffer called for a challenge to what he saw as the increasing influence of secular humanism. Schaeffer's views were expressed in two works, his book entitled A Christian Manifesto, as well as a film series, Whatever Happened to the Human Race?.

A Christian Manifesto

Schaeffer's A Christian Manifesto was published in 1981. The name of the book is intended to position its thesis as a Christian answer to The Communist Manifesto of 1848 and the Humanist Manifesto documents of 1933 and 1973. Schaeffer's diagnosis is that the decline of Western Civilization is due to society having become increasingly pluralistic, resulting in a shift "away from a world view that was at least vaguely Christian in people's memory ... toward something completely different". Schaeffer argues that there is a philosophical struggle between the people of God and the secular humanists.

In a sermon also titled "A Christian Manifesto", Schaeffer defines secular humanism as the worldview where "man is the measure of all things," and in the book he claims that critics of the Christian Right miss the mark by confusing the "humanist religion" with humanitarianism, the humanities, or love of humans. He describes the conflict with secular humanism as a battle in which "these two religions, Christianity and humanism, stand over against each other as totalities." He writes that the decline of commitment to objective truth that he perceives in the various institutions of society is "not because of a conspiracy, but because the church has forsaken its duty to be the salt of the culture." Schaeffer explains:

A true Christian in Hitler's Germany and in the occupied countries should have defied the false and counterfeit state and hidden his Jewish neighbors from the German SS Troops. The government had abrogated its authority, and it had no right to make any demands.

He then suggests that similar tactics be used to stop abortion. But Schaeffer argues he is not talking about a theocracy:

State officials must know that we are serious about stopping abortion,...First, we must make definite that we are in no way talking about any kind of theocracy. Let me say that with great emphasis. Witherspoon, Jefferson, the American Founders had no idea of a theocracy. That is made plain by the First Amendment, and we must continually emphasize the fact that we are not talking about some kind, or any kind, of a theocracy.

Christian Reconstructionists Gary North and David Chilton were highly critical of A Christian Manifesto and Schaeffer.

Their critical comments were prompted, they wrote, by the popularity of Schaeffer's book (pp.116-17). They suggested that Schaeffer supports pluralism because he sees the First Amendment as freedom of religion for all; and they themselves reject pluralism (pp.128-29). Pointing out negative statements Schaeffer made about theocracy, North and Chilton then explain why they promote it (pp.121-22). They extend their criticism of Schaeffer:

"The fact remains that Dr. Schaeffer’s manifesto offers no prescriptions for a Christian society. We mention that merely in the interests of clarity, for we are not sure that anybody has noticed it up to now. The same comment applies to all of Dr. Schaeffer’s writings: he does not spell out the Christian alternative.(pp. 127-28; emphasis North and Chilton)"

Influence on the Christian Right

Christian Right leaders such as Tim LaHaye have credited Schaeffer for influencing their theological arguments urging political participation by evangelicals. Randall Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue, also acknowledged the influence of Schaeffer.

Beginning in the 1990s, critics began exploring the intellectual/ideological connection between Schaeffer’s political activism and writings of the early 1980s to contemporary religious-political trends in the Christian Right, sometimes grouped under the name Dominionism, with mixed conclusions. Sara Diamond and Frederick Clarkson have written articles tracing the activism of numerous key figures in the Christian Right to the influence of Francis Schaeffer. According to Diamond: "The idea of taking dominion over secular society gained widespread currency with the 1981 publication of...Schaeffer's book A Christian Manifesto. The book sold 290,000 copies in its first year, and it remains one of the movement's most frequently cited texts." Diamond summarizes the book and its importance to the Christian Right:

In A Christian Manifesto, Schaeffer's argument is simple. The United States began as a nation rooted in Biblical principles. But as society became more pluralistic, with each new wave of immigrants, proponents of a new philosophy of secular humanism gradually came to dominate debate on policy issues. Since humanists place human progress, not God, at the center of their considerations, they pushed American culture in all manner of ungodly directions, the most visible results of which included legalized abortion and the secularization of the public schools. At the end of -- A Christian Manifesto, Schaeffer calls for Christians to use civil disobedience to restore Biblical morality, which explains Schaeffer's popularity with groups like Operation Rescue. Randall Terry has credited Schaeffer as a major influence in his life.

Frederick Clarkson explains that this had practical applications:

"Francis Schaeffer is widely credited with providing the impetus for Protestant evangelical political action against abortion. For example, Randall Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue, says: "You have to read Schaeffer's Christian Manifesto if you want to understand Operation Rescue." Schaeffer, a longtime leader in Rev. Carl McIntire's splinter denomination, the Bible Presbyterian Church, was a reader of Reconstructionist literature but has been reluctant to acknowledge its influence. Indeed, Schaeffer and his followers specifically rejected the modern application of Old Testament law.

Analyses of Schaeffer as the major intellectual influence on Dominionism can be found in the works of authors such as Diamond and Chip Berlet. Other authors argue against a close connection with dominionism, for example Irving Hexham of the University of Calgary, who maintains that Schaeffer's political position has been misconstrued as advocating the Dominionist views of R. J. Rushdoony, who is a Christian Reconstructionist. Hexham indicates that Schaeffer's essential philosophy was derived from Herman Dooyeweerd, not Rushdoony, and that Hans Rookmaaker introduced Schaeffer to his writings. Dooyeweerd was a Dutch legal scholar and philosopher, following in the footsteps of Neo-Calvinist Abraham Kuyper.

Writings

Francis A. Schaeffer wrote twenty-two books, which cover a range of spiritual issues. They can be roughly split into five sections, as in the edition of his Complete Works (ISBN 0-89107-347-7):

  • A Christian View of Philosophy and Culture: The first three books in this block are known as Schaeffer's "trilogy," laying down the apologetical, philosophical, epistemological, and theological foundation for all his work.
  • A Christian View of the Bible as Truth
    • Genesis in Space and Time: Argues that an almost literalist view of Genesis as historically true is fundamental to the Christian faith.
    • No Final Conflict
    • Joshua and the Flow of Biblical History
    • Basic Bible Studies: Biblical studies on the fundamentals of the faith.
    • Art and the Bible
  • A Christian View of Spirituality
    • No Little People: Argues that Christians should never despair of having a significant life of realisations, small as they seem to be.
    • True Spirituality: The spiritual foundation for Schaeffer's work, as a complement to the theological and philosophical approach of most other books. Useful for gaining a balanced view of the whole of Schaeffer's life and ministry.
    • The New Super-Spirituality: Claims the intellectual decadence of students and the counter-culture from the late sixties to the early seventies can be traced back to the conformism of their fathers, only with fewer moral absolutes, and predicts the contamination of the church. Offers an analysis of Postmodernism.
    • Two Contents, Two Realities: First presented as a position paper at the First International Congress on World Evangelization at Lausanne, Switzerland in 1974.
  • A Christian View of the Church
  • A Christian View of the West

In addition to his books, one of the last public lectures Schaeffer delivered was at the Law Faculty, University of Strasbourg. It was published as "Christian Faith and Human Rights", The Simon Greenleaf Law Review, 2 (1982-83) pp. 3-12. Most of his writings during his Bible Presbyterian days have not been collected, nor reprinted in decades.

In addition to the five volume Complete Works listed above there were also two books by Dr. Schaeffer published after his death:

  • Dennis, Lane T. (ed) Letters of Francis A. Schaeffer, Crossway Books, Westchester, 1985.
  • Schaeffer, Francis A. The Finished Work of Christ: The Truth of Romans 1-8, Crossway Books, Wheaton, 1998.

Notes

Further reading

  • Boa, Kenneth D., and Robert M. Bowman, Faith Has Its Reasons: An Integrative Approach to Defending Christianity, NAV Press, Colorado Springs, 2001.
  • Burson, Scott R. and Jerry L. Walls. C.S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer: Lessons for a New Century from the Most Influential Apologists of Our Time. Leicester: InterVarsity Press, 1998.
  • Coward, Harold., Pluralism: The Challenge to World Religions, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, 1986.
  • Cunningham, Stuart, "Towards A Critique of Francis Schaeffer's Thought", Interchange, 24 (1978) pp. 205-221.
  • Dennis, Lane T. (ed) Francis A. Schaeffer: Portraits of the Man and His Work, Crossway Books, Westchester, 1986.
  • Follis, Bryan A., Truth With Love: Apologetics of Francis Schaeffer, Crossway Books, Wheaton, 2006.
  • Fowler, Robert Booth, A New Engagement: Evangelical Political Thought 1966-1976, William B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1982.
  • Hexham, Irving, "The Evangelical Response to the New Age," in Perspectives on the New Age, edited by James R. Lewis & J. Gordon Melton, State University of New York Press, Albany, New York, 1992, pp. 152-163.
  • Kubsch, Ron (ed.), Wahrheit und Liebe: Was wir von Francis Schaeffer für die Gegenwart lernen können, VKW, Bonn, 2007.
  • Morris, Thomas V., Francis Schaeffer's Apologetics: A Critique, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1987.
  • Parkhurst, Louis Gifford, Francis Schaeffer: The Man and His Message, Tyndale House, Wheaton, 1985.
  • Parkhurst, Louis Gifford, Francis and Edith Schaeffer, Bethany House, Minneapolis, (1996) available online
  • Ramsey, George W., The Quest for the Historical Israel, SCM Press, London, 1982, pp. 107-115.
  • Roper, D. L., "A Sympathetic Criticism of Francis Schaeffer's Writings," Interchange, 41 (1987) pp. 41-55.
  • Ruegsegger, Ronald W. (ed) Reflections on Francis Schaeffer, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1986.
  • Schaeffer, Frank, Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back, Da Capo Press, 2007.
  • Stadler, G. Thomas, "Renaissance Humanism: Francis Schaeffer Versus Some Contemporary Scholars," Fides et Historia 2 (June 1989)pp. 4-20.

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