Saving Schaeffer by Jackson Watts

Saving Schaeffer by Jackson Watts

Episode 8: The Age Of Fragmentation

Published on Jul 24, 2012

Dr. Schaeffer’s sweeping epic on the rise and decline of Western thought and Culture

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I love the works of Francis Schaeffer and I have been on the internet reading several blogs that talk about Schaeffer’s work and the work below by Jackson Watts was really helpful. Schaeffer’s film series “How should we then live?  Wikipedia notes, “According to Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live traces Western history from Ancient Rome until the time of writing (1976) along three lines: the philosophic, scientific, and religious.[3] He also makes extensive references to art and architecture as a means of showing how these movements reflected changing patterns of thought through time. Schaeffer’s central premise is: when we base society on the Bible, on the infinite-personal God who is there and has spoken,[4] this provides an absolute by which we can conduct our lives and by which we can judge society.  Here are some posts I have done on this series: Francis Schaeffer’s “How should we then live?” Video and outline of episode 10 “Final Choices” episode 9 “The Age of Personal Peace and Affluence”episode 8 “The Age of Fragmentation”episode 7 “The Age of Non-Reason” episode 6 “The Scientific Age”  episode 5 “The Revolutionary Age” episode 4 “The Reformation” episode 3 “The Renaissance”episode 2 “The Middle Ages,”, and  episode 1 “The Roman Age,” .

In the film series “WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE HUMAN RACE?” the arguments are presented  against abortion (Episode 1),  infanticide (Episode 2),   euthanasia (Episode 3), and then there is a discussion of the Christian versus Humanist worldview concerning the issue of “the basis for human dignity” in Episode 4 and then in the last episode a close look at the truth claims of the Bible.

Saving Schaeffer

Nov 26, 2012 by 

On a shelf in the library archives of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary is a box. Inside is an aging, well-worn Bible. Finding a Bible in a library is nothing special—but this one is. It, along with thousands of letters, cassette tapes, and videos comprise the Francis Schaeffer literary estate.

While many Christians aren’t familiar with his books, many have heard his name. Some have even seen pictures of this unique man donning knickers and a scraggly goatee, who has been dead nearly 30 years [1]. Unfortunately, a number of writers in recent years have criticized him. Some of these critiques relate to his early life in American fundamentalism. Others concern his association with Religious Right politics. Still others criticize his brand of Reformed theology, claiming that it was undermined by his apologetic tactics.

Though debate concerning Schaeffer’s legacy will continue, his influential ministry was marked by an emphasis on the Christian worldview and Reformation thought. Because of this, a summary of Schaeffer’s contributions is a fitting way to conclude this emphasis month. My hope is also that this essay will have some collateral impact on the portraits of Schaeffer that often obscure his important contributions to evangelical faith.

Community

The Schaeffers’ most significant contribution didn’t occur pastoring in America. Though he began and ended his life on American soil, their most fruitful ministry occurred in the Swiss Alps. There Francis and Edith ministered to countless seekers, skeptics, and young Christians at their retreat center known as L’Abri (French for “shelter”). Many who visited were either converted or prompted to significant achievement, including Os Guinness (prolific author), William Edgar (Westminster Seminary), Jerram Barrs (Covenant Seminary), Nancy Pearcey (Houston Baptist University), and countless others.

It was within the context of L’Abri that many experienced love, authentic community, and engagement with serious ideas. Despite the commitment to Christian thought and persuasion, “there was more going on at L’Abri than merely an intellectual defense of the Christian faith” [2]. The Schaeffers’ work began there in 1955 and continued until they were detained in the states for ministry and Francis’ battle with cancer. Today, L’Abri has spawned study centers in over half a dozen other foreign countries.

Influence

In God and the Philosophers, Thomas Morris presents a collection of essays by professional philosophers in which they describe their religious and intellectual journeys. Interestingly, Schaeffer was an early influence on four of the contributors. Jerry Walls explains, “Reading Schaeffer transformed my understanding of Christianity. He helped me to think of my faith in a much more comprehensive fashion than I had done before” [3].

Besides the Schaeffers’ ministry in Switzerland, Francis occasionally lectured on American university campuses—Christian and secular. While not all would be equally congenial to Schaeffer’s generalist approach, he would gain the admiration of Chuck Colson (1931-2012) and others through public lectures and private correspondence.

There were others with whom Schaeffer partnered who God used to assist Schaeffer in his ministry. Several stand out. For instance, during Schaeffer’s travels, he met Hans Rookmaaker who eventually became a significant art critic. Rookmaaker contributed to the aesthetic analysis Schaeffer offered in both Art & the Bible (1973) and How Should We Then Live? (1976).

Another important collaborator was C. Everett Koop, the eventual Surgeon General during the Reagan administration. Koop administered care to two of Schaeffer’s children and eventually helped him produce Whatever Happened to the Human Race? This book/film brought attention to the crisis surrounding abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia in a way that few had until this point. Schaeffer’s influence in the political realm eventually extended to both President Gerald Ford and Senator Jack Kemp.

Like all significant figures, some of Schaeffer’s relationships were strained due to disagreement. His early break from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church was reflective of the separatism common to fundamentalism. Although the Schaeffers served as missionaries and worked with several organizations, they believed separation was sometimes spiritually warranted.

Some of Francis Schaeffer’s most contentious disputes occurred nearer to the end of his life. His A Christian Manifesto (1981) was indicative of a deeply held conviction about America’s Christian heritage and how that should inform public policy. This led to a lengthy exchange between himself and historians Mark Noll and George Marsden. Francis would also have a brief, sharp correspondence with Karl Barth as he saw a new form of liberalism gaining traction in American thought.

Apologetics

Schaeffer’s apologetics was peculiar such that it has prompted much evaluation. His approach combined a nuanced use of logic and attention to the existential crisis of man. His apologetics was “pre-evangelistic” in that it always had conversion as the ultimate aim. Though Schaeffer was taught by Cornelius Van Til, his approach was more eclectic. While he drew from his former teacher’s emphasis on presuppositions, he practiced what Gordon Lewis calls “verificationism.” Christian truth claims are tested against the metaphysical, epistemological, and moral necessities that Schaeffer felt many would acknowledge.

The lasting legacy of his approach is two-fold. First, his concept of “taking the roof off” is valuable. In this, Schaeffer would attempt to show how the conceptual framework within which many attempted to live was inadequate. This approach forced unbelievers to see how their faulty worldviews led to consequences they weren’t prepared to accept.

Schaeffer’s second apologetic emphasis was sharing the truth with love [4]. While it would be easy to reduce this to winsomeness, it is tied closely with the prior contribution. Schaeffer used everything from popular music, the regnant drug culture, or other aspects of society to show the futility of false worldviews. Yet this was always coupled with a loving demeanor—much like the one Schaeffer taught in The Mark of a Christian (1970) and The Church Before the Watching World (1971).

Today

That Schaeffer needs “saving” rests on the assumption that his work is of little-to-no value today. The proverbial page needs to be turned. Jeff Jordan of the University of Delaware notes that while he profited from reading nearly every Schaeffer book during college, he concedes that “it seems to me today that Schaeffer’s work, in the end, is too general and of limited value.” Yet Jordan follows this by saying, “Nonetheless, he had a powerful effect on many people of my generation, opening our eyes to the rich interplay possible between Christian faith and the great ideas of philosophy” [5].

Many acknowledge that Schaeffer’s most important contribution was inspiring a generation to realize that Christianity speaks to all of life. However, he accomplished this because of his ability to evaluate the trajectory of ideas. He understood their consequences and antecedents. Furthermore, he knew how to equip Christians to make sense of them. Consider the following:

– Schaeffer never wrote a treatise on postmodernity, but he certainly anticipated it as he spoke of despair, synthesis, and the contradictions of life and theology not founded on Christian premises.

– He warned of a coming generation that would be characterized by relativism of the likes of which the church had never seen.

– In works such as Death in the City (1969) and Pollution and the Death of Man (1970) he offered insight into the coming ecological crisis, the complexity of modern, industrial life, and how Christianity addressed it. In other words, Schaeffer was talking about creation care before evangelicals were having conferences on the subject [6].

 In No Final Conflict (1975) he anticipated the coming conflict over the Scriptures that would endure beyond his time. Additionally, his Genesis in Space and Time (1972)would address the corollary issue of the historicity of the Genesis account—an issue still sparking great controversy.

– Schaeffer introduced many idiosyncratic phrases such as “true truth,” the “line of despair,” the “final apologetic,” as well as the difference between “upper-story” and “lower-story” truths.

Though Schaeffer was a generalist who erred in his analysis (particularly of Aquinas and Kierkegaard), no other evangelical has offered such an overarching Christian assessment of Western thought and culture.

Tomorrow

Holding Francis Schaeffer’s Bible was surreal. It reminded me of a simpler portrait of Schaeffer—one of a thoughtful evangelist whose books gave young Christians permission to think about how Christianity touched all of life. It is “true truth,” as he would say. In his award-winning book, Barry Hankins says,

Many Christian scholars today criticize Schaeffer, not only because of [his] reliance on modern rationalism, but even more because of his interpretation of the course of western intellectual history, what he called ‘the flow’, was problematic in its details. Some Christian scholars who critique Schaeffer’s arguments, however, might not be scholars at all if not for his influence [7].

Twenty-first century Christians should likewise consider the influences that have forged the legacy they have inherited. For those wanting an instructive example for ministry in contemporary culture, Schaeffer’s legacy offers much. Alongside the contributions of LutherKuyper, and Lewis, Schaeffer’s work remains a valuable component for cultivating a Christian worldview in the spirit of the Reformation.

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[1] (b. 30 January 1912; d. 15 May 1984)

[2] Barry Hankins, Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 2008), 72.

[3] Jerry L. Walls, “On Keeping the Faith,” in God and the Philosophers: the Reconciliation of Faith and Reason, ed. Thomas V. Morris (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 107.

[4] Bryan Follis’ work found in the bibliography below is the best book-length summary of Schaeffer’s apologetic. However, there are many other articles and individual book-chapters that speak to this.

[5] Jeff Jordan, “Not in Kansas Anymore,” in God and the Philosophers, 132.

[6] Ironically, the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society was held on November 14-15 in Milwaukee, WI. The theme: Caring for Creation.

[7] Hankins, xiv-xv.

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Selected Biographical Works:

Scott Burson & Jerry Walls, C. S. Lewis & Francis Schaeffer: Lessons for a New Century from the Most Influential Apologists of Our Time (IVP Books, 1998).

Lane T. Dennis, editor. Letters of Francis Schaeffer: Spiritual Reality in the Personal Christian Life (Crossway, 1986).

Colin Duriez, Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life (Crossway, 2008).

Bryan Follis, Truth with Love: The Apologetics of Francis Schaeffer (Crossway, 2006)

Bruce A. Little, ed. Francis Schaffer: A Mind and Heart for God (P&R, 2010)

Thomas V. Morris, Francis Schaeffer’s Apologetics: A Critique (Baker Books, 1987)

David Outlaw, “An Overview of Francis Schaeffer’s Worldview.” Integrity: A Journal of Christian Thought (FWB Commission for Theology Integrity, 2006).

Louis Gifford Parkhurst, Francis Schaeffer: The Man and His Message (Kingsway, 1986).

Ronald W. Ruegsegger, editor. Reflections on Francis Schaeffer (Zondervan, 1986)

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Selected Works of Schaeffer:

The God Who is There (1968)

Escape from Reason (1968)

He is There and He is Not Silent (1972)

The Mark of a Christian (1970)

True Spirituality (1971)

How Should We Then Live? (1976)

The Great Evangelical Disaster (1984)

Francis Schaeffer

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