On Francis Schaeffer

On Francis Schaeffer

By Bruce A. Little

It has been 30 years since Francis A. Schaeffer (1912-1984) passed into the presence of the Lord. I remember hearing Schaeffer in person several weeks before his death. A few years before, my thinking as a Christian had been profoundly shaped by Schaeffer’s thought and ministry.  On this occasion he was on a speaking tour promoting his latest book, The Great Evangelical Disaster. On that evening, he spoke with a clear steady voice seated on the platform as by this time the cancer had so weakened his body that standing was out of the question. He was a man at the end of his life–broken in body, but not in spirit or vision. It was a life lived for Christ in a powerful way leaving an indelible mark on evangelical Christianity, a mark that undeniably remains to this day.

In 1948 Schaeffer, with his wife Edith and their children, went to war torn Europe to begin a children’s work under the Independent Board of Presbyterian Foreign Missions. In 1955, they moved to the small village of Huemoz in the Swiss Alps and founded L’Abri Fellowship, the story of which can be found in Edith Schaeffer’s wonderful book, The Tapestry. Within a short time, people learned of Schaeffer’s ministry and would travel by different means to L’Abri, many of whom came to Christ. We must understand that this was at the time of political and social upheaval on both sides of the Atlantic as students went into a rebellious mode full throttle. Many in evangelicalism merely condemned the senseless destruction—of course, in one sense it needed to be condemned—and ignored the questions being asked. Unfortunately it was a time of entrenchment for many in evangelicalism. Schaeffer, however, while not condoning the senseless mayhem, listened carefully and took their questions seriously. Then he would compassionately show how Christianity consistently answered their questions. Schaeffer engaged the young people from the west and many intellectuals of Europe (many were existentialist) on their own terms and he did so with a full confidence in biblical revelation. He showed them that their view of the world was inconsistent with and insufficient for the reality in which they lived. He said their analysis of western culture was right in many ways, but their worldview provided them with no real answers. It was then that he would show them how the Christian worldview provided a sufficient base for living as God intended them to live.

For those unfamiliar with Schaeffer’s work, I point to three of his books that serve as the foundation for a proper understanding of his thought and ministry: The God Who Is There, Escape from Reason, and He Is There and He Is Not Silent. According to Schaeffer all his other books fit into these as “spokes of the wheel into the hub.” The rest of his books reveal the comprehensiveness of his thinking Christianly about all of life.

Historic Christianity, according to Schaeffer, was creation-centered. Central to this was the fact that God created man in his image, hence man had intrinsic worth. While Schaeffer did not minimize the historic fall recorded in Genesis, he argued that the fall did not result in man becoming a “zero.” There was a greatness to man, Schaeffer noted, even though man was often very cruel. Still, Schaeffer believed that man was noble and yet fallen and only Christianity could explain both the greatness and the cruelty of man. Therefore, apologetics, he urged, must be “shaped on the basis of love for the person as a person.”

Furthermore, man lives in a morally structured, rational universe, Schaeffer reasoned, and no matter how he might try to live against the way the universe is, it would push back at him and create tension for his non-Christian presuppositions. For Schaeffer, the point of contact with the modern (and post-modern mind) was reality. Regardless of one’s non-Christian presuppositions, Schaeffer argued, they can always be tested for truthfulness when pressed against the reality in which every person must live. In the end, Schaeffer was confident that only the Christian worldview provided a proper view of reality. Furthermore, he would say that Christianity is true because it is true to what is and it applies to all of life.

This is only an example of Schaeffer’s legacy to evangelism, a legacy in my mind that can never be overstated.

Bruce A. Little serves as senior professor of philosophy and director of the Francis A. Schaeffer Collection at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

A Letter From the President: Reflections On Ten Wonderful Years

On January 15th of this year I celebrated my 10th year at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.  For Charlotte and me, this is almost impossible to believe!  And yet at the same time, we have experienced so many things.  As I pen this letter from Istanbul, Turkey, where we have the joy of being with students that God has called to the nations, I am aware that during these 10 years we have buried three parents, welcomed three daughters-in-law, added 10 grandchildren, and celebrated 35 years of marriage and ministry together.  On a personal level, God has blessed us with a full and joyful life.  With the psalmist I delight to sing, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” (Psalm 103:1).

I can also sing that same verse as I think about all the ways our Lord has blessed the school I have the honor and privilege of serving.  An exhaustive list would require a book!  However, let me highlight a few of the good things our great God has done in the past decade.

1)   The Lord led us to a very clear “mission statement” that says who we are.  The shorthand version is “Southeastern is a Great Commission Seminary.”  Ask anyone on our campus who we are, and that is the answer you will receive.  The longer version simply says, “Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary seeks to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by equipping students to serve the church and fulfill the Great Commission.”  This statement guides us in all that we do.  I believe it has helped a really good seminary to become an even better seminary.  It keeps us focused on the final marching orders of King Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20).

2)   The Lord has grown our school from just over 2400 to over 3100 students, and the future looks even brighter.  What a blessing!

3)   We have gone from having one endowed faculty chair to seven!  This is a double blessing in that it honors wonderful servants of God and helps the seminary financially.  I would love to see this number double in the next 10 years.

4)   The Lord has graced us with as fine of a faculty as you will find anywhere in the world.  Our students have the joy of studying under godly men and women who are churchmen, brilliant scholars, and followers of King Jesus who have a deep love for the church and a passion for the nations.  Three of my own sons and a daughter-in-law have studied or are studying here.  As a dad, I could not ask for a better place of training for my children.

5)   We built the Prince Facilities building and Patterson Hall.  Both buildings have been a tremendous asset to Southeastern in terms of how we care for the campus and teach our students.

6)   The Lord has blessed me with an incredible leadership team that has taken Southeastern to the next level.  Bruce Ashford, Jamie Dew, Ryan Hutchinson, Mark Liederbach, Chuck Lawless and Art Rainer excel in their areas of responsibility.  They make me look better than I am!  And, they are my brothers and friends who challenge me to be more like Jesus.

7)   Under the leadership of John Ewart, we launched EQUIP which allows the seminary and local churches to partner in doing theological education.  The brilliant New Testament Scholar Don Carson said this model was a utopian dream.  By God’s grace, we are making it a reality.

8)   Shortly before his death, we instituted the L. Rush Bush Center for Faith and Culture.  Initially directed by Bruce Little, it is now led by Ken Keathley.  This Center is simply stellar in engaging the cultural issues that the church must face and address with biblical truth and conviction.  I know Dr. Bush is smiling from heaven in all the Center is accomplishing.

9)   We were able to receive and house the letters and papers of Francis Schaeffer, one of evangelicalism’s leading apologists in the 20th century.  Words are not adequate to express what a gift this is.  Bruce Little rightly deserves a huge “thank you” for making this happen.

10)  Finally, and I could continue for a long time, the Lord Jesus has blessed our campus with a spirit of love, joy and gratitude.  My friend Mark Dever calls us “the happy campus.”  I think he is right.  Visitors often comment about the happy, joyful servant spirit they find on this campus.  It bears much fruit.  We know that over 90% of prospective students who visit our campus will choose Southeastern as their seminary or college.  Why?  Because students, staff, faculty and administration are happy to be here and we just can’t hide it.  And, we don’t want to!

On a number of occasions I have been asked if I aspired to be a seminary president.  The fact is when God called me into ministry in 1977 on the Papago Indian Reservation in Sells, Arizona, this boy from Georgia did not know what a seminary was.  I did not know they even existed.  No, all I have ever wanted to do since that day is please the Lord Jesus, preach the Bible, serve the church, and share the gospel.  I am the most surprised of all that I get to do what I do.  I am a blessed man far beyond what I could ever hope, imagine or deserve.  Thank you King Jesus for these wonderful years.  If it is your will, I look forward to many more.