How Francis Schaeffer Influenced Me

How Francis Schaeffer Influenced Me

by Daniel R. Heimbach

I can honestly say that, besides my parents and Jesus Christ, no individual has influenced me more than Francis A. Schaeffer, a pastor-theologian most consider to have been among the greatest evangelical voices, and perhaps even the most influential, of the twentieth century. But Francis Schaeffer and his wife, Edith, were also close friends of my missionary grandparents. For me the Francis and Edith Schaeffer who inspired a generation of evangelicals, myself included, with the importance of engaging the culture for Christ, were also the family friends who nursed my grandparents to health after returning to the United States emaciated following release from a Japanese prison in a Prisoner of War exchange during World War II.

That is the reason my grandmother, Bertha Byram, was one of the earliest and most faithful prayer partners of the work called “L’Abri” founded in Europe by the Schaeffers after the war. That is why my grandmother is twice mentioned in The Tapestry. And that is why the communion table in the chapel the Schaeffer’s built in Huemoz, Switzerland, is dedicated to my grandmother. But I did not know this connection until after I was drawn to Schaeffer’s books for my own reasons.


Francis & Edith Schaeffer with Mertie & Ernie Heimbach

I first became aware of Schaeffer while a student in high school struggling with matters of faith and culture, and on reading his first book, Escape from Reason, I found him so keenly in tune with my questions I devoured nearly all he wrote as it was published. That was in the late 1960s and early 1970s when Western culture, and especially American culture, was in turmoil from so many others of my age rebelling against all authority and tradition. Then, like many others on discovering Schaeffer, I also traveled to the mountains of Switzerland to meet him, and ended staying several months trying to understand what was taking place and what it meant to be authentically Christian in a world fast becoming radically post-Christian.

I learned much from Schaeffer that has affected me ever since, but as much from his life as from his thought, as much from his demonstrating Christian love as from his defending biblical truth, as much from how he respected the value and dignity of everyone he met however small or great as from what I learned from his writing. Schaeffer is the one who taught me that truth is a reality we must live and not just believe, and that if Christians do not live God’s truth the world has every right to reject what we claim is right and true. And Schaeffer is the one who taught me, more by example than words, how Christians can and must stand for purity and holiness without ugliness or harshness and should weep for those pursuing what we abhor.

Schaeffer’s many books, especially The Mark of the Christian, Pollution and the Death of Man, How Should We Then Live?, Whatever Happened to the Human Race?, and A Christian Manifesto, were instrumental in forming what has become for me a strong sense of calling or mission in the world, which is to promote God’s truth in a culture that is rejecting it, and doing so especially as it concerns resisting moral anarchy and political tyranny.

Francis Schaeffer influenced my decision to become a culturally astute moral influence in Washington, D.C., an effort that resulted in affecting a wide range of issues in public policy. Schaeffer influenced my role in leading the fight against normalizing treatment of homosexual behavior in the military services. Schaeffer influenced my running for Congress in 2000. Schaeffer influenced my vision to develop what is now the strongest program in the world for training evangelicals in biblically uncompromising yet culturally engaged Christian ethics. And Schaeffer has influenced the sort of books I write, all of which have been written to resource evangelical witness on moral issues contested in the culture.

But while Schaeffer had a deep and lasting impact on evangelicals of my generation, shaping the those who led the Jesus Movement, the Moral Majority, the drafting of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, the first Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, the rediscovery of classical Christian education, the formation of Crisis Pregnancy Centers, the Southern Baptist conservative resurgence, and the movement of evangelicals into politics now labeled the Christian Right—and while Schaffer played the major role in launching evangelical efforts to engage the culture on issues ranging from legalized abortion, euthanasia, sexual immorality, environmental stewardship, denying gender roles, reclaiming the arts, and education reform—and while Schaeffer was a major influence on many who rose to positions of significant leadership including theologians Harold O. J. Brown, David Wells, Os Guinness, Timothy George, John Warwick Montgomery, John Piper, Norm Geisler, Wayne Grudem and L. Russ Bush, founders of ministries including James Dobson, D. James Kennedy, Jerry Falwell, R. C. Sproul, Chuck Colson and Tim and Beverley LaHaye, denomination leaders including Paige Patterson, Richard Land and James Montgomery Boice, publishers including Lane Dennis of Crossway Books and Terry Eastland of The Weekly Standard, writers including Cal Thomas and Frank Peretti, and political leaders including Ronald Reagan, James and Susan Baker, C. Everett Koop, Jack Kemp and Gary Bauer—the legacy of Francis A. Schaeffer is now in danger of being forgotten by a new generation that hardly knows his name much less understands how much they owe to the extraordinary influence of this passionate yet humble prophet used of God to transform and reenergize so much of what they inherit.

Of course, the ways in which any culture challenges authentically Christian witness change over time, but what Schaeffer taught evangelicals about the lordship of Christ over all areas of life, the timeless relevance of objectively reliable truth, the inerrancy of God’s Word, the marred nobility of human nature, the beauty of creation, and the meaninglessness of pretending to live in a self-centered mechanistic universe will never change and are as vitally important for evangelicals today as they were when Schaeffer held forth among us.

It is therefore strategic and absolutely critical that evangelicals revisit, reaffirm, and if necessary rediscover the legacy of Francis A. Schaeffer, lest we forget what we had and lose the art of engaging the culture without accommodating ourselves to the culture, of defending truth without being ugly, of loving those we engage without compromising purity, and of fitting our message to changing circumstances without compromising its content for fear of rejection or desire merely to be accepted by others.

The entrusting of the personal books, letters and papers of Frances A. Schaeffer, by the Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation, to the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary could not be more timely or important. I am most grateful to my colleague, Bruce Little, and to the Schaeffer family for their vision and generosity, and I am certain this one very significant action will play a key role in revitalizing evangelical witness in contemporary culture. I pray it will also serve to inspire, benefit and aid in equipping of a new generation eager to make a biblically grounded, authentically Christian difference in the world of today.

Daniel R. Heimbach is Senior Professor of Christian Ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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.

Guest Blog (Bruce Little): An Encounter with Francis Schaeffer

A Personal Encounter with Francis Schaeffer

I remember hearing Francis A. Schaeffer (1912-1984) in person, several weeks before his death, at a large gathering on the campus of a Christian University. Schaeffer was of particular importance to me. At the time, in April 1984, I was attending a graduate seminar on Schaeffer so it was perfect timing. Just a few years before, I had first felt the force of Schaeffer’s thought through reading his books, and now I was having the opportunity to hear him in person as he was on a speaking tour promoting his latest book, The Great Evangelical Disaster. I have vivid memories of that night. I watched as he was helped to the platform and then remained seated even while he spoke. By this time cancer had so weakened him physically that standing was out of the question. In fact, at that time I was told that his diet consisted mainly of milkshakes.

After Schaeffer delivered his lecture, the audience was invited to ask questions. I remember one young man who began his question by reviewing some of what Schaeffer had just noted (and as many young men tend to do, he tried to impress the crowd with his knowledge, struggling to put his mini-speech into the form of a question). And alas, after the young man launched a rather dramatic presentation of his insights, he concluded by picturing the Church in the tenth round, bloody and beaten and on its knees. Then, at last, he asked his question. He wondered if there was any hope the Church could win given his analysis of the situation.

Dr. Schaeffer leaned forward and brought the microphone to his lips. A hush came over the audience as it awaited the response. Then Schaeffer said, “If we do it to win, we have lost already. We do not do it to win, but because our risen Lord has commanded us.” What an answer! I have told this story so many times I embarrass myself, but the power of that response moves me each time I think of it. In fact, I often have been encouraged as well as challenged by those words. And for this, I am forever grateful for that night I heard Dr. Schaeffer. That was 26 years ago, not so long when you think about it, but it has been long enough for the name of Francis Schaeffer to fade from the evangelical memory. My hope is that Francis Schaeffer’s life and ministry will not fade from memory, but will instead remain present to our minds as a model of faithful witness. Perhaps this blogpost will be the catalyst for some of our readers to read Schaeffer’s works and benefit from them.

A Brief Biography of Francis Schaeffer

Schaeffer spent most of his adult life in Europe with his wife Edith and their four children (three girls and one boy). Francis and Edith went to Switzerland shortly after World War II. I once asked his daughter, Deborah, why her dad chose Switzerland. She explained that many people in those days in Europe thought there would be another war and her dad wanted the family to be safe in the event such a concern materialized. For this reason, they chose a remote village in the Swiss Alps where they founded L’Abri Fellowship (only after they were told to leave one little community because Schaeffer was having a religious influence on their predominantly Roman Catholic populace). The story of the L’Abri (the word means Shelter) ministry can be found in Edith Schaeffer’s wonderful book, The Tapestry.

Over the years, hundreds and perhaps thousands of people journeyed to L’Abri (for stays that ranged from days to months) where some found Christ as Savior and others were strengthened in their faith. This was especially true in the 60s and 70s; those of us who lived through those times remember the political and social upheaval as students on both sides of the Atlantic went full throttle into a rebellious mode. Many evangelicals merely condemned the senseless destruction-of course, in one sense it needed to be condemned-while ignoring the questions raised by the rebels. Schaeffer, on the other hand, listened carefully to their questions and helped them to see how historic Christianity answered those questions coherently and consistently. Many of us remember those days and not without some residual anxiety. Many evangelicals responded by entrenching, but Schaeffer chose to engage the young people and the intellectuals (many were existentialist) on their own terms. He showed them that their explanation of the world was inconsistent with and insufficient for the world in which they lived., and that Christianity answered those questions consistently and sufficiently.

Consequently, Schaeffer eventually earned the reputation of having a mission to the European intellectual. In 1960, Time magazine suggested that the mission of Schaeffer was to target the European intellectual. The truth is that the Schaeffers had been sent to war-torn Europe in 1948 by the Presbyterian mission board to work among children, many who had been orphaned by the war. That often comes as a surprise to those not well acquainted with Schaeffer, because by the time he was well-known, it was not for children’s work, but work among young people and intellectuals. Furthermore, Schaeffer became known as an apologist (Some evangelicals loved him but others were suspicious of him, mainly because of the way he dressed!). He defended the faith in a way that challenged traditional categories. For this reason, he is difficult to label. Although some commentators claim that he was a presuppositionalist, Schaeffer tells us that he had no one method apologetically.

A Basic Overview of Schaeffer’s Apologetic

In order to understand Schaeffer’s approach to evangelism and apologetics, one must give attention to the three works that reveal the foundation of his understanding of man, reality, and the Bible. These three books serve as the foundation for all his other books, forming a trilogy: 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.” In 1982, Schaeffer himself edited his works, which were published in a five-volume set, including the trilogy in the order in which they were written. This order reveals the development of his thinking apologetically and is essential to understanding Schaeffer and his apologetic method.

In these three books, one learns how Schaeffer’s view of man shaped his apologetic approach (which for him was part and parcel of his evangelism). According to Schaeffer, historic Christianity is creation-centered. Furthermore, central to creation is the truth that God created man in his image. The first apologetic implication of this truth is that man has intrinsic worth which means he is to be treated with respect and love. This truth shaped Schaeffer’s life and ministry as he was motivated and directed by love and compassion for man as a person. Apologetics, he urged, must be “shaped on the basis of love for the person as a person.”

While Schaeffer did not minimize the historic fall recorded in Genesis, he argued that the fall “did not lead to machineness, but to fallen-manness.” There was a greatness to man even though man could also be very cruel. Schaeffer spoke of man being noble, not because of man’s achievements, but because of who he was as a creation of God-man was not a “zero,” to use Schaeffer’s words. Only Christianity, Schaeffer said, could explain both the greatness and the cruelty of man. This truth moved Schaeffer to take all men seriously and to answer the honest questions of fallen man. Furthermore, he argued that the Christian must take care to understand the person by looking carefully at cultural artifacts (especially the arts) to understand the underlying worldviews and presuppositions revealed in them.

According to Schaeffer, the second apologetic implication of creation was the intelligibility of creation. The categories of the mind of man correspond to the structure of the world as God had created both. The result, Schaeffer argued, was that common ground existed between the Christian and the non-Christian. This is not something man put upon the universe; it is simply the way it is. Man lives in a morally structured, rational universe and no matter how he might try to live against the way the universe is, Schaeffer was sure it would push back at him and create tension for his non-Christian presuppositions.

The Christian’s apologetic task, according to Schaeffer, is to show man where the point of tension existed between his presuppositions and the way the world really is. Schaffer’s approach was to push man towards the logic of his position in the area of his own real interests. Schaeffer believed that man builds a sort of philosophical shelter to protect himself from the blows of the real world. The Christian must lovingly remove the shelter and allow man to feel the blows from the real world, both internally and externally.

Of course this was not a game for Schaeffer and he urged the Christian always to give the answer as understood in light of historic Christianity and to do so in a loving and compassionate tone. He was convinced that when speaking to the non-Christian the first truth to present was that of the truth of the real world and the reality of man himself. For Schaeffer, the real point of contact with the modern (and post modern mind) was reality. Regardless what presuppositions a man claims as grounds for his worldview, Schaeffer showed how they can be tested for truthfulness when pressed against the reality in which every person must live.

Schaeffer’s life, ministry, and writings are instructive for evangelicals today. One more than one level, he remains an important apologetic resource for Christians in the 21st century. For this reason, the L. Russ Bush Center at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary houses the Francis A. Schaeffer Archives. The Schaeffer Archives includes a voluminous collection of unpublished papers, source materials, correspondence, and recorded discussions of Schaeffer, thanks to the generosity of the Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation.

[Editor’s note: For further reading about the Schaeffer archives, see the articles at the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture (SEBTS) and the Evangelical Philosophical Society.]