Down through Church History, the Lord has raised up leaders who seemed perfectly forged for the struggles of his generation. That is certainly true of Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer. (1912-1984) He was a man where incredible simplicity, honest humility and aggressive application of biblical truths came together to give us a gentle giant in regards to apologetics.
Dr. Schaeffer understood where the real battle lines were at, and where we needed to drawn them. This is especially true in the area of the true spirituality of the Christian and the witness of the Church before a watching world. His writings were simple, yet piercing; straightforward, yet gentle; lofty, yet common. He had a unique talent of communication which has rarely been equaled. He authored 22 books before his death in 1984, all of which addressed areas where the Church was sloshing around in, either in unbelief or unconcern. And, while we may not agree to all his conclusions, we can safely say, Dr. Schaeffer never left you wondering where he stood.
I came across the writings of Francis Schaeffer a couple of years after his death when I had been in ministry for four years. I was young and wrestling with many issues, and boy were his writings exactly what I needed to help me see the heart of God. His clarity of thought, amidst the religious jargon of the day was a fresh breathe of air to my young soul. My favorite writings of Dr. Schaeffer are those which deal with personal holiness and spirituality, the church’s responsibility before a watching world, and how secular philosophy invaded the Church’s communication of truth.
I suspect, if Francis were alive today, that he would be saying much about the lack of respect and humility we see in the modern church. The language of division between various camps would certainly break his heart, and he would help sharpen the focus of our call and mission. He would instruct the present day leaders to tone down the public rhetoric toward brothers and get focussed on the real issue…declaring by word and deed that Jesus is The God Who Is There!
There is so much which could be said. However, I want to share a couple of things about this man which, I pray, will help encourage another generation to read his writings.
Dr. Schaeffer never ran from his own struggles. He shares a story how he paced back and forth in the attic of their house in Switzerland investigating his own belief as to whether God actually existed. This brute honesty gives hope to all who have ever wrestled with questions of faith or God. I often thought about this honesty when I was going through cancer treatment. (Ironically, I was diagnosed with the same type of Cancer which took Francis’ life.) I found that the Lord drew exceptionally near as I questioned everything…I mean everything. I had the comfort and surety of how the Lord would not run from our questions because of the testimony of Dr. Schaeffer. This led me to an understanding about the honest questions presented to God by the biblical writers. (Job, David, Jeremiah, etc..) When we are real and honest with God during our trials, the Bible is taken out of the dusty rooms of theological loftiness, and revealed to our hearts in fresh ways as we trod through the ditches of life.
To the right is a picture of Francis working on correspondence. He had no great office with armed guards or jacuzzis. He did not even have a desk. His life was given to communicating truth…that is, the ideas which has the power to change a person’s heart. Look at the simple chair pulled up beside his bed, as he answers the many questions which came his way and works on manuscripts. Reading through the sacrifice he and his wife Edith made in those early years at L’Abri reveals a living example of hospitality and ministry. The dining china and gifts from their wedding were pretty much destroyed by the continual influx of drifters and hippies who wanted answers to life and needed a place to stay. Most had abandoned the belief that life had a purpose and existential meaning. Francis demonstrated that the God of the Bible was There And Not Silent!
After many years of obscurity in the Swiss alps, Dr. Schaeffer became a popular speaker at major universities and symposiums around the world. A close friend of mine related the following story which happened after one of Dr. Schaeffer’s lectures at a Seminary.
“Francis was surrounded by many students outside the lecture hall after his speech. The young seminary students were attempting to impress him while offering their own insights into philosophical considerations and epistemology. In the middle of the conversation, Francis spoke up and said, “Gentlemen, excuse me, there is something I feel I have to do.” Then, Dr. Schaeffer walked away from the group of nicely dressed future churchmen. They watched him cross the street, wondering why he suddenly left the conversation. He stopped in the middle of a group of boys who were gathered on the adjacent street corner. They were teenagers and social outcasts. He began conversation with them and sharing the Gospel. The group of seminary students watched…stunned and convicted by the living example of Dr Schaeffer’s compassion toward man.”
Yes, speaking to men in need was more important than speaking to those who loved the sound of their own voice. Francis lived the Gospel…it was not a message to be shut up in the rooms of intellectuals and believers. It was a message to be taken into the highways and hedges, compelling all to come in.
I grew up a fighter. I think it was part of God’s sovereign plan to prepare me for the willingness to enter the fray. However, when I first began fighting, I did not like it. It seemed dumb for the most part and made me feel I had a neanderthal mentality. Then, there came a place where I liked it. I embraced fighting as a ‘king of the hill’ paradigm among humans. After I came to Christ in 1980, this was a real struggle. I no longer swung with my fist, but my tongue could be acid and relentless. The Lord used Francis to pen a paragraph that pierced my heart and has stuck with me for over 24 years.
“Each time I see something wrong in others, it can be dangerous, for it can exalt self; and when this happens, my open fellowship with God falls to the ground. So when I am right, I can be wrong. In the midst of being right, if self is exalted, my fellowship with God can be destroyed. It is not wrong to be right, nor to say that wrong is wrong, but it is wrong to have the wrong attitude in being right, and to forget that my relationship with my fellow men must always be personal and as equals.” (True Spirituality, Chapter 12)
This quote literally brought me to my knees in brokenness and confession of my sin and pride. That moment was one of the aha moments we have along our spiritual journeys toward maturity. It demonstrated how communication is the wing upon which truth flows, and that only “Truth spoken in Love” (Eph. 4:15) is proper as a believer.
Dr. Schaeffer had an enormous impact by pointing out the dangerous and legitimate purpose of theology. It is not to be an exercise of pride or arrogant posturing for the believer. Sound doctrine is to be a spring board into the heart of God, by answering the questions which men have about truth. But beyond the intellectual satisfaction, it is for bringing us deeper into intimacy with our Risen Lord. Discussing theology, Francis warned of the danger of holding correct doctrine as the final point of integration, instead of Christ.
“Even right doctrine can be the false integration point. Theology today is often a superior game, just like the game of general intellectuals thinking…And almost all modern liberal theology is just a game; it is pure gamesmanship. But even orthodox doctrine can become merely intellectual, a final integration point, and can actually shut us off from God rather than opening the doors to Him, which is it meant to do. And religious organizations, including good and true churches and programs which are right in their own place, become poison when they become the final end.” (True Spirituality, Chapter 11)
This is as true as ever. I pray every leader would really understand this insight shared by Dr. Schaeffer. Theologically, we can be as straight as a gun barrel, but just as empty. Intimacy with Jesus is to be our one and only integration point.
I could share many other ways Francis influenced me, as I have read all 22 of his books. His words were like cool spring water satisfying my thirsty and searching heart. We could discuss his “Man with a capital M,” or “Taking the roof off” apologetics, or his “Upper and Lower Story view of philosophy.” Dr. Schaeffer gave us many unique terms which help us understand his thinking. He would have turned 100 years old this year. He has been home with the Lord for 28 years. I never had the honor to meet him. However one thing is for sure, I’ll see him one day…and what a day that will be. I can’t wait to thank him personally.
If you are in ministry do yourself a favor, get some of his books and read through them. You may not always agree with him, but one thing is for sure, you will be convicted to think through issues about truth, faith and spirituality which you may have never considered. That was one of the unique gifts Francis Schaeffer gave to us!