10 Things You Should Know About Francis Schaeffer

April 13, 2016

by William Edgar

Dr. William Edgar, author of Schaeffer on the Christian Life: Countercultural Spirituality, discusses the ten things you should know about the famed theologian’s life.


1. The Bible was central to his worldview.

Francis A. Schaeffer (1912-1984) became a Christian believer at the age of 17, after reading the Bible for the first time. As a bright teenager he had many questions about life and found the philosophy books did not help. The conviction that the Bible held basic answers for basic question would characterize his life and work. The slogan at l’Abri Fellowship was “I am not ashamed of the Gospel” (Romans 1:16). He defended the inerrancy of Scripture over against every spiritualizing hermeneutic.

2. He experienced deep spiritual crisis at one point in his life.

In the early 1950s, Francis experienced a deep, troubling spiritual crisis. While he had espoused and defended all the right doctrines, he found his spiritual life to have become dry. As a result he decided to revisit everything, from the basics on up.

He emerged with a new sense of the reality of Christian faith. He asked his wife Edith one day whether if all the passages in Scripture about the Holy spirit and prayer were removed whether it would make any difference in their lives. Deciding it would not, they resolved to develop a new dependency on the reality of God’s Spirit and the vitality of prayer.

3. He founded l’Abri based on a rich view of sanctification.

The community l’Abri, in the Swiss Alps, was founded in 1955. It was the fruit of the conviction that “God is there.” In his sermon series, followed by the book, True Spirituality, Francis developed his views on sanctification, centering on the reality and the power of Jesus Christ to lead us in his footsteps through three necessary stages: rejected, slain, raised. If you seek perfection or nothing, he said, you will get nothing every time. Instead, you can know substantial progress in the Christian life. This includes every area of human existence, social, psychological, the love of God till contentment and the love of neighbor without envy.

4. He believed in the dignity of all humans.

That mankind was made after God’s own image was central to the teachings of Francis Schaeffer. While fully aware of human sinfulness and brokenness, he nevertheless fiercely defended the nobility of humans, whether or not they were “little people” in the eyes or the world. He was sharply critical of B. F. Skinner’s operant conditioning, pointing us instead, Back to Freedom and Dignity (1972). He opposed abortion on demand, euthanasia, and infanticide, coauthoring Whatever Happened to the Human Race? (1983) with Surgeon General C. Everett Koop. What’s more, he viewed the creative arts as a testimony to God’s image-bearers, even when they portrayed distortion and rebellion. Against the dilemma of mysticism or nihilism, Schaeffer offered human dignity.

5. He affirmed the dual reality that there is no truth without love, but also that there is no love without truth.

A fundamental principle held by Francis Schaeffer, emphasized over and over again, was that “true truth” was tantamount, and yet was cold and cruel without love. “The local church or Christian group should be right, but it should also be beautiful,” he once said. He talked about orthodoxy complemented by orthopraxy. Anyone visiting l’Abri would soon discover this extraordinary balance.

Schaeffer was passionate about the truth, and fiercely opposed to relativism in all its guises. Honest questions deserved honest answers, he averred. But both he personally, and the community generally, were bathed with grace and love. Each person, no matter how lost, counted as an object of God’s love. Such love is costly, requiring great sacrifice and risk. . . .

. . .continue reading on Crossway.


William Edgar

Dr. Edgar (DThéol, Université de Genève) is professor of apologetics at WTS.

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