Who was Francis Schaeffer?
Francis Schaeffer was an American Evangelical Christian theologian, philosopher, and Presbyterian pastor. He inspired a cohort of evangelicals and went on to change the face of evangelism. A brigade of different types of people, from flamboyant hippies to antagonistic children, came to confidence at his L’Abri study establishment in the country of the Swiss Alps. He was chiefly drawn in by the faction of evangelicals and urged them to step into the ‘pro-life’ camp. A ‘missionary to the intellectuals’, Francis Schaeffer was known to many people as ‘Saint Francis’. Throughout his early years, he struggled for a lot of things. From his preliminary years as a member of the clergy in the fundamentalist Bible Presbyterian Church to his altercation with wide-spread secularism and to the rage-filled posts to critics, he struggled personally and on the career front, on more than one occasion. His approach towards life was more archaic and directed to the Protestant faith than the one that involved theological liberalism. He intended to save the ‘lost Protestant culture’ by means of Christian apologetics. Today, he is best-remembered for his famed writings and his establishment, the ‘L’Abri’ community in Switzerland. As a man, Schaeffer is remembered by many of his contemporaries as someone who was extremely cynical, at times petulant and someone who suffered from spells of depression.
Childhood & Early Life
Francis August Schaeffer was born in Germantown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Bessie Williamson and Franz A. Schaeffer III.
He graduated from Hampden-Sydney College, in 1935. He then enrolled at Westminster Theological Seminary, where he was the disciple of J. Gresham Machen and Cornelius Van Til.
In 1937, he was transferred to the Faith Theological Seminary and graduated from there the following year.
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He was the first student to have graduated from the Faith Theological Seminary. He was also the first to be preordained in the Bible Presbyterian Church.
It was during this time, he served under pastors in Pennsylvania and Missouri. However, he chose to support the Bible Presbyterian Church and eventually became a part of the Reformed Presbyterian Church and the Evangelical Synod.
In 1948, Schaeffer and his family moved to Switzerland. Exactly seven years later, he established a community called ‘L’Abri’, which in French, denotes ‘shelter’. This establishment was a spiritual community which attracted hundreds and thousands of followers in the coming decade.
In an article written for ‘The Bible Today’, Schaeffer presented his views on apologetics and how he chose the best of both; presuppositionalism and evidentialism in his views, in 1948.
Through the 1960s, he indulged himself in the works of Rousas John Rushdoony, which inspired his own ideals and beliefs.
In 1968, he went on to author the first of his theological books titled ‘The God Who Is There’ and ‘Escape from Reason’. These works laid the philosophical and apologetical underpinning for the rest of his works.
In 1969, ‘Death in the City’, an apologetic work was published. The subsequent year, he penned ‘Mark of the Christian’.
1970 also saw him publish, ‘Pollution and the Death of Man’. He authored ‘True Spirituality’ the following year, which was to be published as the second book, in the third volume of the ‘The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview’
In 1972, he authored ‘He Is There and He Is Not Silent’ and ‘Back to Freedom and Dignity’. These two works combined with ‘The God Who Is There’ and ‘Escape from Reason’ completed the first volume of ‘The Complete Works’.
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His second volume of works focuses more on the Bible and included five novels including ‘Genesis in Space and Time’, ‘No Final Conflict’, ‘Joshua and the Flow of Biblical History’, ‘Basic Bible Studies’ and ‘Art and the Bible’.
The third volume of his ‘Complete Works’, includes publications that centred on spirituality and gave his views on post-modernism. Of this, the second book in volume three titled, ‘True Spirituality’ went on to earn critical acclaim. Other books in the volume include ‘Two Contents, Two Realities’ and ‘The New Super-Spirituality’.
The fourth volume contained the works ‘The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century’, ‘Death in the City’ and ‘The Great Evangelical Disaster’, among many others.
In 1976, he penned one of the greatest works out of ‘The Complete Works’ series; ‘How Should We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture’. This book went on to create waves in the spiritual community and also became the subject of a number of shows and films.
In 1981, he authored ‘A Christian Manifesto’, which was a book that intended to provide a ‘Christian’ answer to the famous, ‘The Communist Manifesto’, published more than a century earlier.
One of his last appearances before his demise was when he gave a public lecture at the University of Strasbourg. His discourse was collected and published as ‘Christian Faith and Human Rights’ from 1982 to 1983.
His masterpiece was his collection of 22 books, which was put together in a series known as ‘The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview’. This large collection was divided into five large sections. Of this extensive collection, the second book, ‘How Should We Then Live’, published in 1976, in the fifth volume, went on to become a huge success.
The book ‘How Should We Then Live’ became so successful that there is a documentary film series based on the book and the book also served as the basis for 10 major films. This is also considered one of his greatest works because it is credited with inspiring a number of leaders of the American conservative evangelical society. The book has also spawned a number of study aids for the films that were created.
Awards & Achievements
He was presented the honorary Doctorate of Divinity from Highland College, in California, in 1954.
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He received a Doctor of Letters degree from Gordon College, Massachusetts, in 1971.
The Simon Greenleaf School of Law presented Schaeffer with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree, in 1983.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Edith Seville in 1935. The couple went on to have four children, out of which, Frank Schaeffer, the couple’s son, went on to become a author, painter and prominent film director.
He passed away due to lymphoma at the age of 72, in Rochester, Minnesota.
Following his death, his legacy became a far-reaching one. An institution called, ‘The Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation’ continues to spread his good work and analyses his teachings even today.
The ‘L’Abri Community’ foundation still exists in Switzerland, which is operating in many parts of the world today including the United States, Canada, South Korea, Australia and the United Kingdom.
The Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership was created as a Bible Literacy project and still exists today.
His works have gone on to inspire personalities such as Sara Diamond, Tim LaHaye, Frederick Clarkson, Chip Berlet and Michele Bachmann.
This American Evangelical theologian and philosopher’s works are attributed with igniting political activism among evangelicals and fundamentalists in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly linked to abortion issues.