Perhaps no intellectual save C. S. Lewis affected the thinking of evangelicals more profoundly; perhaps no leader of the period save Billy Graham left a deeper stamp on the movement as a whole.1
At the end of his life in 1984, at age 72, Francis Schaeffer had established himself as the leading Christian spokesman against theological Modernism, philosophical Humanism and political Pragmatism. On the positive side, he had become Christendom’s foremost spokesman in behalf of a Christian worldview.
- U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. C. Everett Koop, called him, “God’s man for the era.”2
- Billy Graham said of him, “He was truly one of the great evangelical statesmen of our generation…More than virtually any other thinker, he had a keen insight into the major theological and philosophical battles of our time”3
- President Ronald Reagan wrote to his family, He will long be remembered as one of the great Christian thinkers or our century.”4
- Time magazine described him as “a missionary to intellectuals.”5
- Schaeffer said of himself, “I really am a country preacher. But I had to develop my philosophy to speak to a world that no longer believes that truth exists.”6
Francis Schaeffer spent his life advocating a Christian worldview. In the process he fiercely defended the inerrancy of the Scriptures and the existence of God. He also proclaimed the sanctity of human life and constantly warned the Western World about the dangers of Humanism.
Much of what he had to say was highly theological and philosophical in nature and difficult to comprehend, but in his final years, he brought is message down to earth through books and documentary films that were aimed at the layperson.
Francis August Schaeffer, IV was born in 1912 in Germantown, Pennsylvania. Neither of his parents were Christians, and neither of them were well educated. His father was a common laborer with only a third grade education.
Francis became a Christian at age 17 after his interest in Greek philosophy ultimately led him to read the Bible. Later in life, he observed: “What rang the bell for me was the answers in Genesis, and that with these you had answers — real answers — and without these there were no answers either in philosophy or in the religion I had heard preached.”7
When he told his parents of his plan to attend Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia in order to study for the ministry, they strongly opposed the idea. But he went anyway, not knowing how he would be able to afford it.8 The college was an all-male school affiliated with the Presbyterian Church.
At the end of his freshman year in 1932, Francis met the woman who would become his wife. She was Edith Seville, who was a student at Beaver College for Women in Pennsylvania. Both had returned home for the summer, and they met at the Presbyterian church where they were attending.
Edith had radically different background. Both of her parents were college graduates and were Christian missionaries to China, where Edith was born. She was two years younger than Francis.
Despite the fact that Francis had a hot temper and Edith had a strong will, they fell in love and were married in 1935.9 One of the key elements that drew them together was the fact that both were Fundamentalists who strongly believed in the inerrancy of the Scriptures.
Francis proceeded on to the newly established Faith Theological Seminary in Wilmington, Delaware, from which he graduated in 1938.10 He then became the first graduate to be ordained in the Bible Presbyterian Church, a new denomination that had broken away from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church over the issue of inerrancy.11
After spending nine years pastoring Bible Presbyterian churches in Pennsylvania and Missouri, the denomination’s foreign missions board sent Francis on a three-month trip to Europe to build a network among “Bible-believing” churches and pastors.12 He quickly discovered that the European churches were caught up in apostasy.13
After reporting back to the missions board about what he had discovered in Europe, the board decided to send him and his wife to Europe as missionaries. So, in 1948, they departed the States and settled in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Shortly before their departure, one of their daughters became seriously ill and required surgery at Philadelphia Children’s Hospital. Her surgeon was Dr. C. Everett Koop, who had just become a Christian a few weeks before. The Schaeffers hit it off with Dr. Koop, and they became life-long friends, laying the groundwork for a very important collaboration that would take place 29 years later in 1977.14
Three years after his move to Switzerland, Schaeffer experienced a crisis of faith during which he “rethought everything.”15 The experience proved to be a major turning point in his life. He emerged from it with a complete and strong reaffirmation of faith. His biographer, Louis Gifford Parkhurst, Jr., states that Francis came out of the struggle “with the firm conviction that God is truly, objectively there whether we think He is or not, that the Bible is true in all that it affirms, that the Bible applies to the whole of life, and that the spiritual reality of the love and holiness of the Holy Spirit must be present in our lives, especially so while fighting for the truth.”16
In 1955, the Schaeffers moved to Huémoz, Switzerland and established a ministry called L’Abri Fellowship. The name, L’Abri, is French for “The Shelter.” It quickly became a spiritual community that attracted young college students from all over Europe, many of whom were caught up in Existential philosophy and were desperately searching for some meaning in life.
In the years that followed, as he worked with these young people, Francis developed and finetuned his arguments against Humanism. He did the same with his arguments in defense of the Christian faith. His lectures were recorded, and then the recordings were transcribed into books that began to be published in 1968. The books resulted in invitations to speak at universities around the world.
In the second segment of this look at Francis Shaeffer’s fascinating life and theology, we’ll delve into his most important work in literature.
1) Michael S. Hamilton, :The Dissatisfaction of Francis Schaeffer: Thirteen years after his death, Schaeffer’s vision and frustration continue to haunt evangelicalism,” Christianity Today magazine, March 3, 1997, www.christianity today.com/ct/1997/march3/7t322a.html, page 1.
2) Susan Le Gras Davis, “Dr. Francis Schaeffer: God’s May for this Era,” Good News Publishers, PIONEER magazine, July-August 1984, page 1.
3) Cal Thomas, “Francis August Schaeffer, IV: Crusader for Truth,” The Fundamentalist Journal, July-August, 1984, page 48.
5) The Orthodox Presbyterian Church of America, “Today in OPC History, January 30, 2012 Francis Schaeffer,” www.opc.org/today.html?history-id=740, page 2.
6) Louis Gifford Parkhurst, Jr, Francis Schaeffer: The Man and His Message (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1985), page 28.
7) Edith Schaeffer, The Tapestry (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1981), page 52.
8) Parkhurst, pages 37-38.
9) Ibid., page 47.
10) OPC, “Today in OPC History…” page 1.
12) Hamilton, page 2.
13) Parkhurst, page 58.
14) Ibid., pages 63-64.
15) Harold Fickett, “Our Contentious Catalyst: Francis Schaeffer never stopped battling for the faith,” Christianity Today magazine, November 20, 2008, www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/november/29.73.html, page 2.
16) Parkhurst, page 70.