These all engage the second half of the 20th century with erudite analysis and prognosis if the church and culture do not disengage themselves from the perverse human philosophies which had overtaken the culture and threatening to do as well with the church.
Although there are so many useful defenses provided in this magnificent set to be read and resorted to, my favorite is his contribution to the exposure of the bankrupt, inconsistent philosophy of our time in his second and third chapters of The God Who Is There. It is a true fine application of Law/Gospel, while doing it in a way that can only garner the attention of the unbeliever at the least. One will profit from the usefulness of this set which seeks and contributes to taking the Gospel to the world in which we live.
"In my reading of philosophy, I saw that there were innumerable problems that nobody was giving answers for. the Bible, it struck me, dealt with man's problems in a sweeping, all-encompassing thrust."
- Francis Schaeffer
"Schaeffer offers us many insights in ministering to any culture of believers. And a thorough study of his work would benefit any believer greatly."
I would like to persuade that Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984) stands at the melting point of the modern and postmodern discussion. In some ways, every "modern" theologian after him is increasingly out of date. And any "postmodern" theologian ahead of him was unfortunately out of place in discussing issues of spiritual importance. Why? Schaeffer was deeply concerned with a shift in epistemology (how we know what we know). He observed the shift during the 1960s. While he never labeled it as such, this shift is what we now call postmodernism . (Note: This term was already in existence when discussing art, architecture, philosophy, and literature; theology really didn't jump into the discussion until postmodern thought proliferated in the 1980s, 3 years after Jean-Francois Lyotard's The Postmodern Condition .)
Francis Schaeffer is the last of the modern theologians, but not the first of the postmodern theologians. He still strongly argued for rationalism in apologetics. By this, I mean Francis Schaeffer believed one had to be converted to the appropriate set of presuppositions, namely the law of non-contradiction ("A" cannot be "non-A"), first, in order to believe and experience the God of Christianity. The Bible is viewed as a propositional argument from God to His people, which can only be accepted by the correct presuppositional vantage point. Francis Schaeffer also was skeptical of the increase of Platonism in culture (identified with mysticism) and leaned more towards an Aristotelian view of reality (identified with rationalism). These ideas mark a clear modern thought pattern.
My campus minister Keith Boone introduced me to the work of Francis Schaeffer. He encouraged me to read the trilogy: The God Who Is There , Escape From Reason , and He Is There And He Is Not Silent . These three books outline the basic premise of any arguments he would develop in later books. Schaeffer was culturally, philosophically, and scripturally informed. He wrote with compassion and fire. I often stayed up late in the night reading and pondering his ideas. Each sentence blowing my mind and causing me to re-evaluate my own hidden agendas for Christianity. He moved me to understand a deeper and truer Gospel than what I had known before.
And in my own postmodern superficiality, I will admit, I also liked him because he just looked cool. Francis Schaeffer has the image of an eccentric academic freak. I really resonated with that-- call it my personal image goal. Yes, he is the reason why I grew a goatee. (I can hear my friends, who know me too well, laughing out loud.)
All of his writings exist to prove a basic, and yet radical point, God is really there. He's not just a concept or an idea. He really exists. But not only that, God is speaking to us. Schaeffer believed humankind was created with dignity and is still formed in the "image of God." We all have worth and value which is innate with our standing in the universe. We are not just specks of dust on a larger speck of dust circling the sun. From this point, true restoration can take place in the souls of men and women.
Francis Schaeffer wrote to provide intellectual healing to a world in transition. He realized the old models were fading. There are some points we should observe in communicating Schaeffer's timeless message to postmodernism.
Schaeffer's goal was not to become "modern," but to minister to the modern person. Likewise, in an ever-changing society, we should be careful not to adopt postmodernism, but instead, give eternal hope to those people lost in the disparity of postmodernism. "Relevancy" has become a popular sell-word for churches nowadays. But this word has to imply more than just using movie clips in a sermon. Relevancy strikes to the heart of how we think and live.
Francis Schaeffer addresses the issue of a shift in epistemology
Today we still encounter in the consequences of this shift, especially when referring to a secular versus spiritual society. We create a Christian sub-world that was never meant to exist. Instead of being in the world, we live the hypothetical faith world. We fail to realize that everything is spiritual. Everything is bathed in God's touch and presence. "For you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being." (Revelation 4:11, quoted at the beginning of Schaeffer's The God Who Is There .) Schaeffer hoped to give his readers understanding of a world in direct connection with a God who is really present.
Art and culture mattered to Francis Schaeffer
Schaeffer wrote passionately about the Christian's ability to worship God through art. In the day of the great evangelical preachers, when such a strong emphasis was placed on teaching, Schaeffer ideas of art as worship reflected the wisdom of the ancients and were simultaneously revolutionary. Schaeffer's book How Should We Then Live gives a good overview on his ideas about art.
Among postmodern pilgrims everywhere, the subject of art and worship is a very popular topic of conversation. Francis Schaeffer introduces this idea to a new generation of disciples, an invaluable resource to any community interested in created art with meaning and transcendence.
L'Abri: An example of the "community apologetic"
L'Abri expanded to a number of branches throughout the world. Even today, L'Abri receives people. His wife Edith wrote the book L'Abri telling of this community's development.
Francis Schaeffer did not just live as a hermit scholar. He worked daily with people, and frequently strangers, sharing with them God's message of peace at L'Abri. He believed strongly that community is the place where God speaks. Not only that, but community is its own apologetic for the Gospel. People can live together in meaningful relationships, sharing, working together with the Spirit's power.
What is community? How do we "get" it? Schaeffer's L'Abri was a Christian response to the hippy communes that sought desperately to have community and meaning. L'Abri can also illustrate our own need to re-define church and the gathering of the saints. L'Abri was not just a Sunday morning institution. We need to carefully evaluate the condition of our own local churches from a programmatic institution to a community of believers.
The lasting impact of "The Last Great Modern Theologian"
This past summer I worked at a camp in Glen Rose, Texas . On the first day, I met a boy named "Schaeffer." He wore a Cowboys cap to cover his blonde matted hair and his big grin revealed two missing teeth. As he was making his bunk, trying to smooth out the sheets while standing on the bed (a difficult task no doubt), I commented to his mother about Francis Schaeffer. She smiled and said, "I know about Francis, we named our son after him. Francis really influenced my husband and me, when we first met." Imagine that? Schaeffer was my favorite camper for that week. Maybe it was his grin, maybe there is just something in a name.
For more information on Francis Schaeffer:
DAVID HOPKINS is program director at the Wesleyan Campus Ministry in the small college town of Commerce , Texas . He currently is part of the Axxess Community at Pantego Bible Church