WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–Although it has been many years since Francis Schaeffer taught and shared his life with believers and seekers alike, his legacy of connecting the culture to Christ continues among a new generation.
A two-day conference at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary explored what lessons Christians and students of culture can learn about the late apologist, his effect on evangelicalism and his legacy from several renowned Schaeffer scholars.
Sponsored by the seminary’s L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture, the conference featured Schaeffer scholars Udo Middelmann, Ranald Macaulay and Dick Keyes, along with two papers written by Jerram Barrs, who was unable to attend because of sudden health concerns.
Middelmann, president of the Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation, opened the Nov. 7-8 conference by discussing who Schaeffer was. In order to understand him, one must first look at the focus of Schaeffer’s thinking and teaching, Middelmann said.
“Pay attention to what was at the core of his thinking: questions of life and death, political authority and moral obligations,” Middelmann said. “He saw it all in light of God and God’s Word and how it related to man in a fallen world.”
Middelmann said Schaeffer was one of the first to unlock the door to a philosophical and moral way of thinking about life in the public square. “He saw no reason to keep separate your spiritual life,” Middelmann said, adding that Schaeffer also looked at people holistically.
“He liked to look at the wrinkles in a face, work with his hands and watch people coming by. He held a biblical view of man: whole in body and spirit and rightly alive unto God.”
Conference participants were challenged in their defense and explanation of the Gospel as Macaulay presented Barrs’ paper on Schaeffer and his apologetics.
“He was an evangelist. That’s how he thought of himself and that’s how he spoke of his ministry,” wrote Barrs, resident scholar at the Francis Schaeffer Institute in St. Louis. “He would seek to give people answers to their questions. Francis Schaeffer believed Christianity was the answer to the universe we live in.
“He would say, ‘I am more sure of God’s existence than my own. If He did not exist, we would not,'” Barrs wrote. “Otherwise, we would not be able to function in this world. We can only know ourselves truly when we come to know God.”
Just as the Apostle Paul urged believers to be able to give an account for the joy they had in Christ, Schaeffer taught that Christians ought to have answers to questions humanity was asking.
As Macaulay, director of Christian Heritage Cambridge, discussed Schaeffer’s impact, he explored the topic of his influence in the 21st century. Looking historically at the trends of nations that have been built upon Christian principles, Macaulay mentioned the likelihood of the United States succumbing to authoritarianism.
“The pressures are progressively mounting for people to accept an authoritarian government,” Macaulay said, citing such factors as the breakdown of the economy, the presence of war or the serious threat of it, chaos or violence, indiscriminate terrorism and a shortage of natural resources worldwide.
“Will people stand up?” Macaulay said. The problem is not just a human problem, he said, but a divine judgment, similar to the one shown to Belshazzar. Rather than looking at the situation as imminent danger or a sign of the end times, Macaulay said Christians must look at the current state of the nation as a priceless opportunity for the church.
Just as Schaeffer did with his work at the L’Abri community in Switzerland, Macaulay said it is possible to see that small communities of Christians are able to turn whole communities around.
“Right now, we are morally and intellectually bankrupt. We need not just a reform of the church but a reform of the whole society,” Macaulay said. “Schaeffer was committed to being faithful, with no regard for success.”
Macaulay, presenting more of Barrs’ work on Schaeffer during an evening banquet, addressed several areas in which Schaeffer influenced evangelicalism. With the founding of L’Abri, Schaeffer began the work of looking at life’s questions “with utmost seriousness” and sharing what he found — the truth found in Christ — with travelers, students, theologians and skeptics.
Barrs wrote that Schaeffer “pointed answers to questions. He taught that all great questions that literature and art raise to life here in this world were to be found in God’s creation, God’s Word and God’s Son.”
The ministry of Francis and Edith Schaeffer evidenced “a devotion to Christ and a reality of prayer as we live in daily dependence upon the Lord. They had confidence in biblical truth and recognized the reality of the fall,” Barrs wrote.
“The Schaeffers believed that supernatural restoration of relationships ought to be evident wherever God is alive and that since Christ is Lord of all life, we are to take captive everything and make it obedient to Christ.”
One of the hindrances to seeing the claims of truth comes in the form of sentimentality, Keyes said during his presentation on the second day of the conference. Keyes is director of L’Abri Fellowship in Massachusetts.
“Sentimentality, in so far as it has infiltrated our ranks, can cause a major turn-off by sincere people looking for truth,” Keyes said. “Our sentimentalized society teaches you what to feel and teaches you what to feel about yourself.” In the search for truth, Keyes said the Schaeffers did an important work in challenging the notion of sentimentality, the idea that people are incapable of doing evil.
“He challenged the church,” Keyes said, “and also wonderfully helped the church to connect with the non-church, to connect with secular society with confidence and humility rather than just bombast and combat.”
Lauren Crane writes for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.