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Seminary journal celebrates life & legacy of Francis Schaeffer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Francis Schaeffer believed the gospel of Jesus Christ should both transform and inform every aspect and opinion in the life of the believer.

The life and ministry of Schaeffer (1912-84) are the topic of the latest edition of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, a publication of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. It includes articles by five theologians as well as a sermon transcript by Schaeffer and some 20 book reviews.

Schaeffer was an influential apologist for the Christian faith who penned more than 25 books including “The God Who is There,” “He is There and He is Not Silent” and “How Should We Then Live?”

Schaeffer sought to bring Scripture to bear on all of life, Southern Seminary professor Thomas Schreiner asserts in the lead article.

“The truth of the Gospel spoke to every arena of life, including philosophy, music, art, and homemaking,” writes Schreiner, professor of New Testament interpretation. “For Schaeffer Christ was not only Lord of the heart but also Lord of the mind. He encouraged Christians to enter the intellectual sphere with confidence and to take every thought captive to Christ.”

In 1955, Schaeffer founded L’Abri (which means “The Shelter”) Fellowship in Switzerland, seven years after moving there to be a missionary.

At a tumultuous time in global politics, L’Abri sought to provide biblical answers to life’s deepest questions. Through L’Abri, Schaeffer and his wife, Edith, helped a generation of young adults develop a comprehensive Christian worldview through the study of Scripture and philosophy. The L’Abri Fellowship continues today in both Europe and North America.

The genius of Schaeffer, perhaps more than any aspect of his teaching or belief, was his ability to minister to individual souls, Schreiner points out.

“He loved people in the particulars of everyday life,” he writes. “He made time to meet with and minister to people. The Schaeffers opened up their home to all the problems and inconveniences and messes that come from loving human beings.

“Francis Schaeffer showed his love by listening to what others had to say before responding. People were open to Schaeffer’s answers because they knew that he heard their questions.”

Stephen J. Wellum, associate professor of Christian theology at Southern Seminary, writes in his essay on the life of Schaeffer that the apologist’s impact was threefold: personal, theological and social.

His greatest contribution, Wellum notes, was not in academic circles nor in his books or lectures.

“[H]is greatest influence was made more indirectly, through his own personal contact with individuals whom he came to know and whose lives he changed,” Wellum writes. “His influence, in other words, was not being part of the evangelical establishment, but instead being quite independent of it.

“For Schaeffer, personal evangelism and discipleship were no cliche. It was through his life and ministry at L’Abri in Switzerland, far removed from America, that he and his wife, Edith, touched the lives of countless numbers of individuals — many of whom would later become key evangelical leaders.”

Schaeffer foresaw that the notion of absolute truth was on the decline as postmodernism began to make serious inroads into popular thought and theology. In answering the challenge of postmodernism, Schaeffer spoke of “true truth” as that which is absolute and unchanging. He also reminded a generation that all truth is God’s truth.

Essayist Udo Middlemann, president of the Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation since 1988, writes that Schaeffer’s phrase on truth was no mere mantra, but a commitment to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture.

“The reference to truth was for Schaeffer more than a personal choice or commitment,” Middlemann writes. “Whoever is in search of real answers to the perennial questions of man does not have many choices between Christianity and any number of alternatives. Christianity is not just the best fitting or helpful mental model or construction.

“The Bible, with its message, in contrast to other ways of viewing the world, is the only true truth. It was not a Christian view of things (as if there could be many others), but the only fitting explanation of man, history and the cosmos in the context of all reality.”

As many of the essayists point out, Schaeffer was a stalwart defender of historic Christian doctrine. As Greg Grooms, who worked at L’Abri from 1978 to 1984, asserts, Schaeffer saw right doctrine as the motivator of right living. His commitment to doctrine began with inerrancy but went far beyond it, Grooms writes. Also, Schaeffer’s approach to apologetics was deeply relational, Grooms says.

“To Schaeffer sound doctrine was more than just the doctrine of inerrancy, it was the Reformed faith,” Grooms writes. “To Schaeffer his commitment to think worldviewishly was first and foremost personal and practical. If you want to communicate the Gospel effectively, you must first know your audience, what they believe and why, and how believing it influences their lives.”

The journal also includes an article by Harold O.J. Brown, professor of theology and philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, N.C., comparing Schaeffer the philosopher with thinkers such as Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche.

Excerpts of The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology can be viewed on Southern’s website at http://www.sbts.edu/resources/sbjt/2002/Summer2002.php.

The SBJT can be purchased by calling 1-800-626-5525, ext. 4413.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: FRANCIS SCHAEFFER and THE LIFE & MINISTRY OF FRANCIS SCHAEFFER.

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  • Jeff Robinson

    Jeff Robinson is director of news and information at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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