March 2005 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of L'Abri ("shelter"), the Christian study center in Huemoz, Switzerland, where Francis and Edith Schaeffer and their family welcomed strangers to discuss Christianity. Relying on prayer and God's grace for the ability to "give honest answers to honest questions," Francis Schaeffer led thousands to understand not only Christianity but also the fading culture of the late twentieth century, and pointed out that the only hope for mankind is to embrace the absolutes of God's Word.
Born in 1912 in Philadelphia, Schaeffer drifted into agnosticism as a teenager, but in 1930 was converted to Christianity and graduated from Hampton-Sydney College in 1935. That same year he married Edith Seville, daughter of American missionaries to China. Schaeffer was ordained in a small Presbyterian denomination and went overseas with his family to do mission work with children in war-ravaged Europe. In 1955 they settled in Switzerland, and young people gravitated to the Schaeffer home where Edith's hospitality and Francis's insightful and penetrating conversations began a work of Christian renewal and reconstruction which has born fruit for five decades, not only in Switzerland but across the world.
Schaeffer pointed out that modern man has no true basis for thought and life when he rejects rationality and reality, and so is left with "the impersonal plus time plus chance." Yet men are internally inconsistent, so we have the little girl who asks her atheistic mother, "Does God know we don't believe in Him?" The fact that most people continue to live their lives in a way that assumes a rational base provides the point of contact between the person who believes God's truth and the one who does not, but driving men to see their inconsistencies was never to be done in a way to win points in an argument. Schaeffer was ever the lover of mankind, because man is an image-bearer of God. To bear witness to someone of God's truth simply out of duty was anathema to Schaeffer. Real love for others requires the willingness to be vulnerable. The Schaeffer's practiced what they preached as they opened their home and reached out to all sorts of people. Schaeffer said, "Do not talk about truth when you practice untruth."
His critique of culture and philosophy ranged from Bernard Berenson, Bergman and the Beatles, to Hegel, the Huxleys and Heidegger. No less did he critique the church. He said, "Our churches have been preaching points and activity generators" instead of communities where the truth is practiced in love and where beauty is expressed in tangible ways. His comment, "the evangelical church seems to specialize in being behind," is particularly trenchant.
He asserted that Christianity is not conservative; it is revolutionary. Speaking of two camps, the New Left and the Establishment elite, he suggested that at times we will be "co-belligerents" with one or the other, but not true allies with either of them. Schaeffer spoke of "a growing Establishment totalitarianism" and warned that "evangelicals will slide without thought into accepting the Establishment elite."
So it is with astonishment that we read Marvin Olasky's words, "Who’s the major figure behind the election and re-election of George W. Bush? On one level, the visionary Karl Rove. At a deeper level, a theologian most Americans have never heard of: Francis Schaeffer."
I think not. While Schaeffer was socially conservative on issues like abortion, he was an original thinker who dared to examine all sides of an issue. He was suspect of democracy, and called a democracy without controls (which is exactly the situation we now have) "a dictatorship of 51%." When there are no absolutes, no rule of law, we are open to a totalitarian society "with all the modern means of manipulation under its control. Both the Left Wing elite and the rising Establishment elite are a threat."
I believe that if Francis Schaeffer were still alive he would surprise us by joining the movement to protest the Patriot Act, an infringement of God-given liberties if there ever was one. He predicted that people would love affluence and personal peace so much that they would willingly compromise liberty to maintain these idols. Doubtless his inquisitive and analytical mind would examine the inconsistencies of the September 11 commission report and perhaps he would be a "co-belligerent" with David Ray Griffin. Savvy enough to know an unjust war when he saw one, and fearless to speak his mind, Schaeffer would not have jumped on the war bandwagon, though he would have supported soldiers, including one of his own grandsons, sent by the "Establishment elite" to war. Last but not least, he probably would have voted for Michael Peroutka.
Francis Schaeffer should not be co-opted by the Bush party. Celebrate the accomplishments of L'Abri and Schaeffer and read some of his twenty-five books this year, and try to heed his warnings. Eerily, his prognostications have come to pass.
March 12, 2005