Francis Schaeffer: A Mind and Heart for God ed. Bruce Little
176 pgs, P&R Publishing, 2010, RRP £9
You might expect to find a book entitled Francis Schaeffer: A Mind and Heart for God
in the biography section. Not this one. For the story of Schaeffer’s life you’ll have to go to Colin Duriez. This slim volume is instead a collection of thoughts on the core ideas in, and the importance of, Schaeffer’s teaching. That said, every page is inflected with personal affection for the man himself and with admiration for his approach to apologetics, faith and life.
Udo Middlemann in particular, in the first and the most biographical of the five chapters, speaks of “the privilege of spending many years with [Schaeffer] in close association and in a multitude of settings”.
The four main authors collectively describe Schaeffer as a compassionate, humble, caring, honest and genuine man, who loved God’s word and loved people. Many of them recount how he and Edith welcomed people into their home, an approach that is continued today by the ten braches of L’Abri Fellowship worldwide.
Middlemann adds details that give those of us who did not meet Schaeffer a glimpse of his personality: “I could tell you that he had no time or patience for small talk; that he laughed over a few of his favourite existentialist jokes; and [that] his daily prayer was that he would have neither poverty nor riches.”
It is against this backdrop of personal recollections that Schaeffer’s writings are expounded. For those who find Schaeffer’s own books too philosophical, all the crucial points are here in simple, readable terms. It is a difficult task, as Middlemann explains, for Schaeffer was a man of great conviction who was prepared to change his mind: “It is the price that he was willing to pay for having an open mind […] he felt that honesty about our finiteness demands an open mind, admitting piercing questions, and seeing the benefit of doubt over the whole stretch”.
The difficulty is compounded because to pigeonhole Schaeffer is to ignore the fact that he “did not want to start a movement […] There should be no Schaefferism, no school of thought named after him, no apologetic method, no efforts to idealize or even to copy his life”.
Jerram Barrs reiterates this in the second chapter, in which he summarises the essence of Schaeffer’s many lectures and sermons in a twenty-three page outline. He addresses the criticisms that Schaeffer receives - he is too intellectual, he complicated the gospel, he believed he could argue people to faith - stating that “Nothing could be farther from the truth
”. Bruce Little’s editorial introduction puts it well, “For Schaeffer, apologetics was not an intellectual game to see who could come out on top; it was a serious and compassionate intellectual engagement with people regarding the matter of truth and error, because not only truth mattered, but people mattered”.
It is because people matter that Schaeffer so insistently engaged with culture – art, music, creativity, political freedom, environmentalism, – and prophetically pointed to the “inevitability of the West’s demise”.
This is described by Ranald Macaulay in the middle chapter, in which he gives a sweep of Western philosophical history to emphasise that far from being dated Schaeffer is in fact more relevant to the twenty-first century than he was to his own. He quotes from How Should We Then Live?
to prove his point:
“Overwhelming pressures are being brought to bear on people who have no absolutes, but only the impoverished values of personal peace and affluence.”
Macaulay is quick to state Schaeffer’s no-nonsense diagnosis: “In his view there can be only two alternatives, either a return to the Christian faith or growing centralized control.”
This obviously has significant practical impact for the function of the individual, the church, and the society at large. In Barrs’ words: “Nothing is more practical, nothing more basic, than the conviction that there is truth that can be known.”
And Macaulay adds to this the glaring failure of evangelical churches to take this element in Schaeffer’s thought to heart, being distracted on one hand by pietism and on the other by techniques.
In the fourth chapter, Barrs returns to explain in eight succinct points the main things that he learnt from the Schaeffers. These, incidentally, have been adopted both by the L’Abri Fellowship and The Francis A. Schaeffer Institute thus highlighting their value as an accurate but simple reflection of what so many found appealing about them. Rather than forming a program, the eight points attempt to get to the core of the Schaeffers’ lives. The result is a list of surprisingly unoriginal values centred round a love of Christ and a conviction about the importance of prayer, both of which flow from a firm grasp of foundational biblical truth. They are “simply an elaboration of some of the most basic elements of faithful Biblical Christianity”.
As Barrs concludes, “that is why the Schaeffers’ legacy is one that we can cherish”.
The final chapter on ‘Sentimentality’ then stands apart from the rest as an attempt to apply Schaeffer’s outlook to a topic which he himself never explicitly addressed. Dick Keyes illustrates the value of Schaeffer’s approach, which when combined with the sharpness of his own writing, provides us with a penetrating analysis of the dangerous consequences for the church when it embraces sentimentality. He insists that we need to face up to the reality of sin and suffering rather than trivialising it, to be selfless in our love for others, and then to act responsibly. “These are all areas where we can help people make a reality check”,
he writes, and so we must if, in a sentimentalised age, we want people to “realize their need for Christ”.
In some ways, this book has a narrow focus. It is all about Schaeffer – his life, his apologetics, his relevance, his legacy, his application. But, as is no doubt already apparent, it touches on a huge amount else in the process.
For those who are not familiar with Schaeffer, or are trying to get to grips with his writing, it provides a short, readable and clear overview. For those who know him better, it is an affectionate portrait by some of the people who knew him best.
A note on the Cambridge connection:
Christian Heritage is itself deeply indebted to the work and approach of Francis Schaeffer, and Ranald says this directly in the book: “My own fledgling work [...] in Cambridge also tries to reflect it”.
If you would like to know more about Schaeffer, this title is our Book of the Month this June and is available for £8 (plus £2 P&P). We also stock many of the Schaeffer titles in the Round Church library and bookstall.
We would really encourage you to come in and take a look. After all, Schaeffer himself “firmly believed that his real influence in the world would come through people understanding the ideas he set forth in his books and films.” (Barrs)
is a great place to start. Alternatively, Schaeffer himself claimed that the core of his apologetics is to be found in three books, The God Who Is There
, Escape From Reason
, He Is There And He Is Not Silent
You could also try Ranald’s article ‘What can we learn from Francis Schaeffer?’, available on the Christian Heritage website.
Finally, for more on the L’Abri Fellowship, or to download some of Schaeffer’s lectures for free, see www.labri.org
For more on the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute, see
Rachel Thorpe is our year long intern and has been reading and writing alongside running our courses and doing lots of admin, bookstall and library work. Her work has been published on bethinking.com & in Evangelicals Now. She’s moving on in August and we want to thank her for all that she’s done and point you to her website so you can keep up to date with what she’s doing:
(Author: Rachel Thorpe
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