Bitesize Biographies: Francis Schaeffer
144 pages, £5.99
Star rating: 4 stars
As a young believer I purchased The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer. In my lunch breaks at work I began to make my way through the five brightly coloured volumes. Volume 1 contained the seminal trilogy, The God Who Is There, Escape From Reason and He Is There and He Is Not Silent. In these writings Schaeffer offered a penetrating and far-sighted analysis of Western culture, exposing trends in philosophy, science and the arts to the scrutiny of biblical truth. His apologetic method involved giving honest answers to honest questions and showing the absurdity of unbelief when taken to its logical conclusion.
At a time when Evangelicals tended to be rather pietistic, with little interest in politics, the arts and culture, Schaeffer developed a rigorously biblical worldview that enabled him to engage with the world with critical, yet gracious honesty. He was no narrow-minded Fundamentalist, yet he robustly defended the inerrancy of the Bible and championed supernatural Christianity. Schaeffer was a stern critic of theological liberalism and the neo-orthodoxy alternative advocated by Karl Barth.
Those who know little of Schaeffer might think that he was a somewhat remote pointy-headed, goatee-bearded intellectual, who lacked knowledge of the real world. He did sport a goatee beard, but the rest of the caricature is deeply unfair. Roberts gives us an illuminating glimpse of the man behind the books and films. Amongst other things, Schaeffer experienced the stresses and strains of married life, a baby daughter’s exploding nappy and car crashes. Sometimes all at the same time!
Schaeffer’s life was dedicated to ‘speaking the truth in love’. But this involved more than words. He endeavoured to live out the truth by trusting in God and caring for other people. Francis and his wife, Edith pioneered work among children. They were interested in reaching the ordinary man and woman for Christ as well as academic types. L’Abri, where their work was based in Switzerland was a not only a place for study and theological discussion, it was also a refuge for drug addicts and others whose lives had been broken by the destructive power of sin.
Mostyn Roberts has given us an insightful and gripping biography of Schaeffer, who he describes as a ‘pastor and evangelist’, rather than a ‘Christian philosopher’. He offers a well-judged account of Schaeffer’s thought. The writer is honest about his subject’s faults and failings, while appreciative of his achievements as a Bible teacher and apologist for the Christian faith. He shows us why today’s Evangelicals need to listen afresh to what Francis Schaeffer had to say. His essential message endures, ‘God is there and he is not silent.’