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Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life Hardcover – June 13, 2008
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"Francis Schaeffer was an amazing man-intellectually brilliant and set on truth, emotionally intense, devoted to God and compassionate; like Jeremiah, perplexed by the world, not because he didn't understand it but because he did. As one of his editors, I came to know him well, but only after he emerged as a writer. For me Colin Duriez fills in the fascinating details of his early years. Yes, this was the man I knew-one who was surprised by God as his influence grew from his pastoring small churches to teaching thousands in auditoriums around the world, from conversations one on one or with a handful of students to intellectual sparring with elite secular scholars and pundits. Duriez knows his subject; Schaeffer, the Jeremiah of the twentieth century, walks and talks again in these pages."
—James W. Sire, Author, The Universe Next Door and A Little Primer on Humble Apologetics
"An excellent biography of this influential thinker, mingling personal memories and theological analysis. A must for Schaeffer's admirers and those wanting to develop his heritage today."
—Alister McGrath, Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion, University of Oxford
"Francis Schaeffer taught evangelicals how to understand their world, exerting a profound influence over the next generation of young leaders after the publication in 1968 of The God Who Is There and Escape from Reason. His ministry at L'Abri, a Swiss center for caring for the hurt and the doubtful, had persuaded him of the need to discern how alternative worldviews had interacted over time with the Christian faith. He led the way, long before it was fashionable, in analyzing culture. Colin Duriez, who studied under Schaeffer and has interviewed many who were shaped by him, has written a lively biography that will introduce this powerful apologist to the twenty-first century."
—David Bebbington, Professor of History, University of Stirling
"I thank God for this unique servant of the Lord and now for this book. Dr Schaeffer was one of the most influential men in my life and in the movement of O.M. He affirmed us when many leaders were still keeping their distance. In 1966 he was the main speaker at an O.M. conference in Forest Hill, London, and our movement was never the same. This unique book is way overdue, and especially those of us who were impacted by this amazing man are very grateful. What Dr. Schaeffer wrote years ago is even more relevant in this postmodern era."
—George Verwer, Founder, Operation Mobilization
About the Author
Colin Duriez has appeared as a commentator on several mainstream documentaries, has authored biographies of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, and studied for several months under Francis Schaeffer at Swiss L’Abri before reading English and philosophy at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland. He writes books, edits, and lectures.
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Colin Duriez has masterfully written a good biography fit for the important christian thinker. As Duriez traces the life of Schaeffer, he not only brings out what is happening in Schaeffer’s life. More importantly, Duriez shows the progression of the thoughts of Schaeffer. For example, Schaeffer was at first quite adamant about using voice recorders to record his conversations with those living in L’Abri. He felt it wasn’t fair to his questioners that others were able to hear what he thought was private conversations. He was finally persuaded when he learnt that the participants were completely fine with letting others in to this discussion. This then sparked off to the tape ministry that is still in use today.
Duriez also shows very clearly how Schaeffer struggles through the various stages in his life. For example, early in his student life, Schaeffer had decided to embark to study theology towards the end of becoming a ministry. Duriez shows how Schaeffer struggled through in this decision, on one end, he did not want to disappoint his father, yet he knew clearly that God has called him to enter training for the ministry. In the midst of this struggle, Schaeffer with tears pleaded with God for guidance and help and reassurance. He finally emerged and given his dreaded decision to his father. Duriez shows the readers that Schaeffer, like us is one who had to work through his struggles in life, depending solely on the Lord always.
Duriez also shows how the decision to set up L’Arbi was not an ambition of Schaeffer. Rather it was a journey of faith and one filled with dependent on the Lord. In setting up and running L’Arbi Schaeffer faced many issues, funds to buy the location came only at the very last minute. Even in winter logs that had to be very sparingly due to the high cost of firewood, Schaeffer often even sieved through the ashes to see if there’s any firewood was unburned that could be used!
I have enjoyed the many insights that Duriez has highlighted in the life of Schaeffer. I’ve come to learnt how to listen, really listen to everyone who I talk to. These are just some of the lessons I’ve learnt from reading the life of Schaeffer. I hope if you interested to read about his life to pick up this book. I’m quite sure you will go away with a much deeper appreciation of Schaeffer. Schaeffer was not just as an intellectual or apologist, he was also Christian, and one who was truly concern for the people around him, hoping to help them through their struggles in life.
Rating: 4.75 / 5
Francis A. Schaeffer, evangelist, apologist, pastor, author, and social critic, died at the age of 72 in 1984 after a long and heroic battle with cancer. In approximately the last twenty years of his life, Schaeffer attained notoriety as one who knew how to speak Christian truth to those experiencing the upheavals of the counterculture. Although his first book, The God Who is There (1968), was not published until he was in his late fifties, Schaeffer and his inestimable wife Edith (a writer herself), had pioneered a Christian community in the Swiss Alps in 1955 called L'Abri that became a hub for Christian hospitality, conversation, apologetics and evangelism in the modern world. His lecture tours around Europe and the United States, such as at Wheaton College, were also becoming widely known and respected. In 1960, Time Magazine called him a "missionary to intellectuals." Schaeffer went on to write over twenty books on apologetics, theology, and ethics. Most of these were developed from lecture transcripts or were aided by considerable editorial assistance. Schaeffer's great strength was discussion and lecturing, not crafting the academic manuscript. In fact, for all his status as a Christian intellectual, Schaeffer did not hold an earned doctorate and never held a full-time academic post, although he taught as an adjunct periodically at Covenant Seminary.
Colin Duriez is a freelance writer and biography and, importantly, was a student at the Schaeffer's Swiss L'Abri Ministry. Duriez has a firm grasp of the considerable Schaeffer corpus, but there is so much more to Schaeffer than his books, which were, in some ways, an afterthought that came after many years of ministry in the United States and Europe. Duriez makes very good use of extensive interviews with members of the Schaeffer family and of his associates such as Os Guinness, and Schaeffer's students. Duriez says he was "guided by over 180,000 words of oral history concerning Francis Schaeffer" (10). Edith Schaeffer, who is now in her mid-nineties, was, Duriez writes, "not well enough to give me more than a warm smile and a greeting" (13). This deep resource of oral history helps fill out the biography of Schaeffer in existentially significant ways.
Duriez enters into some of the charges made against Schaeffer's understanding of the history of philosophy and pulls in an interesting ally: C.S. Lewis. Schaeffer famously credited Aquinas as opening the door to autonomous human reasoning by his distinction of nature from grace. Nature is what can be known through unaided human reason and grace provides knowledge from a supernatural source, the Bible. Schaeffer argued (albeit very briefly) that Aquinas's way of construing these two sources of knowledge paved the way for nature to "eat up grace"-that is, autonomous human reasoning would set itself up against biblical revelation and end us secularizing our Western worldview. Duriez notes that C.S. Lewis, an Oxford Don and scholar of much higher rank than Schaeffer, made much the same point in The Allegory of Love (172-73). Although Duriez does not mention it, the controversial Catholic theologian, Hans KÅ±ng made the same point about Aquinas in his book, The Existence of God in 1980.
This book provides a rich account of the full gamut of Schaeffer's life and teachings. Schaeffer was born into a humble, working class and nonintellectual family in Germantown, Pennsylvania. He surprised his parents by becoming a serious Christian and attending college and seminary. After pastoring in America, he ventured to Europe to examine the state of the churches after the devastation of World War II. He eventually settled in Switzerland where his home became a center for evangelism and hospitality. Out of this ministry eventually came Schaeffer's books and in the final decade of his life, his unexpected and largely unwanted celebrity as a culture warrior of the New Christian Right in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Duriez argues that here was a continuity to Schaeffer's life. Although in the early 1950's he left the cultural isolationism and incessant in-fighting of his early Fundamentalist days, just before starting L'Abri, Schaeffer would not sacrifice what he took to be the essentials of biblical orthodoxy for popularity or for anything else. Nevertheless, he did not treat people as objects on which to protect truth. His early pastoral ministry as well as his work at L'Abri and even into his last stage as something of a Christian luminary were marked by a profound concern for human beings, who (as he never ceased emphasizing) were made "in the image and likeness of God." In his later years, through his book and film series, "Whatever Happened to the Human Race?" (co-written with C. Everett Koop, who went on to become Surgeon General under President Ronald Reagan), he led the way for evangelicals to join and sustain the pro-life movement. Given Schaeffer's theology of the person (divinely created, fallen, and in need of Christ's redemption), he took their intellectual questions, their art, and their God-forsaking lives very seriously. Schaeffer was also a man of the Bible (and of the Reformation) until the end. He was not interested in academic apologetics per se, but wanted souls to know the God revealed in Holy Scripture. He consistently taught and preached from the Bible and wrote books commenting on Scripture (such as Genesis in Space and Time and Joshua and the Flow of Biblical History).
While some claims Schaeffer's apologetics is out of date, they are wrong. Schaeffer anticipated much of postmodern thinking-for example, critiquing Foucault in 1971-and realized that many in the sixties and seventies had already made "the escape from reason" (the title of his second book.) His apologetic was as much one for the importance of reason as it was as a reasonable apologetic. Moreover, Schaeffer was never an arid rationalist who unloaded his apologetic system on unsuspecting unbelievers (something which might be said for some of the followers of fellow Reformed philosophers Gordon Clark and Cornelius Van Til). Schaeffer's writings always engaged humans as cultural and individual beings, not disembodied intellects; hence, his emphasis on painting, music, architecture, and literature as revealing the conditions of non-Christian individuals and cultures. Further, Schaeffer was renowned for his ability to make Christianity pertinent in one-on-one and small group conversations, which involved much give and take and creativity. Schaeffer was no mere logic chopper. Schaeffer believed in the necessity of reason for a coherent, cogent, and livable worldview, but he did not affirm the sufficiency of reason. We finite and fallible humans need God's propositional revelation in Scripture to make sense of ourselves, our world, and our God.
While Schaeffer admitted that he was not an academic philosopher-and even wrote in a letter to Duriez that his thin book, He is There, He is Not Silent, would probably be his last philosophy book (174)-Schaeffer's basic apologetic insights hold up well today, even if we must refine his method address ideas he did not tackle. Let me mention two basic ideas that I (as a professional philosopher, unlike Schaeffer) find profound and helpful.
First, Schaeffer taught that worldviews need to be compared on the basis of objective criteria. That is, one does not simply presuppose one's worldview apart from rational testing. Every worldview-or basic perspective on life's deepest questions-needs to pass three individually necessary and jointly sufficient tests. First, it must be internally consistent. That is, its defining beliefs must cohere with one another. Second, a worldview needs to fit the facts of reality; it must be "true to what is," as Schaeffer put it. A worldview needs to match the external facts of history and science. Third, a worldview needs to be livable to be credible. This means that it must pass the existential test of fitting the facts of the internal world. For example, any worldview that denies the objective reality of evil (such as secular relativism or Eastern monism) cannot be lived out consistently, since we intuitively know that rape, murder, and racism are wrong. These three apologetic criteria can be nuanced and made much more sophisticated, but they form the backbone of any solid apologetic method. These truths are far from outdated!
Second, Schaeffer repeatedly emphasized that the God of Christianity was an "infinite and personal" being, and that humans were not machines or little gods, but made in the image of this infinite-personal God. In other words, for Christianity, personality is the deepest and most profound ontological category of reality-not impersonal time, space, law, chance, matter or some impersonal sense of deity held by Eastern religions. Schaeffer's apologetic capitalizes on this uniquely personal sense of reality held by Christianity. Persons, though fallen, have objective and eternal meaning on this scheme-as does community, since God himself is a Trinity: a relationship of divine persons coexisting in one Godhead from eternity.
I fear that the younger generation of evangelicals does not know enough about the remarkable life and achievements of Francis Schaefer; instead they are opting for the trendy but intellectually barren hype of much of the emergent church movement-which claims to be "authentic." ("Authentic" often means little more than emotional, unconventional, and obsessively autobiographical.) Many older evangelicals may have forgotten many of the salient lessons from his life and teachings as well. Reading this biography can help rectify this problem. But better yet, one can read or reread (as I have done many times) Schaeffer's own books and watch his two film series (the ten-part, "How Should We Then Live?" and five-part, "Whatever Happened to the Human Race?" which are both available on DVD). Indeed, Schaeffer did live an "authentic" life-a life of piety, truth, and courage-worthy of our attention and of our thanksgiving to the triune God Schaeffer served.