Our Contentious Catalyst
Evangelist Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984) awakened a generation of evangelicals and helped turn the movement decisively toward cultural engagement. Legions of baby boomers, from wild-eyed hippies to disaffected preachers' kids, came to faith at his L'Abri study center in Switzerland. Along with C. Everett Koop, Schaeffer was instrumental in moving evangelicals into the pro-life camp. He was called the "missionary to the intellectuals" and, in one Christianity Today piece, hailed "Our Saint Francis."
But several young scholars inspired by Schaeffer soon came to see chinks in his approach. They judged his historical analysis profoundly flawed and his apologetic strategy too much a product of Enlightenment rationalism. And when he turned more to social activism in his later years, many admirers questioned his alliance with factions like the Moral Majority. The compassionate mentor who saw the wounded soul beyond a young person's anger seemed to have become a cranky polemicist.
Barry Hankins's Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America (Eerdmans) is a skillful biography written with both fondness and a keen eye that discerns the underlying consistency of Schaeffer's outlook. The evangelist was always a battler, from his early years as a pastor in Carl McIntire's fundamentalist Bible Presbyterian Church to his confrontation with European secularism to the 22-page letters he would fire off to his scholarly critics. Schaeffer followed fundamentalism's will to do battle with theological liberalism—and to save the lost and culture—in every situation and era through which he lived.
By highlighting Schaeffer's formation, Hankins squares Schaeffer's early and late years. Few who were introduced to Schaeffer through ...