Francis A. Schaeffer IV: 1912–1984.

Francis August Schaeffer, 72-year-old author and Christian apologist, died May 15 after a lengthy battle against lymphatic cancer. He was known for founding L’Abri (French for “shelter”), his Swiss mission to youth and intellectuals, and for authoring 25 books.

“I’m simply an old-fashioned evangelist,” Schaeffer often said. He tried to proclaim that Christianity is true, that God is there, and that God can be rationally known. As a result, he said, the church can give “honest answers to honest questions.”

Brought up in a nominally Lutheran working-class family in Philadelphia, Schaeffer embraced Christianity in high school after a short flirtation with agnosticism. A few years later two contacts at the Germantown First Presbyterian Church helped set his intellectual course. They encouraged him to drop out of an engineering major at the Drexel Institute and enroll in Hampden-Sydney College, a Presbyterian liberal arts school. Weekends and holidays he carried on a courtship with his future wife, Edith, back in his home church.

Later, two events marked Schaeffer’s formative years as a student at the fledgling Westminster Theological Seminary. The first was the expulsion of J. Gresham Machen from what was then the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. Schaeffer saw the 1936 defrocking of Machen by liberal forces in the mainline church as a paradigm of the intellectual conflict, first of Christianity and liberalism, then of the entire culture.

Machen and others formed what later became the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. A split in the newly formed separatist Presbyterian body provided the second formative event in Schaeffer’s early life. Machen loyalists soon found differences among themselves, chiefly over eschatology, Christian liberty, and denominational sectarianism. Though Schaeffer was still a student, he sided with the element that became Faith Theological Seminary and the Bible Presbyterian Church. The key leaders were James O. Buswell, Jr., Carl McIntire, and Harold Laird.

Schaeffer’s early pastorates in Pennsylvania and Missouri gave little hint of the future mission Schaeffer would have among educated people. He and Edith more commonly developed a ministry with blue-collar workers and children. Children for Christ, their outreach program, followed them to each church and became the basis for their move to postwar Europe as missionaries with the Independent Board for Presbyterian Missions.

Based in Switzerland, the Schaeffers in time found themselves ministering to travelers, neighbors, and students. At the same time, Schaeffer was continuing to pursue his love for philosophy and apologetics through a friendship with Amsterdam art historian Hans Rookmaaker. By the mid-1950s it was clear that the Schaeffers’ work was evolving toward a ministry of apologetics and evangelism. They sought to demonstrate how all their needs would be met by looking to God alone and not to a mission or denomination. However, conflicts and disillusionment with American Christians were taking their toll. In the early fifties, Schaeffer went through a spiritual crisis that affected his intellectual commitments as well. Alone in a barn in Switzerland, he wrestled with the great questions that would mark his subsequent ministry.

Article continues below

A serious breach was developing between Schaeffer and the most vocal figure in his American denomination, Carl McIntire. In 1956 the majority of the Bible Presbyterian group removed McIntire from power and founded Covenant College and Seminary as an alternative to the McIntire-controlled Shelton College and Faith Seminary. Though in later years he would rarely speak of this era, Schaeffer was a principal figure in the anti-McIntire element that would become first the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, then the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (now part of the Presbyterian Church in America).

By 1961 the Schaeffers’ evangelistic efforts had become widely known, attracting an article in Time magazine; but their ministry had no mass audience. It would first take tapes, then books, then films to make Francis Schaeffer a household name among lay Christians in the English-speaking world.

Using a transcribed series of chapel lectures delivered at Wheaton (Ill.) College in 1965, the London publisher Hodder and Stoughton brought out The God Who Is There: Speaking Historic Christianity into the Twentieth Century. InterVarsity Press published the American edition plus Escape from Reason, Schaeffer’s explanation of Western culture’s transition from orthodox Christianity to the despair of secularism. Though he did not originate the term, Schaeffer’s popular usage of the phrase “secular humanism” in his books of the 1970s introduced the concept to the Christian public.

Two films helped move Schaeffer’s analysis into the thinking of ordinary church people. How Should We Then Live? (1977) documented the decline of culture in the absence of a Christian world view. Whatever Happened to the Human Race? (1979) exposed the cheapening of human life that followed the loss of the Christian view of man.

Article continues below

In the seventies, some faculty members at evangelical colleges were becoming critical of Schaeffer. His earlier world-affirming message was gratefully acknowledged, but he was sometimes regarded as a dilettante who pronounced outside his competence. The specialists felt he had invaded their turf, and they resented the “guru” role Schaeffer filled for many of their students.

In contrast, he enjoyed unusual credibility among most American evangelicals and many fundamentalists. This is partly traced to his strong stand for biblical inerrancy and against accommodation to the world spirit on the part of the church.

Learning of his cancer in 1978, Schaeffer moved to the United States where he increasingly focused on abortion and religious freedom issues. Because his son, Franky Schaeffer, expounded a conservative political ideology, the public began to identify both father and son with the New Christian Right. But Francis Schaeffer denied there was any shift in his outlook and agenda or any politicizing of his ministry.

Schaeffer died at home in Rochester, Minnesota. He is survived by his wife, the former Edith Rachel Seville; a son, Francis August “Franky” Schaeffer V; three daughters, Susan Macaulay, Debby Middelmann, and Priscilla Sandri; and 14 grandchildren.

A Friend Of Many Years Remembers Francis Schaeffer

Vernon C. Grounds, president emeritus of Denver Theological Seminary (Conservative Baptist), and Francis Schaeffer met in the midst of theological studies. Here are reflections of a friend of 50 years.

When I heard that Francis Schaeffer had died, I recalled what Edwin Markham wrote about the death of Abraham Lincoln: his passing from the human scene was like the falling of a great tree, which in its falling left a lonesome place against the sky.

Sadness swept over me. Yet, absent from the body, Fran was present with the Lord. Death, I reflected, was indeed great gain for him, since he had valiantly fought a long battle with cancer; but his death was a great loss for worldwide evangelicalism.

Memories flooded my mind. I thought back to 1937 when I first met Fran at Faith Theological Seminary in Wilmington, Delaware. Like myself, he was one of the students attending that “new school of the prophets,” as its founding fathers liked to call it. Arthur Glasser, John and Douglas Young, Kenneth Kantzer, Joseph Bayly, and John Sanderson were Fran’s fellow students, all of whom in the ongoing of the years were to become evangelical leaders. I remembered Fran’s visits to Denver, especially his lectures in the 1950s to our seminary. I also vividly remembered the Sunday in the 1960s that my wife and I spent at L’Abri in reunion with the Schaeffers. I remembered that he and I once had managed to engineer a long, almost leisurely conversation at the Los Angeles airport.

Article continues below

I remembered, further, highlights of our infrequent correspondence, in particular his typically detailed and carefully thought out explanation in response to a question I had raised about his interpretation of Sören Kierkegaard. So, with mingled nostalgia and gratitude, I remembered in kaleidoscopic sequence a host of things. And then I remembered John Bunyan’s triumphant sentence as Pilgrim crossed the river and reached the golden shore: “All the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.”

God granted to Francis and to Edith Schaeffer—his more-than-gifted colaborer—a phenomenal ministry. In 1948, they left Saint Louis (where Fran had been a successful pastor) to undertake evangelism among children in Europe. Eventually they settled in an obscure Swiss village, apparently destined to have a relatively limited impact geographically and spiritually. But God, whose sovereignty Fran and Edith emphasized, made that little village a center of planetary influence for his glory.

L’Abri began almost accidentally (details are in Edith’s autobiographical book, The Tapestry). One weekend in 1955, Schaeffer answered questions put to him by some houseguests of his daughter Priscilla. These guests told their friends how much he had helped them, and before long people were coming to L’Abri with their problems. At first only a few journeyed to Huémoz. But with astonishing speed the news spread by letter and word of mouth: there is an out-of-this-world place high in the Swiss Alps where anybody disillusioned and skeptical and questioning can find welcome and illumination. More and more people came as the months passed. And through the years, thousands came to L’Abri—turned-off evangelicals, searching intellectuals, cynical hippies, neurotics, alcoholics, human beings of many ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

Besieged by people, and under unceasing pressure, the Schaeffers were forced to live in remarkable simplicity. For example, Fran’s study and office was their little bedroom, overflowing with his books. There he read, wrote, corresponded globally, counseled, received guests (even the United States ambassador to Switzerland!), and served tea. L’Abri developed into an extraordinary community with a semi-transient, heterogeneous clientele who worked and studied together, incessantly in dialogue about personal quandaries and ultimate issues. It was a community of prayer, where any sudden crisis or pressing need brought the whole family together for intercession. It was a community of worship where Schaeffer preached on Sunday mornings—an experience that created an unforgettable awareness of God. It was a community where divine reality and sufficiency permeated life.

Article continues below

In the earlier years of L’Abri, Fran took the keenest interest in each student and guest, tirelessly making himself available to offer counsel and insight. And Edith infused L’Abri with a spirit of Christian hospitality, transforming simple meals into occasions of grace.

At L’Abri, residents learned by tapes, lectures, readings, and discussions that there is a Christian world view, one that appreciatively embraces all of human creativity and gives a coherent interpretation of nature and history. It is a world view that supplies spiritual dynamic and moral direction to those who have become uncertain in this age of uncertainty. Little wonder, therefore, that hundreds of thankful guests left L’Abri committed or recommitted to the Christian faith.

Schaeffer’s books were transcripts of the wide-ranging lectures he gave at L’Abri and elsewhere. The first of these, The God Who Is There (1968), embodied a series of talks he had given at Wheaton (Ill.) College. From then on his output was prolific; he became one of the most widely read and influential authors of modern times. His discussions of apologetics, ethics, theology, philosophy, art, politics, music, and literature, as well as explicitly scriptural themes, were all designed to show something about biblical faith: It, and it alone, has an integrated world view providing the absolutes of revelation that can authenticate us and fulfill us in our post-Reformation world.

The books were rough-hewn lecture and sermon transcripts with no pretense of being polished academic productions. So they will no doubt prove somewhat ephemeral despite their immense popularity and their recent edition in the imposing format of Complete Works. But I suspect Fran would cheerfully point out that he had engaged in the task of pre-evangelism and “served God in his own generation,” as David did (Acts 13:36).

He aroused tremendous interest and focused attention on such issues as abortion, which he considered not only a tragic evil, but also perhaps the prime symptom of society’s moral decay and need for spiritual renewal. Thus viewed simply as a popular communicator of Christianity, Schaeffer had few equals.

Article continues below

It is difficult for a contemporary to pronounce definitive judgment on the achievement of his peers. Time performs a winnowing process in which once-towering heroes sink into oblivion, and those who were little applauded while living gain in stature and significance. My own surmise, however, is that, while many current evangelical luminaries will fade into obscure references in church history, Francis Schaeffer will be recognized as a key figure in twentieth-century evangelicalism.

Of John the Baptist our Lord said, “He was a burning and a shining light.” That can justly be said about Francis Schaeffer. I say it in sincere tribute to a passionately Christocentric friend and brother, a man of conviction, compassion, and courage, undeviatingly one-directional in God’s service.


Billy Graham’S England Crusade Gets Off To A Strong Start

Billy Graham’s 11-week preaching tour of six British cities got off to a strong start last month in the Southwest port city of Bristol. Crowds packed the city’s soccer stadium during each of the eight meetings. Aggregate attendance, including those who came more than once, totaled nearly a quarter of a million. The Graham crusade is part of a three-year evangelization campaign known as Mission England.

The turnout in Bristol was far higher than British and American organizers had expected. Media interest in Graham and his message also was strong and generally respectful. News reports were an important means of spreading word about the event since British law prevents the selling of radio and television time for religious commercials and programs.

Unusually large numbers in Bristol responded to Graham’s nightly invitations to accept Christ or to recommit themselves to God. On the next-to-the-last night of the meetings, for example, some 3,900 people—nearly 11 percent of the crowd of 36,500—streamed onto the playing field at the close of the message. That percentage is significantly higher than is normal for a Graham crusade in the United States. In all, 20,400 responded to the evangelist’s invitations in Bristol.

A week before the Bristol meetings began, Graham underwent surgery in London to relieve acute sinus congestion. He said the operation improved his health remarkably. A week later in the United States, Graham’s wife, Ruth, also underwent surgery to correct an esophageal problem that had been causing a persistent cough. She plans to join her husband in England before his preaching tour ends in July.

Article continues below
Black Muslims, Christians Unite Behind Economic Development

An April meeting of black religionists in New Orleans signaled a newfound alliance between Christians and Muslims. Those attending the National Assembly of Black Church Organizations were more concerned with economic development than ecclesiastical or theological issues.

The coalition included T. J. Jemison, president of the National Baptist Convention U.S.A., Inc., and Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Chicago-based Nation of Islam. Assembly participants dismissed differences of doctrine as irrelevant. At the same time, they called black denominations and black caucuses within predominantly white church bodies to a unity based on common political and economic interests. Some 25 churches and church organizations were represented.

The assembly took no decisive action. However, it appeared that the coalition of businessmen, Christian clergy, and Muslim leaders could lead to future cooperative ventures.

Speakers hammered home the message that black churches—by combining their financial and voting strength—could exert a formidable influence in public life and attain a measure of self-sufficiency.

The meeting included a speech by Democratic presidential hopeful Jesse Jackson. Jemison, cochairman of the assembly, earlier had endorsed Jackson’s candidacy. Though Jackson’s appearance was important to those who attended the three-day meeting, church leaders said the economic agenda was primary.

New Jersey businessman James E. Hurt, Jr., proposed the assembly, and persuaded black denominations to support it. He promised that an economic plan would be unveiled, but by the end of the meeting the plan remained sketchy.

The most ambitious element of the scheme was a national black church bank designed to keep within the black community the money black congregations collect in offerings. It was estimated that the 50,000 black churches in the United States collect and deposit in banks $10 million every week. The economic proposal also called for the creation of an insurance company, a credit union, and an investment group, and the marketing of such products as jewelry, choir robes, caskets, and cosmetics.

The only business proposal that appeared close to fruition was one of Hurt’s own ventures, a book titled Who’s Who Among American Black Churches. The directory would include biographies and pictures of pastors and would sell for $49.95. Hurt said churches that sell the book will receive a percentage of the profits. He plans to publish a companion volume next year, called Who’s Who Among Elected and Appointed Lay Persons.

Article continues below

Assembly planners had projected an attendance of up to 60,000 for the evening meetings, but Jemison and Farrakhan drew fewer than 2,000. Only Jackson pushed the attendance above 5,000. Daytime meetings on economic, political, and educational development, for which registrants paid a $75 fee, drew no more than 200.


North American Scene

Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church, may soon begin an 18-month prison term for income tax fraud. Moon was convicted by a federal court in 1982. The U.S. Supreme Court last month declined without comment to review the case. Moon’s lawyers say they will present new evidence to the lower court in an effort to overturn the conviction.

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has ruled that homosexual marriages are not legal. In a unanimous decision, the three-judge court dismissed an appeal by a man who had filed a divorce action against another man. The court ruled that Pennsylvania law does not specify that marriage is limited to two people of the opposite sex, but that the “inference that marriage is so limited is strong.”

A federal judge has declared unconstitutional an Illinois law requiring that parents be notified 24 hours before a minor obtains an abortion. The state’s lawmakers had passed the measure over Gov. James Thompson’s veto. U.S. District Judge Hubert L. Will said the law “impermissibly burdens a woman’s abortion choice.” Sponsors of the law in the Illinois Senate say they will appeal the ruling.

An organization of black United Church of Christ ministers has endorsed the presidential campaign of Jesse Jackson. However, some of the members of Ministers for Racial and Social Justice oppose the endorsement on grounds it oversteps the boundaries between church and state. Replying to dissenters, Charles Cobb, executive director of the church’s Commission for Racial Justice, said there is a contradiction between “not believing in politics” and caring for “the well-being of your fold.”

George Gallup’s latest religious poll shows evidence of a self-centered faith among Americans. Gallup discussed the survey in an interview for “The 700 Club.” He said many respondents indicated their religious life made them “feel good.” “People are not getting a sense of challenge in their prayer or Bible reading,” Gallup said. “They’re not getting the feeling that they’ve got to go out and change the world.”

Article continues below

A California woman has filed a $3 million lawsuit against officials of the church she attended for 19 years. Jan Brown named the pastor and six elders of the Fairview Church of Christ in Garden Grove as defendants. She charged libel, slander, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Brown divorced her husband last October. Her legal action is based on a letter read to the congregation in January, urging church members not to associate with her until she repents. In March, an Oklahoma woman won $300,000 in a suit against three elders of the Collinsville Church of Christ who had publicly denounced her for fornication.

Even parents who do not belong to an organized religious body can object on religious grounds to having their children inoculated. That was the ruling of U.S. District Judge Roger Miner who decided in favor of two Albany, New York, parents whose daughters could not attend school because they were not immunized. Miner said the parents were entitled to personal religious beliefs in “the natural order of life,” even though they do not belong to a church.

The Southern Baptist Convention has launched a huge telecommunications effort unprecedented for a denominational body. The satellite-fed American Christian Television System (ACTS) got off the ground last month. This month it will expand from 6 to 18 broadcast hours a day. Eventually ACTS will reach a potential audience of 40 million. The system is unique because it links a national network with local churches. In cities where ACTS is on cable television, Southern Baptist churches can preempt the network for local programming.

A group of Republican political activists met recently to plan an organization of homosexuals who are political conservatives. The goal of the organization, to be called Concerned Americans for Individual Rights, is to promote a better understanding of homosexual issues among Republicans. A spokesman for the group told a New York Times reporter that there is a “tremendous pent-up frustration among Republican gays over our party’s direction on this issue.”

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.