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August 2012

Stephen Wellum on Francis Schaeffer’s Theology

In the most recent issue of Credo Magazine, “Francis Schaeffer at 100,” Stephen Wellum, Professor of Christian Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has contributed two valuable articles introducing the thought and life of Schaeffer. In his first article, “Ideas Have Consequences: Lessons from the Theology of Francis Schaeffer,” Wellum highlights Schaeffer’s focus on the Christian worldview in light of the shifting culture. In his second article, “Speaking the Truth in Love: Lesson from the Life of Francis Schaeffer,” Wellum draws personal, pastoral, and ecclesiological applications from Schaeffer’s life.

To get you started, here is the introduction to Wellum’s first article:

Why study Francis Schaeffer?

The answer to this question is that there is probably no single figure that has affected and impacted evangelicalism in the latter half of the 20th century than Francis Schaeffer. For this reason alone, we need to take him seriously. Michael Hamilton in commenting on the impact of Schaeffer on evangelicalism says this about his life and work:

When Francis Schaeffer first appeared on the American scene in 1965, evangelicals hardly knew what to make of him. He was 53 years old. His Christian faith had been formed in the furnace of the fundamentalist-modernist controversies of the 1930s, and he was a card-carrying member of the impeccably fundamentalist Bible Presbyterian Church. He defended passionately the idea of the inerrancy of Scripture, a doctrine that had already seen some slippage in evangelical circles. 

Yet this was no ordinary fundamentalist preacher. He and his wife, Edith, had lived for ten years in a student commune they had started in the Swiss Alps. When he lectured, he wore an alpine hiking outfit—knickers, knee socks, walking shoes. By 1972 he had added to his already singular appearance long hair and a white tufted goat’s-chin beard. Most curious of all, he seldom quoted from the Bible. He was more apt to talk about the philosophical importance of Henry Miller (then regarded as the most pornographic writer in American letters). 

During the next two decades the Schaeffers organized a multiple-thrust ministry that reshaped American evangelicalism. Perhaps no intellectual save C. S. Lewis affected the thinking of evangelicals more profoundly; perhaps no leader of the period save Billy Graham left a deeper stamp on the movement as a whole. Together the Schaeffers gave currency to the idea of intentional Christian community, prodded evangelicals out of their cultural ghetto, inspired an army of evangelicals to become serious scholars, encouraged women who chose roles as mothers and homemakers, mentored the leaders of the New Christian Right, and solidified popular evangelical opposition to abortion. [Michael S. Hamilton, “The Dissatisfaction of Francis Schaeffer” Christianity Today, March 3, 1997, 22.]

In addition, we may provide further justification for our investigation of Schaeffer by noting his significance and impact in three important areas: the personal, theological, and social. In terms of the personal, Schaeffer’s initial impact was not made institutionally, that is, through academic, educational institutions or even through the publishing industry. Rather, his greatest influence was made more indirectly, through his own personal contact with individuals whom he came to know and whose lives he changed. His influence, in other words, was not being part of the evangelical establishment, but instead being quite independent of it. For Schaeffer, personal evangelism and discipleship were no cliché. It was through his life and ministry at L’Abri in Switzerland, far removed from America, that he and his wife, Edith, touched the lives of countless numbers of individuals—many of whom would later become key future evangelical leaders. Certainly, for those of us who aspire to influence men and women for the gospel, it would be wise for us to learn lessons from the life of such a man and to discover afresh the importance of the personal touch in our interaction with people.

Theologically, we may note Schaeffer’s significance by the fact that he was instrumental in calling evangelicals to once again take seriously key truths that were tending to be de-emphasized or even being denied. In particular, Schaeffer challenged evangelicalism to re-assert its commitment to the concept of truth, or as he stated it—“true truth”—in light of a growing emphasis in academic theology, the church, and the general culture towards a denial of truth and a full-orbed pluralism. That is why he championed, literally to his death-bed, the need to affirm without equivocation the full authority and inerrancy of Scripture as well as such crucial issues as: the historicity of Genesis 1-11, the doctrine of creation, the centrality of the doctrine of God, and the exclusivity of Jesus Christ as the way, the truth, and the life. It is also why he stood so strongly against the theology of neo-orthodoxy that was beginning to be embraced by some evangelicals because he believed that if it were accepted it would undercut the truth and veracity of the gospel. Probably today more than any other day we need to think through the theological challenges that Schaeffer left us with. Was he right? And if so, are there lessons today that we may learn from him as we attempt to stand for the truth of the gospel? . . .

Read both of Wellum’s articles today!

To view the Magazine as a PDF {Click Here}

The year 2012 is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984). It is difficult to think of an evangelical figure in the 20th century who so seriously engaged the philosophies and ideologies of the secular world and set them over against the Christian worldview than Francis Schaeffer.

But Schaeffer was no ordinary evangelical. The man wore knickers and knee high socks when he lectured, sporting not only long hair but a goat’s-chin beard! Most importantly, Schaeffer did not fear man, but feared God. Not only did he engage secular worldviews, but he confronted his fellow evangelicals, even rebuking them for doctrinal concession and compromise.

As many have observed, it is not an overstatement to say that the Schaeffers transformed, reshaped, and in many ways reformed American evangelicalism. Those writing in this new issue of Credo Magazine are proof, each writer bearing testimony to how Francis Schaeffer has made a monumental impact on how we understand and articulate the Christian faith and life in the world of ideas. Contributors include Bruce Little, William Edgar, Bryan Follis, and Stephen Wellum, and many others.

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