Francis August Schaeffer was a Presbyterian Pastor, author, philosopher and theologian who was a prolific writer on cultural issues in America and the west. Although he became a Christian at 17 years old, he had many questions about the faith and was not shy about asking questions and investigating the claims of Christianity. He attended and graduated from Faith Theological Seminary. Still, he was better known for starting a community in the west Alps of Switzerland named l’Abri in 1955.1 This community was started based on his conviction that “God is there” or is approachable and listens to the human cry for meaning and help.
In This Article:
Schaeffer’s View of Western Civilization
Schaeffer also strongly believed that every human life had value which led to his strong stands against abortion on demand, euthanasia and infanticide. He defended the nobility of human life — based on humans as image bearers — from the secular philosophies of his day that devalued humans, especially those with disabilities and congenital debilities.
The community at l’Abri often heard him teach on spirituality and philosophy, based on biblical truths. Shaeffer believed in the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, which became central to his teachings and lectures. Even the name of his school and community (l’Abri) means “shelter” or “cover” which was symbolic of what he wanted this community to exhibit, a shelter from the secularization of the western world. In this shelter, Schaeffer believed his students could take refuge and learn in an environment free to ask the deeper question of life since he thought the Bible provided the answers for these questions.
Schaeffer had a powerful sense or view of sanctification. He believed believers could attain a sense of considerable progress in their spiritual life that could include every aspect of the human experience. This progress included human life’s social, psychological and emotional experiences. Shaeffer also influenced many European students who attended his school with a background in the post-enlightenment and existential philosophies of Kierkegaard, Hegel, Camus and Sartre.
These students often taught Schaeffer about the post-enlightenment thought and in return, he would wisely demonstrate to them the fruit of this type of thought, which often devalued human life and created a void in each life for those holding such theories. He would do so by applying the truths of Scripture and teaching there is neither truth without love nor there is no love without truth. He showed these students that humans were not a product of time and chance but were created in God’s image, which was further emphasized in the New Testament in Ephesians 2:10.
Schaeffer’s Apologetic Purpose
Although Schaeffer was an apologist, he had no strict apologetic method. Instead, he was keen on allowing an unbeliever to state their convictions concerning the randomness of life. Then he would proceed to show these students that Scripture stated that every human being knew or had a sense of God and from Romans 1-2 would show them how their own life demonstrated these truths.
Schaeffer often utilized the “story” to convince his students that God’s creation was not only good, but also it was intentional and not by chance. Schaeffer applied the Christian worldview and message to all of life, including the arts, wealth and justice. He believed the message of the Bible covered every human experience, always vigilant against any philosophy that reduced humans to just biological machines.
However, Schaeffer was adamant that he was first an evangelist and not a philosopher. He was a prolific writer and made films, a ten-part series, along with his son Franky, titled after his own book, “Whatever Happened to the Human Race” in 1974, and an 18-part series titled “How Should We Then Live?”
Shaeffer was known for having coined the term “true truth.” As odd as this seems, he meant that this (truth) was tantamount, yet it should not be without love. His famous quote “The local church or Christian group should be right, but it should also be beautiful,”1 Schaeffer strongly fought for truth, but was cautious always to include love in applying truth in life. Truth must not be cold but must be applied with care.
He often spoke of pairing orthodoxy with orthopraxy. Shaeffer opposed relativism in all its façades. Shaeffer was also a bit of a historian, as he often spoke of the rise and decline of Western civilization. He believed that post-enlightenment theory was a danger to the human experience, reducing humanity to just machines moved by random forces. But what most influenced me about Schaeffer was his dedication to Scripture and his application of it to daily life.
In a small book he wrote, “Death in the City,”2 Schaeffer wrote about the fall of Jerusalem and Judah through the eyes of the Hebrew Prophet Jeremiah. In his book, he noted how through tragedies, God re-created the spiritual life of his people. Although the circumstances were not ideal, the prophet encourages God’s people to live in the city (Babylon) and seek the good of this city even though the nation’s beloved city (Jerusalem) had been sacked. Schaeffer used this juxtaposition first to remind the reader that this is about more than just physical death. This is about the moral and spiritual death that blindly suffocates truth, meaning and beauty out of the city and the wider culture. (“Death in the City - amazon.com”) Shaeffer was warning that as it happened to Judah, it could also happen to our culture.
Works by Francis Schaefer
Schaeffer list of books are: "The God Who is There" (1968); "Escape from Reason" (1968); "Death in the City" (1969); "The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century" (1970); "The Mark of a Christian" (1970); "Pollution and the Death of Man" (1970); "The Church Before the Watching World" (1971); "True Spirituality" (1971); "Back to Freedom and Dignity" (1972); "Basic Bible Studies" (1972); "Genesis in Space and Time" (1972); "He is There and He is Not Silent" (1972); "The New Super-Spirituality" (1972); "Art and the Bible" (1973); "Everybody Can Know" (1973); "No Little People" (1974); "Two Contents, Two Realities" (1974); "Joshua and the Biblical Flow of History" (1975); "No Final Conflict" (1975); "How Should We Then Live?" (1976); "Whatever Happened to the Human Race?" (With C. Everett Koop) (1979); "A Christian Manifesto" (1981); "The Great Evangelical Disaster" (1983).
If you are interested in reading more Theology Thursday blogs or explore ministry and theology degrees at Grand Canyon University, fill out the form on this page. You can also visit GCU’s College of Theology to learn more.
1 Got Questions. (n.d.) Who was Francis Schaeffer? Retrieved July 21, 2023.
2 Schaeffer, F. A. (2002). Death in the City. Intervarsity Press, Ill. 1969.
Approved by faculty for the College of Theology on July 27, 2023.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.