The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.
— Albert Einstein
3 Relevant Emphases of Francis Schaeffer's Ministry

3 Relevant Emphases of Francis Schaeffer's Ministry

                After Francis and Edith had moved to Switzerland, many individuals began to stop by and ask questions about faith, philosophy and the world. During this early time in Switzerland, Francis experienced a spiritual crisis that forced him to reexamine his Christianity. This new evaluation concerning both his position on orthodoxy as well as a consideration of the not-so-Christian form of Christianity which seemed to be prevalent among those claiming orthodoxy was the catalyst for L’Abri.[1] The details of this difficult time for Francis can be found in his biographies, but it was a major turning point and catalyst for the substance of the rest of his life.

                   As a result, the Schaeffers turned their chalet into a shelter for men and women who sought help with their problems and questions. This was a faith venture that operated on four principles: (1) they would not ask for money, but would rather make their needs known only to God; (2) they would not recruit staff but depend on God to send the right people their way; (3) they would plan only short-range, to allow for God’s sovereign guidance; and (4) they would not publicize themselves but trust that God would send them those in need.[2]

                   The Schaeffers would continue their ministry in Switzerland until the end of their lives. The extent of this ministry, however, would grow over time to include many books written, international speaking engagements and significant influence on the evangelical world that emerged following the modernist-fundamentalist controversies of the early twentieth century.

                   There were several emphases of the Schaeffer’s ministry but three are of particular note:

 

1.     An Apologetic Emphasis

 

Here, apologetics is being used in the classical sense of the term – to give a reason/answer for your beliefs. While much could be said about other aspects or general principles in the Schaeffer’s lives, apologetics was certainly an overarching aspect from the very beginning. Francis Schaeffer’s method of dealing with people and communicating Biblical truth shared aspects of Cornelius Van Til’s thinking - although Schaeffer has several significant differences as well. He seemed to argue that Philosophy was not an academic study but something in which all mankind took part. Every person had a worldview and that meant that every man, woman or child participated in philosophy. Perhaps the most significant influence of Francis Schaeffer in this area of apologetics and philosophy lies within the realm of consistency. Schaeffer pushed people to be consistent with their thinking and worldviews. He sought to show that rational mankind was actually nothing of the sort. Instead, those who claimed to be rational humans were often exceedingly irrational when it came to basic aspects of their belief systems.

                   To the extent that an unbeliever was inconsistent in his thinking, Schaeffer thought they had a point of contact with the believer. Schaefer called this the “point of tension” and spoke of the need to expose it. He called this exposing process “taking the roof off” so that the unbeliever could be exposed to the inconsistency of his position and to the poverty of non-Christian presuppositions.[3] This aspect of his thinking came through in every area of his ministry. It has been properly noted that a study of Schaeffer’s sermons will produce the observation that he is Biblical but not necessarily text-driven.[4] It seems that he often would deal with ideas in his sermons from a distinctly Christian framework, but often failed to do so in an expository fashion. In this way, he would deal with the main idea of a passage, but not necessarily in a normal expository manner. Perhaps the three most significant aspects of his sermonizing, beyond the broad apologetic emphasis, are the following: (1) the concept of an infinite and personal creator God, (2) the inherent worth and terrible fall of mankind, and (3) the consequences of wrong philosophical frameworks and ideas for the Christian.

 

2.     An Infinite and Personal Creator-God

 

In his sermon The Hand of God, Francis Schaeffer seeks to explain who God is and how He is different from many of the most popular perceptions concerning Him. He begins by stating: “God is a pure Spirit and does not literally have a hand.”[5] The “hand” in the previous quote refers to his opening with several lines from Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah. While pointing out such a seemingly obvious fact, this is typical of Schaeffer who does not seem to assume his audience understands as much as they think they do. Both this quote and the subsequent explanation are helpful in one’s understanding of Schaeffer’s preaching, for it points to a proper hermeneutic. As the sermon continues, Schaeffer asks the question “Why does the Scripture use this expression?” Then he answers the question by stating “God wants us to know Him as personal.”[6] Because God is personal, says Schaeffer, he seeks to use language and parallels to mankind in order to better be understood by the subjects with whom He desires a relationship.

                   Later in the sermon, Schaeffer stresses the fact that God is transcendent in the sense that He is not a part of His creation, but rather an infinite being who acts from outside His creation. God is not transcendent, however, in the sense of being a philosophic other or some impersonal everything, says Schaeffer, but rather is imminent as well as truly transcendent.[7] As the argument continues, Schaeffer makes plain that the world is “not controlled entirely by the uniformity of natural causes in a closed system.”[8] Such phrases are typical in his sermons and help the listener or reader to understand how these ideas fit into the real world. It also confronts the prevailing incorrect views of the universe that stack themselves against God’s Word. He also explains “there is no place in the far-flung universe where the hand of God cannot work.”[9] This concept is important because it brings the infinite nature of Christianity’s God into the forefront.

                   Even more than overt attacks on God, perhaps the bigger difficulty and one with which Schaeffer most wrestled, was the more subtle influence of enlightenment philosophy and bad theology on the church as a whole. The ideas that had infiltrated the church were bringing forth fruit that denied God the ultimate place as the infinite and personal creator-God. Schaeffer saw this battle in his day and sought to argue against it in his sermonizing.

 

3.     The Worth and Fall of Man

 

Another main aspect of Schaeffer’s thinking and therefore his preaching is contained in the first several chapters of Genesis. The concept of man’s inherent worth, having been created in the image of an infinite and personal creator-God, and mankind’s subsequent fall into rebellion against that God are two key aspects of Schaeffer’s worldview. In his sermon, No Little People, No Little Places, this theme of Schaeffer’s is most pronounced. He states,

                   Our attitude toward all men should be that of equality because we are common creatures. We are of one blood and kind. As I look across the entire world, I must see every man as a fellow-creature, and I must be careful to have a sense of our equality on the basis of this common status.[10]

 

                   This is typical of Schaeffer to draw his listener into the worldview of the Scriptures. Within the pages of the Bible, all men are created in God’s image and thus deserve to be treated with goodness, love and kindness by those who call themselves believers. While it is certain that Schaeffer argues for the proper treatment of all mankind by Christians based on Genesis, it is also rather certain that his argument goes beyond a mere application to believers. He is actually arguing based on the reality of the common legacy of mankind that all people should acknowledge their fellow men as worthy of dignity. This is a strange argument in today’s society that gives dignity to terrorists but seems to care nothing for thousands of children who are carelessly torn apart by medical instruments each day through abortion. For Schaeffer, the fall and worth of mankind was an immensely important aspect of his Christian worldview that has much explanatory value for everyday living.

 

 

Conclusion

 

                   Schaeffer made the claim that his book True Spirituality, although not the first published of his works, should have been the first in the sense that it undergirds all his other works. As one reads this book, his apologetic emphasis quickly becomes apparent as well as the themes of an (1) infinite and personal creator-God, and (2) the worth and fall of man. Is there a way to wed such emphasis in Christian preaching, teaching and writing today? Perhaps we would do well to re-read Schaeffer and consider the impact God gave him. Although it is never ideal to merely copy the methods of another person, it would be helpful to evaluate what made Schaeffer’s communication so helpful for application in our own day and age.

 

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[1] John D. Woodbridge, Great Leaders of the Christian Church (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), , 364.

[2] Ibid., 364.

[3] Roberts, 59.

[4] David L. Larsen, The Company of the Preachers: A History of Biblical Preaching from the Old Testament to the Modern Era (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1998), 747.

[5] Francis A. Schaeffer, No Little People (Wheaton: Crossway, 1974), 33.

[6] Schaeffer, No Little People, 34.

[7] Ibid., 35

[8] Ibid., 35.

[9] Ibid., 36.

[10] Schaeffer, No Little People, 27.

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