50 Leaders of the Evangelical Generation: #3 Francis Schaeffer. Philosopher

[I am working on a project that may become a book on the most influential evangelicals leaders of our generation, since 1976, and the impact they’ve had on the church and their times. I will introduce them briefly on this blog from time to time. Who should be on this list?]

#3 Francis Schaeffer. Philosopher 1912-1984

When I was a collegian, which my kids believe may have been in the early days of the republic, if you wanted to look like a serious believer you had a book by Francis Schaeffer tucked under you arm—or at least displayed prominently in your bookcase (which may have been an orange crate in your dorm room).

Schaeffer was mysterious, thought-provoking, and a little ornery, and he seemed European. Whether or not we could understand what he was writing, we loved to have the appearance that we were contemplating his deep questions.

A theologian, philosopher, and Presbyterian pastor, Schaffer is best known for his writings and the establishment of the L’Abri community in Switzerland. Opposed to theological modernism, Schaeffer advanced traditional Protestant faith and a presuppositional approach to Christian apologetics, which he believed would answer the questions of the age. Schaeffer popularized a conservative Reformed perspective and many credit him with helping to spark a return to political activism among evangelicals in the late 1970s and early 1980s, especially in relation to the issue of abortion.

Today, roughly 25 years after his death, his teachings continue in the same informal setting at The Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation in Gryon, Switzerland. It is led by one of his daughters and sons-in-law as a small-scale alternative to the original L’Abri, which is still operating in nearby Huemoz-sur-Ollon and other places in the world. On the other hand, Schaeffer’s son Frank Schaeffer has bolted from the shadow of his father, distanced himself from many of his views, and converted to the Greek Orthodox Church.

Schaeffer’s views were most fully developed in two works: the book titled A Christian Manifesto published in 1981, and a film series, Whatever Happened to the Human Race?. The name A Christian Manifesto, is intended to position its thesis as a Christian answer to The Communist Manifesto of 1848 and the Humanist Manifesto documents of 1933 and 1973. Schaeffer’s diagnosis is that the decline of Western Civilization is due to society having become increasingly pluralistic, resulting in a shift “away from a world view that was at least vaguely Christian in people’s memory … toward something completely different”. Schaeffer argued that there is a philosophical struggle between the people of God and the secular humanists.

Schaeffer has also been embraced by the modern Christian environmental movement as a conservative champion of environmental protection, citing his 1970 book Pollution and the Death of Man.

He wrote in Pollution:

“…the hippies of the 1960s did understand something. They were right in fighting the plastic culture, and the church should have been fighting it too… More than this, they were right in the fact that the plastic culture – modern man, the mechanistic worldview in university textbooks and in practice, the total threat of the machine, the establishment technology, the bourgeois upper middle class – is poor in its sensitivity to nature… As a utopian group, the counterculture understands something very real, both as to the culture as a culture, but also as to the poverty of modern man’s concept of nature and the way the machine is eating up nature on every side.”

–Jim Jewell


About Jim Jewell

I am a writer and consultant on faith and public life, active for many years in management and communications in the evangelical community. I now work as the director of the nonprofit practice at The Valcort Group (www.valcort.com). Everything on this blog, however, is my personal opinion and is not read or approved before it is posted. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Valcort.
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