Friday, September 24, 2010

Why we still need to learn from Francis Schaeffer

As an undergraduate I read almost everything written by J. I. Packer, John Stott, Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Francis Schaeffer.  For all their discernible faults, these four men rank among the foremost spiritual giants of the twentieth century and the great moulders of classical evangelical theology, ministry and evangelism in the last sixty years.

If you know anything of their lives and ministries they also appear to be conspicuously out of step with the glitzy celebratory culture that pervades twenty first century evangelicalism.

Colin Duriez has done a remarkable job of recording the life of Schaeffer.  His biography Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life has the virtues of being interesting, honest and accessible.

Francis Schaeffer was a fascinating human being; born in 1912, he was an only child and grew up in a working class home in Pennsylvania.  The story of how he was brought to faith, his call to pastoral ministry, his early encounters with and love of music, art and philosophy, make for fascinating reading.  I will in due course write more about the man, how he was moulded by God (including the secondary causes and relationships that shaped him), and his thought and influence.

Francis Schaeffer has a lot to teach us about true authenticity in ministry today.  We have temptations that he can help us with, sub-cultural maladies that he can help us identify and avoid.  There is an ugly superficiality in evangelical ministry, a grubby clamouring for recognition, a lip service paid to our usefulness to God outside of the spotlight.

Here are some of the themes that I want to explore in future posts:

Schaeffer was a man with an unseen ministry for most of his life, his public significance came very late on.  What can we learn from this faithfulness in obscurity, and in working with small groups of people, in an age where usefulness and importance is confused with the size of the church you lead and the conferences you speak at?  How did we ever get into the mess of thinking that the best men to follow are easy to spot because they occupy the biggest platforms?

Schaeffer was a man of remarkable integrity.  In the early 1950s he faced up to the painful lack of reality in his own experience and that of the separatist circle that he was part of.  He faced it with courage and honesty and was not afraid to re-think everything he had believed and stood for.  In the preface to his book True Spirituality he wrote:
I told Edith that for the sake of honesty I had to go all the way back to my agnosticism and think through the whole matter.  I'm sure that this was a difficult time for her, and I'm sure that she prayed much for me in those days.
It was a crisis of authenticity, and a far cry from the kind of authenticity applauded today that merely apes secular mores.

Schaeffer was a man of marked compassion toward people.  He was a man who cared for the despair of the Western world, and a man who cared enough to do the hard work in order to understand the thinking and feeling of unbelievers.

But beyond that, anyone who has watched his series How should we then live? can see in his eyes and hear in his voice a great sensitivity for those who live without God and without hope in this world.

His love for people, for individuals, his ability to speak to large audiences just as if he was speaking to one person sat on a chair opposite him, is something that can teach us a great deal.

There is a warmth and a humanity, a sadness and a depth of feeling, a winsomeness and love in his communication of the truth of God that is, in many ways, the missing note in so much apologetic ministry today.  The tears of Schaeffer in telling the truth of the gospel are worth more than smugness and hardness that sadly can accompany our own efforts.

Pick up and read the books of Francis Schaeffer and the Colin Duriez's biography of the man.

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