Friday, May 16, 2014

Gratitude for Francis Schaeffer on the 30th anniversary of his death

Covenant Seminary reminds us that thirty years ago today Francis Schaeffer died.

Ray Ortlund, in "Gratitude for Francis Schaeffer" (TGC, May 15, 2014), offers three reasons to be grateful for Francis Schaeffer's life and ministry (emphasis ours):
One, Francis Schaeffer pioneered a new way of advancing the gospel. All my life I’d been exposed to conventional people using conventional methods, and I don’t mean that in a condescending way. I had the privilege of knowing men of true greatness, like my dad. But Schaeffer was just different. He located the gospel within a total Christian worldview. He talked about modern art and films and books. He spoke with prophetic insight about cultural trends. He worked out fresh ways to articulate old truths, even coining new expressions like “true truth.” He had a beard and long hair and dressed like a European. He had Christian radicalism all over him, called for by those radical times. I found him non-ignorable. To this day, I dislike conventionality, partly because I saw in Francis Schaeffer a man who made an impact not by conforming and fitting in but by standing out as the man God made him to be, the man the world needed him to be.

Two, Francis Schaeffer united in a coherent and even beautiful whole theological conviction with personal humaneness. I remember his saying once that, in a conversation with a liberal theologian, he would try to conduct himself so that the liberal would gain two clear and equal impressions. One, Schaeffer disagreed with him theologically. Two, Schaeffer cared about him personally. Moreover, Schaeffer pointed out that, in ourselves, we are unable to demonstrate simultaneously the truth and holiness of God, on the one hand, and the love and mercy of God, on the other hand. In our own strength, we will slide off toward one emphasis or the other. But as we look to the Lord moment by moment, we can hold together both theological conviction and human beauty. But only by both together can we bear living witness to the magnitude of who Jesus really is. And if we fail to show the fullness of Christ, we actually bear false witness to him, we make him ugly in human eyes, and we set his cause back, however sincere we may be.

Three, Francis Schaeffer and his wife Edith, leading L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland, exemplified compelling Christian community. They welcomed all kinds of people. They attracted all kinds of people. They demonstrated a gentleness, openness and tolerance that created space for many diverse people who wouldn’t have found a home in our more typical churches. They sacrificed personally to create this rare kind of community. Their wedding gifts were wrecked, people threw up on their carpets, and so forth. The Schaeffers flung open their lives, their hearts, their space, and it cost them. But they gained many people for Christ. This bold commitment is real Christianity. Anything less is bluff and hypocrisy.

I thank the Lord for Francis Schaeffer.
And so do I.

Yet another reason for gratitude for Schaeffer, at least in my book, is one I've just learned about from our friend and correspondent, Guy Noir -- Private Eye: Schaeffer apparently had the temerity to confront Karl Barth on his compromised view of biblical inerrancy and authority, a fact that clearly irritated Barth to the point that his vexation sometimes attained nearly apoplectic levels, as can be seen from the following excerpt from a letter he wrote to Schaeffer:
Rejoice, dear Mr. Schaeffer (and you calling your-selves 'fundamentalists' all over the world)! Rejoice and go on to believe in your 'logics' (as in the fourth article of your creed!) and in your-selves as in the only true 'bible-believing' people! Shout so loudly as you can! But, pray, allow me, to let you alone. 'Conversations' are possible between open-minded people. Your paper and the review of your friend Buswell reveals the fact of your decision to close your window-shutters. I do not know how to deal with a man who comes to see and to speak to me in the quality of an [sic] detective-inspector or with the beheavior [sic] of a missionary who goes to convert a heathen. No, thanks! Yours sincerely. Excuse my bad English. I am not accustomed to write in your language.
This excerpt is found on p. 39 of Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America, by Barry Hankins, who goes on to say: "Schaeffer replied that he was surprised at the tone of Barth's letter and that he had expected that the two would be able to sit down together and discuss their differences amicably and openly, without minimizing the disagreement."

You just gotta love this: the urbane and world-renown champion of "neo-orthodox" (existentialist) theology provoked to something near apoplectic seizure by a fundamentalist critic who asks for nothing more than the opportunity to sit down together and amicably and openly discuss their differences so that he (Schaeffer) can instruct him in the truth of God's Word! Huzzah!

[Hat tip to JM]


Scott Woltze said...

I've enjoyed your posts on Francis Schaeffer. There were many things unmistakably Catholic about him. I also find his son Frank interesting. His son takes me back to grad school classes on Freud and his followers. The "kill the father" dynamic seems to be common among sons who have enormously talented and charismatic fathers. Sad.

Anonymous said...

Bravo Barth!

Pertinacious Papist said...

As I've noted in other venues previously, John C. O'Neill, in his excellent little book, The Bible's Authority (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1991), put the nail in the coffin of Barth's theology with a number of key quotations from contemporaries of Barth, like R. Bultmann, who were outraged at him when he wrote and spoke as if he believed in the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus, because they knew that he didn't believe this. Barth was an existential theist, meaning that his world subdivides into two levels -- a lower level in which he completely buys into the naturalistic worldview according to which the cosmos is a self-contained, closed system operating under the conditions of strict materialistic determinism (basically in agreement with "demythologizers" like Bultmann), and an upper level on which he enacts a (Camus-like) embrace of the absurd, here in the form of the "Christ of Faith" (and all traditional notions such as the "resurrection"), but two feet above contradiction or historical fact.

Hence, he sounds much more orthodox than the likes of a classic Protestant liberal like Bultmann, but is much less forthright about his veritable commitments, because his "evangelical"-sounding affirmations do not intersect with historical facticity.