Francis Schaeffer was born 107 years ago today. He was born on January 30, 1912, he lived through most of the 1900s, and died on May 15, 1984. To commemorate his birthday, let’s talk a little bit about the life and legacy of this very significant figure in the twentieth century.
You can divide Francis Schaeffer’s professional life up into three periods. The first is as a pastor. Schaeffer began his pastoral ministry in 1937. He was married to Edith Seville who was from a family of missionaries to China. He began his pastorate in the Bible Presbyterian Church and was largely caught up in the fundamentalist debate there in the 1930s and 1940s. That was the first ten years of his professional ministry.
He made an exploratory trip to Europe in 1947 and shortly thereafter, he established what is the second phase of his life: the L’Abri phase. “L’Abri,” of course, means “shelter” and he, Edith, and his family established L’Abri in the mountains of Switzerland. This was a place where mostly college-aged students, but any age, could just show up and engage Francis Schaeffer in conversation and talk about everything. They talked about French films. They talked about biblical texts. They talked about arguments for the existence of God. They talked about arguments against the existence of God. And Schaeffer used those conversations to lead many young people to Christ. They were the quintessential “seekers.” They would be backpacking through Europe, make their way to L’Abri, and they would bump into this guy with a goatee who wore knickers and spoke with an interesting tone of voice and accent, and they would listen to him talk about the gospel.
In 1976 and 1977 we enter into the third phase of Schaeffer’s life. So, we’ve discussed Francis Schaeffer the pastor from 1937 to 1947. We’ve got Francis Schaeffer the founder of L’Abri from 1947 to 1977. And then in those final years of his life, we’ve got Francis Schaeffer, the political activist. He coined the term “co-belligerency.” This is the idea of joining shoulders with other, orthodox or Roman Catholics, not acknowledging that there’s a similar belief here, but acknowledging that we have issues at stake in culture and in society. This meant coming together to talk about matters that were crucial, matters of the sanctity of life and human dignity. You’ve seen this in his film series, How Should We Then Live? You see it in the way he attacked the abortion issue and stood up for the dignity of life.
He was friends with the Surgeon General, C. Everett Koop, and they teamed up to write a book called Whatever Happened to the Human Race? And so here you have Francis Schaeffer contributing not only to apologetics and writing these wonderful books, such as He Is There And He Is Not Silent, a book about God’s existence and how God has revealed Himself in His Word, but you see him writing books about arts and the consequences of ideas. There are many quotes from Francis Schaeffer but let’s just try this one on:
People today are trying to hang on to the dignity of man, but they do not know how to, because they have lost the truth that man is made in the image of God. . . . We are watching our culture put into effect the fact that when you tell men long enough that they are machines, it soon begins to show in their actions. You see it in their whole culture— in the theater of cruelty, and the violence in the streets, and the death of man in art and life.
That is from Francis Schaeffer’s little book, Escape from Reason. But he wasn’t all pessimism and bad news. He was also about the good news of the gospel. This was the life of Francis Schaeffer, born 107 years ago this day, on January 30, 1912.