The Lasting Influence of Francis Schaeffer

The screen in front of the class displayed a black and white sketch of a young, angry girl who was holding a protestor’s sign that read “absolutism.”
My sociology professor was lecturing about values and morals that morning. She explained that those who believed in absolutism affirmed that there were “universal principles that apply to all humans.” The next slide was in full-color with people of all races having fun in a park with green grass, tall trees, and a rainbow across the sky. Written underneath this slide were the words “relativism,” which the professor explained meant there were no universals and each society decided for themselves what is true and ethical.
My heart was pounding. I knew I was an “absolutist” because the Bible taught that all men where accountable to God’s laws, yet I wasn’t angry like the young girl in the first slide. I looked around at my fellow students and none of them seemed to even care. So I decided to ask the professor a question: “Why was the absolutist angry and the relativists having so much fun?” The professor paused, looked at both slides and said, “I don’t know. I never thought about it.”

As a college student in the 1990’s, I yearned for a mentor who could help me find a faith that moved past fluffy religion and secular thinking. There has to be more to Christianity than just getting saved! I contemplated this at the same time I was wrestling with humanistic philosophies such as relativism and post-modernism.

So when I picked up a copy of Francis Schaeffer’s The God Who Is There, my mind was blown. In this book, he directly spoke to the struggles I was feeling and thinking about.

Schaeffer clearly articulated the disfunction of a religion void of living before a real, holy God. He wrote that Christianity too often had been “talking about holiness . . . and love; rather than the consideration and practice of holiness and love together as truth, in antithesis to what is false in theology, in the church, and the surrounding culture.”

I would learn years later that Schaeffer called this the “final apologetic.” In The Great Evangelical Disaster, he wrote, “But after we have done our best to communicate to a lost world, still we must never forget that the final apologetic which Jesus gives is the observable love of true Christians for true Christians.”

He refreshingly reminded me that God was real and that He communicated to humanity in “real time” in the Bible and through His Son, Jesus Christ. But Schaeffer also challenged me that truth must go hand-in-hand with love. The Christian life was not just an act, but it must be powered by the Holy Spirit and prayer.

A true God demanded a true relationship with His people.

In an interview given shortly before his death in 1984, Schaeffer was asked what principles he thought Christians should keep in mind as we relate to the society in which we live. He replied, As Christians, in everything we do we should exhibit the character of God . . . By God’s grace we must exhibit both the love and the holiness of God simultaneously, so that we neither compromise the faith nor merely become hard or harsh.”

Several years ago Os Guiness told Justin Taylor with The Gospel Coalition that he had “never met anyone with such a passion for God, combined with a passion for people, combined with a passion for truth. That is an extremely rare combination, and Schaeffer embodied it.”

872900When my wife and I were first married over 11 years ago, we took our home Bible study through Schaeffer’s How Should We Then Live? series. It opened up many unique opportunities to talk about what it meant to think and live as a Christian in the world. We discovered that we were not that different than those who lived in the Ancient Roman or Renaissance eras. Schaefer said, “There is a flow to history and culture. This flow is rooted and has its wellspring in the thoughts of people. People are unique in the inner life of the mind—what they are in their thought world determines how they act.” As we watched this series, we were challenged to think and live Biblically.

Schaeffer’s common refrain throughout the 10-part series is this: when man makes himself to be the center of all things, society will end up in chaos and people will be in despair. He called this “the greatest wickedness.” But in contrast, he taught that when the Creator is placed at the center of our lives, we are on track to pursue what we were originally created for—to bring glory to God in all that we do. And it is by this that we will naturally influence our culture as light and salt.

Schaeffer loved God, loved people, and loved truth. He was a brilliant man who was a confessing sinner saved by grace. I’m thankful the Lord brought him as a mentor to me through his books and film series.

Even some thirty years after his death, Schaeffer reminds us today that God wants us to act and think biblically in all of life. Nothing is disconnected from our Creator. We can wrestle with thoughts and doubts, but we can do so with a mighty God by our side who cares for us and wants to see us bring glory to His name. And because we are called to love God and our neighbor, we can reach out in love to those around us struggling to figure out what life is all about.
Troy Lamberth is the executive producer of HAVEN Today. On the side, he teaches film at Providence Christian College, produces documentaries, and often teaches at his church. He enjoys discovering how Jesus is involved in all aspects of our lives—from faith to film to family—and how our relationship with him shapes the way we live. He and his wife Melissa have three young children.

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