Thursday, December 30, 2010

J. I. Packer on Francis Schaeffer

Thanks to Justin Taylor at Between Two Worlds I came across this excellent piece by J. I. Packer on the life and influence of Francis Schaeffer called "No Little Person." Here is how it begins:

He was physically small, with a bulging forehead, furrowed brow, and goatee beard. Alpine knee-breeches housed his American legs, his head sank into his shoulders, and his face bore a look of bright abstraction. Nothing special there, you would think; a serious, resolute man, no doubt, maybe a bit eccentric, but hardly unique on that account. When he spoke, his English though clear was not elegant, and his voice had no special charm; British ears found it harsh, and if stirred he would screech from the podium in a way that was hard to enjoy. Nevertheless, what he said was arresting, however he might look or sound while saying it. It had firmness, arguing vision; gentleness, arguing strength; simple clarity, arguing mental mastery; and compassion, arguing an honest and good heart. There was no guile in it, no party narrowness, no manipulation, only the passionate persuasiveness of the prophet who hurries in to share with others what he himself sees.

I knew him slightly, and admired him tremendously. I remember him as a great man, and wish I could have spent more time in his company. Yet anyone who reads his books ends up knowing him pretty well, and that at least I have done.

Francis Schaeffer was an important evangelical: that is, an evangelical of importance to evangelicals, as well as to others. He saw himself, so he tells us, as an evangelist. He has been accused (I think, unjustly) of trying to be a pioneer theoretician in philosophy and apologetics. He has been applauded (again, I think, unjustly) for trying to foster a Christian renewal of the fine arts, as if a program in aesthetics was the heart of his work. But his concern under God, it seems to me, was for people as people rather than for procedures or products. Therefore I think it is truest to call him a prophet-pastor, a well-informed Bible-based visionary who by the light of his vision sought out and shepherded the Lord's sheep.

In that role he had influence. Under God, he changed people. Among evangelicals he became an opinion-maker, a consciousness-raiser, and a conscience-stirrer, particularly regarding abortion on demand, for which the Roe v. Wade decision laid the foundation in 1973. More than three million books have been sold, and his complete works in five volumes, first published in 1982, have gone through five printings in three years. L'Abri (French for "the shelter"), the international study center that he founded in Switzerland, has replicated itself in England, France, Sweden, the Netherlands, and the United States, and L'Abri seminars and conferences, plus the showing of L'Abri films made by his son Franky, have become a regular part of today's Christian scene. Schaeffer himself spoke frequently to prestigious gatherings in prestigious places, and was noticed outside evangelical circles as an evangelical leader.

Packer notes seven things Schaeffer did that Evangelicals in the 1960s were not doing:

First, with his flair for didactic communication he coined some new and pointed ways of expressing old thoughts (the "true truth" or revelation, the "mannishness" of human beings, the "upper story" and "lower story" of the divided Western mind, etc.).

Second, with his gift of empathy he listened to and dialogued with the modern secular world as it expressed itself in literature and art, which most evangelicals were too cocooned in their own subculture to do.

Third, he threw light on the things that today's secularists take for granted by tracing them, however sketchily, to their source in the history of thought, a task for which few evangelicals outside the seminaries had the skill.

Fourth, he cherished a vivid sense of the ongoing historical process of which we are all part, and offered shrewd analysis of the Megatrends-Future Shock type concerning the likely effect of current Christian and secular developments.

Fifth, he felt, focused, and dwelt on the dignity and tragedy of sinful human beings rather than their grossness and nastiness.

Sixth, he linked the passion for orthodoxy with a life of love to others as the necessary expression of gospel truth, and censured the all-too-common unlovingness of front-line fighters for that truth, including the Presbyterian separatists with whom in the thirties he had thrown in his lot.

Seventh, he celebrated the wholeness of created reality under God, and stressed that the Christian life must be a corresponding whole—that is, a life in which truth, goodness, and beauty are valued together and sought with equal zeal. Having these emphases institutionally incarnated at L'Abri, his ministry understandably attracted attention. For it was intrinsically masterful, and it was also badly needed.

Read the rest here.

Schaeffer was one of the first authors whose books I devoured during high school and college. He, along with John R. W. Stott and C. S. Lewis, probably had more influence on me than any others during that period of my life.

Regrettably, somewhere along the way I fell into the habit of looking down on Schaeffer as if "Evangelist" were an inferior calling to that of "Professor" or as if Schaeffer could be dismissed as a "fundamentalist" and not an "up to date" Evangelical like us. Thankfully, I have outgrown such snobbishness and am prepared to recognize the greatness of the man who had late modernity (or postmodernity) pegged so accurately long before the rest of us had twigged to the level of degradation Western culture had reached.

I think that one of my New Year's resolutions will be to purchase the The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview and re-read them all in 2011.

1 comment:

Gordon Hackman said...

Thanks for linking to this. Schaeffer is one of my heroes and the person who started me on my intellectual journey. His attempts to uncover the streams of thought behind modernity was a huge influence on me and has continued to shape my passions and interests ever since.