Monday, July 30, 2012

Bitesize Biographies: Francis Schaeffer by Mostyn Roberts

Bitesize Biographies: Francis Schaeffer,
Mostyn Roberts, EP Books, 2012, 144pp

As a young believer I would often make my way to the Evangelical Movement of Wales’ Christian Bookshop that sat in Wyndham Arcade, Cardiff (now closed). That was when Amazon was simply the name of a  river and books had to be bought from retail outlets in shopping centres. The old EMW bookshop was a like a lush, palm strewn oasis to my knowledge-thirsty soul. Many of the books that helped shaped my developing theological outlook were bought there. It was from that shop I purchased The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer. I can't remember what possessed me to invest in Schaeffer. Maybe it was reading Christopher Catherwood's Five Evangelical Leaders (Hodder and Stoughton) that put me on to him.  Francis Schaeffer was one of the 'Big Five' alongside Martyn Lloyd-Jones, John Stott, J. I. Packer and Billy Graham. 

Anyway, in my lunch breaks at British Steel Orb Works, Newport I began to make my way through the five brightly coloured volumes. Volume 1 contained the seminal trilogy, The God Who Is There, Escape From Reason and He Is There and He Is Not Silent. In these writings Francis Schaeffer offered a penetrating and far-sighted analysis of Western culture, exposing trends in philosophy, science and the arts to the scrutiny of biblical truth. His apologetic method involved giving honest answers to honest questions and showing the absurdity of unbelief when taken to its logical conclusion.

At a time when Evangelicals tended to be rather pietistic, with little interest in politics, the arts and culture, Schaeffer developed a rigorously biblical worldview that enabled him to engage with the world with critical, yet gracious honesty. He was no narrow-minded Fundamentalist, yet he robustly defended the inerrancy of the Bible and championed supernatural Christianity. Schaeffer was a stern critic of theological liberalism and the neo-orthodoxy alternative advocated by Karl Barth.

Those who know little of Schaeffer might think that he was a somewhat remote pointy-headed, goatee-bearded intellectual, who lacked knowledge of the real world. He did sport a goatee beard, but the rest of the caricature is deeply unfair. Roberts gives us an illuminating glimpse of the man behind the books and films. Amongst other things, Schaeffer experienced the stresses and strains of married life, a baby daughter’s exploding nappy and car crashes. Sometimes, much to his irritation, all at the same time.

Schaeffer’s life was dedicated to ‘speaking the truth in love’. But this involved more than words. He endeavoured to live out the truth by trusting in God and caring for other people. Francis and his wife, Edith pioneered work among children. They were interested in reaching the ordinary man and woman for Christ as well as academic types.  L’Abri, where their work was based in Switzerland was a not only a place for study and theological discussion, it was also a refuge for drug addicts and others whose lives had been broken by the destructive power of sin.

Mostyn Roberts, (who blogs at Harp from the Willows), has given us an insightful and gripping biography of Schaeffer, who he describes as a ‘pastor and evangelist’, rather than a ‘Christian philosopher’. He offers a well-judged account of Schaeffer’s thought. The writer is honest about his subject’s faults and failings, while appreciative of his achievements as a Bible teacher and apologist for the Christian faith. He shows us why today’s Evangelicals need to listen afresh to what Francis Schaeffer had to say.

Sadly, my copy of The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer isn’t so complete. Years ago I leant Volume 1 to a mate’s girlfriend and haven’t seen it since. I hope she read it and found it helpful, but every time I glance at the set I pine for that missing book, containing as it does the key trilogy mentioned above. Never mind. The brightly coloured volumes have faded with time, but Schaeffer’s message still endures: 'God is there and he is not silent'.

* Reviewed for Evangelical Times



Missing Volume 1?

That's what Abebooks are for Guy

beastie said...

I also seemed to stumble upon Schaeffer many years ago and bought the Trilogy. After reading the glossary a couple of times I was able to start on 'Escape From Reason'! I did have the Complete Works at one point and read it through twice.
Just now I am finding it a joy to read Nancy Pearcey's book 'Total Truth' which is very much the work of a student of Schaeffer who is speaking the same truths into a 21st century relativistic culture.