What I Learned from Francis Schaeffer

One of the central influences on my high school curriculum was Francis Schaeffer.

If you’ve never heard of Schaeffer, he was a thinker and teacher in the late twentieth century. Throughout high school I read sporadic chapters of his books How Should We Then Live, The God Who Is There, and Escape from Reason. In the past few weeks I powered through He Is There and He Is Not SilentTrue Spirituality, and Pollution and the Death of Man – as well as Art and the Bible, which was just for fun.

Schaeffer was one of the greatest Christian thinkers of the last century. His books address everything from presuppositions to apologetics to history to ecology. I wish I’d been able to slow down and take it in better; but here are a few of the (many) things I took away from his books.

1. Worldview is Central

This was a main theme in a lot of the books, but especially How Should We Then Live. Our worldview is the beliefs and presuppositions that influence how we think, how we act, and how we look at everything around us.

You’ll live consistently with your presuppositions, Schaeffer says – more than you even realize. How Should We Then Live (along with the first couple books of the trilogy), documents Western thinking from ancient Greece to the twentieth century.  Knowing that history is crucial for understanding and speaking to our society today.

2. God has given us true truth

Meaning, morals, hope… they all depend on the reality that there is a God, and He has communicated to us.

“The infinite-personal God is there, but also he is not silent; that changes the whole world.” (He Is There and He Is Not Silent)

If all that is man and the universe was formed by time + matter + chance, we have no basis for true knowledge, objective morality, or any kind of meaning in life. We are no more than machines or animals. And this is what modern man believes – that’s why he’s lost his humanity.

But if there really is a God who’s both infinite and personal, and He has given us truth about ourselves and our universe, then we have a basis for rational thinking and meaning.

“God is there. God exists. Therefore, all is not absurd.” (Art and the Bible)

3. Christians must lovingly and articulately speak truth to our generation.

This was one of my biggest takeaways: we have to witness in a way that makes sense to the people around us.

If, like me, you’ve grown up in the church, then you’ve probably taken the existence of God for granted for most of your life.

But our society doesn’t. Schaeffer’s “trilogy” (The God Who Is There, Escape from Reason, He Is There and He Is Not Silent) illustrates this in tragic clarity. Our generation believes in that “time + matter + chance” recipe, and doesn’t accept the existence of the supernatural. So talking about “God” or “sin” might not make sense to people.

“You have to preach the simple gospel so that it is simple to the person to whom you are talking, or it is no longer simple.” (He Is There and He Is Not Silent)

There were three aspects of apologetics that most struck me from these books.

  1. When we speak to the people around us, we have to define our terms and explain what we mean. Words like “God” have little meaning anymore unless you define them.
  2. Approach people where they are, and understand where they’re coming from – then show them the logical conclusions to that point of view.
  3. Speak in love. Throughout all the books, Schaeffer recounts his own experiences in speaking with unbelievers, and in every instance you can see how much he really cares about them. He’s not just trying to win an argument – he wants them to understand the truth, because even though it might be painful it’s eternally significant.

I really believe every Christian should read Schaeffer’s books. The trilogy is a good place to start, and so is True Spirituality. If you want to be challenged, strengthened in your faith, and better equipped to speak truth to those around you, I highly recommend them!

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3 thoughts on “What I Learned from Francis Schaeffer

  1. Cool, thanks for the book recommendations! I’ve actually never read anything by him so you’ve challenged me to start 🙂

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  2. Whenever you talk about Schaeffer’s books I go “Agh, that’s right, I was gonna start reading one of these…” 😛 Adding them all to Goodreads now and trying to find some on my library site!

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  3. This is such a great post, Katherine! I just finished reading through How Should We Then Live? with my history/literature/theology class and it was my favorite book. It was so profound and basically wrapped up everything I had learned in history for the past three years! I especially love your point about how we need to speak the culture’s language–Schaeffer was so good at that.

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