Right Place/Right Time
by Ben House on Francis Schaeffer's legacy, focusing in particular on his film series/book How then Shall We Live
Schaeffer read the trendy philosophers; he watched the avant-garde movies; he delved into the liberal theologies; he examined the radical social critics. He acknowledged the Church’s failure on race issues. He even sided with the youth protest movement against the Establishment. Along with all this, he analyzed historical epochs, raising questions about the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. He ventured into the areas of art and architecture, positing Christian based interpretations. He was at home with classical music, well versed in literary classics, conversational about Plato and Aristotle, and at home with a world of “particulars” (to use a favorite phrase of his). Moreover, he did not look like or talk like a preacher!
Meanwhile, he calmly and rationally defended the notion of a living God who speaks to us in His Word and who saved us by sending Jesus to die on the Cross. Schaeffer’s work is flawed and obsolete at many points. Go back a few centuries and you will find Calvin prefacing every other paragraph with an indictment against Romanists, or Luther railing against the Holy Roman emperor. Go back beyond that and note that the great Augustine defended celibacy and strayed down many a goofy path. Even the Apostle Paul’s writings include a command for his cloak and parchments to be brought to him.
Schaeffer was not the greatest theologian, apologist, writer, speaker, or cultural critic of the age. I don’t think he tried to be. He did not seek to give the final word or definitive answer to any question. Perhaps he wanted his students to achieve that goal. America was failing in the 1970s; it has not completely recovered now in this new millennium. But the direction has changed. Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion and George Bush’s inaugural address both show Schaeffer’s influence, even though neither Gibson nor Bush may have ever read Schaeffer. Schaeffer’s students have written enough books to fill a library. The college students who read him now fill pulpits, occupy classrooms, write books and articles, and have web sites. Like Beowulf, he slew a few monsters in his day, and died still fighting other monsters. He was often a somber prophet, and his agenda reached more toward the past than the future.
I invite you to check out my article "The Importance of Hans Rookmaaker
" which discusses Schaeffer's and Rookmaaker's influence on each other and the church.