Francis Schaeffer: A Man Committed to the Lordship of Christ (Part 1)

Francis Schaeffer: A Man Committed to the Lordship of Christ (Part 1)

Francis Schaeffer: A Man Committed to the Lordship of Christ (Part 1)

            Born in the Germantown area of Philadelphia, Francis Schaeffer was the only child of working class parents. Schaeffer was not brought up in a strong Christian tradition, but rather voluntarily attended a liberal Presbyterian church. He eventually became unsatisfied with this arrangement because his questions were not receiving satisfactory answers.[1] During his high school years, he became an agnostic. He then began to read extensively in the area of philosophy in order to find the answers for life. It occurred to him that he should also read the Bible at this time and he took up reading both Ovid and the Bible bit by bit each night.[2] After six months of reading the Bible, in which time he read it completely, he was convinced that it was the ultimate truth and contained all the answers to the questions of life.[3]

At some point in the next six months, Schaeffer became a Christian. He could write in his diary later, “All truth is from the Bible.”[4] He thought he had discovered something of which others were not aware. He would not call himself a Christian at this point because in his mind, Christianity was the unreal stuff he had received at church. It was not until a camp meeting that he went forward and seemed to realize that what he had become was, in fact, a Christian. This dramatic shift in Schaeffer’s beliefs changed his life in a distinct fashion. Against his father’s wishes, Schaeffer trained for the ministry, his grades improving with each successive year. It was within the turmoil of the modernist-fundamentalist controversy that Francis met Edith, who would later become his wife. Following a sermon in which an evangelist sought to throw doubt on the veracity of Scripture and the deity of Christ, both Schaeffer and Edith challenged him.[5] After the meeting, Francis wished to meet this kindred spirit and did so. This first meeting would eventually lead to marriage.

As Schaeffer continued to train for the ministry, he became deeply influenced by his professors at Westminster Seminary. His education took place during the time when many denominations were experiencing splits and divisions. This experience would prove to be significant for the duration of Schaeffer’s life and ministry. Over the next ten years, Schaeffer would work in several pastorates and ministries while beginning a family with Edith. Over time, it would be the neo-orthodoxy of Barth and not straight liberalism that Schaeffer would see as the most dangerous enemy.[6] This realm of theology would often use the same terms as orthodox Christianity but without the same definitions.

In 1947, while serving in a pastorate in Missouri, Schaeffer sought leave to assess the spiritual needs of the churches in post-World War II Europe.[7] The next year, the Schaeffers would move to Lausanne, Switzerland, and begin a ministry that would morph into something with international effectiveness over the following 35 years. During this time, Schaeffer would preach in Europe on the dangers of liberalism and the existentialism taught by theologian Karl Barth.[8] Also during this time, people began to visit the Schaeffers, often without invitation. They came to have their questions answered, and answer them Edith and Francis did. And yet, perhaps Francis Schaeffer’s biggest struggles lay ahead.

[1] John D. Woodbridge, Great Leaders of the Christian Church (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), 362.

[2] Mostyn Roberts, Francis Schaeffer (Darlington: EP Books, 2012), 18.

[3] Woodbridge, 362.

[4] Roberts, 19.

[5] Woodbridge, 362.

[6] Roberts, 46.

[7] Woodbridge, 364.

[8] Ibid., 364.