Schaeffer’s push for evangelicals to engage culture and philosophy with a biblical worldview led me to change my major from cultural anthropology to philosophy in 1970. It confirmed what I was hearing from my parents, my church leadership and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, the campus ministry I participated in—the truth doesn’t fear questions; it’s okay to wrestle with your faith; listen to what the world is saying and compare it to the revealed truth of Scripture before you swallow it whole.
I knew that Schaeffer had come out of fundamentalism with its emphasis on separation from, not only the world, but also other Christians who interpret Scripture differently. I didn’t realize how much he had returned to those attitudes in his later years. Scholars of my generation who delved into philosophy and culture inspired by him, found weaknesses in his arguments. Although he reached defensible conclusions, the details of the argument often did not fit with the facts of history and were not even consistent in themselves. (And internal consistency was one of Schaeffer’s main apologetics for Christianity.) According to Hankins, Schaeffer didn’t want to hear about it.
By the time of the “Battle for the Bible” in the 1970s, my husband and I were living overseas where quibbling over the difference between “verbal inerrancy” and “inerrant in all it affirms” seemed totally irrelevant to a world that needed to hear God speak. In recent years I have mourned the political polarization that keeps us from being able to talk to each other and work out solutions that address the concerns of both sides. It was painful to me (and I suspect to the author) to see how much my mentor Francis Schaeffer was instrumental in setting us on that road.
Schaeffer died of cancer in 1984. His books and films How Shall We Then Live? and Whatever Happened to the Human Race (with C. Everett Koop) shocked the church into engaging with the pro-life movement. Predictions of euthanasia following abortion as acceptable to the secular world have come true in some states. I shudder to think what Schaeffer would have to say about gay marriage, immigration or the NRA today. I hope that his huge heart and passion for the lost would gentle his speech on the first two issues. Hankins quotes Os Guiness as saying, “He reasoned as if reason alone mattered; he loved as if love alone mattered” (p. 236). I suspect that Schaeffer and I would come to odds on the NRA. He feared a coming time when democracy would be so compromised by secular humanism that force might be justified to resist evil while I fear a current time when so many people are running around with guns that shoppers, movie goers, reporters and even school children die so that the warped mind of a malcontent might experience a rush of power and moment of false glory.
Like I said, a hard book to read. My hero had feet of clay. Yet I cannot deny the direction his teaching sent me, viewing my world through the lens of Scripture, not what is politically correct. Schaeffer spoke to the issues of his time. His rationality-based teaching does not interest post-modern youth. The way he stumbled on details detracts from his credibilty. Hankins suggests that “calling Christians to the important task of worldview formation” might be Schaefer’s “signal achievement and most lasting influence” (p. 227). It certainly has been in my life.