How Francis Schaeffer Influenced Me
by Daniel R. Heimbach
I can honestly say that, besides my parents and Jesus Christ, no individual has influenced me more than Francis A. Schaeffer, a pastor-theologian most consider to have been among the greatest evangelical voices, and perhaps even the most influential, of the twentieth century. But Francis Schaeffer and his wife, Edith, were also close friends of my missionary grandparents. For me the Francis and Edith Schaeffer who inspired a generation of evangelicals, myself included, with the importance of engaging the culture for Christ, were also the family friends who nursed my grandparents to health after returning to the United States emaciated following release from a Japanese prison in a Prisoner of War exchange during World War II.
That is the reason my grandmother, Bertha Byram, was one of the earliest and most faithful prayer partners of the work called “L’Abri” founded in Europe by the Schaeffers after the war. That is why my grandmother is twice mentioned in The Tapestry. And that is why the communion table in the chapel the Schaeffer’s built in Huemoz, Switzerland, is dedicated to my grandmother. But I did not know this connection until after I was drawn to Schaeffer’s books for my own reasons.
I first became aware of Schaeffer while a student in high school struggling with matters of faith and culture, and on reading his first book, Escape from Reason, I found him so keenly in tune with my questions I devoured nearly all he wrote as it was published. That was in the late 1960s and early 1970s when Western culture, and especially American culture, was in turmoil from so many others of my age rebelling against all authority and tradition. Then, like many others on discovering Schaeffer, I also traveled to the mountains of Switzerland to meet him, and ended staying several months trying to understand what was taking place and what it meant to be authentically Christian in a world fast becoming radically post-Christian.
I learned much from Schaeffer that has affected me ever since, but as much from his life as from his thought, as much from his demonstrating Christian love as from his defending biblical truth, as much from how he respected the value and dignity of everyone he met however small or great as from what I learned from his writing. Schaeffer is the one who taught me that truth is a reality we must live and not just believe, and that if Christians do not live God’s truth the world has every right to reject what we claim is right and true. And Schaeffer is the one who taught me, more by example than words, how Christians can and must stand for purity and holiness without ugliness or harshness and should weep for those pursuing what we abhor.
Schaeffer’s many books, especially The Mark of the Christian, Pollution and the Death of Man, How Should We Then Live?, Whatever Happened to the Human Race?, and A Christian Manifesto, were instrumental in forming what has become for me a strong sense of calling or mission in the world, which is to promote God’s truth in a culture that is rejecting it, and doing so especially as it concerns resisting moral anarchy and political tyranny.
Francis Schaeffer influenced my decision to become a culturally astute moral influence in Washington, D.C., an effort that resulted in affecting a wide range of issues in public policy. Schaeffer influenced my role in leading the fight against normalizing treatment of homosexual behavior in the military services. Schaeffer influenced my running for Congress in 2000. Schaeffer influenced my vision to develop what is now the strongest program in the world for training evangelicals in biblically uncompromising yet culturally engaged Christian ethics. And Schaeffer has influenced the sort of books I write, all of which have been written to resource evangelical witness on moral issues contested in the culture.
But while Schaeffer had a deep and lasting impact on evangelicals of my generation, shaping the those who led the Jesus Movement, the Moral Majority, the drafting of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, the first Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, the rediscovery of classical Christian education, the formation of Crisis Pregnancy Centers, the Southern Baptist conservative resurgence, and the movement of evangelicals into politics now labeled the Christian Right—and while Schaffer played the major role in launching evangelical efforts to engage the culture on issues ranging from legalized abortion, euthanasia, sexual immorality, environmental stewardship, denying gender roles, reclaiming the arts, and education reform—and while Schaeffer was a major influence on many who rose to positions of significant leadership including theologians Harold O. J. Brown, David Wells, Os Guinness, Timothy George, John Warwick Montgomery, John Piper, Norm Geisler, Wayne Grudem and L. Russ Bush, founders of ministries including James Dobson, D. James Kennedy, Jerry Falwell, R. C. Sproul, Chuck Colson and Tim and Beverley LaHaye, denomination leaders including Paige Patterson, Richard Land and James Montgomery Boice, publishers including Lane Dennis of Crossway Books and Terry Eastland of The Weekly Standard, writers including Cal Thomas and Frank Peretti, and political leaders including Ronald Reagan, James and Susan Baker, C. Everett Koop, Jack Kemp and Gary Bauer—the legacy of Francis A. Schaeffer is now in danger of being forgotten by a new generation that hardly knows his name much less understands how much they owe to the extraordinary influence of this passionate yet humble prophet used of God to transform and reenergize so much of what they inherit.
Of course, the ways in which any culture challenges authentically Christian witness change over time, but what Schaeffer taught evangelicals about the lordship of Christ over all areas of life, the timeless relevance of objectively reliable truth, the inerrancy of God’s Word, the marred nobility of human nature, the beauty of creation, and the meaninglessness of pretending to live in a self-centered mechanistic universe will never change and are as vitally important for evangelicals today as they were when Schaeffer held forth among us.
It is therefore strategic and absolutely critical that evangelicals revisit, reaffirm, and if necessary rediscover the legacy of Francis A. Schaeffer, lest we forget what we had and lose the art of engaging the culture without accommodating ourselves to the culture, of defending truth without being ugly, of loving those we engage without compromising purity, and of fitting our message to changing circumstances without compromising its content for fear of rejection or desire merely to be accepted by others.
The entrusting of the personal books, letters and papers of Frances A. Schaeffer, by the Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation, to the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary could not be more timely or important. I am most grateful to my colleague, Bruce Little, and to the Schaeffer family for their vision and generosity, and I am certain this one very significant action will play a key role in revitalizing evangelical witness in contemporary culture. I pray it will also serve to inspire, benefit and aid in equipping of a new generation eager to make a biblically grounded, authentically Christian difference in the world of today.
Daniel R. Heimbach is Senior Professor of Christian Ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.