Rediscovering Francis A. Schaeffer
By Steve Jones
I grew up in a culture that was deeply influenced by Francis A. Schaeffer, and I didn’t know it. Schaeffer encouraged and equipped my parent’s generation to ask difficult questions about life and culture and think deeply about how God’s revealed truth in Scripture provides the only coherent answers to those questions. He taught the generations that taught me the importance of integrating the truth of Christianity into the pursuit of truth in all areas of study, practice, and life. These ideas were passed on to many in my generation, but they had become so foundational that Schaeffer’s role in developing them often went without saying. As we approach the 30th anniversary of his death, it is fitting that we take the time to examine Schaeffer’s influence upon our thought and culture today. The Francis A. Schaeffer Collection at Southeastern is a unique resource that makes this rediscovery of Francis A. Schaeffer possible.
In 2010, the Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation entrusted a large collection of Francis A. Schaeffer’s personal papers into the seminary’s care. Since receiving the collection, library staff have labored to arrange, describe, and digitize these papers. The collection includes addresses, correspondence, manuscripts, sermons, research files, audio recordings, and other materials that provide a glimpse into the life, thought, writing, and ministry of Francis A. Schaeffer. These primary sources help us to understand Schaeffer and the development of his ideas in ways that were previously impossible. I recently had the opportunity to talk with our archives and digitization lab staff about the ways in which they have rediscovered the influence of Francis A. Schaeffer by working with his papers. Here are three of the many themes we discussed:
Schaeffer’s Engagement of Scripture
Francis A. Schaeffer studied the Scriptures and thought deeply about what they say concerning God and His creation. Schaeffer’s emphasis on applying God’s revealed truth in Scripture to every aspect of our thought, practice and life has shaped the way we engage Scripture today. The Schaeffer Collection includes a Bible that was used by Schaeffer and contains extensive marginal notes documenting his interaction with the text. When combined with the notes, manuscripts and outlines for Schaeffer’s sermons, this collection provides researchers with an unprecedented glimpse into Schaeffer’s study, proclamation, and application of the Scriptures.
Schaeffer’s Engagement of the Lost
Francis A. Schaeffer had a heart for the lost. As a pastor and missionary, he was driven by compassion for a lost generation wrestling with unanswered questions that led many to hopelessness, despair, and death. Schaeffer knew that the only meaningful answers to those questions were found in Christ, and he took time to explain and live out the truth of Christianity in community. His model of missional thought, dialogue, and living has shaped the way we engage our generation with the Gospel today. The Schaeffer Collection includes correspondence, newsletters, reports, sermons and other materials that document the development of Schaeffer’s practice of apologetics, missions and evangelism from his work with Children For Christ as a pastor, through his transition to full-time missions in Europe with the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, and onto his work with L’Abri.
Schaeffer’s Engagement of Culture
Francis A. Schaeffer recognized the importance of understanding the prevailing culture and impacting that culture with the truth of Christianity. The ways in which he taught Christians to engage cultural expressions of all forms, whether they be political or artistic, influence our understanding of the intersection of faith and culture today. The Schaeffer Collection includes, correspondence, annotated still images of artwork, speeches, and other resources that help us better understand Schaeffer’s engagement of culture. In particular, Schaeffer’s correspondence with Hans Rookmaaker, the Dutch Christian scholar of the arts, sheds light on the ways in which these men honed each other’s understanding of culture and the arts. The collection also includes annotated still images of artwork and two letters from Schaeffer to Bob Dylan that document the ways in which Schaeffer engaged art and artists of all mediums and genres.
As I get to know Francis A. Schaeffer through my work with his papers, I am learning that he went to great lengths to examine primary sources and draw awareness to the roots and development of ideas that converged to form the cultural assumptions of his time. In doing so, he helped to mold the culture in which we live today. The Francis A. Schaeffer Collection at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary provides students and researchers with an opportunity to explore the roots and development of Francis A. Schaeffer’s thought. By doing so, we may come to better understand ways in which his ideas have impacted our culture and rediscover the man who has taught us to understand, discuss, and live out our faith.
Please consult our website to learn more about conducting research in the Francis A. Schaeffer Collection. Digital copies of this collection will also be available for research at the Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation in Gryon, Switzerland and Hill House in Austin, Texas.
Special thanks to the Library at Southeastern archives and digitization lab staff, including Mary Cameron Cassion, Aaron Coffey, Craig Freeman, Rebecca Hayden, Daniel Hulsey, and Bill Youngmark, who have worked diligently to process and digitize the Francis A. Schaeffer Collection and help me better understand the research treasures it contains.
Steve Jones is Archivist and Digital Collections Manager at The Library at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.