Francis Schaeffer, the man and his legacy

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By Michael McEwen

Francis Schaeffer was undoubtedly one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century. Through his theological wit and cultural engagement, Schaeffer was able to illustrate that if Christ is Lord, then he is the Lord over all of life, not just sections of it. 

Anyone who reads Schaeffer’s works quickly realizes Schaeffer’s love for God, his love toward others, and how he desired for non-believers to understand the truth of the gospel. He writes in The God Who Is There, “The whole purpose of our speaking to twentieth-century people in the way I have outlined is not to make them admit that we are right in some personally superior way, nor to push their noses in the dirt, but to make them see their need so that they will listen to the gospel.” 

At the moment, Southeastern Seminary is the custodian of the Francis Schaeffer collection. Dr. Bruce Little, Professor of Philosophy and Directory of the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture, said, “The Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation retains ownership, and that ownership will be transferred to Southeastern upon the dissolution of the Foundation.”

The Schaeffer collection in Southeastern’s Library is composed of personal correspondences, books, videos, manuscripts, and audiotapes. Additionally, said Little, the collection includes some of Schaeffer’s personal library, and one of the most valuable assets of this collection is Schaeffer’s personal Bible, which has his own notes scripted in the margins. The entire Schaeffer collection – composed of approximately 50,000 entries in inventory – is in the process of being archived and digitized by library employees, Dr. Bill Youngmark and Craig Freeman.

Little befriended Udo Middelmann, son-in-law of Schaeffer and president of the Francis Schaeffer Foundation, in 2008. Little later invited Middelmann to come to Southeastern’s Center for Faith and Culture the following fall (2009) to give a couple lectures at the Center. Little said, “It was while he was here with Deborah [Schaeffer’s daughter] that they approached me with regards to assuming responsibility for the Schaeffer papers.”

Speaking about the character and thinking of Schaeffer, Larry Lyon, Southeastern M.Div. graduate and current Southeastern Ph.D. student, said, “Schaeffer was genuinely hospitable. Whether he was addressing a crowd from a pulpit or a podium, was in his home, or later in life in the hospital, Schaeffer’s message carried such weight because he engaged people in a hospitable manner.

“Schaeffer’s theology was also very practical. He would always engage others and make them think out the logical conclusions of their beliefs. So, he would ask them, ‘If you can’t live this particular way in the world, then is it a system worth living?’”

At certain times, Schaeffer was made out to be the grandfather of the Religious Right and also, he is often labeled as a hard presuppositionalist. Speaking about both of these labels, Little said that Evangelicals must be more careful in their perception of Schaeffer. As for being a grandfather of the Religious Right, said Little, “this is simply not true to history and yes he was a presuppositionalist, but Schaeffer defined the term much differently than the way it is used today.”    

In essence, Little conveyed, Evangelicals must first faithfully read Schaeffer and also correct such misrepresentations of the great 20th century theologian. 

M.Div. and Th.M. Southeastern graduate, Doctoral Candidate at the University of Bristol, and secretary on behalf of Dr. Bruce Little, Benjamin Quinn said, “Schaeffer was unwaveringly committed to Scripture and to the Lordship of Christ in all things. Evangelicals today can further Schaeffer’s legacy by remembering and teaching these two important qualities.”

Most of the items in the Schaeffer collection are indexed and archived. The audiotapes featuring Schaeffer’s lectures and debates are not yet available to the Southeastern community. Any alumni or student interested in researching the Schaeffer papers should contact Dr. Little for authorization; afterward, he or she can proceed to the library to access the collection. 

Another way alumni can become involved with Schaeffer’s ideas is through Southeastern’s Center for Faith and Culture. Drawing on the character of Schaeffer, the Center’s goal, Little said, “is to be theological in purposes, cultural in awareness, redemptive in nature, and charitable in disposition.” 

Every spring and fall semester, the Center hosts a number of forums where prominent speakers are invited to discuss important issues of the day and inform Christians as to how they can be involved in bringing a Christian perspective to the public square. 

Little said that Southeastern alumni and friends can be involved by attending the lectures and forums and even by supporting the Center financially. Little said, “I would like to think that what we at the Center do is part of biblical missions by training others to be the salt and light and doing so in an informed and wise fashion.”

To visit the Center for Faith and Culture website, click here.

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