Since the much-discussed and controversial memoir Crazy for God by Frank Schaeffer, son of Francis and Edith, there has been a bit of renewed interest in the evangelical cultural critic, theologian, philosopher and founder of L’Abri, a drop in study center Christian community in Switzerland that ministered to questioning, often disaffected youth in the late 60s early 70s–and exits in several cities throughout the world yet today. In what seemed to be light years ahead of his time, he talked about worldviews, about presuppositions, the consequences of ideas, the zeitgeist of the times and the flow of history–all as important matters for Christian witness and mission and daily discipleship. He organized their Swiss hostel (and inspired other intentional communities) as folks bonded together to live out the implications of a Christian view of life in the teeth of a modernistic and secularized cultural ethos. He assured us that there were “no little people” and that God wanted to use us for Christ’s cosmic purposes, to share grace and thoughtfulness and beauty in such a fallen world that God surely loves.
As evangelicals, especially, discover the grand flow of the Bible as a worldview-shaping Story there is a new passion to explore God’s interest in social and cultural engagement, and seek to honor Christ in all of life—from the arts to the sciences, from local business practices to global justice, from pop culture to environmental studies, from race relations to the contours of our workplaces. Thank goodness. Reading folks from Jim Wallis to Leslie Newbegin, from Marva Dawn to N.T. Wright, we search for profound resources to “fund” such a broad vision of Kingdom reformation and many are now using the language of worldview, and this wholistic, imaginative move to embody a new, integrated, way of life. We have studied from those who have popularized and explored the vast implications of that phrase and that move. (Both James Sire and Nancy Pearcey, who are vital voices in worldview studies, have L’Abri connections. So does Fabric of Faithfulness author Steve Garber. The annual Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh is one huge example of fruit born from conversations around L’Abri themes; Charles Colson’s exemplary involvement in prison reform is another fruit of Schaeffer’s evangelical yet worldviewish thinking about societal transformation. And on and on, some of my favorite contemporary authors and very best friends…)
We’ve learned that to be “radical” means not to be far left or way out, but to get to the “root” of things, to look at the deepest questions in the most profound ways. It may be that “neo-Calvinists” took up that banner most vocally in the past 25 years, influenced by their “radical” hero, Dutch statesman and public theologian Abraham Kuyper, who called for such deep rethinking of everything and it is clear that Kuyper and his rejection of dualism and personalism rubbed off in some ways on Schaeffer and his L’Abri movement. Nowadays, although neo-Calvinism is on the lips (and keyboards) of places like Comment and Catapult and Richard Mouw’s blog, many others are just glad for reforming possibilities and intellectually serious faith traditions other than old-school liberal Protestantism and right-wing conservative fundamentalism. (I have written elsewhere that even the postmodern emergent movement has some connections to radical worldview thinkers like Brian Walsh and Jamie Smith and the late Robert Webber—who themselves have been nurtured in the Dutch neo-Cal and Kuyper tradition and L’Abri, too.)
I would say that the person who stands for so much of all of this for me, is, in fact, Francis Schaeffer. As I’ve written about often, I was introduced to Schaeffer’s books (his early 70s work on Christian responsibilities for creation care, his cultural studies, his critiques of Protestant liberalism, his little book on the arts…) and it showed me immense new possibilities. To see someone with historic orthodox theology (I was also reading stuff like Malcolm Boyd and Dan Berrigan at the time) who also cared about the burning issues of the day, and even the cries of the counterculture, just blew me away.
I am glad that there is now a new biography of Schaeffer, Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life by Colin Duriez (Crossway; $24.95.) It is done by a very reputable biographer, and is a work which many have suggested will be the best bio yet. It just came, and I’ve not seen any advanced reviews, but as I browse through it, I can tell that it will be helpful and inspiring, informative and fulfilling. Colin Duriez has done impressive biographies of C.S. Lewis and also of J.R.R. Tolkien, so he clearly is in the right orbit. Before studying English and philosophy at University of Ulster, he spent time at L’Abri. He is quite aware of his subject, has had the cooperation of the extended Schaeffer circle, and knows details that have been important in Fran’s life (for instance, his meeting in 1950 with the famed neo-Orthodox theologian Karl Barth, and a scathing letter he got from Dr. Barth.) Fascinating stuff.
A small matter of interest for at least a handful of BookNotes readers (yeah, you know who you are) might be the question Mr. Duriez raises about the role in Schaeffer’s work, of the thought of Kuyperian philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd. Duriez, who knew Schaeffer well, and stayed in touch for decades, corresponded with Schaeffer specifically about the influence of Dooyeweerd; Schaeffer’s intimate friend, Dooyeweerdian art critic Hans Rookmaaker, many know, insisted that he introduced Schaeffer to Dooyeweerd’s philosophy which then shaped Schaeffer’s famous trilogy of philosophical works. Schaeffer knew Van Til, another Dutch Calvinist (from Westminster Seminary) and there is a family resemblance to a number of these Reformed thinkers who called for the development of the distinctives of the Christian mind, for the sake of God-glorifying cultural witness and social change. Of course, while this was going on, L’Abri was growing in popularity, Eric Clapton and folk like Joan Baez were reading Escape from Reason; Os Guinness was working on his first book The Dust of Death, and Schaeffer was chastising evangelicals in North America for not caring enough to learn about the issues being raised by the counterculture or taking seriously new art forms like film. For those whose faith was shaped in the middle or ending of the 20th century, whether you knew about this stuff then or not OR for those who are too young to have recalled these tumultuous times, and who may not think much of Schaeffer’s influence, Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life by Colin Duriez is going to be great and is highly recommended!
With endorsements from the likes of Alister McGrath and James Sire (who says “Schaeffer, the Jeremiah of the twentieth century, walks and talks again in these pages”) this surely is a very reputable and thoughtful work. I am confident that it is. We are very, very happy to present it to you.< br />
Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life
Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street Dallastown, PA 17313 717.246.3333