To celebrate what would have been Francis Schaeffer’s one hundredth birthday, I recently read two books about him. I commented about Colin Duriez’s excellent biography a few weeks ago. Today I want to share some thoughts about Bryan Follis’ investigation of Schaeffer’s apologetics. Aptly titled, Truth and Love, Follis brings both an appreciative and critical eye to Schaeffer’s life and work.
I’ll simply quote several points that I think bear repeating. Yet again, I marvel at how prophetic Schaeffer was and how relevant he remains for reaching out to people in our day and age. I wish more campus ministers, pastors, and all Christians who want to evangelize their neighbors would read at least Schaeffer’s early work, The God Who is There and adapt his insights to their spheres of influence.
“During the 1960s while many evangelical preachers regarded drugs or sexual immorality as the major problems to be tackled, Schaeffer argued that epistemology was the ‘central problem of our generation.’”
[Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that concerns “how we know what we know.” For Schaeffer, it wasn’t just that non-Christians believed different things than Christians. It was that they thought differently. They rejected the very ways Christians received truth. Thus, before you could argue for what you knew, you had to argue how you knew it].
“To those who criticized his apologetic and suggested that he just preach the ‘simple gospel,’ Schaeffer replied that you have to preach the simple gospel so that it is simple to the person to whom you are talking or it is no longer simple.”
“Schaeffer deplored those evangelicals who, in their desire to communicate Christianity, were ‘tending to change what must remain unchangeable.’”
Many times in Follis’ evaluation of Schaeffer’s apologetics, he reminded us that it was as much of Schaeffer’s tone and compassion as it was his content and reason. “Indeed David Porter, a Christian writer, says that he was won over by Schaeffer’s attentiveness rather than by his arguments in favor of Christianity…However, it is important that we remember that Schaeffer’s love for this individual was not just a technique for successful apologetics. Rather, his approach to apologetics was successful because of his underlying conviction about the importance of the individual.”
“In discussion with the non-Christian, Schaeffer believed that the Christian should be ready to receive blows as well as to give them. However, while the Christian must take the blows of the questions that a person might ask, the apologist should keep pressing the non-Christian back, for ‘he must keep answering questions too.’”
“He did not believe ‘there is any one apologetic which meets the needs of all people.’”
Follis observed that, unlike the 1960s when Schaeffer provided “honest answers to honest questions,” many people today aren’t even asking questions. He then pointed out that, if Schaeffer could have lived during our time he might suggest, “…if people are not asking questions, then we must be willing to ask them the questions they need to consider.”
At several points in the book, Follis recalled that Schaeffer said that if he had one hour with a non-Christian, he would be willing to spend 45 minutes asking questions and listening so as to bring that person to the point where he felt the predicament of being disconnected from God. Only then, once the alienation was felt, would he present the gospel. But, as Schaeffer often added, “As I push the man off his balance, he must be able to feel that I care for him.”
“Schaeffer’s approach was very person-sensitive, but it was not person-centered, and neither should we become person-centered.”
Obviously, I recommend the books I’ve mentioned here. Better still, I encourage you to reach out to those God has already placed in your life with truth and love, to show them you care for both their temporal needs and their eternal destiny, and to give them honest answers to honest questions.