Truth With Love: The Apologetics of Francis Schaeffer

Article by   January 2007

I cannot begin to express how many sympathetic back pats, mildly shaken heads and ever so slightly rolled eyes I have gotten at the news that I was reviewing a book on the apologetics of Francis Schaeffer. I must say that I have understood, at least partially, those reactions by Godly and loving people. After all, who can not have a bit of a smile, or a tug at one's heart and maybe their intellect, at the thought of Francis Schaeffer? At the myriad explanations of him, the differing opinions on him, the disciples who revere him and the opponents who remain baffled by him even in their distaste for him?

Those of us of "a certain age" remember firsthand the differing schools of thought surrounding Schaeffer, the powerful way that he affected almost everyone who encountered him either personally or through his writings. What I found interesting even then was the way in which parishes and wide swaths of laymen were moved positively by Schaeffer to begin to study, yes STUDY, the doctrines of the faith that some had embraced uncritically since childhood. I remember the way these lifelong Christians say next to those still challenging the faith, those new to the faith and those just desirous of seeing what all the commotion was about. At the same time, I was moved by how many "educated" Christians, those with degrees, those who taught in seminaries and other institutions of higher learning, were frequently critical, even dismissive of this man that their unwashed counterparts in the pews embraced so fully.

In his book on the apologetics of this much-misunderstood thinker, Bryan Follis has done a grand job of untangling the knot that was the apologetic of Francis Schaeffer, without succumbing to the Alexandrian need to simply cut the knot and declare it untied. Follis has broken his book down into an Introduction, 4 simple chapters and a stirring Conclusion. He has shown a willingness to interact with major critics of a man he clearly loves, while at the same time seeking to use Schaeffer's words, and not Follis' own, to make his case for his understanding of Schaeffer's apologetic. The chapter titles, "Calvin and the Reformed Tradition," "Arguments and Approach," "Rationality and Spirituality" and "Academic or Apologist" describe the path Follis treads in giving us a clear view of Schaeffer in light of the major influences on him and questions concerning him.

To oversimplify, Schaeffer received criticism from several different and differing viewpoints. The Warfieldian evidentialists dismissed him as a presuppositionalist. The Van Tilan presuppositionlists dismissed him as a rationalist with evidentialist leanings, and all looked with great disfavor on his extensive use of rational arguments with non-believers. Follis eventually places Schaeffer as leaning more toward the "verificationalist" method described by Edward Carnell in his "An Introduction to Christian Apologetics" published in 1948. While describing Schaeffer as being most like this method of apologetics, Follis shows that Schaeffer defies pigeon-holing, which is what seems to have driven his rejection, in large part, by the academy in his day.

Follis says this in setting the framework for understanding Schaeffer, "...it is impossible to understand Schaeffer, never mind properly evaluate his apologetics, unless we grasp that he was a practitioner and not a theoretician, and so interpret him in the context of what he sought to do." Follis does an admirable job of keeping the focus on Schaeffer's heart for the lost, and his willingness to understand the language and context of his conversation partner so that he could most effectively relate the Gospel message to that person in the way most relevant to their understanding and situation in life. What caused such consternation in academic circles, it seems in retrospect, is that while Schaeffer defied strict definition in philosophical/apologetical terms, he happily embraced the only definition he sought, Evangelist.

One of the areas in which Schaeffer was most roundly criticized was that of his lightly regarded scholarship, particularly as it relates to his formulation and interpretation of the flow of human history and how it related to the Modern and post-Modern thought so prevalent then and now. Follis makes a telling point when he shows that while some of Schaeffer's critics might have had their say in his day, Schaeffer is most assuredly having his say now, as we see almost precisely the progression of thought and deterioration of values, language and morality that he predicted and against which he warned in the 50s, 60s and 70s.

In describing Schaeffer's methodology, Follis continues to return to Schaeffer's idea that we must lovingly "take the roof off of" the inconsistent logic, denial of reality and false psychological props that most unbelievers use to give themselves "a false sense of meaning or a fleeting feeling of satisfaction." Schaeffer contended that we should never be cruel in exposing the unbeliever's shortcomings, but rather learn his language and move into his story in order to solve the "problem of how to communicate the Gospel so that it is understood."

The highlight of the read for this reviewer was the Conclusion, entitled "Love as the Final Apologetic." In this section, Follis takes what he has given us in the previous four chapters and contextualizes it to the local church today. Follis asks the questions that are already coursing through the mind of his reader, "Do we see compassion and love like this (Schaeffer in his work) today in many churches? Can the outsider visit your church and experience the reality of Christ's love and truth both being taught and lived? And what of our individual lives - do they reflect the love of Christ, and do we, in an age of doubt, commend His truth?" As the beginnings of an answer to these questions, this book will be a valuable addition to any bookshelf.

In the final analysis we can ask "Should we seek to teach Schaeffer's apologetic?" The answer is "Probably not," because Schaeffer's apologetic seems uniquely fitted to who Schaeffer was. But if we ask, "Should we seek to instill Schaeffer's heart for the lost in our own lives and apologetic, as well as the lives of all we teach, lead or among whom we live?" who among us could possibly answer "no?"

Bryan A. Follis / Illinois: Crossway, 2006
Review by Bing Davis, Pastor of Grace Fellowship, Spring Hill, TN



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