"The Crucial Doctrine that Fuels Beautiful Living"
In 1951 Francis Schaeffer’s life and ministry were turned upside down, despite already having walked with the Lord for many years and having seen much fruit in ministry. He was 39.
In the introduction to his book True Spirituality, Schaeffer recounts what happened.
I faced a spiritual crisis in my own life. I had become a Christian from agnosticism many years ago. After that I had become a pastor for ten years in the United States, and then for several years my wife, Edith, and I had been working in Europe. During this time I felt a strong burden to stand for the historical Christian position and for the purity of the visible church. Gradually, however, a problem came to me—the problem of reality. This has two parts: first, it seemed to me that among many of those who held the orthodox position one saw little reality in the things that the Bible so clearly says should be the result of Christianity. Second, it gradually grew on me that my reality was less than it had been in the early days after I had become a Christian. I realized that in honesty I had to go back and rethink my whole position.
We were living in Champéry [Switzerland] at the time, and I told Edith that for the sake of honesty I had to go all the way back to my agnosticism and think through the whole matter. I’m sure that she prayed much for me in those days. I walked in the mountains when it was clear, and when it was rainy I walked backward and forward in the hayloft of the old chalet in which we lived. I walked, prayed, and thought through what the Scriptures taught, reviewing my own reasons for being a Christian. . . .
I searched through what the Bible said concerning reality as a Christian. Gradually I saw that the problem was that with all the teaching I had received after I was a Christian, I had heard little about what the Bible says about the meaning of the finished work of Christ for our present lives. Gradually the sun came out and the song came. Interestingly enough, although I had written no poetry for many years, in that time of joy and song I found poetry beginning to flow again.
Three things are striking here, and worth considering for our own time.
1. Right doctrine matters.
Schaeffer says that he spent many of his early Christian years working for “the historical Christian position.” That means orthodoxy. Right belief. And nowhere in this autobiographical reflection does Schaeffer go back on the importance of such orthodoxy. On the contrary, he says that after going back and rethinking his foundational reasons for believing, he identified his lack of vibrancy as due to something other than his theology. The problem was not his doctrine. It was something else—the absence of “reality.”
2. Right doctrine exists not ultimately for correct thinking but for beautiful living.
True doctrine, as Paul tells Titus, is to be “adorned” (Titus 2:10). To lack grace in our lives is to deny grace in our theology. We can unsay with our lives in the living room what we say with our lips in the pew. The doctrines of grace generate a culture of grace. If they don’t, the doctrines of grace are not truly believed. We may say we believe them. We may even think we do. But we don’t. Not really.
A man who says he believes his treasure is in heaven as he drives a Bentley, owns five homes on three continents, and refuses to give any resources to the church or anyone else doesn’t really believe what he says he believes. You can see what he believes.
And if a man says he believes the doctrines of grace but does not exude what Schaeffer calls the “reality” of those doctrines, such a man does not really believe those doctrines. He might align himself with the doctrines of grace creedally. But he has not adorned the doctrines of grace.
“Dead orthodoxy,” Schaeffer once preached, “is always a contradiction in terms.”
3. The crucial doctrine that fuels beautiful living is the gospel.
“I had heard little,” Schaeffer says, “about what the Bible says about the meaning of the finished work of Christ for our present lives.”
Francis Schaeffer came to discover, many years after his conversion, that the finished work of Christ mattered—mattered tremendously—for his present life. Not just for his past moment of conversion and not only for the future moment when he would stand before God. For today. As he says elsewhere, “I become a Christian once for all on the basis of the finished work of Christ through faith; that is justification. But the Christian life, sanctification, operates on the same basis, but moment by moment.”
The gospel is a home, not a hotel. We pass through a hotel; we reside in a home. And it was when this washed over him—note this, now—it was when his heart came to dwell in the finished work of Christ that his soul began to live again. “Gradually the sun came out and the song came.” Poetry flowed once more. Vitality returned. Orthodoxy had never left; life, however, had.
Doctrine matters. But doctrine is meant to fuel some thing else—beautiful, radiant living. Standing immovably on the finished work of Christ will get us there.