My friend Michael Daily is reading Schaeffer’s True Spirituality. As I thought about Schaeffer and the book I decided to reread it again and began this afternoon. When Michael and I were talking about Schaeffer recently I said, “He helped teach me how to think.” Schaeffer, Lewis, Pascal; they taught me how to think and they continue to teach me how to think. Lewis, MacDonald, Tolkien; they continue to teach me how to use my imagination. Note that Lewis is in both groups.
I read Edith Schaeffer’s L’Abri around 1971, I still have the book; Second American Edition, February 1970, a pastor friend of mine shared it with me. Shortly after reading Edith’s book I began reading her husband’s works; True Spirituality was among the first I read. As I think about True Spirituality I wonder if it isn’t in the same category as Andrew Murray once placed the Biblical book of Hebrews, saying (and I paraphrase from memory), “This is a wonderful book with marvelous truth but nobody believes it.”
The thing that first struck me so many years ago, and the thing that still strikes me today as I reread Schaeffer, is found in his preface, “We were living in Champery at that 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 [of what he believed]. I’m sure that this was a difficult time for her, and I’m sure that she prayed much for me in those days. I walked 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, as well as reviewing my own reasons for being a Christian.”
As a young Christian, Schaeffer taught me to think foundationally, that is, he taught me to seek the foundation, the basis, for a given belief or practice. He taught me to ask myself, “Why do I believe this?” He taught me to ask others, “Can you explain to me why you believe what you’ve just said?” He also taught me to work out the logical trajectories and conclusions to beliefs and practices. Sad to say I have not always heeded Schaeffer’s advice and example, and when I haven’t it has always been the result of not loving God or my neighbor – something that he addresses in the early pages of True Spirituality.
I have read and reread Schaeffer over the years, and I have referred to him in countless conversations and sermons. He has been one of the great mentors in my life. In terms of his published body of integrated work, of his rigorous Biblical thinking, and of his prophetic insight into the future of the Western Church – he has few twentieth-century equals (if any). Interacting with Francis Schaeffer is a contact sport, you’ve got to put on the “pads” as they say in American football, and when you’ve worked through Schaeffer’s writing you know you’ve been in a hard game – but you also know that you’ve been in a game worth playing.