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LIBRARY OF RELIGIOUS BIOGRAPHY Edited by Mark A. Noll, Nathan O. Hatch, and Allen C. Guelzo

The Library of Religious Biography is a series of original biographies on important religious figures throughout American and British history. The authors are well-known historians, each a recognized authority in the period of religious history in which his or her subject lived and worked. Grounded in solid research of both published and archival sources, these volumes link the lives of their subjects — not always thought of as “religious” persons — to the broader cultural contexts and religious issues that surrounded them. Marked by careful scholarship yet free of academic jargon, the books in this series are well-written narratives meant to be read and enjoyed as well as studied.

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LIBRARY OF RELIGIOUS BIOGRAPHY William Ewart Gladstone: Faith and Politics in Victorian Britain David Bebbington Aimee Semple McPherson: Everybody’s Sister • Edith L. Blumhofer Her Heart Can See: The Life and Hymns of Fanny J. Crosby Edith L. Blumhofer Orestes A. Brownson: American Religious Weathervane Patrick W. Carey Thomas Merton and the Monastic Vision • Lawrence S. Cunningham Billy Sunday and the Redemption of Urban America • Lyle W. Dorsett The Kingdom Is Always but Coming: A Life of Walter Rauschenbusch Christopher H. Evans Liberty of Conscience: Roger Williams in America • Edwin S. Gaustad Sworn on the Altar of God: A Religious Biography of Thomas Jefferson Edwin S. Gaustad Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President • Allen C. Guelzo Charles G. Finney and the Spirit of American Evangelicalism Charles E. Hambrick-Stowe Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America Barry Hankins Emily Dickinson and the Art of Belief • Roger Lundin The Puritan as Yankee: A Life of Horace Bushnell • Robert Bruce Mullin Prophetess of Health: A Study of Ellen G. White • Ronald L. Numbers Blaise Pascal: Reasons of the Heart • Marvin R. O’Connell Occupy Until I Come: A. T. Pierson and the Evangelization of the World Dana L. Robert God’s Strange Work: William Miller and the End of the World David L. Rowe The Divine Dramatist: George Whitefield and the Rise of Modern Evangelicalism • Harry S. Stout Assist Me to Proclaim: The Life and Hymns of Charles Wesley John R. Tyson

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Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America

Barry Hankins

William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company Grand Rapids, Michigan / Cambridge, U.K.

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© 2008 Barry Hankins All rights reserved Published 2008 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2140 Oak Industrial Drive N.E., Grand Rapids, Michigan 49505 / P.O. Box 163, Cambridge CB3 9PU U.K. www.eerdmans.com Printed in the United States of America 13 12 11 10 09 08

7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Hankins, Barry, 1956Francis Schaeffer and the shaping of Evangelical America / Barry Hankins. p. cm. — (Library of religious biography) Includes bibliographical references. ISBN 978-0-8028-6389-8 (pbk.: alk. paper) 1. Schaeffer, Francis A. (Francis August) 2. Evangelicalism — United States — History. 3. United States — Church history — 20th century. I. Title. BR1643.S33H36 2008 267¢.13092 — dc22 [B] 2008026250

The author and publisher gratefully acknowledge permission of Good News/ Crossway to quote from The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer, 5 vols. (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1982).

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For Becky

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Contents

Acknowledgments

viii

Introduction

x

1. The Making of an American Fundamentalist

1

2. The Making of a European Evangelical

28

3. L’Abri

51

4. An American Evangelical Star: The Trilogy

74

5. Progressive Prophet of Culture

109

6. The Battle for the Bible

136

7. Filmmaker

160

8. A Manifesto for Christian Right Activism

192

Conclusion: Francis Schaeffer’s Legacy

228

Notes

240

Index

265

vii

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Acknowledgments

There are several individuals and institutions who helped make this book possible. A Baylor Horizons Grant, part of a Lilly Endowment project, funded the travel necessary to conduct the research, and Baylor provided a summer sabbatical in 2005 during which I was able to write the second half of the book. Doug Henry, Ronny Fritz, and Vickie Dunnam in Baylor’s Institute for Faith and Learning were all of great assistance in administering the grant. Wayne Sparkman, director of the PCA Historical Center at Covenant Theological Seminary, was an immense help during the early research stage, not only in procuring documents but also in providing helpful leads about stories and sources concerning Schaeffer’s early career. David Malone, David Osielski, and Keith Call at the Wheaton College Archives and Special Collections aided my foray into the Hans Rookmaaker Papers. Editor David Bratt proved to be a good adviser and friend as the book was shepherded into the Eerdmans fold. I would like to thank all those who were willing to interview with me. They are duly cited in the endnotes. Among interviewees, historian Mark Noll, attorney and religious liberty activist John Whitehead, and author and editor James Sire provided copies of their personal correspondence with Schaeffer. Much of chapter eight is based on this correspondence. (Members of the Schaeffer family were unwilling to be interviewed for this book.) Graduate assistants Randa Barton, Hunter Baker, and Steele Brand (the killer B’s) chased down numerous rabbits during the research for the book, always with good cheer. Several individuals read parts of the manuscript, including Daviii

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Acknowledgments

vid Bebbington, Margaret Bendroth, Mike Hamilton, and Bill Trollinger. Darryl Hart, Sean Lucas, William Edgar, my Baylor colleague Tommy Kidd, and doctoral student Hunter Baker read the entire manuscript. Tommy listened to endless interpretive possibilities at a picnic table next to the Brazos River over barbeque sandwiches from Vitek’s Grocery, so thanks to Bill and Sue Vitek as well. My wife was a constant source of support, serving as sounding board, encourager, and ruthless editor. Her name appears on the dedication page. While all of these individuals offered invaluable criticism and helped me avoid embarrassing factual mistakes and unhelpful interpretations, I take full responsibility for any errors that remain.

ix

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Introduction

On Friday, March 11, 2005, several hundred people gathered at the America’s Center in downtown St. Louis for the kickoff of L’Abri Jubilee, the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the Christian community in the Swiss Alps founded by Francis and Edith Schaeffer. While one might have expected a lineup of speakers to heap praise on the Schaeffers, this was no time for hero worship. Instead, most of the sessions consisted of serious lectures about the practical work of transforming culture through an authentic exercise of the Christian faith. Dick Keyes, leader of L’Abri near Boston, told of being asked one time at a conference why evangelical Christians seem so ineffective within the larger culture. Keyes told his audience at that meeting to review their conference programs and the kinds of sessions listed. That conference, he said, offered sessions on personal finances, devotional life, the Christian family, and worship, but nothing on the environment, art, architecture, economics, sociology, psychology, or higher education. By contrast, L’Abri Jubilee included sessions dealing with these and other culturally relevant topics. Keyes’s own L’Abri Jubilee session was “The Lordship of Christ in All of Life,” which could very well have been the subtitle for the entire weekend in St. Louis. In nearly all the sessions, presenters stressed that the Christian faith should not take a believer out of the world, but rather Christians should live deeply in the culture, bringing their faith commitment to bear in all areas of God’s creation. In keynote addresses at the Jubilee’s plenary sessions, Harold O. J. Brown stressed apologetics, Charles Colson advocated the x

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Introduction

political engagement of the Christian Right, while Os Guinness gave a Christian critique of western intellectual history. Ranald Macaulay, a Schaeffer son-in-law and early L’Abri student, argued that while the Schaeffers valued intellectual matters, the central thrust of their ministry was set on April 1, 1955, the first day the family lived at L’Abri. Schaeffer moved unpacked boxes to the side of the living room so he could preach to his family. His text was Joshua 3: “Put your feet in Jordan. . . . God will take care of you.”1 Those attending L’Abri Jubilee lived out in microcosm this sort of reliance on the providence of God. At the opening session, conference organizer Larry Snyder called the entire assembly to prayer for a L’Abri woman who had just learned she was suffering from multiple sclerosis. Snyder prayed for her by name. When one of the conferees fell ill during lunch on the second day of the conference, leaders halted the luncheon for prayer as paramedics carried the individual to the hospital by ambulance. Jubilee participants honored fifty years of L’Abri by appropriating the varied and complex evangelical influence of Francis and Edith Schaeffer. It is hard to find an evangelical from the northern or midwestern United States between the ages of fifty and seventy who was not influenced by Francis Schaeffer. Even many people younger than fifty have been influenced by Schaeffer’s later works, or by an author such as Nancy Pearcey or Os Guinness, both of whom count Schaeffer as a mentor. In the fall of 1979 I read my first Francis Schaeffer book, probably The God Who Is There, although it hardly matters because I immediately read several more. The books had a profound effect on me. Reading Schaeffer was a seminal experience in my decision to become a college professor and pursue Christian scholarship as a calling. If nothing else, Schaeffer inspired within me a desire for more academic study of church history, philosophy, theology, and related subjects, and his books helped me think self-consciously about Christian worldview development. Schaeffer was among the first well-known evangelicals to emphasize Christian thinking about philosophy and art, and he did this largely in an evangelical subculture that gave short shrift to things of the mind — a subculture still suffering the effects of what Mark Noll would later call The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.2 I was reared in a denomination that valued religious experience but often denigrated xi

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intellectual pursuits. Men and women in my church told of young men in the 1970s during the Jesus Movement who were on fire for God until they went to seminary, cooled off, and became overly intellectual and no longer effective preachers. More than the details or even the essential outlines of Schaeffer’s critique, what stood out for me was that he took ideas seriously and conveyed the message that loving God with one’s mind meant studying the world God created. This was breathtaking in its implications for many evangelicals in the 1960s and 1970s. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, as I completed graduate school and took up residence full-time in the world of Christian scholarship, I met many others whose stories were quite like mine. They too had been inspired by Schaeffer, had come to reject the details of his arguments, but nevertheless viewed his influence as quite positive. In 1997, historian Michael Hamilton wrote the best biographical piece on Schaeffer to date for Christianity Today. On the magazine’s cover was an artistic rendition of Schaeffer and the caption “Our Saint Francis.” In the article, titled “The Dissatisfaction of Francis Schaeffer,” Hamilton chronicled Schaeffer’s profound impact on an entire generation of evangelicals, his transition from intellectual culture critic to Christian Right activist, and the disappointment many of Schaeffer’s followers experienced as a result of that transition. In Hamilton’s view, Schaeffer had come full circle from his fundamentalism in the 1930s and 1940s, but in the process had become “evangelicalism’s most important public intellectual in the 20 years before his death.”3 I concur with Hamilton’s assessment, at least for the most part. What follows is an attempt to portray Schaeffer in a critical biography. In Schaeffer we encounter one of the most important evangelicals of the twentieth century, and his legacy is varied to say the least. Beginning with deep roots in American fundamentalism, Schaeffer seems to have become in some ways a broad-minded, progressive evangelical without ever forfeiting his past. He and Edith developed at L’Abri a model of Christian community that is still profoundly influential throughout evangelicalism, as the L’Abri Jubilee celebration showed. Moreover, Schaeffer inspired both Christian scholars and Christian Right activists, two groups often at odds with one another. He was a complex and fascinating person, part evangelical and part fundamentalist. xii

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Introduction

The key to understanding Schaeffer, and the thesis of this book, is his move from the United States to Europe in 1948 and back again in the late 1960s. In Europe, militant fundamentalism’s intellectual emphasis on denouncing and refuting liberalism made little sense. While Europe seemed to liberate him from American fundamentalism, in actuality Schaeffer employed the intellectual side of fundamentalism in the service of what can be called apologetic evangelism, and he did this at L’Abri, in the context of Christian community and hospitality. When he returned to America for extended lecture tours and began to participate in American evangelicalism, he once again took up the fundamentalist task of militantly defending the faith against the modern world, and he was willing to divide the evangelical subculture itself along doctrinal lines in the battles over the inerrancy of scripture. This new attempt to defend the faith led quite easily to his political role defending what he believed was the Christian base of American culture. It was not so much that Schaeffer changed fundamentally throughout these three periods, but rather that he adapted the tenets of fundamentalism and evangelicalism to meet the exigencies of the culture where he lived — America in the 1930s and 1940s, Europe from 1948 to 1965, then America again from 1965 to 1984. While militant in battle and fervent in evangelism, he and Edith, and the community of L’Abri, became an exercise in demonstrable Christian compassion of great significance. In an age of communal experimentation in the 1960s, the Schaeffers communicated effectively with young people, adapting and even co-opting the counterculture and putting it to use for the kingdom of God. While researching and writing this book, I met few who said they had read Schaeffer recently, and some who count him as a major influence in their lives believe the Schaeffer phenomenon, at least in its intellectual permutation, could not have happened in any period other than the sixties and seventies. At least for some, Schaeffer’s heavy emphasis on reasoning one’s way to the truth does not resonate as well today, in a postmodern era when people are less confident in the efficacy of human reason. Schaeffer’s books seem important largely as an example of the way evangelicals and most other Americans thought about ideas at the end of the modern era that began during the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century and lasted until the advent of twentieth-century postmodernism. xiii

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Introduction

The modern era put a heavy emphasis on objective reason as the surest guide to the truth, while postmodernists have argued that all truth is at least perspectival, if not actually relative. Schaeffer was peculiar in that he was in some ways a product of the Enlightenment’s emphasis on reason while at the same time critical of where Enlightenment reason had taken the western world. He anticipated the coming of postmodernism by demonstrating that it was impossible to live consistently according to modern Enlightenment presuppositions. Modern thinkers shaped by the Enlightenment divorced religious truth from scientific truth and portrayed religion as little more than an irrational experience. Only through an “escape from reason” and an irrational “leap of faith” could people move from the rational and scientific realm into the arena of religious truth and ultimate meaning. In short, the modern project, Schaeffer argued compellingly, was incoherent because it was built on reason while at the same time requiring an “escape from reason.” Ironically, Schaeffer’s own method in his intellectual work was akin to the rationalism of the Enlightenment. The primary difference between Schaeffer and the modern thinkers he critiqued was that he believed everything made sense rationally once “the God who is there” became the first premise of the reasoning process. Of course, it is important to keep in mind when reading Schaeffer that he often overemphasized the particular point he was making in the service of an argument. In this regard, an anecdote is illustrative. Wheaton college philosophy professor Arthur Holmes tells of chasing Schaeffer down after he spoke at Wheaton to ask if he were aware of the positive contributions of existential philosophers such as Martin Buber who defied the negative description of existentialism Schaeffer had just given. Schaeffer answered, “Oh yes, but I’m just making a point.”4 He could sound at times like a Christian rationalist, but he also gave lectures in which he would attempt to balance spirituality and rationality. He sometimes focused so intently on rational arguments that he seemed to suggest one could be argued into the kingdom of God. He did not believe this, of course; he was just making a point. Many Christian scholars today criticize Schaeffer, not only because of this reliance on modern rationalism, but even more because his interpretation of the course of western intellectual history, what xiv

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Introduction

he called “the flow,” was problematic in its details. Some Christian scholars who critique Schaeffer’s arguments, however, might not be scholars at all if not for his influence. In the 1980s, when a historian who acknowledged being influenced by Schaeffer nevertheless took Schaeffer to task for his interpretative errors and oversimplified view of history, another Christian scholar wrote a letter to the editor of a Christian magazine pointing out that the Schaeffer critic was living proof of Schaeffer’s positive influence. The student had learned his lessons so well that he was now teaching the master. That said, Schaeffer’s primary significance is not in a lasting critique of western thought, nor in a reasoned apologetic that would necessarily be persuasive today. His arguments have not stood the test of time in terms of their historical veracity or philosophical soundness. He was not the scholar, philosopher, or great theologian that his publishers liked to claim on his book jackets. Rather, Schaeffer is significant primarily because when he came back to the United States in the mid-1960s, most American evangelicals were still in the throes of fundamentalist separatism, in which Christian public identity manifested itself primarily in an attempt to shun the secular world. Schaeffer was the most popular and influential American evangelical of his time in reshaping evangelical attitudes toward culture, helping to move evangelicals from separatism to engagement. At the same time, as his later years indicate, he was a culturally engaged evangelical whose fundamentalist defense of the faith blurred the bright-line distinction many would like to make between fundamentalism and evangelicalism. What remains of Schaeffer’s influence is less the content of what he wrote than his model of Christian worldview development, compassion for the lost, hospitality, cultural engagement, and militant defense of the faith against the onslaught of theological liberalism and secular humanism.

xv

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Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America  

Francis Schaeffer (1912–1984) was probably the single greatest intellectual influence on young evangelicals of the 1960s and '70s. He was cu...

Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America  

Francis Schaeffer (1912–1984) was probably the single greatest intellectual influence on young evangelicals of the 1960s and '70s. He was cu...

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