An Introduction for Students born in the 21st Century
Thomas Purifoy Jr.
In the summer of 2019, I took a group of teenagers through the series you have before you, How Should We Then Live. It was an eye-opening experience for them.
This was the summer when the George Floyd riots were sweeping the nation, Black Lives Matter was calling for the shutdown of police departments, and young people everywhere were marching in support. In our study, we happened to be at the point when Francis Schaeffer talks about the riots in the 1960’s and 1970’s that swept across the nation; he showed how police action could be interpreted different ways based on camera angles; and he talked about how an elite class would work with the ruling class to try to control the nation.
The kids were amazed.
Here was a series of 50-year-old films presented by a quirky older man with a funny beard and knickers named Francis Schaeffer who somehow knew exactly what was going on in their lives. How was that possible?
I explained his secret: he understood how to apply the Bible’s teaching to the world around him. He realized that there is a true way to interpret the world, and that by looking at it from the correct perspective, not only can you understand what’s happening now, you can see what will happen in the future.
This was Francis Schaeffer’s gift: he was able to see what was going on around him and explain it clearly and honestly.
If you’ve never heard of him before, I’m not surprised. The reason lies not with Francis Schaeffer, but with our corporate forgetfulness as a nation: we don’t remember anyone that matters. The fact is, Schaeffer was likely the most influential Christian intellectual in the 20th-century, influencing men and women like Charles Colson, Os Guiness, R.C. Sproul, Al Mohler, Nancy Pearcey, and many, many more.
Of course, you may be thinking: who are they?
This, to me, highlights the basic issue that you’re facing as a young Christian. It’s possible no one has told you that there are legions of brilliant Christian men and women who have gone before you to prepare the way for you.
And you have no idea who they are. Satan’s plot of distracting people from what matters has been exceedingly successful in the early 21st century. If you’re under the age of 30, it’s a plot that is specifically designed to hurt you. If you know more about Tony Stark, Natasha Romanov, and Steve Rogers than Chuck Colson, R.C. Sproul, and Nancy Pearcy, you’re in trouble indeed.
The good news is that it’s a problem easily fixed. And starting with Francis Schaeffer is the place to start.
After all, that’s where they all started. Although I would highly recommend picking up anything they have written, I will include just two quotes showing how important Schaeffer’s work is. (By the way, “L’Abri” is the name of the teaching center Schaeffer founded in Switzerland; it means “the Refuge.”)
“This is a modern-day classic, one of Schaeffer’s books that awakened me to how biblical truth affects all of life.”— Charles Colson, author of Kingdoms in Conflict
“When I went to L’Abri many years ago as an agnostic, it was the first time I encountered Christians who engaged with the cultural and intellectual world. A leader distinguished by his integrity and authenticity, Francis Schaeffer shows how the richness of biblical truth illuminates the course of history as well as our individual lives.”— Nancy Pearcey, author of Total Truth
I have my own ‘Francis Schaeffer influence’ story. I was a student at Vanderbilt in the early 1990’s who often debated non-Christians about the truth of Christianity. I had not read Schaeffer, but when I did, an incredible number of pieces fell into place in terms of how best to engage the non-Christian world, the importance of using your gifts to contribute to God’s Kingdom, and why people think what they think today. I started with his Trilogy (The God Who is There, Escape from Reason, and He is There and He is not Silent).
As a student of film (I would eventually become a filmmaker), I found Schaeffer to be incredibly interesting: he was engaging the intellectual cinematic culture of the 1960s and 70s that I was familiar with, and doing so from a staunchly Christian perspective.
Fast forward to 2019 and I found myself looking for a series that could introduce this generation to worldview thinking in a way that included a video component. I realized How Should We Then Live was a perfect fit. It was designed as a book-film series combination, so was already integrated together; it was taught by one of the greatest Christian thinkers; and it was 50 years old so it actually would be a look into the past for most of these kids. (Of course, it’s actually a look into the past for me, too, considering I was only 5 years old when the series was first released.)
The incredible responses I received from the kids in the class were reason enough to get rights to it and include it here at Compass Classroom. It’s just essential for people to watch. I do realize that there are other things that have gone further, but there’s nothing that I know of that pulls all the basics together so well.
And, to be honest, I like the quirky old filmmaking. I find that most students do, too. They also begin to appreciate something about Schaeffer that I figured out back when I was a student: he takes students seriously. He’s not really speaking to adults – he’s speaking to those who are young. After all, that’s what he dedicated his life to do.
Now, one final word: I’ve tried to add in some additional materials to provide cultural perspective and understanding for what he’s talking about. Intellectual history is something of an interest to me, and I find that reading original sources is enlightening as to what people were actually thinking at a certain time in history.
All said, if you go through his material, you’ll be in a very good position to understand the craziness of what’s going on around you.
And it is crazy. But the fact is, the world that is in the thrall of Satan has always been pretty crazy. Some periods may seem a bit crazier than others, but when you watch this series that’s 50 years old, you’ll realize that there was crazy stuff going on back then, too – which I hope actually encourages you.
The truth is that we followers of Christ were put into the world to push back against the craziness. We weren’t put here to watch movies and eat chips; we were put here to do intellectual and spiritual battle.
This is what the apostle Paul says, and so I’ll leave you with his words. Consider closely what he says, especially all his military metaphors; those are not accidental. The armies of Satan are very powerful, and the battles are very real, but be encouraged: Christ’s armies are far more powerful, and His Kingdom is triumphing all around us. You just have to know how to see it. Paul did:
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.2 Corinthians 10:3-5
In closing, I think you’re going to really enjoy the time you spend with Francis Schaeffer. After all, he prepared this entire series for you.