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Jerram Barrs

Francis Schaeffer never presented himself as an academic apologist, as a philosopher, as a theologian, or as a scholar. Instead, he spoke of himself as an evangelist and a pastor, and this truly is how he thought about the ministry that God had graciously given him. I felt it might be useful to begin with a somewhat personal account of factors that contributed to his theological development.

Conversion 

Francis Schaeffer was converted at the age of 17 in 1930 while he was a junior in high school. I heard him tell the story on several occasions, but here I will use his wife Edith’s account from The Tapestry, her autobiographical account of their life together. Edith recounts how, by “accident,”

Fran was sent home from a bookstore with a book on Greek philosophy, when he had in fact entered the shop to buy a beginner’s English reading book to help him teach English to a Russian. In God’s providence reading this book on Greek philosophy set his mind on fire—but he soon discovered that the philosophers asked many questions, yet seemed to have no answers to the basic problems of the human condition. Reflecting on this he recognized that the preaching he heard on Sundays in the liberal church he attended was just as devoid of answers. “I wonder,” he mused to himself, “whether I should stop calling myself a Christian, and discard the Bible?” Then he reconsidered, and faced the fact that he had never read the Bible in his life. Since at this time he was reading Ovid, he decided that before discarding the Bible, he’d read some of Ovid and some of the Bible night by night. Gradually he put aside Ovid altogether and spent all the time he had on reading the Bible.

How did he read it? Who helped him to understand? No one gave him any suggestions. He wouldn’t have known who to ask, and in any case, he had no idea that there was any way to read it other than to read it in the same way as any other book. He started at the beginning of Genesis and read to the end. If you want to know why Fran has such high regard for the Bible and feels it is adequate in answering the questions of life, the answer is right here. As a seventeen-year-old boy with a thirst for the answers to life’s questions, he began to discover for himself the existence of adequate and complete answers right in the Bible. . . .

Sometime in the next six months Francis Schaeffer became a Christian. He believed and bowed before God, accepting Christ as his Savior, having come to an understanding directly from the Word of God itself. He thought he had discovered something no one else knew about. He thought what he had found was unique, and that he alone had found it. If what he had discovered was being a Christian, then he thought he was the only one. But—he didn’t call himself that. It was a transforming reality that changed his whole outlook; it began to change his marks at school and the way he looked at the world. But, for a time, he did not know that there was anyone else who shared this truth he felt he had discovered. You see, he thought that Christianity was what he heard preached by an old-fashioned liberal who gave ethical talks and who did not preach Biblical truth. At that time Fran was totally ignorant of the fact that there was any other kind of preaching.

This beginning to his Christian life was, as Edith says, and as he would say himself repeatedly, foundational to his approach to the Bible. He discovered that in following what he was later to call “the flow of biblical history,” the answers to the most fundamental questions and problems of human existence were to be found. In the unfolding biblical account of creation, fall, and redemption God answered his questions through his Word. Long before he had ever heard of such a term, Schaeffer was beginning to develop what theologians today would call a biblical theology, and what many Christians would describe as a biblical world and life view.

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