Francis Schaeffer

Francis Schaeffer.jpg

Who is Francis Schaeffer?

Francis Schaeffer (1912 –1984) was an American Evangelical Christian theologian, philosopher, and Presbyterian pastor. He is most famous for his writings and his establishment of the L'Abri community in Switzerland. Opposed to theological modernism, Schaeffer promoted a more historic Protestant faith and a presuppositional approach to Christian apologetics which he believed would answer the questions of the age.


Schaeffer was born on January 30, 1912, in Germantown, Pennsylvania to Franz A. Schaeffer III and Bessie Williamson.

In 1935, Schaeffer graduated magna cum laude from Hampden-Sydney College. The same year he married Edith Seville, the daughter of missionary parents who had been with China Inland Mission founded by Hudson Taylor. Schaeffer then enrolled at Westminster Theological Seminary in the fall and studied under Cornelius Van Til (presuppositional apologetics) and J. Gresham Machen (doctrine of inerrancy).

In 1937, Schaeffer transferred to Faith Theological Seminary, graduating in 1938. This seminary was newly formed as a result of a split in the Presbyterian Church of the United States of America (PCUSA) (now the Orthodox Presbyterian Church) and the Bible Presbyterian Church, a Presbyterian denomination more identified with Fundamentalist Christianity and premillennialism.

Schaeffer was the first student to graduate and the first to be ordained in the Bible Presbyterian Church. He served pastorates in Pennsylvania (Grove City and Chester) and St. Louis, Missouri. He later left the BPC and joined the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod, a forerunner of the Presbyterian Church in America, an evangelical denomination.

In 1948, the Schaeffer family moved to Switzerland and in 1955 established the community called L'Abri (French for "the shelter"). Serving as both a philosophy seminar and a spiritual community, L’Abri attracted thousands of young people, and was later expanded into Sweden, France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States.

In 1954, Schaeffer was awarded the honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Highland College in Long Beach, California.

In 1971, Schaeffer received the honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts.

In 1982, John Warwick Montgomery nominated Schaeffer for an honorary Doctor of Laws degree, which was conferred in 1983 by the Simon Greenleaf School of Law, Anaheim, California in recognition of his apologetic writings and ministry.

Schaeffer died of lymphoma on May 15, 1984, in Rochester, Minnesota.

Family relationships

In contrast to Schaeffer's own experience as a single child of a father with a third-grade education and a depressed mother, he grew up with a drive to understand reality in its complexity, including the glorious and tragic human realities.

He was deeply engaged in the lives of each of his four children, continuously available to them, showing and explaining art, history, city and country life, philosophy, Roman ruins and medieval and Renaissance efforts to civilize a damaged human history. He enjoyed watching people, engaging them in conversation and showing his children the joy and tragedy of human existence. He laid out for them the philosophic foundations of societies without being idealistic about any of them.

In Crazy for God, Schaeffer's son Frank presents a portrait of his father that is far more nuanced and multi-dimensional than was suggested by his public persona. He states, for example, that Schaeffer's primary passions in life were not the Bible and theology but rather art and culture. "And what moved him was not theology but beauty" (p. 140).

Schaeffer's son claims he had frequent bouts with depression and a verbally and physically abusive relationship with his wife, Edith. Those in the inner circle at L'Abri challenge Frank's account. Os Guinness, who lived with the Schaeffers and was a close friend of both the younger and elder Schaeffer, described Crazy for God as a "scurrilous caricature" and said, "[N]o one should take Frank's allegations at face value."

  1. "Francis Schaeffer" Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (with minor edits), under GFDL.