In the 60s and 70s Francis Schaeffer convinced many evangelicals that art, history, philosophy, music, literature, and politics are important. He had a unique ministry in Switzerland, a place called L’Abri (French for The Shelter).
He opened his home to hippies and dropouts, intellectuals, Marxists, and atheists and joined them in deep conversations about the meaning of life. Time magazine once called him an “apostle to the intellectuals” (more here). He often spoke about the need for integrity, about the unity of truth and life, about the importance of living love and truth.
Like many Christians, Francis and Edith Schaeffer may have found it easier to demonstrate Christian love to strangers than in their own family. Their son Frank saw their failings up close. Like many children, he may have been blind to some of the qualities that so many others admired. No one can write an objective unbiased memoir of intimate family matters.
Frank Schaeffer has written his own memoirs: Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back. Novelist Jane Smiley, who once visited L’Abri, wrote an extensive review for The Nation. Here is a brief excerpt:
By the late ’60s, according to Frank, L’Abri had loosened up. Edith enjoyed her newfound social status, and Francis sympathized with the American youth movement and countercultural search for meaning. Timothy Leary stopped by, and so did one of Joan Baez’s best friends. Mick and Keith planned to come but never made it. Francis was in favor of the environmental movement, and L’Abri welcomed gays and unwed mothers without prejudice. While often cruel to one another, the Schaeffers seem to have been kind to outsiders (more here).
Francis Schaeffer’s life and thought are a mixture of what is right and what is wrong with evangelical Christianity. His writings influenced me in a positive way. His personal failings (allowing for his son’s bias) sadden me, but don’t completely surprise me. I haven’t yet found a role model who has outgrown the need for grace.