Book Review - Shaeffer on the Christian Life

Image of Schaeffer on the Christian Life: Countercultural Spirituality
by William Edgar
Crossway 2013
Paperback 208

This book is a part of Crossway’s Countercultural Spirituality series. Of all the volumes in the series perhaps the most natural choice for inclusion is Francis Schaeffer. Schaeffer it was whose lectures and writings urged upon a docile church the responsibility of engaging the culture. His L’Abri mission epitomized a way of doing it directly. Schaeffer’s life was all about living out the truth of Christianity intelligently before the watching world. He relentlessly called upon Christians to explore and exhibit God’s “reality”: to imbibe, not just intellectually but experientially the Living Truth in a fallen culture.

In their choice of William Edgar to write this book the publishers could not have done better. Edgar was converted through Schaeffer’s ministry and knew the Schaeffers well. Although Edgar incorporates personal reminiscences and reflections on the man, his evaluation is free of sentimentality and panegyric. Schaeffer on the Christian Life is a sympathetic yet objective appraisal of its subject, calculated to promote the spirituality it records.

Two compelling chapters of personal reflections bookend the volume, while the chapters between are broken up into three parts: Part 1, “The Man and His Times,” contains important biographical details about how the Schaeffers founded L’Abri and extended its mission. Part 2, “True Spirituality,” expounds on the little book of that title, with references and illustrations from other works in support. Part 3 concentrates on particular emphases in Schaeffer’s spirituality and is called, aptly, “Trusting God for All of Life.” A list of Schaeffer’s works and indices complete the volume.

Every chapter is worth pondering as the author has succeeded not only in exploring Francis Schaeffer’s views on spirituality, but also in supplying us with an excellent introduction to the life and thought of the apologist.

Perhaps a major reason for Schaeffer’s appeal is the way his apologetic approach worked its way into the fabric of his life (or maybe it was the other way round?). Edgar can say of Francis Schaeffer, “He was not one person writing the books and another in personal communication.” (189). Edgar himself testifies that, “he really cared about me” (23). His call for what he termed “reality” (92, 95, 97, 149, 150, 176, etc.), was not a cry merely to ally oneself with the biblical outlook on matters external, but was a call to conformity to Christ: of treating unbelievers with patience and respect; of providing “honest answers to honest questions” (94, 151). Edgar does a good job of displaying these emphases.

One aspect of Schaeffer’s spiritual journey which I am sure many readers will find helpful was the coverage of his spiritual “crisis” which happened in the opening years of the 1950’s (53-55, 81-83). As some will already know, Schaeffer began to seriously question whether the Christianity he had believed and taught actually corresponded with the real world. After months of soul-searching, he concluded that,

“I saw that my earlier decision to step from agnosticism to Bible-believing Christianity was right” (55).

Out of this decisive re-think came the renewed convictions upon which the rest of his career would be grounded.

The kernel of the book is the author’s exposition of the book True Spirituality in the three chapters which comprise Part 2. Such matters as the apologist’s “Worldview Spirituality” (88-92), his constant concern for “Reality” (92-95), the importance of saying no to ourselves (100f.), vital communion with God (104, 115), and the stress on personal human worth (121) are brought out. Part 3 leads on naturally from these chapters.

If asked to choose one aspect of the application of Schaeffer’s spirituality brought out in this section, it would be the subject of prayer. Prayer features prominently in the book (e.g. 30, 56, 58-59, 62, 125-137, esp. 131). Since prayer is the powerhouse of the spiritual life, I was particularly pleased about the space allotted to it. Prayer pervaded the culture of L’Abri, despite—one might almost say, because of—the struggles (31, 56, 58, 63, etc.). As one who is frequently met with similar difficulties, I found the recounting of such instances and the resolve of praying very encouraging.

Along with dealing with Prayer and Guidance, Part 3 covers the subjects of Affliction, Life in the Church, and Engaging the World. Apologetics and Truth are treated at various places (64f., 85, 151, 157, 170, 173, 178 n. 46, 191). I was also happy that Edgar included many references to what is probably my favorite book of Schaeffer’s, Death in the City.

I am glad to give this book an enthusiastic recommendation.

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